Hey folks. Here’s the first in my promised series of weekly interviews with the great and good of the UK performance poetry scene. Hopefully they’ll build into a nice little collection for anyone looking to find a new fave poet or find out a little more about an old one – I might give everyone scores so you can use them as Top Trumps. I’ve deliberately gone a bit cookie-cutter in my interview technique, so I don’t squander the whole thing grinding axes. Don’t worry, I’ll be continuing my impotent clench-fisted jeremiads in-between.
This week – Dockers MC:
Biog: Born in Brixton, 1986. Went to Brit School to study theatre and then to Middlesex University to study creative writing. Taken part at both Royal Court and Soho Theatre Young Writer’s program. Art work, cd covers and merch for Kate Nash.
‘Hold To My Ear’ released June 2008, 100 print limited edition with Pure Groove Records then ‘Mistakes In The Background’ published in October 2008 by Harpercollins Fiction.
Next book is out June 2009 ‘Ugly Shy Girl’ – there will be a big event to launch the book at the book at QEH on the 11th of July.
How did you get into performance poetry?
I’ve written poetry since I was little and always performed it at home. What I really wanted to be was an actress, but I found the audition process way too scary mixed with soul destroying. It wasn’t until Kate Nash put on an event at The Foundry, Old Street, and asked me to do something, I thought, I know I’ll read a poem. From that gig alone I got three other offers to play nights and it went from there really.
How would you describe your work?
Somebody once said like a baby and an old lady mixed into one person which I think is true.
Do you think there’s a difference between ‘page’ and ‘performance’ poetry? If so, what?
Yes, certainly, there is lots of work that I wouldn’t bother boring my audience with. I think with performance poetry you have to write with an audience in mind; every poet (I’d hope) would like to be listened to, and if you write too enclosed it’s a lot to ask. In my case, my page poetry can be a lot like a stream of conciousness and I don’t expect an audience to have to listen to four minutes of that. I’d say the difference is your audience – there are just some things that read better on page.
Why should someone come to a performance poetry gig?
To expand their imaginations, to inspire, to not put artists into boxes. Poetry is so diverse. I try to put music, comedy and art into all my poetry.
What do you think your best poem is, and why?
It’s a poem that nobody has heard yet because it’s too long and difficult to learn, but I’m proud of it because it’s a good story, and structure is what I struggle with. I can safely say it has a beginning, a middle and an end. Its working title is ‘Cowboy’.
If you could nick one other person’s poem and claim it as your own, which poem would it be, and why?
‘The Leanover’ by Life Without Buildings.
I’m just jealous because she has the guts to talk about whatever she wants… plus her voice is lovely.
What typifies bad performance poetry to you?
Performance wise… I don’t like heads tucked into paper/books too much. If you are going to perform… PER-FORM. I come off stage… and so do you Mr Clare, sweating, starving hungry with a migrane… for fuck’s sake… per form.
Poetry wise in general, write about what you know or believe in – you need to believe in your poetry and yourself as a writer.
What do you think of the state of the UK performance poetry scene at the moment? Is it okay to talk about a ‘scene’, or is that a bit unhelpful?
No, scene works just fine. I think it’s really exciting. We have got so much to say. I’m pretty proud of it, because we are all apart of this movement, plus because it’s such a small circuit it makes us look like we’re big names… so that’s lucky… phh… No really, it’s very exciting for me – when we were young there was no myspace, no poets playing at underage gigs, it was impossible to know where to go to put your work up or get feedback. Nobody to show your work to, poetry was not cool to any of my friends – now they love it. The trick is to fool everybody that you are some cool, new scenster type poet, get them in the trap and then feed them your heartache, angst poetry…
Tell us about a particularly memorable reaction you’ve had to your work.
It’s lovely when people just shut up and take it all in, but there is always someone, always, always, always, who thinks just because you are on stage, you are now blind and they can pull any distorted, unimpressed face they want at you. I had one of these at GOLD. He was sitting there, with a grimace on the face of death, sometimes looking dramatically confused at my work… (really putting me off actually) So I worked him out and I thought, I bet you’re one of those ‘serious’ readers aren’t you? So I performed Refulgent, a poem about a suicide, and I did it for him and him only… (it was totally dramatic) and at the end he clapped and said ‘Amazing. Absolutely amazing.’ And in my head and my heart I had a party.
As a performance poet, you end up appearing in front of lots of very different crowds. Some are music audiences, some are literary, ‘bookish’ audiences, some are comedy audiences, and some – heavens above! – are poetry audiences. How have you found having to face such a wide variety of people?
Luckily, I now get to be picky about what gigs I agree to do or not. I usually can suss a night out (thanks to the internet, obviously) beforehand and that is really just to see if the audience are likely to ‘get’ poetry or not. It is taxing though, working out every single audience, every single time – you just sit there, lurking in the corners of the venue thinking, ‘is this going to work? is this going to work? how am I going to get out of this?’ The audience is the TOUGHEST part of what I’m doing – it’s the most necessary and unnecessary part of the game.
Do you have certain poems that work with one type of audience and struggle with another?
Funny ones work mostly in most places, but in music venues, where people come to see music, they go down like a shit stand-up – it’s horrible. I hate it. In those moments, I wish I had a trap door in the stage.
Do you have a favourite type of crowd?
Yes – sitting down people who are quiet and know that the performer and audience have to play a tennis match. If they hit me, I’ll hit them back… that’s when they will see my best show.
Do you think UK performance poetry needs a club circuit like stand-up has, or do you think poets benefit from not really fitting in anywhere?
I do and I don’t… that fitting in bit really gets on my nerves, promoters think: ooo she’s poetry, she can fit in anywhere, we shall just chuck her on while the last band clear away their drum kit, and I’m changing the lights, and we don’t have to pay her… cos she like fits in anywhere…
On the other hand, I get the benefits of raising my profile, performing in environments where people wouldn’t normally get to see poetry. I’ve often been the first poet that has ever played in a venue or that a promoter has ever booked… and that means that the times they are a changin’… I’m just not sure if it’s for the better or not?