At the beginning of 2008 Alex Davies, co-organiser with Steve Willey of the London poetry reading series Openned, convened a meeting of a group of loosely-associated poets with a commitment to experimental and innovative writing in Manchester. The poets were James Davies, Tom Jenks, Alex Middleton, Matthew Welton and myself. The aim was to propose a new local reading series devoted to this work. James had already begun a series of readings associated with his Matchbox magazine project the year before and had put on Matthew, Tom, myself and Allen Fisher to promote our respective contributions. Tom was editing a magazine called Parameter and had organised a launch reading for one of the issues. Alex, who had translated the great Danish poet Inger Christensen, was working for the Literature division of Arts Council England, which she continues to do. I had recently begun running an MA in Innovative and Experimental Creative Writing in my (ongoing) post at the University of Salford and teaching undergraduate modules in innovative poetry. Matthew Welton was working for the University of Bolton and programming interesting poetry at the Octagon Theatre in Bolton, but was later to leave Manchester for a new job in Nottingham. We felt collectively that the time, conditions and resources were in place to inaugurate Manchester’s first regular experimental writing series.
Within three months of this meeting our first event took place at The Old Abbey Inn in Manchester Science Park, featuring Geraldine Monk, Alan Halsey and Tom Jenks. Jump forward six years and we have now hosted 48 events to date, presenting over a hundred individual performers to a total audience numbering well over a thousand people. In the process our team contracted slightly to a core of myself, James and Tom, but we have maintained links with our co-founders Openned. The mission of the event has simply been to promote the innovative and experimental writing that we are excited by. The project is self-funded, so we do not need to comply with the agendas of any funding bodies. At any one time we utilise a planning grid with over a hundred names on it to programme our cycle of six to eight events a year, usually six months in advance. Our website has grown from strength to strength, now receiving an average of 36,000 hits a year. Aside from becoming a notice-board for experimental poetry news from the length and breadth of the UK and beyond, it is also the repository for our archive of video recordings of performances and interviews with poets – now approaching over fifty hours of material.
Integral to the ethos of The Other Room is the promotion of new writers alongside more established poets. We have programmed many writers of international repute including Jerome Rothenberg, Vanessa Place, Allen Fisher, Maggie O’Sullivan, Peter Inman, Tina Darragh, Steve McCaffery, Karen Mac Cormack, Caroline Bergvall, Hazel Smith, Roger Dean and many others, but also provided a platform, and in some cases the first readings, for new and emerging writers such as Richard Barrett, Lucy Harvest Clarke, Jo Langton, Sarah Crewe, Leanne Bridgewater and Stephen Emmerson. Any naming of names is necessarily partial, but alongside the event and the website, we have also sought to provide a full account of our activity through annual anthologies which gather the work of all the poets who have performed with us during a given year.
The Other Room has also become a focal point for small press publishing in the North West. Alongside James’s if p then q and Tom’s zimZalla presses, Alec Newman’s amazingly prolific Knives Forks and Spoons Press has published many Other Room readers and helped to boost audiences and readerships nationally and internationally. Our links with Phil Davenport’s Apple Pie Editions also saw us host the North West Launch of the impressive ‘language art’ anthology The Dark Would in October 2012.
After moving to a more central venue – The Castle Hotel pub on Oldham Street – about a year and a half ago, The Other Room has gone from strength to strength, drawing in new audiences whilst continuing to build a strong core of regulars. We’d like to take this opportunity to thank our supporters over the years who continue to inspire us.