Hot on the Heels

Poetry, Uncategorized

Aaand hot on the heels of Wednesday’s post, I got confirmation that I’m going to be performing more rapidly-spoken rhymes at the fantastic Fishtank Festival at the Queen of Hoxton on the 28th of May.

Fishtank is one of those incredibly dynamic artist-driven events that pours energy into creativity and performance; it’s going to be an amazing night. It’ll be featuring bands, acoustic musicians, MCs (and battles), spoken word poets, DJs, comedy, talks by entrepreneurs and scientists and a roof terrace sculpture garden — all spread over three flours and nine hours for several hundred people. I’m really excited to be part of it — performing for a big crowd, alongside some amazing poets, at a fantastic event.

Tickets are £7 in advance, and available from the website. Come!

Getting a Storm Brewing



Kate Tempest’s Poetry Storm at the Albany was a hot ticket: combing¬† a venue that”s doing fantastic work in hip-hop, spoken word and crossover, England’s most crucial poetry promoters, and the Storm herself, who I thinks one of the most exciting spoken worders we’ve got. So no surprise on having another night of poetry that cut through bullshit and mainlined perfect verse. I mean, I felt really good.

The Brother’s Grim, he spoke with an angry authenticity — political poetry with a staring eye that had me convinced. Sometimes his words were more power than poetry, but he had this total conviction of delivery that had me convinced. Dean McCaffrey was crossing from the hip-hop to the poetry stage for the first time, and there it was again — this poetry that’s testimony, that when the words are weak the passion is strong, that genuinely made me tear in the eye like the performer himself. My top poet for the night was Tshaka Campbell — born in the UK, bred in America, and with a deliciously sexual, powerfully poetic style that cut to the heart of life. Bleue Granada and Len Hovis, they both had something good too — but of course it was Kate who sucked our breath away and spat it back at us with wild rhymes that span into stratospheres of emotion and empowerment. She’d shambled her way through MCing, blushing and stuttering in a way I think was only half affected at most, just being straightforward and a little shy — but as soon as she was in her zone, her space to speak, as soon as she was rapping into the mic, she became someone else, the words flowed directly through her and into our hearts, she was a conduit for poetry and passion.

See, sometimes spoken word can be pretentious, and sometimes it can be glib, sometimes it takes itself too seriously and sometimes not seriously enough — but what we had that night was a fist of poets who had something important to say, who believed in the need for it to be said, and who mostly had the deftness and skill to say it well. It’s art as testimony. It’s when you can’t so anything but speak. When I think about why I love poetry and the mic, that’s the answer I come back to: the way these nights bring a bunch of people together to hear what w have to say. Even though it’s usually only one person at the mic at a time, the culture of the open mic prevails — the performers aren’t setting themselves apart, they’re speaking to empower us, to encourage us to speak too, because they have to, because we have to. That’s what it’s about. Seize the mic.

OK, but there’s a caveat I have to add at the end here. I grew up in Orkney, which is about as ethnically homogenous as Britain gets. That means I always took my skin for granted, never felt conscious of it when I was a kid. So I’m always a little freaked out when I go somewhere like Deptford and am reminded of my whiteness, of what it means, feeling (in a way rare for those in power) like my skin made me stick out sore because damn near everyone on the street was black. So why the fuck is it that the audience at the Storm was almost entirely white? Outside and inside have completely different ethnic make-ups. I mean, I’ve seen this at spoken word nights before, but I’ve blogged about Farrago’s successes in diversity, and I would have thought that if anywhere could break across racial segregation in the arts then the Albany could. That left a sour taste with me at the end of the night, despite how good it was. Something’s out of whack.

Why So Serious?


Farrago was pretty fun on Thursday night. The features were as hot as usual; was especially impressed by the debuts from Paul Cree and Bridget Minamore. There’s this thing also about Farrago — the wild divrsity of its performers, both in content and identity. Paul and Bridget were followed by a couple of aged performance veterans, and the white males like me who dominate poetry as much as they do everything else were kept at bay. That’s reflected in the slam as much as the features, and I think Farrago does it better than any other night; all credit to John Paul O’Neil for that one, though I guess that once these things are set up they just keep on running.

Credit too to him for what he did to the Love Slam. Partly ‘cos he was knackered, partly ‘cos there were too many performers, he just refused to take it seriously, and so too did most of the slammers, including me (whose poem was so filthily unromantic that despite coming third in the initial scores was “toaded” for the only nil points of the night — fantastic!) I love Slam, it’s a great way of bringing people into poetry, and it’s still going good work for getting poets and audiences excited — but it’s really important not to take it seriously. I made the mistake of doing that after I discovered in my first two that I was pretty good at them; getting creamed in the third (including by people I’d previously beaten) was a good lesson. It’s about celebrating and enjoying the poetry, never about winning. Sometimes the best way of doing that is just to take the piss out of the whole institution. JP was told his Love Slam ruined the statistical integrity of poetry slams. Bravo! sez I.