Words by Benjamin Solah
A question I often get asked at gigs by people new to poetry and spoken word is how to you become the ‘feature’ poet? The ‘feature’ or guest poet, or poets, is something almost unique to poetry events in that alongside those on the open mic, some poets are asked to do a longer set and the event is advertised as ‘featuring’ them so many in the audience are there to specifically see their work, on the premise that they’re a quality of poet. Some events don’t have open sections and just have feature poets, people invited to perform. To go from open mic to a feature slot, I’ve compiled some useful tips, but by no means are final.
The Open Mic
The open mic is there for everyone to get a chance to show the audience and event organisers what they’ve got. It’s there for people who just like to read their own work for their own benefit but also to develop your work and get noticed for potential features. Aside from the quality of your poetry, there are other things, such as not going overtime, that help or hinder your likelihood of getting features. See my open mic tips for more.
Your work on the open mic should show that you have a body of work long enough to sustain at least a 15 minute set, so reading new work and reading often is a good idea, as well as trying out different venues and events. Different places have different tastes and styles, so whilst you might not get a feature at one venue, another gig might like your style enough to ask you.
Do I ask for a feature?
The general advice is you shouldn’t ask an event organiser to feature for them, unless they put an open callout for features. It’s best to wait until they think you’re ready and you don’t want to put them offside. There are some exceptions though, usually made easier if you’ve featured before, such as if you have a specific pitch for a show, a certain kind of set, or if you want to launch your book. I would tread cautiously with this though.
Examples of your work
Alongside open mic, not all gig organisers get out to all the gigs, so it’s easy to be missed by someone and some events look elsewhere for features, such asking other event organisers or more commonly now, online. Examples of your work online and published elsewhere is important. It’s not too much work or skill to set up a simple website, something with WordPress for example, with a bio, a few photos of yourself, and some good quality videos of your best work from open mics, maybe some written pieces and/or audio clips.
This also helps when you do get a feature as it allows easy access to things gig organisers often need to promote your feature slot and for the audience to see what they’re likely to get when they turn up.
Run your own gig
If you haven’t been asked, no one’s stopping you from just doing it yourself. Find a venue, maybe ask a few others, and run your own once off gig. If you manage to pull a crowd, it can be a great way of showing other gigs that you’ll bring people to your gig.
When you feature
Speaking of bringing people to your gig, when you do finally get asked, it’s a good idea to help out the event and really promote it yourself. Invite your friends and family, invite other poets at the gigs you frequent and help make the event a success. Unless it’s not possible, it’s a good idea to stick around and listen to the open mic as well.
Feel free to add other tips, thoughts or questions below.