Header photo by Adam Fung at Sharp Teeth, Bristol, February 2018 (and Sharp Teeth is a cool name, too!)
I have never set up a spoken word night, but if I did, I should have to give some thought to what to call it, for the naming of spoken word nights, like the naming of cats, is a difficult matter. There are various approaches one can take and many of these names are poems in themselves.
Puns, particularly ones which involve parts of the mouth, words for speech or speaking, poetic forms, and microphones, are perennially popular, with the nationwide franchise Hammer and Tongue being perhaps the most famous example. Some of my favourite punning names include Manchester’s One Mic Stand, Swindon’s Ooh, Beehive! (which takes place in The Beehive pub and if you don’t get it, try putting “matron” after it) and Paignton’s Speaky Blinders. ETA: And I have just been reminded of Plymouth’s superb Pucker Poets, a night with a particularly clever pun, as it’s not only a pun on “pukka”, but is also a reference to the fact that it used to be held at Cafe Kiss.
Some people like to go for a metaphor. Milk, one of Bristol’s best and most successful nights, is a case in point: that one monosyllabic word connotes so much about the night’s ethos and, indeed, about the nature of poetry itself. It is warm and nourishing, maternal and nurturing, pure and natural. When listening to poetry at Milk, we are like babies, secure on their mothers’ breasts, being fed a substance that keeps us alive. And Malaika Kegode, who runs Milk, while programming some of the biggest and most arresting figures in spoken word, has always also been passionate about supporting and developing young artists and is a particular champion of the subtler, gentler kind of poetry that often gets trampled on in a shouty, slam environment, so the name is even more apt. Weston-super-Mare’s WordMustard also goes with a food metaphor, but a very different one: here, poetry is constructed as a condiment that makes life palatable, and we can expect hot, spicy poems that will surprise our tastebuds (it is also, though, a reference to the homemade maracas made of old mustard bottles, filled with dried beans, which the audience is encouraged to shake to show their enthusiasm for the open micers). Lincoln has a night called Crash Course In Brain Surgery which I know nothing about, but I already want to go to, as it’s a fun, in-your-face name which also hints at poetry’s medicinal properties for mental health.
Some go for a pun-metaphor combo. Jawdance, Apples and Snakes’ night in London, has a name that leads you to expect astonishing verbal dexterity – the poets’ mouths will be moving so fast and with such rhythm that their jaws will appear to be dancing. And it will make your jaw drop! But it is also (and it literally took me about four years to pick up on this) a pun on “war dance”, hinting at spoken word’s capacity to wage war on social injustice and corrupt institutions – this is language as a weapon. Tongue Fu, one of the UK’s biggest nights, also goes for a pun that implies you can defend yourself with words (or, at least, that poetry can give you a surprise kicking). Raise The Bar, another high-profile Bristol night, has a name which is a triple pun which brings in multiple overlapping connotations –  The idiom, meaning continually up your game or take the quality up to another level. And how apt that is for this ambitious, audacious night, which continually strives for (and usually gets) bigger audiences and bigger international headline acts.  Bars, in the hip-hop sense. Craft-D (Danny Pandolfi), who runs the night, is a rapper and hip-hop poet and is inviting open micers to show us their bars.  When it first started, Raise The Bar took place in the bar at Bristol University Student Union. Although it long moved on from this venue, the name, to me, still retains connotations of “raise the roof in the bar” or “shake up the joint”.
A rhyming name is another option, e.g. Torquay’s Stanza Extravaganza, London’s Chill Pill. Or you can just go for the downright surreal, e.g. Exeter’s Spork, Guildford’s The 1000 Monkeys.
Finally, there’s the what-it-says-on-the-tin approach, as exemplified by The Berkeley Square Poetry Revue (Bristol), Newcastle Literary Salon (Newcastle), Stand Up and Slam (London), Poetry is Dead Good (Nottingham). Some of these are also alliterative (e.g. the Bath nights Poetry Plus and Poetry and a Pint). There’s a lot to be said for the stop-wanking-around-and-just-call-it-what-it-is approach – if all the other nights in your area have gone peak hairdresser with the puns, calling yourself The Poetry Night is a transgressive and attention-grabbing move. And if your punning/metaphorical name is too clever-clever, you run the risk of alienating potential audience members, either because they fail to realise your night is a poetry night at all or because, if they’re timid or worried that poetry isn’t for the likes of them, they could be intimidated by clever in-jokes and worry they won’t fit in with overeducated wags like you.
But I can’t resist a pun, so, in case anyone’s looking for a painful pun name, I don’t believe any of the following are taken:
Emergency Word 10
A Fit of Speak
Gob Seeker’s Allowance
Gobstoppers (although perhaps a bit too much like the Newcastle night Babblegum?)
Kissing with Tongues
Ode or Eaters (maybe for a night in a restaurant?)
Unbelievably, all of the following, which I also came up with, are already taken by arts groups or companies of some description: Bubble and Speak, Key Rhyme Pie, Speak and Span, Speaksavers, Speaky Clean, Speeches and Cream.