I have it on good authority that in the realm of Dungeons and Dragons, the character class of ‘bard’ is one of the best, requiring particularly high scores in ‘Strength’, ‘Wisdom’, ‘Dexterity’ and ‘Charisma’. Such a character is notably adept at using their artistic talent in combat and magic. And so, I assume, is this also true in the Devonian city of Exeter.
In recent years I’ve had the honour of winning various competitions, slams etc., yet none have provided quite the same level of bardic swag as my most recent prize.
Earlier this month, I took part in and won the battle to become the official ‘Bard of Exeter’, earning the privilege of this rather grand title, (in its complete form, The Bardic Chair of Exeter and Caer Wyse Gorsedd), which is mine to claim for precisely a year and a day. But not just that. Oh, no. I also get a literal chair to sit in. (I hesitate in referring to it as a throne.) And, most important of all…I have special robes. Yes, robes.
The title alone is enough to feel proud of, having had it bestowed upon me thanks to a live audience vote. However, since seizing the role and researching the rich history of bardic lore, I’ve come to appreciate the responsibility even more.
The event, held at Exeter’s excellent Bike Shed Theatre, saw eight poets, storytellers, musicians and rappers compete for the role. As well as delivering a brief set of our work, we each had the chance to pitch our manifesto for what we’d bring to it. In addition to this, I read a crowd-sourced poem, edited from suggestions provided by my A Level Creative Writing students. This included promises such as defeating the city’s infamous Rat King, together with other worthy endeavours. I may need to work on my combat skills and magic a little more first, however.
(Picture by Harry Sanders)
The manifesto stated two clear intentions, which are now for me to convert into action.
Firstly, to use the position to support and promote the current community of spoken word writers and performers in the city and beyond, working with them to create more and new opportunities to spread their existing talent.
Secondly, to address and attract new audiences to the spoken word, through wider public engagement and innovative approaches to bringing such folk traditions back to their roots.
So far, I’ve already used my interview with BBC Radio Devon to start the mission (link here, from 1:25:20), but over the next year my aim is to initiate opportunities for, and respond to the demands of, the local spoken word community. Therefore, if you are a local spoken word artist and have any suggestions, please contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org. You will need to appreciate, however, that when I say that the opportunity is ‘an honour’, I am of course using poet-speak to say that it’s unpaid and comes without a budget. Nevertheless, I do have a reasonable amount of energy and a considerable volume of goodwill, so please get in touch if you’re keen to work with me.
Oh, and if you should ever see me swaggering around in my robes, do humour me. Wealth and fame are rare for us poet types. Robes, however, I could get used to.