Set in the cosy upstairs area of Fuel Cafe Bar in Withington, the ‘What’s in a Mind?’ spoken word night was by far one of the most supportive and welcoming poetry events I’ve ever attended. The event was held by Open Mind Manchester, a University society supporting students suffering from mental illness. The event’s host, Gus, described the event as “opening up the dialogue about mental health and providing a safe space for people going through similar issues.”
This was definitely achieved. Despite initially being intimidated by the large crowd and daunting stage, performing was not nearly as terrifying as I’d anticipated. In fact, the atmosphere was so encouraging that many people who hadn’t signed up even felt comfortable volunteering to perform last minute, once the second half had finished.
What’s in a Mind? attracts a diverse mix of talented performers ranging in experience, style and subject matter. Themes included bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, PTSD, sexual assault and body dysmorphia. Delivery style also varied, from hard-hitting to comedic; particularly memorable examples of both were Manny Oladipo’s ‘Suspended’, an artfully rhymed and arresting piece about the effects of anxiety on the sufferer’s life, and Margherita Concina’s ‘The Worst Housemate Ever,’ a light-hearted third person commentary on living with yourself and your mental illness.
Despite the heavy subject matter, the message I left with was one of hope. As one poet noted during her preamble, one of the most difficult things about mental illness is the feeling of ‘otherness’: feeling disconnected from people around you, and alone in your struggles. Bringing people together to openly share art they’ve created from their darkest moments creates a sense of solidarity that is unique to events such as this one. It reminds us that we are not alone in our experiences; there are always others going through similar things.
One of the final poets of the night decided to read a piece at the last minute. He received a wonderfully encouraging round of applause after revealing to the audience that he had never performed before. The poet introduced his work by talking about how, despite having had difficulties finding treatment and therapy that worked, he is currently seeing a counsellor who has helped him make progress he never thought he’d make. He told the room, ‘If you’re looking for help and haven’t found anything that works yet, or haven’t found a therapist who works for you yet, keep looking, they’re out there,’ before joking that he should be a case study in a textbook to prove that the right treatment really does help. His inspiring preamble had a profound effect on the room; everyone was smiling, and it truly ended the night on a collective moment of joy and hope.
Whether you want to perform, or just come to listen to others’ stories, What’s in a Mind? is a relaxed, enjoyable and thought-provoking night packed with talent, which provides an inclusive and welcoming safe space to talk openly about mental health.