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Farewell to Wickedness

It’s over. At an end. Wicked Words is no more; it has ceased to be, it is an ex-spoken word event – and other such Pythonesque clichés…

I’m not sure it’s quite sunk in yet. That was the phrase commonly heard from friends in Seven Arts around 10.30pm on Wednesday, 4 December 2013. Friends who I wouldn’t have met had it not been for Wicked Words; fellow poets I feel proud to call my friends.

Turn the clock back a little over two years. I was doing a Creative Writing course at Leeds University and my then tutor and now friend Cath Nichols suggested a good way of broadening poetic horizons was to seek out local open-mic events – maybe even take part! I sought them out, and realised that, actually, there weren’t that many in Leeds; one stood out in my online search results, though. Described as “Leeds’ longest-running spoken word event” held in Chapel Allerton on the first Wednesday of the month, it was, of course, Wicked Words.

Those who know me well will understand that venturing somewhere new, especially alone, is not easy for me to do, yet I found the courage to go along one particular Wednesday night in early 2011, I think it was. I found a table in the dark near the back of the room, spoke to no-one and scuttled away quickly at the end. Yet I left impressed. Impressed by a certain warmth pervading the evening that I hadn’t expected, by the charisma, humour and general leaping about by one Brendan McPartlan, organiser and compère; impressed by the poetry and the poets who read it, and by how everyone seemed to know each other. I realised I’d discovered something special and wanted to be part of it – the problem was that I felt like the child in the school playground who sees everyone else having fun, but doesn’t quite know how to go about asking to join in…

I was a ‘lurker’ at Wicked Words for longer than I care to admit. In the meantime I’d begun reading at open-mic nights over in Manchester and the North-West, encouraged by friends I’d made in that neck of the woods, so by the time I plucked up the courage to request a slot at Wicked Words I was at least no longer a performance virgin. Also, I’d got to know a few people on the Leeds poetry scene through writing workshops, who also went to Wicked Words – so I knew I wouldn’t be walking into a room full of strangers anymore.

Once I’d taken the plunge I felt welcomed instantly; not only welcomed, but encouraged, supported – made to feel part of a kind of family. There was no turning back. I did a few open-mic slots, and then was flattered and privileged that, as a relative newcomer, Brendan first of all invited me to perform a support slot to the wonderful Tony Walsh, and then recently enquired if I’d like to take part in the final night’s celebration by joining his ‘Wicked Words All-Stars’ on stage; it was an honour to be asked.

The last-ever Wicked Words was something special – an affirmation of everything this night has meant to Leeds for the past ten years, a celebration of Brendan’s hard work, massive effort and sheer enthusiasm put in to make it so. Luke Wright headlined and so had the honour of being the final poet to be heard at Wicked Words, but I’m sure Luke won’t mind me saying that on this occasion the events of the first-half took precedence, and tonight Brendan McPartlan was the real star.

Particular mention must be made here of the unstinting efforts of Greg White in making sure Wicked Words and Brendan had the best possible send-off. I can’t begin to imagine how much time Greg has put in over the past three months or so compiling and producing the one-off anthology Past Wickedness as a farewell gift to Brendan, also the hours spent folding origami birds out of coloured paper – one given to each audience member – on which was printed Greg’s poem Undone, its poignant message reminding us that whatever follows, nothing will ever be quite the same as Wicked Words ever again. Thank you Greg – and I hope you find a good use for the bird-cage!

Brendan’s collaborative poem Words of Advice from my Grandfather was a joy to hear and to be a part of, along with Matthew Hedley Stoppard, Noel Whittall, Greg White, Jonathan Eyre, John Hepworth, Chris Stephenson, Tim Ellis, Sandra Burnett and Jane Kite. I hope that one positive consequence of Wicked Words’ demise is that, now freed from the role of compère, we’ll hear much more of Brendan’s sharp and witty poetry on the spoken-word circuit in Leeds and beyond.

So that’s it – the end of an era. I’ve no doubt that a phoenix will rise – Seven Arts is too good a venue to be lost to spoken-word events – but there will never be another Wicked Words. It’s hard to explain how much it’s meant for me; I’ve loved the poetry, made friends, new opportunities have opened up… but above all, even though a relative latecomer, through Wicked Words I’ve been made to feel welcomed into the Leeds poetry scene, and privileged to be part of something really special.

Thank you Wicked Words, and thank you especially Brendan.

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