I was part of a performance poetry collective based in Nottingham called the Mouthy Poets. In 2013, I became really interested in spoken word poetry. I first became interested in poetry a couple years earlier, but I was discovering contemporary performance poetry online and it was completely different to the poetry I was reading. I thought there must be something like this in Nottingham.
I distinctly remember thinking “must”, rather than “might.” I don’t know why I was so sure, but I searched online and discovered a Spoken Word Sunday event run by the Mouthy Poets at a bar next to Nottingham Playhouse. It was great to see performance poetry in person for the first time. Whilst there, I bumped into a friend from university who was part of the Mouthy Poets. She told me that they ran weekly workshops and I should come along.
I didn’t take to Mouthy straight away. I was definitely intrigued by the workshops, but it felt like everyone knew more about poetry than me, and they were definitely more extroverted than me. I attended a few workshops between October and December 2013. I found out they were going to be doing a show the next year, when I would be on my semester abroad in the USA, and felt there wasn’t much point going when they were planning a show I would miss.
In September 2014 I was back in Nottingham. After a honeymoon period I was starting to miss the adventures from my semester abroad, so I started applying for a bunch of opportunities to fill my time, including placements organised by the English department at my university. One of these was to be a Creative Admin Assistant for the Mouthy Poets. I wasn’t sure if I was going to apply because I thought they would think of me as the quiet girl who stopped going, but in the end I thought I’d give it a shot. I managed to get an interview but I had a terrible night’s sleep the night before and only slept for two hours. I took this as a given that I wouldn’t get the placement. Nevertheless, I tried my best at the interview and Debris and Charlotte seemed to like me and offered me a placement.
From November to February, I worked in the office one day a week on a variety of tasks within Mouthy, from calling schools about education workshops, to making e-newsletters, to writing draft press releases for the tour, to using social media on behalf of Mouthy, to organising spreadsheets and digital folders. I also attended Mouthy’s weekly workshops. I was supposed to write blog posts or use social media in the sessions, but quickly I became more involved in the sessions instead, so that I was somewhere in between being on placement and being a participant. I was drafting a poem to perform in the show. Once my placement finished in February, I was still going to weekly sessions and was about to perform for the first time on stage.
Mouthy became a huge part of my life in my final semester of university. I performed in two shows (Say Sum Thin 8 and Say Sum Thin 9), including one on the Nottingham Playhouse main stage, and I had never seen myself as a performer, only a writer. I wrote poems in the middle of the night when my academics and weird flat were stressing me out. I had a time and space to go to every week where I would write, share my work and be surrounding by talented writers and performers. I received an education from Mouthy, learning the tools and techniques to craft and perform poetry. I stayed in Nottingham after my graduation, until the last day of the contract on my student flat, and a week before I moved to India, to remain in Mouthy.
I haven’t been a participant since Say Sum Thin 9 in July 2015. I spent five months teaching in India and then I moved back to Manchester to live with my parents. But I missed Mouthy. I wrote poems, but not as much without a support network, new goals and a regular time slot. I came to Say Sum Thin 10 & 11 because I missed Mouthy, even though the first time I couldn’t really afford it and the second time I had to sacrifice shifts at work. I’m so glad I did, as they were the last Say Sum Thins.
In the final Say Sum Thin, I decided to go on the open mic to perform for the first time in a year. I introduced my poem by saying I loved Mouthy because during a workshop I wrote a poem about fruit and it made me cry. I read it again and it made me cry.
Going back wasn’t the same as when I was there before: I wasn’t writing as much, I hadn’t prepared for the shows and I was on the edge of Mouthy. But it still felt important. I vowed to, at some point, get a job in Nottingham and move back so I could re-join Mouthy. I was only an alumna because I didn’t live there anymore, not because I had gained enough performance poetry skills. Now I can’t because Mouthy will no longer exist.
I went back to Nottingham last week for a Mouthy Poets: Evaluate and Celebrate event. The gist of the day was not to mourn Mouthy and instead work on your personal goals and develop small projects in Nottingham. On one hand, it felt encouraging that even though Mouthy Poets would no longer exist, there would still be the people of Mouthy working on poetry. However, I don’t live in Nottingham and I don’t have specific poetry goals. I need Mouthy to push me to perform again, give me deadlines so I edit my work, give me prompts so my writing develops, help me feel that I could write a poetry book.
I came away knowing that it won’t be easy without Mouthy. However, I have a renewed determination towards writing and creating lofty goals. And the Mouthy Poets still exist as people I can call upon, as long as I open myself up to the assistance. I want to end with some thank yous to Mouthy.
Thank you for giving me a space of honesty.
Thank you for giving me a place to write every week.
Thank you for forcing me to share my work.
Thank you for gently pushing me to perform.
Thank you for giving me education on weeks when I wondered what uni was teaching me.
Thank you for healing tears.
Thank you for giving me free writes.
Thank you for helping me to write good poems.
Thank you for all the great poems I heard from Mouthy Poets.
Thank you for compliments.
Thank you for feedback.
Thank you for editing techniques.
Thank you for writing prompts.
Thank you for great teachers.
Thank you for making me prioritise poetry.
Thank you for giving me guts.
Thank you for being a safe place.
Thank you for being a silly place.
Thank you for always being there. You’ll never really end as long as you still matter.