The Live at the Butchery Zoom readings won the Saboteur Award for Best Spoken Word Night 2021 (despite being on at four in the afternoon). Hosts Helen Ivory and Martin Figura tell us what happened when lockdown hit, how and why the Live at the Butchery readings started, and what the readers and listeners talk about after the event itself
We should probably start by saying we live in an old Co-Op butcher’s shop with BUTCHERY emblazoned in beautiful glass gold lettering above the window. We use the old shop as our office and this is where the action happens.
And how did the Live from the Butchery action all begin? Well, the first lockdown hit the week Martin’s show Shed was due to do three nights at the Library Theatre London as part of Marchland 2020 and then onto Norwich Arts Centre, before hopefully touring later in the year. It never happened and at the time of writing it is looking very unlikely it will ever happen. It also struck off the final dates of his previous show and some other gigs besides.
Helen had been working on props for Martin’s show and we’d all met our deadlines to be ready for the first performance, so that was a bit deflating to say the least! She had invitations to go to Ukraine and Poland as part of the Versopolis translation project and a series of readings set up in this country to promote The Anatomical Venus (Bloodaxe) which came out just before the pandemic. And then it all stopped.
Feeling very much cut adrift, Live from the Butchery began when Helen asked casually on Facebook: “If Martin and I did a Zoom reading, would anybody be interested in coming?” Lots of people were interested — we were all captive in our homes and missing our poetry communities.
We scheduled it in April 2020 and lo! the people came, well, quite a lot of them and so we thought let’s do it again, and so we did. We began with the Ink Sweat & Tears (who’d become our partners in the enterprise — enter Kate Birch) Commission recipients: Gail McConnell and Jo Young. We were quite early to the Zoom party and quickly found a decent-sized audience.
Feeling very much cut adrift, Live from the Butchery began when Helen asked casually on Facebook: “If Martin and I did a Zoom reading, would anybody be interested in coming?”
Our format was simple — a couple of twenty-minute readings in a convivial atmosphere. We’re all very social and we make sure there is no dead air between readings — if no one else is talking, we will. Everyone there is welcome and encouraged to join the conversation if they want to. When the readings are done, we hang around for as long as other people do, and keep on chatting. It’s been a lovely way to be sociable with old and new friends. The conversations range from pets, odd vegetables, accidental demolishment of supermarket displays to serious discussions around the readers work and poetry in general. Our aim is to present high-quality poetry and for the readers and audiences to have a good and stimulating time.
One of the plusses of Zoom is that it is accessible to most people and knows no distance. An early reader was old friend Stuart Ross from Canada, who read with Clare Shaw — they were both brilliant and struck up a rapport well ahead of the event. Next, we had Ron Egatz from upstate New York, with Matthew Caley. We’ve got regular audience members from Canada, LA, Brooklyn, Barcelona and Australia, as well as from down the road. Another plus is that, regardless of lockdowns, people who can’t normally get to in-person events because of accessibility issues, are able to join us.
At some point we added a support slot for emerging writers, and that has been the format ever since. We also began to ask people to Pay What They Can and pass the proceeds on to the readers. We think carefully about who we programme and have called in many favours from those we’ve given hospitality to over the years, and those we’ve met at various events and festivals. We have a long way to go before we get through our original very long wish-list, but always keep a keen eye out for people new to us. There’s a list of who’s read so far at the bottom of the article. We think we’ve presented a diverse range of voices and put together some interesting combos, such as Joelle Taylor and Sean O’Brien, which sparked a fascinating and erudite discussion that went on well after the end of the event itself.
The conversations range from pets, odd vegetables, accidental demolishment of supermarket displays to serious discussions around the readers work and poetry in general
It seems to be working and we picked up the Saboteur Award for Best Spoken Word Night (despite being on at four in the afternoon). Most recently we had our very first Live from The Butchery reader actually live from the Butchery). We had a splendid event with Pascale Petite and Ink Sweat & Tears scholar Rosie Gardner (a name you’ll be hearing more of) also reading. Sudeep Sen was over from Delhi to launch his new collection Anthropocene at various events. We’d asked him to read, and he wondered if he might visit, and of course we said yes — it was fantastic to catch up with him. (Martin’s show Whistle was on a British Council Tour of India and on our very first evening there we’d ended up at Sudeep’s place and did severe damage to his wine stock.) When we can, we’ll be inviting future readers to come stay, if they can make the trip.
We’ve maintained a steady audience despite the increasing competition and Zoom fatigue (we promise, ours are fun!) and have so many exciting writers we still want to invite. We love doing it and don’t plan to quit anytime soon. Of course, that depends on people still coming along. We couldn’t or wouldn’t do it without you! If you like our Facebook page and follow Ink Sweat & Tears on Twitter you’ll be kept informed (not pestered) about our forthcoming events. We have some exciting readers programmed for 2022. Our 2020 Twelve Days of Christmas event was a blast and raised over £300 for local homeless charity St Martins, and in 2021 we did even better, raising £425.
Some of what some people have said about Live from the Buchery:
“What an afternoon! Thank you so much, Jill, Fahad, Malika and both Helen and Martin for hosting!” — John Mills
“Biblical on Sunday — closest I’ve ever been to attending church. This was a breathtaking reading all round! — Stuart Ross
“I need to use a thesaurus to state how much I’m enjoying this. A better trio I haven’t heard in years.” — Grant Tarbard
“I had a great time, really enjoyed my fellow readers’ work and loved the atmosphere of attentive relaxation you’ve created. I was sad when it ended.” — Sean O’Brien
“Oh, was all lovely, and three very different readings. Mostly Martin Figura and Helen Ivory just create a really warm and inclusive atmosphere with chat in between readings that sets up the poetry beautifully. I think that direct involvement of audience is key, actually, and what gives you the feeling of being truly present and part of it.” — Jacqueline Saphra
“The Butchery is a place where poetry can sit amongst strangers and friends with a loving and supportive reception. Even online, reading at the Butchery still gives the feeling of an intimate gig and my only regret is not being able to be there in person.” — Fahad Al-Amoudi
“Still pinching myself! Yesterday was a luxury in amongst an incredible assembly of poet-elders.” — Malika Booker
“Just wanted to say thank you for the vibe of this event — the openness and informality combined with the focus of the readings. beautiful.” — Fiona Bennett
Live from the Butchery was wonderfully lively! Thanks to hosts for the very warm welcome & chat, to @sudeepsennet Rosie Gardner for being superb co-readers, & to everyone who came and listened.” — Pascale Petit
Live From The Butchery Alumni:
Helen Ivory, Martin Figura, Gail McConnell, Jo Young, Esther Morgan, Tiffany Atkinson, Chris Hamilton Emery, Andrea Holland, Stuart Ross, Clare Shaw, Ron Egatz, Matthew Caley, Sophie Herxheimer, Rishi Dastidar, Tim Turnbull, Joelle Taylor, Sean O’Brien, Jess Mookherjee, George Szirtes , Julia Webb, Memoona Zahid, Fahad Al-Amoudi, Desree, Jacqueline Saphra, Matthew Howard, Raymond Antrobus, Carole Bromley, Roger Robinson, Tim Liardet, Jennifer Militello, Jenny Padgin, Christopher Reid, Anna Saunders, Sarah Westcott, Kymm Coveney, Jill Abram, Annie Freud, Jane Burn, Anja Konig, Tristan Coleshaw, Eve Esfandiari Denney, John Mills, Pascal Vine, David Bleiman, Maggie Mackay, Amlanjyoiti Goswami, Lesley Ingram, Ramona Herdman, Sue Burge, Susie Wild, Antony Owen, Gareth Writer-Davies, Helen Boden, Sudeep Sen, Rosie Gardner, Pascal Petit, Jen Hadfield, Adam Horovitz, Malika Booker …