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.
Tell us about yourselves…
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…
Harry and Mandy are a great team.