by Freddie Barker
For World Poetry Day 2023, Worcester’s Poetry Society embarked on our biggest achievement yet: an original, student-run multiformat arts event, open to students & the public.
SPEAK VOLUMES! was a single-night poetry celebration with a visual arts exhibition, an indie-biz marketplace, meditation workshop, writers’ networking hub AND open-mic showcase… all under the same roof! It was hosted at railway Arch 28 – better known as The Artery Studios Gallery.
SPEAK VOLUMES! was not only a roaring success – and Poetry’s most attended event to-date – but also a race against the clock. In an incredible display of efficiency, planning, and dedication by Worcestershire’s creative communities, the event was pulled together from scratch in under 2 weeks.
Our poets worked incredibly hard to produce SPEAK VOLUMES! – and here’s a breakdown of the highlights:
The Gallery contained a multimedia showcase of scrapbook-style poems, illustrations, and poetry in all its forms. Each wall had a different prompt – largely inspired by on-campus workshops by Poetry throughout the year. These were:
Things I Wish I Said: A collection of confessions; unsent texts; and pent-up feelings. From love letters to bitter musings addressed to those who won arguments: this was a space for our poets to showcase work about their true feelings. A key workshop fueling this section was our anti-valentines ‘Love?’ session in February.
Nostalgia + Sweet Things: This section encouraged creatives to ‘embrace the cringe’ with sugar-coated memories and joy! From childhood dreams about Scooby Doo! to guilty pleasure tunes from the ‘90’s: our poets delivered the tastes, sights, smells, and sounds of nostalgia. Our September project, ‘Nostalgia Night’, helped supply poems for this feature.
Nature and Environment: From birds, bugs, fruits and flowers – to the environment, climate change, and eco-feminism; this section was diverse, wonderful, and colourful. Ellie Dart, our Vice Chair Admin and Finance, led an environmental poetry workshop in semester 1 to bring our poets closer to nature.
Medicine: Healthcare, illness, treatment, sickness: our poets explored their personal experiences with disability, chronic pain, loss, and the historical evolution of medicine. Some of the poems were inspired by our ‘A Night at the Museum’ workshop, held at The Old Infirmary for a private ‘after hours’ session with Rhianna Levi (Worcestershire Poet Laureate 2022-2023).
Foul Language! – These were poems that came with a trigger warning. Our society’s ethos includes respect and freedom of expression without judgement. Since day one, we’ve used ‘safe space’ protocols in sessions. This is to ensure that those who wish to express their experiences can do so in the space – and those who listen can consent to – or opt out of – experiencing poetry with upsetting themes. The Foul Language! section contained poems behind paper doors – these doors displayed the content warnings on the front – and had to be opened by the reader to access the poem.
Poetry for Power – This was our only section with an accompanying booth. The protest poetry art links to an exciting, up-and-coming digital campaign: ‘Poetry for Power’ – in which Poetry Society will partner with UK charity Journey To Justice to create poetry for activists, and to inspire students to stand up against injustice. UoW graduate Kashala Abrahams is the project lead – and the digital campaign is due to surface in May 2023. Kashala worked as an ambassador to generate interest in the project, and to spread information about her work with Journey to Justice. www.journeytojustice.org.uk
The gallery also had a wall introducing the participating artists – with photographs and information to direct audience members to their portfolios and/or social media.
The Stage became the focus at the end of the evening, where Freddie Barker, our Vice Chair Inclusivity and Promotions hosted the spoken word event.
Over 20 performers took to the stage, many of whom were our talented student poets! The crowd had exceeded five rows – and our crew sought extra audience seating from the empty Arch 27 next door. The 5-hour event saw approximately 120 people – with a majority gathering for the performances.
Notable performers (and attendees) at the open mic were: Former Worcestershire Poet Laureate, Suz Winspear, Ade Couper, and Rhianna Levi (current WPL), Worcestershire Literary Festival directors Martin Driscoll and Mark Robbins, University of Worcester course leads: Dr. Jack McGowan and Ruth Stacey (Creative Writing) and Dr. Daniel Somerville (Drama and Performance).
Arch 28 was packed with local authors, artists, and poets who embraced our students with enthusiasm, advice, and warmth. Students also used the opportunity to network and converse with local creatives.
The Marketplace boasted a range of stalls selling (or in some cases, giving away) locally crafted goods, food and drinks, local poetry + literature, original artwork, prints, and jewelry. The vendors were:
Sugar Daddy’s Café – Worcester’s beloved LGBTQ+ Café set up a stall to sell soft drinks, vegan doughnuts, and homemade cake and brownies.
Worcestershire LitFest x Black Pear Poetry Press – This was a collaborative stall by local poetry organisations selling a diverse range of literature by local poets.
Edel Arbour – A local graphic designer with a passion for all things nerdy! Ed sold LEGO earrings, Nintendo-inspired keyrings, and framed colorful prints.
Okaorigami – Malvern-based origami artist, Alec, sold intricate pieces inspired by pride flags; flower and crane earrings, and colourful brooches.
Fran Horne – Worcestershire Artist based at The Artery Studios, and one half of House of Grimsy, Fran sold an array of notebooks, earrings, cards, prints and originals.
Flo. Ltd – Unisex clothing and sustainable shopping brand, Flo., sold a vast array of tie-dye clothing, art, jewellery, soap, and books.
Yasmin Agilah– Local artist and singer, Yasmin Agilah, sold her original paintings AND hosted an exclusive art and meditation workshop – which was powerful and popular!
The Word Association CIC – Holly Winter-Hughes, director of The Word Association CIC handed out anthologies and advertised the organisation’s free workshops and publishing opportunities for creative writers and poets from marginalized backgrounds.
SPEAK VOLUMES! was inclusive, fun, and memorable. And it wouldn’t have been possible without our legendary group of creatives at Poetry Society. We hope to revisit this event next year – with far more time to prepare, create, and enjoy it!
To keep in touch with Worcester’s Poetry Society as we launch into summer and a new academic year, you can find us online at: www.instagram.com/uowpoetrysociety/ or https://www.worcsu.com/sports_activities/societies/poetrysociety/