Sticks & Stones: Interview with Page Match organiser Dan Cockrill

As opposing poets get into character and enter the ring (no literary metaphor – an actual wrestling ring), we find that names can and will definitely hurt you

Feature by Alan Bett | 03 Jul 2014

The unmistakable riff of Eye of the Tiger throbs through the arena, and as the smoke slowly clears a microphone descends from the heavens into hell, to be clasped in hand and amplify the cry, the question, the challenge... ‘Are you ready?’

This is Page Match; a literary fight club, but the first rule being that you do talk about Page Match, where masters of spoken word suffer the death of 100 cuts from verbal lacerations.  It is the opportunity for poets to stretch lycra in place of imagination and slip into their wrestling finery and the ring, to clothes-line their opponents' egos. 

“We were just trying to find platforms to make poetry entertaining, and attract people who wouldn’t normally go to a poetry event,” suggests Dan Cockrill, the man bringing Page Match to Jura Unbound. “It’s a bit of false advertising as a poetry event for people who don’t like poetry... the acts were the best poetry acts around but it’s the glue between them which makes it more accessible, there’s music, fun games, a lot of drinking; it’s really raucous.” 

“Like watered down beer your lines are weak, you must be drunk because you think you can challenge me” – Peter ‘The Penge Pulveriser’ Hayhoe

Even more so when you use this year of referendum to organise a Scotland versus England grudge match in Edinburgh.  In the headlining bout, Luke – The Earl of Essex – Wright will boldly challenge an – as yet – mystery Scottish poet (come along to find out who).  And while Salmond and Darling refuse to squeeze themselves into leotards, perhaps we can view these Page Match competitors as surrogates – conduits for public feeling.  Or will they simply indulge in a juvenile slanging match of racial and political insults, so far from the mature and reasoned referendum debate witnessed to date (cough!).  Past battles have resulted in head shavings and book shreddings as forfeit for defeat, so English poet Wright may have a tough time in store at this away day, considering the winner is judged by the bloodthirsty, baying crowd. “The audience are going to vote with their noise,” Dan confirms, suggesting that this might offer some real life political prophecy. “You may get a feel of how people will vote in the real referendum... if they were drunk at 9pm in the Spiegeltent.”

This night will act as antidote to the recent comments from Jeremy Paxman, suggesting that poetry has “connived at its own irrelevance.” It seems a ridiculous point to moot with Dan, a man no stranger to hosting poetry in entertaining and accessible ways.  “He caused uproar on the scene... there were lots of poets really upset by it.” Then agreeing diplomatically that Paxman may be correct in challenging one small corner of the universe.   “I don’t think the things he said were that bad; I think he gave quite a balanced argument.  But what he didn’t say is that there are poets engaging audiences.  A lot of nights I know are raucous, passionate and are talking to everyday people.” The form is engaging with those far beyond the upper echelons of the scene. “Today I was doing poetry takeaway which is an amazing thing,” Dan tells me. “Ordinary people come up and order a poem, on any subject and within fifteen minutes you deliver it back to them.  It’s just another way of honing your skills as a writer but also delivering poetry to people who wouldn’t necessarily come along and see it.”

Page Match offers a line-up of the finest wordsmiths around – sharpening their stanzas in preparation are Rob Auton, winner of the Fringe 2013 funniest line, Mark Grist the rapping teacher and many more.  Gather around the bearpit on 16 August to witness the stereotypical role of Poet as soothsayer turned on its head and pile driven into the mat. 

Page Match is on Saturday 16 August in the Guardian Spiegeltent, part of Jura Unbound