Manchester poet brings stripped-down poetry to bar

In an age of many written word read aloud, these two poets bare their souls in a new Manchester performance event at Northern Arts

When word of Manchester writer Mark Johnson’s plan to perform stripped-down poetry in a bar came through it all sounded like a clichéd idea for a chat show or an old Saturday night stalwart of 1960s urban Britain.

However, the recently discovered passion project is not simply a memory of glory days: he wants to explore the power of personal storytelling and the way it can reawaken masculine force and earn respect.

Johnson, who left a job in the family business to pursue his craft full-time, has enlisted the help of the local theatre company the Star to stage Finding Magic Mike.

The two-day event, which starts tonight, takes place in a dark space behind the bar on Manchester’s Islington Road. It will comprise performance poetry set to comedy poetry by the comedian Michael Cohen, a DJ, and musicians Lee Jones and Boyfriend. The poetry itself will be performed by audience members, who will sit beneath a floor-to-ceiling section designed to appear to look like one of the bars that line the Islington Road.

“I wanted to do a performance piece from the very beginning,” said Johnson. “I’m a creative person and have a heart for words, so if a creative thing is there, I will do it. I’ve always liked the way people talk back to each other on the street or in a bar. I am always thinking that young artists have more of a voice because they don’t have the same pressures as we did when we were young, because there isn’t anyone to hear us roar and shout and fart in public.”

Johnson has performed his poetry extensively in venues across the city, the suburbs and beyond, including the Fringe and the Manchester international festival. He has also delivered talks at the University of Manchester and Liverpool university.

The hope is that the intimacy of the performance will make it a hit with Manchester men who live with anxiety about the particular kinds of man they are – and one that may respond to the opportunity to share their fears.

Johnson said he was inspired by the work of influential poets such as Garrick Hearn, who explored themes of masculinity and power in 1981. While the work of his fellow poets is illuminating, what attracted him most to the work of reading aloud as a young man was the empathy it generated among the audience. “Reading quietly to a crowd of your peers and admiring the way your brothers and sisters looked at you in the eye was part of this intimate, brotherly thing that is part of anyone’s sensibility.

“In England, we kind of snip off male voices like picking over a particularly ugly tomato, but I am quite interested in exploring what we think about and love, especially as we move away from not just making decisions but co-creating the things we love.”

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