A Part of the Scenery

Long time committee member and open-mic staple Trish Harewood writes about her life, how she came to poetry, and CB1’s history.

When I first found CB1 through the Cambridge Poetry Festival at The Boat House in the late 90s, I never imagined that I would become a part of the open mic poetry scene for the next 2 decades, going on for 3. Yes, I was shy in conversation, and still am – swamped in a group, in fact – but I found joy in reading poems that had been hidden in notebooks for years. Suddenly, they had an audience!
They were well-received for the most part. I began to take them and writing others, more seriously.
Hearing other people’s poems also opened up a wealth of appreciation in me for the broad umbrella which is poetry in the late 20th and now 21st Century.

I was first introduced to 20th Century poets, particularly Eliot & Auden, by my English O Level Teacher, Miss Pearce, at Latymer in Edmonton, North London. Writing poems in the language of today became entirely possible and meaningful. No doubt every age has added new vocabulary to the bank of language but to me, at the time, it was a revelation, mysterious in content, yes, but modern in vocabulary and musical in cadence, creating a frisson of anticipation from the first line to the last. I learned Prufrock by heart.

I didn’t get started until my early twenties. Married, working for a Christian Book publisher, I wrote a few that were given space in the house magazine. Otherwise, a long silence until a few more poems emerged after buying our first ramshackle house and changing jobs. Working in a wholefood warehouse had a different feel to working for a publisher but we were distributing food for body and soul, whereas I had been distributing books and records just for the soul. A Christian company, Community Foods originated in the famous Tolmers Square in the squat years. The continuation of a former wholefood business by a hippie returning from India after an experience of compassion which lead to his Christian conversion, a surprising turn of events in India. A very satisfying experience of publication in this period was a poem on the Christmas card to our customers.

We moved as a growing family to Godmanchester in the late 80s when I was part way through an Open University Humanities Degree, a multidisciplinary approach to literature and art, completed in 96 after an encounter with the poetry of Jack Mapanje, a Malawian poet imprisoned in Mikuyu Jail without trial for 3 years, 7 months and 16 days. Amnesty had taken his case up and he had been recently released, having received only 1 postcard out of the hundreds, or possibly thousands, sent.
His poem, Skipping without ropes, read at the OU Summer School at York, triggered A Fat Word, a short poem which celebrated the choices involved in the prisoners’ act of defiance and later won 2nd place alongside a more famous poet than me, in the Bedford Open Poetry Comp of 2003. Jack Mapanje was amongst the poets invited by Linda Gamlin in her period curating the poetry events at the CB1 café in Mill Road.

Returning to full-time work in November 2005, I took a temporary post at the Environment Agency, de-regulating 5 sets of 900 water abstraction licence records. It was fascinating and seminal work, producing poems that gradually, with promotion by colleagues, resulted in an informal resident poet status. After almost 5 years in two different posts, temps were given the thumbs down and I moved on.

Meanwhile, at CB1, after Linda Gamlin moved to the West Country, some members of the Joy of Six, a Poetry Performance Group, plus one or two other regulars, volunteered to continue the open mic and guest poet nights at the Café. After a short period, as we grew out of the changing space in the café and held guest nights at Michaelhouse. I took the job of selling the books that our guest poets brought to the events. Several years later, I followed in Emily Dening’s well-trodden footsteps and took on the accounts and the annual application for local authority funding which I was all too glad had been efficiently initiated by Emily. Other group members, people I regarded as better connected than myself, identified and invited the interesting and excellent guest poets we brought to our open-mic audience.

A number of different venues followed Michaelhouse, costs and accessibility being important to us and our sponsors, while our hosts were keen on the increased customer base for their venues. My accounts experience gradually grew but sadly the Local Authority funding became less as first the County and then the City had to reduce its commitments and finally cut altogether as the criteria changed and we were no longer able to meet it. So our time at CB2 Bistro in Norfolk St followed, first upstairs and then in the basement, definitely not a plus for accessibility and eventually an opportunity at The Blue Moon arose, where we would be on the Ground floor again.

During this time, I took a mentoring course with Jim Bennet of Poetry Kit and later with David Underdown, a poet in the Cinnamon stable, in which I worked up a pamphlet which, with a number of changes and depending on target, I’m sending out hopefully to pamphlet competitions.
I’ve attended the Aldeborough and Torbay Poetry Festivals on a number of occasions and was even invited (and paid!) to read at a small Torbay event in 2007.

All in all, I’m very small fry in the poetry world but have enjoyed being part of the scenery so far and am happy to play a part in compering open mic nights at our new venue, the Town & Gown. Even less accounts input seems to be required as we have the theatre free so that our audience have some spare spondulas to pay for drinks. We do have some website overheads and hope to be able to invite guest poets from time to time, especially those simply wanting to promote their new collections. We will be welcoming contributions on those nights, passing a hat round, perhaps, to pass on to our visitor. We can also take card offerings now.

Oh, maybe I should leave you with a poem. A Fat Word, which I mentioned earlier and which was first published by Interpreter’s House in 2003 after it came second alongside a poem by Christopher North. The Judge was Mario Petrucci who has also trodden our boards since then. You can find a list of some of the poets who have read for us since 2006 in the Archive section of our website.

A Fat Word

(For Jack Mapanje – in celebration of his poem – Skipping without rope)

is a fat word
for the lean task
of skipping without a rope.
It is too rounded for
the thin opportunity
the width of
a rope
It is too juicy
for the hollow circle
that the rope inscribes.
It is full of life
in a cell
packed full of lives.
is the fattest word
for the lean task
of skipping
without a rope.

The Story of CB1

One thing I didn’t realize when I first became involved with the group was that CB1 has been a staple of the Cambridge literary scene since the late ’90s. Over the years, despite undergoing changes in venue and format, the core principle has remained constant: to provide people in and around Cambridge with a platform to share poetry and connect with fellow poets.

The journey began in the late ’90s when the group was founded by Jenni Tucker. After having a brief conversation with a Big Issue salesman in town who shared a poem he had written, Jenni felt inspired to establish a space for Cambridge’s aspiring poets at CB1 Café on Mill Road (hence the name, CB1 Poetry!). This initiative evolved into a weekly reading series and open mic event, adding a dynamic layer to the city’s creative landscape. CB1 Café remained the home of CB1 for several years until around 2006, when Jenni stepped away from managing the event.

With new management in place, guest poets became a regular feature. This offered local poets an opportunity to perform and hear readings by more established writers, including notable names such as Don Paterson, Vahni Capildeo, and Hollie McNish. For a more comprehensive list, take a look here.

CB1 has moved around the city over the years, occupying spaces such as Michaelhouse, the Punter, the Boathouse, and ultimately the Blue Moon, each hosting the event at various times. Now, we’re off to an exciting start in a new venue. The Town and Gown, located in the heart of Cambridge, boasts an exceptional theatre space. Fully accessible, it holds the promise of being an excellent venue for numerous future events.

At the Town and Gown we will be running a regular open mic night once a month and bringing in a guest poet roughly once a term. CB1 is an incredibly supportive and friendly environment so feel free to come along and bring a poem to read. If you’d rather just listen, we’d still love to have you there!

For updates on the future of CB1, you can find us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter (X).

To get in touch, feel free to reach out on one of those sites or email info@cb1poetry.org.uk


Welcoming a New Committee Member

Angus sitting with a cip of coffee in a blue jumper
Long-standing CB1 regular Anne Berkeley interviews Angus Allman, who is new to the committee.

Welcome to CB1, Angus. Can you tell us a little about yourself?

Hi! Thanks for having me! You’re absolutely right; I work as a software engineer but studied German and Italian at university. I started coding as a hobby and, if I’m being honest, as a form of procrastination. After studying, I just sort of fell into this career, but I’ve been keen to keep my interest in languages and literature alive in my spare time. I’m actually starting a master’s in Literary Translation in September, which I’m very excited about!

How long have you lived in Cambridge? 

I’m fairly new to the area, having only moved to Cambridge last April, so I’m still settling in around here.

What poem/poet/teacher first got you into poetry? 

I think I’ve always liked poetry. The poems we studied in school were… fine, but the first poem which really captured my attention was To This Day by Shane Koyczan. I think I saw a video of it on Facebook one day, and, despite it not being particularly light, I felt the need to show it to everyone I could. I think it really broadened my idea of what poetry could be and what it could do. 

I let it fall by the wayside for a while, but in my final year of University, I took a module on 19th and 20th Century Italian poetry, which reignited the joy I found in them. 

How did you find out about CB1? Tell us about your first visit and your experience of the open mic.

I found CB1 through a poster on some railings in town. I’d been wanting a local poetry event in the town I’d moved from, so I felt like I had to attend! The first event I attended was at the Blue Moon last July. I insisted I wasn’t going to read but just went to listen. Ultimately, with the help of some Dutch courage, I ended up reading a short poem I’d written about a man who lives in a coffee cup and felt absolutely electric the entire journey home. 

And what about your writing practice? Have you tried workshops in the past? Are you regularly sending stuff out for publication, or do you prefer social media

I’m terrible with routine, so as much as I’d love to say I write something every day, and I’m incredibly diligent with it, that would be a monstrous lie. The truth is that the notes app on my phone is full of quick notes I’ve jotted down as they’ve popped into my head. Once they’re there, I’ll do my best to take time to think about them (usually on a dog walk) and begin fleshing them out with more lines or vague directions I want the poem to go. Then the notes/poems will either sit there for eternity or make it into a fully-fledged poem. 

I’ve taken part in a couple of workshops in the past and loved them. I found that being given some direction with writing, even if the prompt is just a specific form or to write a poem based on another piece of work, helps me produce something I’m happy with.  

I’d love to put more poetry out into the world! I’m a massive critic of what I write, which makes it difficult, but I just need to get over myself and send it out to journals or post it online. I do enjoy reading work at open mics, though, so I’ll definitely be reading one or two pieces on the 6th of August.

What are you reading at the moment?

I’ve just started reading A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, which is by no means a little book. I’m just beginning to scratch the surface of it, but I’m enjoying it so far. Poetry-wise, the most recent collection I’ve read is The Air Year by Caroline Bird. I found it challenging at times and could do with giving it a second pass, but I loved the insistence with which Bird writes and how tangible the images she uses are.

How do you see CB1 developing?

Firstly, I’m absolutely thrilled to be a part of it! I’m so pleased with the new venue and can’t wait for the first event. I’d like to use CB1 as a platform, not just for growing my and other poets’ confidence in performing but also to help shine a light on local talent on social media and to encourage as many people as possible in the town to write and share their work. The plan is to have a few open-mic evenings and then bring in the occasional guest poet to do readings and talk about their work.

CB1’s got so much potential. Down the road, the group could run workshops or host events in collaboration with other art groups in Cambridge. I’m very excited to see where this goes and how much difference we can make to the community.


Thank you, Angus! It is so good to have fresh eyes and young talent aboard! Your vision is true to the original ethos of CB1, which started as an opportunity for local people to find an audience and develop confidence in writing and performing their work. Expanding into social media as well as continuing live events will be an exciting development. We have been through many changes in nearly 30 years! You and your IT skills will be a terrific asset and I’m looking forward to seeing CB1 grow in new directions.