New Poetry, Fiction, Essay

Steve Cawte – How Spoken Word came to Lincoln: a template to follow?

Circle Logo

Steve Cawte has worked as a playwright, poet, teacher and performer. Over the years, he has produced eight of the plays he has written and has directed a collection of stage plays. He went on to win two awards in 2012 – the ‘Our Times New Writer of the Year’ and the ‘Voice it’ Performers prize. His passion for poetry and theatre has led him to become a board member for ‘Lincoln Inspired’, an up-and-coming arts festival, and the host of the Lyric Lounge Lincoln poetry event. Steve is a strong believer in inspiring and encouraging new writers, and to this end is a founding member of Lincoln Creative Writers which celebrated it’s 10th anniversary in 2017. Between acting work and spoken word performances Steve runs workshops with children and adults teaching drama and writing.


Performance poetry has come a long way in Lincoln over the last decade and looks set to continue to grow and thrive. A new collective is blooming, venues are more welcoming to the idea of poets darkening their door and audiences are on the rise.

This, however, has not always been the case for Lincoln.  Performance poetry has evolved hugely from its alternative 1960’s roots.  Poets such as John Cooper Clark and Attila the Stockbroker picked up its mantle and changed it into something new. Then, more recently,  the fusion of dramatic monologue and poetry by performers and writers such as Luke Wright,  Scroobius Pip and Kate Tempest has seen a revival in its popularity. Performers like Scroobuis and Dizraeli blending rap and music into this mix even saw albums hitting charts. Yet all of this revolution seemed to happen and Lincoln remained unchanged.

As an actor, poet and playwright having lived and worked in London and Manchester, it was disconcerting at best to return back to my home city of Lincoln in 2006, a city I loved,  and to see how little had changed. Writing can be a very isolating and lonely process. It was at this time that Christopher Sanderson and I met during a Lincoln Book Festival event and mooted the idea of a writers group.  We immediately struck it off and decided to act on our conversation, and Chris and I founded the Writers Collective (which has now become Lincoln Creative Writers). This group was going to become a social outing for writers at the least, and a creative hive for like-minded souls at best. The group rapidly became a smorgasbord of people, from the professional writer looking to banish their isolated existence to the ‘not written since school’ poet, all of whom had something unique and inspiring to offer.

It didn’t take long before the new group was bursting with great material. In many cases the ‘Padawan’ becoming the new master. It was then that it became apparent there were no dedicated platforms in Lincoln to take the work to, nowhere that the budding  and newly enthused poets could air their work to the public. In these early days, I was forced to invade open mic music nights. Often I met with a good response, even from a slightly confused looking audience. The main challenge came in getting past the gatekeeper, who was initially reluctant to put a poet on the bill through fear of offending the regulars. On occasions, I even had to take a guitar with me just to get my name down on the list. The guitar then remained cased and leant on the back wall whilst I enacted my own guerilla poetry on the crowd.

Other members of the group, and especially the newer poets, were not so confident or brazen as myself. They simply kept their work to themselves. Thankfully we managed through Writing East Midlands, The Arts Council and Simon Hollingsworth’s more forward thinking approach to programming to secure some quality annual events at the Lincoln Drill Hall, namely Lyric Lounge Lincoln and extensions of the Lincoln Book Festival and Lincoln Inspired. But for the poets now chomping at the bit, these string of annualised performance opportunities were not enough.

The 31st of January 2013 saw the start of the poetic rolling stone in Lincoln when Lindum Greene started the Spoken Word at the Jolly Brewer night, which was a dedicated open mic platform for poets to bring their work and share their spoken word.  However, despite this amazing opportunity, it fell into one of the common traps for Lincoln’s amazing artistic world, weak marketing. There were no forums, no central hubs where artistic folk met and so great events were happening often to minimal audiences . Amazing people were dedicating their time for free to further their art form’s offering…yet nobody knew.  Despite being as active in the city’s small poetry circle as I was at the time, it was a year before I learned of the Jolly Brewer’s open mic night.

And it was fortuitous that I did arrive that night.  Lindum had been offered a job working in Cambridge, an opportunity that she was not going to turn down. However this would have meant that only a year after the inception, the night would have to end. Lindum approached me at the end of my first night and asked if I would consider sharing the running of the sessions, alternating the hosting duties. The night was in such a fantastic location at the Jolly Brewer, and Lindum had set the tone so well, that I didn’t hesitate to accept. We spent the following 6 months working in our alternating roles before Lindum’s work schedule meant she had to hand the reins over to me permanently.  I have endeavored to make sure that the night remains true to her initial ideology. Free to all, welcoming and fun, now into our 5th year,  I think it can be said that we have achieved that.

In time, many of the now regular and great performers of Lincoln would come through the Jolly Brewer night. It was there that the initial bonds of friendship were forged between Ron Booth and Gemma Baker. It was on their trips further afield to Wakefield and beyond that the collective Mouthpiece was born. It would go on to create a fantastic evening at the Lincoln Drill Hall that would take place once a month. Although Mouthpiece was only short lived, it created the idea that a collective could work. Following the rapid disbanding on the group over the winter of 2016/17 the new collective, Outspoken , was born. Created by the majority of the former members of Mouthpiece, Outspoken set about changing the landscape of poetry in Lincoln in a big way.

The group, currently run by a committee comprising of Charlie Gualtieri, Ron Booth and Nathan Dean, has created a string of new nights across the city.

Scratchy Pens’ is a night which is based on an old philosophy cafe principle This is where a poet shares their work, and enters into direct discussion with the audience about almost any aspect of the work from its meaning, its form and structure to the writer’s inspiration and creative process.

‘Uncaged’  is an open mic platform held at the Birdcage pub on the first Wednesday of the month where there is an eclectic mix of poets who are supported by some musicians and even a bit of stand up comedy.

At the same time as all of this was happening Chris Clarkson, who was presenting Lincolnshire’s only dedicated poetry radio show, was ready to step down as he moved on from University. He very kindly offered to hand the show over to Outspoken, who gratefully accepted the challenge.  Through the capable hands of Charlotte Greenley and Nathan Dean the show has thrived and has even in this short period of time doubled in length. ‘Word Perfect’ can be heard on Siren 107.3fm on a Wednesday evening between 7pm and 9pm.

So from the bleakness of a decade ago, Lincoln now has a regular poetry offering on every week of the year. This all comes on top of the stand alone or one off events across the city. The poetic future of this great city now seems secure and something to be proud to sit in the shadow of Tennyson’s statue.



You might also like

Stephen House

Stephen House: has had many plays commissioned and produced. He’s won two Awgie Awards (Australian Writers Guild), The Rhonda Jancovic Poetry Award for Social Justice,

Read More »

Share this post with your friends

You may also enjoy
Alfred Booth is an American professional pianist who lives in…