Speak Up, Save a Life
What would you like to read about?
Past blog posts
Today on the blog, I have the brains behind The Stanza – Harry Gallagher and Mandy Maxwell. I visited The Stanza last month, click here to read the review. May’s Stanza will be held on Thursday, 21st May.
Many thanks to Mandy and Harry for taking the time to chat to me about their exciting venture.
H: I’m a poet and singer/songwriter, based in North Tyneside, but originally from Middlesbrough. I mention this because it informs my writing quite heavily – there’s quite a different culture there to the one I now live among only 40 miles North!
M: I’m an SEBD Teacher in a specialist school in Northumberland. I’ve been teaching there for 6 years and I absolutely love it. I teach English and Literature with a large side portion of poetry. I’m also a poet and I perform around the North East scene. I’ve been living in the North East for 8 years since moving down from Edinburgh and I adore everything about the place, the people and the amazing poetry scene.
Tell us a little bit about The Stanza – where and when does it happen and what can we expect from it?
H & M: It’s a poetry night on the third Thursday every month in the Chillingham Arms at Heaton. We have 3 main acts, plus lots of open mic opportunities. The people who get up on the open mic range from seasoned, published poets to first timers, and everyone gets the same warm Stanza welcome. We also have free poetry books to take away, provided by our friends at Borderline Books. On top of that we have a house band – Renata & Trev – who kick off the evening and finish it with a song at either end.
How did the idea for The Stanza come about?
M: The idea for The Stanza came about when the previous poetry night at The Chilli came to an end and we realized there was going to be a gap where a poetry event should be. Also we both love poetry and spoken word events and really wanted to create one of our own that would encourage and support local talent and voices. Also we’re both poets and it seemed like a cool thing to do.
H: There had previously been a monthly poetry night – Hot Words At The Chilli – run by Aidan Clarke and Annie Moir and they had decided to end it. We had the conversation detailed above, checked with Aidan and Annie that they were ok with us rebranding and re-launching (they were their usual lovely and supportive selves) and we went for it!
How did you get involved in running The Stanza?
M: I met Harry Gallagher, me partner in rhyme, at a poetry event in Middlesbrough celebrating Burns Night in 2012. We bumped in to each other lots of times on the poetry scene from Tyneside to Teesside. We were driving back from a Black Light Engine Room poetry workshop in the Boro when we came up with the idea of running a new spoken word night. We thought of a few names before we hit on The Stanza; thanks to Claudia aka Miss Wired.
H: Mandy and I were talking about how we thought Newcastle was missing a poetry night. There was already a well established and successful night at Jibba Jabba, run by our good friend Jenni Pascoe, but that was about it in Newcastle. Mandy said, “You should start one!” I replied something akin to, “Not on your Nelly!”, took a second and then followed it up with “…But I’d run one with you!” From that it just seemed to grow arms and legs and we got more and more excited by the idea. Then Mandy’s partner Claudia came along and she glues it all together on the night with great practicality, while we’re floating around like poets are wont to do!
Can anyone come along?
M: Yes, absolutely anyone can come along. We try to make the whole night as inclusive as we can and our audience are a huge part of the atmosphere and success of the night.
H: A resounding YES! My own personal viewpoint is similar to Paxman’s much debated opinion from last year – too often you find yourself reading to other poets. My own big driver is turning new people onto poetry, so the more new faces we see, the happier I am!
What’s the craic with the open mic section?
H: A moot point! We are currently in danger of becoming victims of our own success! The open mic is wonderfully busy – we have 3 sections built around the main acts and we have just started limiting it to 20 poets, which I suppose is an indicator of how popular poetry has become, that that many people want to get up every month to read. But the thing I really love is the warm reception EVERYONE gets.
M: We have 3 separate sections for open mic because we want to really encourage new voices from the North East and give a platform for local talent. Also, the open mic sections are so entertaining because you really never know what you’re going to get and it’s really amazing how much talent the North East has. Also we want to create a supportive and friendly place for people to share their work and to develop their performance skills.
How did you get the idea to put paper and pens on the table? What are they for?
M: The idea for the flip chart paper and marker pens on the tables came from Claudia (if you don’t know, Claudia is the lovely lady who sits at the door, takes your cash, convinces you to put your name down for the open mic section and knits). What we want people to do is write, doodle, comment and play around. We’ve had so many brilliant comments, drawings and poems on the papers so far thanks to the awesome audience. We call them Stanza Shorts.
What’s the best bit about running The Stanza?
M: The best thing about running The Stanza is that we get to invite our very favourite poets on to our stage every month to hear their fantastic work. We’re really treating ourselves but, shhhhhh, don’t tell everyone that! Also we have the brilliant Renata and Trev every month bringing their unique sounds to The Stanza which is always a treat and, of course, our eclectic and always entertaining open mic sections where we are always looking out for our next main act to step up.
H: There are two things for me – we get to see all of our favourite poets for starters! But also for me, I really love the way Mandy gets lit up every month – both the lead up to it and the night itself. Every month we have a big hug at the end of the night, as if to say, “Fucking hell we did it again!!!”
What’s your dream line-up for The Stanza?
M: My dream line up for The Stanza: Buddy Wakefield, Sophia Walker, Chris Young, Catherine Ayres, Steve Urwin, Kirsten Luckins, Dominic Berry, Jo Bell, Michael Rosen… oh, stop me!!!!
H: I don’t have one. Every month has been just great. For me what makes it is the wonderful generosity of spirit the audience bring along. Add to that the massive amount of talent that seems to assemble itself in the room every month and who needs dreams. Though if we are really talking dreams, I wouldn’t mind old Wilf Owen and Stevie Smith dropping by one month. Martin Newell, a more contemporary genius everyone should be acquainted with, could hold their coats…
The wonderful folks at Danusha have arranged a benefit gig in support of the Nepal Earthquake Disaster Relief Fund.
Today, I have Allison Davies, part of the Danusha team, to talk about Nepal and why she and her wonderful colleagues have arranged this event.
Thanks for taking the time to speak to me today. What’s your link with Nepal?
Back in 2008, I took a holiday and went to visit my friends Mike and Sue Lavender who were living and working in Nepal. They have a long history with the country beginning when Sue was 12 years old, as her parents worked at a hospital in Pokhara for a year. Sue met Mike and after he finished his medical training, he and Sue went off to work at a Leprosy Hospital. Since then, they’ve spent many years in Nepal, coming home for a time in the mid-90s for their kids’ schooling and with an adopted Nepali daughter.
In 2007, their children were all grown up so off they went again, this time to work with Nepal Leprosy Trust – hence my visit in 2008. I’d seen photos and heard plenty of stories, but nothing quite prepares you for the sheer beauty of the Nepali landscape, not to mention the country’s many stunning historic landmarks. Factor in the people who are warm, friendly and hospitable and I had no chance. I decided to do everything I could to get back to a place that was completely under my skin. It was the beginning of a life-long love affair.
So, tell us about Danusha.
There’s a saying, be careful what you wish for. Fast forward to 2010 and Sue, myself and another friend Katy Barr were in the process of setting up a small fair trade social enterprise – Danusha – working with marginalised women to provide skills training in jewellery making, alongside some simple health and hygiene education and literacy classes. Our goal was simple. To empower these women to make a difference in their communities. At this point our knowledge of the jewellery business could have been written on the head of a fairly small pin. We learned fast, made plenty of mistakes but somehow the project grew. We’ve visited Nepal many times since that time and have been thrilled to see the transformation in the lives of the women who work for us.
At the end of March 2015, Sue and I had just returned from a workshop visit. We were tired, happy, inspired and looking forward to what the next few months would bring.
April 25th, 2015 was just an ordinary Saturday, or so I thought until I got into the car and turned on the radio. Quake day. Nepal’s ground zero, when the landscape shifted, buildings tumbled and thousands of lives were smashed to pieces. I spent the rest of the day online, desperately reading the reports that began to flood in and hoping for news about our team. I felt sick, cried a lot and couldn’t sleep that night. Sue and Mike were also grief-stricken. On Sunday, there was one question that wouldn’t go away: “What can we do? We can’t just sit here. There must be something.” Lightbulb moment: a benefit gig. Maybe we could get 15 – 20 people in a room, have a few performers and raise some cash.
It’s a brilliant idea, I bet it’s been getting a great response.
The response from friends and colleagues was overwhelming. Within a few days we had a venue, free of charge at the Berkeley Suite in Whitley Bay, and a ton of performers queuing up to get a slot on the bill. In the midst of a dreadful situation, these generous people have been a shining band of hope. Words can’t tell you how grateful we are at what our friends are willing to give.
And then the news came that all our team were safe. We were overjoyed, yet still struggling with the scale of what had happened and the aftermath. It grieves us to know that friends are sleeping outside in the rain with no shelter, no clean drinking water and with food supplies running out. Multiply that by the hundreds of thousands who are in the same position and worse, then get out of your seat and do whatever you can to help.
What you guys are doing is brilliant. How do you feel now that you’re doing something?
Our gig is a small droplet in a gigantic ocean of need. We hope it will be a success and hope to help bring hope to a people who have lost theirs.
If you asked me to sum up the reason why I’m part of this, the answer is simple. I love Nepal and I’ll do anything to serve the country that stole my heart and inspired my soul.
Thanks Allison. Best of luck with the gig on Friday.
Allison and her colleagues at Danusha are hoping to pack out the Berkeley Suite in Whitley Bay (9 Marine Avenue, NE26 1LY) this coming Friday, everyone is welcome. It starts at 7pm and ends when we get kicked out! Please come prepared to have a good time and give generously.
There’ll be great live music, poetry and stories from some of the north east’s finest; award-winning films from Beacon Hill Arts and a charity auction. The bar will be open and there will be snacks too.
You can join the Facebook group here: https://www.facebook.com/events/1578209815801018/
Donations will go the relief effort via Oxfam GB.
On April’s third Thursday, I took a trip to the Chilli Pub in Heaton (on Chillingham Road) to check out one of Newcastle’s newest spoken word nights. The Stanza, arranged by the wonderful duo Harry Gallagher and Mandy Maxwell, began in January 2015 and is already proving to be a massive hit. Despite a spoken word symposium going on at the same time in Newcastle, the venue was packed out.Every month, The Stanza books three poets to perform and in between sets, members of the audience are encouraged to participate in the open mic sections of the evening. The open mic is so popular that the event rarely finishes on time – but, hey, who’s gonna argue with staying late to listen to some poetry?! The audience are warm and supportive; it’s easy to see why so many people want to read in this inclusive environment. Oh, and in with your admission, you get to pick a free book (provided by the awesome Borderline Books) which contains a unique poem written by Harry or Mandy.
April’s performers were Zack Lewis, Alix Bromwich-Alexandra and Rose Condo, the musical interludes were provided by seventeen year old ‘blues prodigy’ Alex Kirtley. When starting the proceedings, Mandy and Harry were a great double act, bouncing off each other with a natural camaraderie – they were funny and humble.The open mic was fast-paced, almost like a relay race between performers, with a large variety of topics and forms. Here’s just a sample of the subjects covered in the open mic in April: spring, mental illness, love, curries, books, alzheimer’s, sausages, Northumberlandia, social and political consciousness and tea.
As for the performers, I felt like I’d picked a brilliant month to attend. Zack Lewis packed all sorts into his set. He was funny and encouraged audience participation but the two poems I appreciated most were ‘Dear Love’ – a beautiful, thoughtful and thought-provoking poem – and ‘Keep a’had’. The latter is a phrase used mainly in Northumberland that means ‘keep going’. Zack’s poem, full of advice and inspiration, brought me to tears.Alix Bromwich-Alexandra, a multi-talented poet and musician, rapped her way through her rhythmic poems, my favourite being ‘The Beauty of Books’. Alix’s poetry is introspective and deep but shows a real humour and humanity, too. Alix’s musical talent shines through even when she’s reading poetry, it’s lyrical and pulses with tempo. The final act of the evening came from Rose Condo, a Canadian poet who had travelled all the way from Huddersfield to perform at The Stanza – yet another ringing endorsement for this brilliant event. Rose Condo’s poetry was a masterclass in perfection. Her cliché poem was intelligent and beautiful. In fact, everything about her set was intelligent and beautiful. I cannot praise The Stanza enough. Everything about this event is fun but supportive. Get yourself along!