Rick Sanders, aka Willis the Poet, is an established comedy stand-up poet based in the mighty West Midlands. He is a regular headliner and featured poet on the flourishing spoken word scene across the UK, his sticky sausage-fingers in as many pies as he can.
You can find him running his mouth off at any event where there is a) an audience and b) a microphone. In between gigs he skulks in the dark recesses of abandoned buildings trying to think of funny things to write about, which is testament to the contents of his new book, ‘The Top Secret Poetry Notebook of Willis the Poet’ – a romp through the cerebral cortex of a man who writes humorous verse about pretty much anything and then inflicts it on unsuspecting poetry fans the world over.
‘Willis the Poet is without a doubt one of the funniest poets it has been my pleasure to hear perform. His easy yet intensely witty interaction with his audience makes every performance a time of laughter, hilarity and sheer out and out fun!’
“I have always written poetry from a young age, but only returned to it later in life with any degree of competence or enthusiasm. I was spurred on by a local open mic night in Stourbridge where I live, which I found quite by accident, but turned out to be a game changer for me. I was amazed that people were getting up and sharing their work and that anyone could have a go, and this was both liberating and frightening in equal measure. I decided to write a poem for my wife’s birthday, which coincided with one of the open mic nights and after performing it in front of people and getting a laugh, it opened something in the creative side of my brain and the rest is history. I stopped working full time seven years ago and decided to focus on writing for a year and see where it took me, and it turns out it takes you everywhere!
My inspirations are anyone who gets up and has a go at an open mic poetry night. Their bravery and enthusiasm is always infectious. I have favourite comic poets too – John Hegley, Spike Milligan, Brian Bilston, Angie Belcher, Matt Harvey to name a few – as well as loads and loads of local and national poets that it has been my pleasure to meet, read with or just listen to. There is so much poetry out there that just going along and getting involved will always inspire me to write more – it’s a gateway drug for sure.
Brum Radio Poets was conceived by Helen Calcutt originally and she handed the show off to Gavin Young about five years ago. Gavin asked me to sit in for him when he moved out of Birmingham on the provisio that it was always going to be a temporary thing and I’ve been there ever since! I have tried to stay true to the format of conversation and readings, giving a platform and a voice to new and emerging local poets, as well as the established writers who live and work in the region. I think of it as a chat down the pub with some poetry thrown in for good measure.
For the most part, I pick the poets for the show. I like to have a good mix of different voices and I like to think I am pretty good at getting two or three different voices on each month. For the most part I find my guests at open mic nights or other poetry events and if I like what they’re doing, I add them to my list. I often feature poets who have recently had worked published, or who are starting up or running nights in Brum or beyond. I do also get approached by poets, but this is quite rare, and I do like to have seen them read before they get invited on to the show. This is so I can match them on the day with other poets to make for an interesting listen. I also like to champion the Poet Laureates of Brum and local poetry presses who are all doing amazing work to promote poetry in the city. It’s a lot of work to constantly find people to come on the show, but I love it and have amazed myself at being able to find new voices all the time. It shows the depth and breadth of poetry in Brum.
At the moment the poetry scene in the Midlands is thriving. New nights are opening again now after Covid and there is a buzz returning to the city especially after a difficult couple of years. Having a Poet Laureate for Birmingham in Jasmine Gardosi helps to raise the profile and big names like Verve Poetry Festival and Apples & Snakes operating in the city also adds kudos to the scene. But it is the grass roots open mic nights that really show the diversity and strength of poetry and spoken word in our region.
My single piece of advice to anyone wanting to share their poetry or have a go is to find your local open mic night and just give it a try. They are always welcoming, safe spaces to try out your work, never judgemental and I guarantee you will find someone of interest telling their story at any open mic. You can go and watch first to take it all in and see if it’s for you and then you can take the leap.
Performing my comic poetry is where I feel most comfortable and where I get the most enjoyment out of being a part of the poetry scene in this country. I was published by Verve Poetry Press in 2022 and I am just about now in the process of getting out and about more to tour the book. I have also been fortunate enough to co-write a comic poetry fringe show with Ben Moore and Lorna Meehan, which we are now trying to get bookings for, so if anyone wants an hour-long comic poetry show to add to the mix, let me know!”