The organisers/hosts of six UK-based poetry events talk to HCE about their experience of keeping their communities going across the Covid-19 pandemic. Read on to find out what had to change, what they’ve missed the most about in-person gatherings, and what new knowledge they’ll be bringing with them when the gigs return to venues…


Walsall, UK
Prattlers, Poets & Pandemonialists (Emma Purshouse, Steve Pottinger, Dave Pitt)
Find out more here.


Talk us through the process of moving Yes We Cant/PASTA online. How was it, what were the challenges/surprises?

We decided very early on that we wanted to keep our events running. For our own well-being and enjoyment as well as for our audience. At first, we moved them both onto Facebook, but Yes We Cant is now on Zoom, which makes it more of a ‘live’ event. We’ve kept PASTA on Facebook because that offers different opportunities – folk can and do submit YouTube videos or Soundcloud files as well as text poems, which allows them to be incredibly creative with what they do with their work. It’s been great to see our poets embrace this new way of doing things and the opportunities it offers.

Both events are really well attended. We generally have between 70-90 people access PASTA online, and somewhere between 50-70 come to Yes We Cant. Aside from the healthy interest in poetry, we think it also shows how important community and connection is to people, which shouldn’t come as a surprise (after all, it’s why we kept the events going!).


Biggest difference you’ve noticed since moving online?

A different audience (see below) and a greater range of poets – we’ve been able to bring in headliners from areas of the UK we wouldn’t have considered before, and we’ve had open mic poets from all over the country, too. That’s been great. We’ve decided that whatever happens in the future, we’ll maintain an online presence for our events.


What’s the best thing about the virtual version of your gig:

It brought in a raft of new people who might not have got to the real-life events, whether because of childcare issues, difficulties with public transport, or accessibility, etc. We found a lot more women have come along, and are more ready to share their work. (Note: we’re also aware that some of our regulars who aren’t computer savvy have been unable to access things.)


Something you miss about in-person gigs:

Beer! The chance for banter with folk. The atmosphere. The sense of occasion. Etc., etc. Zoom is great, but we hanker after a room full of people…


Something you don’t miss:

Hangovers. 😉  Other than that, nothing.


To your knowledge, what’s the furthest afield you’ve had poets/poetry fans join you for Yes We Cant/PASTA?

We’ve had a poet from San Francisco, and we’ve another joining us from Kenya next month!


Top piece of advice for other hosts hoping to create a virtual event?

Plan what you’re doing. Keep it tight. Think of the pace of the night. Will it be enjoyable for people watching? We make ours pay-as-you-feel so we don’t exclude folk but are still putting a value on the night and can pay our headliners. Having two or three folk working in a team means you can share the responsibility of introducing folk, letting people in, and scrolling through to make sure folk are muted. Let your open mic poets in early so you can check their sound and lighting and run through the format of the night, so they know what to expect.


Is there anything you’ve learnt from hosting virtual gigs that you’ll be taking back with you when Yes We Cant returns to ‘normality’?

Our experience of doing online gigs has reinforced our belief in the importance of working as a team, and we’re very fortunate to have that in place. As and when we return to ‘real’ gigs, we want to make sure that folk who’ve been able to access our events online (but might not be able to attend in person) can still take part. We’ll be looking at live-streaming some of our gigs, for starters, which’ll be another learning curve for us, and we’re also discussing how we might be able to retain a platform for the videos and audio files which have been part of our PASTA nights on Facebook – there’s been so much creativity in those that it would be a shame not to continue to offer that opportunity in some way.



Coventry, UK
Organiser/Hosts: Here Comes Everyone (Raef Boylan) and Ann Atkins
Find out more here


Talk us through the process of moving Fire & Dust online. How was it, what were the challenges/surprises?

It’s strange to think of a time when we didn’t all know what Zoom was…but, prior to March 2020, I had never heard of it. I’m not a tech-savvy person, so it’s lucky that Zoom turned out pretty user-friendly. For the first gig, I didn’t promote it widely, only to people who’d previously been to F&D and we could contact via social media – just in case it was a disaster. But it was a fun night, just a bit weird. At that point, we’d all been locked down for weeks, so it was nice to see friendly faces and hear their words again. Like a slice of routine. There was a learning curve when it came to setting up tickets on Eventbrite for the gigs that came later on and making sure every ticket-holder could use Zoom and had received the link; that’s got easier the longer we’ve been going, as more and more people became accustomed to how Zoom works. Definitely grateful to all the other event organisers who offered advice via Facebook and even Zoom tutorials (breakout rooms, captions) whenever an issue arose.


Biggest difference you’ve noticed since moving online?

I guess an obvious reply is we get people joining us from across the UK and the globe, which we wouldn’t normally! That’s been a brilliant, and initially unexpected, side-effect of Covid-19. Therefore, our audience and poets have become more diverse, in terms of nationality.

That said, we seem to have attracted an overall more mature crowd –something that surprised me at the start of the pandemic, as I was worried some of our older poets wouldn’t take to the technology as readily as the younger ones who’ve grown up on it. The gig has been advertised to students at the local university, who used to join us in the bookshop, but very few of them have made it to F&D online. I guess the physical experience perhaps means more at that age; logging on is not the same as venturing out in a friendship group, knocking back a few shots of courage and making a night of it. It’s also been suggested that the younger demographic are less likely to have enough bandwidth to cope with Zoom, because they’re more likely to be sharing Wi-Fi with housemates or family. Virtual gigs can be frustrating when there are delays or it keeps freezing up.


What’s the best thing about the virtual version of your gig:

The wide range of new poets and audience members we’ve had the pleasure of meeting. Many from way outside Coventry – overseas and from the other side of the world! Some have even headlined for us, it’s been brilliant.

I find it helpful knowing ahead of the gig which attendees want to read in the open mic, thanks to Eventbrite tickets. I’m able to put the names of all candidates in a tub and select them – mostly, with a few tweaks – at random. This means everyone who wants to perform has a shot at being chosen (unless they register last-minute) and, because it’s done in advance, I can put some thought into how the night is arranged. For example, rotating who starts and finishes the night off. We also then have people in reserve, in case there are any no-shows. People who miss out get prioritised the following month. It’s nice to feel democratic instead of guilty!


Something you miss about in-person gigs:

I miss meeting people properly, interacting authentically. Especially talking with poets who are planning to read for the first time – you can tell someone is nervous or introverted when it’s their friend or partner nudging them to sign up, or you see the struggle in their face between the desire and fear. And this lets you be extra supportive and encouraging. Whereas, unless they mention it in their email, I don’t know who the more vulnerable people are. Now we just have to be equally supportive for everyone, which is fine. Fire & Dust people are good people!

I miss the sound of people responding to poems – laughter, gasps, applause and cheering at the end of each slot. Sometimes we unmute at the very end and have a rowdy few seconds for all the performances in one go. (Everybody’s neighbours and housemates probably think they’ve cracked up –10PM at night and they’re sat there clapping in an empty room!)


Something you don’t miss:

I was always rubbish at kicking the night off; that bit where people are chatting and you need to start – trying to get people’s attention and settle down for the gig without a mute button. I don’t miss that. Some nights, I used to wish for an air-horn! I feel guilty interrupting everyone with Mute All, but it is an amazing tool that’s made a big difference.

I don’t miss some of the minor annoyances of general life and travel. Lugging bags of books and magazines through the city centre on rainy nights. Having to wait for the toilet in the interval when there’s lots of stuff that needs prepping for the second half.

As mentioned above, it’s great being able to arrange the open mic list in advance. As lovely as it is to witness the enthusiasm, I wasn’t a fan of being pounced on within seconds by a queue of people all jostling to read…and having to turn someone away when the slots are filled up always felt crappy.


To your knowledge, what’s the furthest afield you’ve had poets/poetry fans join you for Fire & Dust?

I think New Zealand is the furthest. But it’s been amazing to be regularly joined by poets from places like the Philippines, Australia, Malaysia, Zimbabwe, Ghana, South Africa, India, Ireland, the Netherlands, Canada, all over the United States, France – and, of course, all around the UK.


Top piece of advice for other hosts hoping to create a virtual event?

You need at least one co-host, if possible! There are a lot of tasks and functions to juggle, and you probably only have one mouse and one clicking finger – it can be a bit much for a single person. Having Ann to back me up, share the waiting-room duties and step in to rescue when Zoom disasters occur, has been amazing.

I would also say, if you’re using a ticket system, send the female performers an additional nudge to sign up for open mic. I’ve noticed that without the extra encouragement, you risk ending up with lists that are heavily male-dominated.

Don’t post the Zoom link anywhere openly online! Only share it in closed groups/emails/private messages, etc., unless you fancy dealing with a ‘Zoombomber’. (It happens less now, but being exposed to graphic porn and/or loud, hostile bigotry is unpleasant for both hosts and attendees.)


Is there anything you’ve learnt from hosting virtual gigs that you’ll be taking back with you when Fire & Dust returns to ‘normality’?

We don’t want to lose touch with our new, worldwide community of poets and poetry fans. Especially those who struggle to access offline events. If we can figure out a way to make F&D a hybrid event and incorporate Zoom or some other technology that enables us to share the event experience with others, we will give that a go. If it’s not feasible for us and our venue, we’ll continue to host some regular Fire & Dust events virtually, bringing together performances from Coventry and poets further afield.


York, UK
Organiser/Host: Rose Drew
Find out more here


Talk us through the process of moving York Spoken Word online. How was it, what were the challenges/surprises?

When we realized that lockdown was coming, I thought immediately of Zoom, which I had used the previous summer. At that time, when asked to do an interview via Zoom, I had asked, “What is Zoom??” This was for Jade and Wilnona of “And We Thought Ladies…”, who interview women all over the place about their work, hopes and dreams, and so on. The interview was edited and put onto YouTube and looked fantastic! You’d never guess we were 4,000 miles apart.  So, I knew about Zoom. I then sent out the monthly open mic reminder for April 2020 with the code.


Biggest difference you’ve noticed since moving online?

IT IS EXHAUSTING. I have always co-hosted with Alan but haha, I really hosted pretty much all the time. I love audiences. I love performing. I love chatting. I love making commentary. But there is no way to do it for 3+ hrs in front of a screen. I legit pity teachers.

But the biggest, best difference, right away, was suddenly we had half an audience of women, instead of the usual one-third. Then, we began to get folks who ordinarily never went out, or rarely went out, especially at night, due to access issues: no buses, no car, wheelchair-users, don’t see well, and so on.  Then, we got folks from far, far away. Cathy Carson popped up one day and asked for a slot, and wow. She is in Ireland. She is a nurse and was seeing the worst of Covid. She broke our hearts, made us smile, and showed what Zoom really was capable of.  (Which, actually, I should have known about, because of Wilnona and Jade!)


What’s the best thing about the virtual version of your gig?

Everyone from all over; we can go quite late without worrying about annoying the pub staff; no outside bar noise or sirens (but kettles, phone, loud convos haha).


Something you miss about in-person gigs:

Poetry sigh.  The mutter or nod or wink from someone else when you’re listening to magic. The camaraderie. The chat at the breaks. The sharing of meals. Hugs.


Something you don’t miss:

How hard it is to get there at times, for a lot of folks. Sometimes us. I can Zoom in now even when I am away.


To your knowledge, what’s the furthest afield you’ve had poets/poetry fans join you for York Spoken Word?

Indonesia, Japan, The Philippines, but we’ve loved Dee Allen from Oakland California, who could tell us what being Black in America is really, really like, which was especially powerful during the BLM protests.


Top piece of advice for other hosts hoping to create a virtual event?

Get actual emails. Posting the code on Facebook is really daft, because then it may get used by a Zoom bomber – however, that bit of “fun” died down ages ago.  But anyway, I am retro and like firmer forms of communication than social media. Tell people about it. Make a poster, and a Facebook event.  Send out a reminder.

Stick to time! Don’t let folks go on and on. That is harder when you can’t walk them off stage, or when you like them as a person. Sometimes someone is holding us all spellbound and I let them go on a bit past 4 mins.

The hardest part, for me, is juggling who goes when. Lots of folks want the middle, or early, but if everyone gets the middle, soon the middle is quite late! If someone ends up at, say, 10.30 one month, I ensure they’re on earlier the next. Slots fill up fast.  The furore has died down, thankfully. No more waiting list. In the “heyday” of zoomed mics, say, June 2020 to Nov 2020, we had 40 readers, and a waiting list of 5 to 8. But each month, someone would not get online, or would need to leave early, so at least a few wait-listers got a slot. Try not to go on too long. You will lose a lot of audience.


Is there anything you’ve learnt from hosting virtual gigs that you’ll be taking back with you when York Spoken Word returns to ‘normality’?

We realised by June or July 2020 we would need to at least try to maintain a hybrid element going forward. Lots of readers had previously had access issues and allowing them to join by Zoom makes our night more accessible. Plus, we’ve been spoiled by gaining our own access to brilliant poets like Special K and Cathy Carson.



Swindon, UK
Organisers/Hosts: Clive Oseman and Nick Lovell
Find out more here


Talk us through the process of moving Oooh Beehive online. How was it, what were the challenges/surprises?

Initially, technology was our biggest challenge. Neither of us are technophobic but neither are we tech experts…so, once we had decided to move to online performances it took us a couple of events to get that side of it off pat…

It also took us a little while to decide on the best format. Would it be better for everyone to have their mic open so the performer gets feedback such as laughter? Turns out that didn’t work well, with background noise often drowning out the performer, so we decided that we would ask everyone to mute during performances and unmute to applaud afterwards.

And, sadly, it took us a couple of events to realise that openly promoting the gig and allowing access to all would result in us eventually getting zoombombed. Thankfully when it did happen, we noticed immediately and were able to shut the event down, create a new one and get the link to everyone in a very short time and so although delayed, the show did go on! By using a mailing list to send out the event link and a little vetting of new names asking to be on the mailing list, we have managed to maximise our audience while avoiding unwanted gatecrashers.


Biggest difference you’ve noticed since moving online?

Being online has allowed us to connect with poets from all across the British Isles and around the world. We have encountered a wealth of incredibly talented poets that we simply wouldn’t have heard of in our open mic night in Swindon. While we do try to get to gigs, sheer distance limits us to the Midlands/London/the South and South West for live gigs, although we have ventured up to Manchester and down to Margate on occasion, thus we would have never encountered Cathy Carson or Fin Hall, Special K and Jeff Cottrill from the Americas, Rikki Livermore or Skylar J Winter from the other side of the globe…to name but a few of the many incredible poets that now join us for Oooh Beehive online.


What’s the best thing about the virtual version of your gig?

I think it has to be the atmosphere and energy. We have never given a damn if it is a poet’s very first time reading or if they are an accomplished poet with 10 collections out there. We don’t care what style of poetry people bring. We wanted to create a space, both at our live events and our online gigs, where anyone can be comfortable sharing their poetry. The comments we get every month from people new to Oooh Beehive and from regulars suggest we have succeeded, and the energy generated by the poets and audience is both inspiring and humbling.


Something you miss about in-person gigs:

The intimacy and audience reaction. While it is there on Zoom, when you are performing to a room in real time you can feel the audience, judge how a poem or set is going. It is a lot harder on Zoom.


Something you don’t miss:

Drunken punters hi-jacking the mic 😀


To your knowledge, what’s the furthest afield you’ve had poets/poetry fans join you for Oooh Beehive?

Australia and New Zealand. Our last headliner was Rikki Livermore from NZ.


Top piece of advice for other hosts hoping to create a virtual event? (Especially slams)

Keep the energy high all the way through. Avoid dead mics even if something goes wrong. Even if you are keeping up a running commentary of what is going wrong, keep talking “Well, we had intended to be introducing the next poet by now but due to me failing my 11 plus, let alone GCE O Level mathematics…I am currently using both fingers and toes to check my arithmetic…” Nothing kills the atmosphere more than silence from the hosts. If one of us is struggling with a technical glitch or the scores haven’t matched in a slam (we always cross check the scores to avoid errors) then the other will usually step in to make light of it with a joke or comment or a factoid…anything to avoid silence.


Is there anything you’ve learnt from hosting virtual gigs that you’ll be taking back with you when Oooh Beehive returns to ‘normality’?

Lots of things. The knowledge that Zoom has allowed us to link up with poets across the globe during the pandemic and that it would be bordering on criminal to allow that to fall by the wayside. We are hoping to incorporate Zoom with our live events if we can get the technology to work. It appears simple enough, provided we can organise things in our venue. If it proves impossible to do then we plan to continue with the monthly online open mic as a partner event to our live one.

We will also continue to run our Oooh Beehive UK Online Poetry Championship, as it has proved very popular with poets around the country and is continuing to do so. 





Organiser/Host: Charley Barnes
Find out more here


Talk us through the process of moving Dear Listener online. How was it, what were the challenges/surprises?

I think the biggest surprise was actually how much people missed it, as a monthly event in their calendars. That’s how it came to be moved online in the first place; a few regulars contacted me to ask whether it was a possibility. I was surprised at how adaptable people were, and how much they threw themselves into the online process. Fortunately, I was already quite familiar with the software side of things because all my teaching had shifted online by then anyway!


What’s the best thing about the virtual version of your gig?

Home comforts! You can’t usually host in your lounge pants (well, I suppose you could but perhaps shouldn’t). I think things actually run more on-time for the virtual Dear Listeners, which is nice because we’re quite an early-doors event anyway (6:30p.m. start), so people know they don’t have a huge amount of time in front of the screen to attend the event.


Something you miss about in-person gigs:

The banter. It doesn’t flow the same on Zoom; it can’t.


Something you don’t miss:

I find it more stressful, scouting out the room to see whether all of my readers are there for example. I don’t miss that.


To your knowledge, what’s the furthest afield you’ve had poets/poetry fans join you for Dear Listener?



Top piece of advice for other hosts hoping to create a virtual event?

It isn’t just about everyone else’s comfort levels; it’s about your own, too. So, while making sure your attendees are happy with the set-up, hosts also shouldn’t push themselves (or even be shamed, in some cases) into doing something that doesn’t sit right with them. Things are uncomfortable enough already! What you’re doing, and what you’re happy doing, is enough.



Kenilworth, UK
Organisers/Hosts: John & Kim
Find out more here


We have carried on with PGR through a sense of duty and a reluctance to let the event slide away. I know we don’t promote like we should or network much. With neither of us at ease with I.T., we relied on our son to set up the Zoom links and co-host.

I miss the cadence and immediacy of the live and in the flesh; this is countered by the fact that many disabled people attend and perform online. It might be nice, and I think a grant might be possible to livestream a link for actual events in the future, whereby virtual attendees can perform on screen too.

I seem to have set myself up as the stooge for one or two of the ‘wittier’ poets online. A little bit like when we find ourselves as the fulcrum between two separate pals who are perhaps ill at ease, so the double piss taking can erk a little.

But it’s OK. We are having a live event in September as part of Kenilworth Arts Festival. The writer ‘Rob Cowen’ has written a book of poetry. He is going to be featured at the United Reform Church in town, with a reduced capacity audience. Usual gig: open mic then twenty min set…a break…second set, then more open mic.

To be honest…after that, I am not sure if I have the appetite to continue.

It has been fun, and we meet nice people, but sometimes I weary of the egotism and the elitism of the poetic community in general. Particularly the establishment, who seem too cosy with the actual establishment! It would be so much easier to just join other events once a month, where I could just heckle from the back…