How did you get into performance poetry?
Ten years ago I was living in Greece and working as an hotel entertainer. I was utterly useless. One holidaymaker helpfully described me as the most pathetic bingo caller he’d ever seen (and this was a man who had his own dabbers, so I’m guessing he’d seen a few).
Part of my job involved putting on a cabaret. Again, I was useless. But somewhere along the way I started to write and perform poems about ineffectual mosquito repellents, lost luggage and other such pressing topical issues. They went down a treat. I quit the job, and kept up the poetry.
How would you describe your work?
Comedic. I tend to tell stories with a fictional me at the centre of them. I like creating convoluted narratives with tangential asides, all leading to a punch-line type reveal. Oh, and I rhyme. For me, writing shifting and well executed rhyme schemes is a big part of the process.
Do you think there’s a difference between ‘page’ and ‘performance’ poetry? If so, what?
Definitely. There are certainly poets (Ross Sutherland, Luke Wright, Rosy Carrick to name a few) who are able to blur those edges. But I am not one of them. Page poetry should look nice; mine looks like I’ve vomited bitter chunks of verbosity into my notebook, and let it congeal.
Why should someone come to a performance poetry gig?
They shouldn’t. It’s far better to get into sport. But one good thing about going to see performance poetry for the first time is that it will probably be less shit than you were expecting.
What do you think your best poem is, and why?
I’m really enjoying performing my newer material. It has more of a stand-up feel to it, with the focus on the overall narrative arc of the set, rather than individual poems.
But if I had to pick a single poem that I am most proud of it would probably be Oedipus. In 2005 I made it into a short film, which won tons of awards all around the world. It isn’t my best piece of writing, but it definitely opened the most doors. Here is a link.
If you could nick one other person’s poem and claim it as your own, which poem would it be, and why?
Ha. Who says I don’t? Beowulf has done okay. Perhaps I’d claim that. Actually that would be a good choice because we don’t know who wrote it. Perhaps it was me? It was long time ago, so I might have just forgotten.
Or maybe I should steal one of yours Timothy. I’ve always been rather envious of Middle Class Girls. Tell me, does your bruschetta taste better with feta or brie?
What typifies bad performance poetry to you?
It’s fun to be asked all these questions. It makes me feel important. I’m going to close my eyes and imagine that you’re Parky (… and I’m Rod Hull). Anyway, I’m not going to answer that one because I’m no expert and I’ll just end up offending someone.
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?
I think it’s okay to call it a scene. Unless you think that makes it sound exclusive, perhaps? But performance poetry is too accessible to be exclusive. All you have to do is write a poem and go to an open mic night. Hey presto, you are the scene!
Anyway, when I’m getting lots of gigs I consider the scene to be healthy. When I’m not I start mumbling discontentedly about glass ceilings and an imbalance of supply and demand. Basically I’m far too shrink wrapped in my own little world to be able to offer an objective appraisal. I’ll go with… (flips mental coin)… it’s all gone to shit. God help us.
Tell us about a particularly memorable reaction you’ve had to your work.
After gigs the same thing usually happens. Sweet people come up to me wishing to express their gratitude and say some nice words. Then we get chatting, and after about ten minutes they realise that the actual me is nowhere near as quick-witted, charming or sympathetic as the stage me. On departing, we all feel a bit dead inside.
But I have a better story. A couple of years ago I was on holiday in Berlin. I was heading back to my hostel on the U-Bahn at about 2am and a young German guy on the seats opposite looked at me and asked if I’d be making any more poetry films soon. It turns out he’d seen Oedipus there at a festival a few months before. It wasn’t even fifteen minutes. But fuck me, did I feel famous!
In your sets it’s often ambiguous where the preamble ends and the poem begins; you’ve also got sections where you drop out of the poem midway to extemporise, or where you reincorporate a refrain from an earlier piece – techniques that are fairly commonplace in stand-up but almost unheard of in performance poetry. They’ll doubtless spread like buckshot through the work of everybody else on the scene, but for now, do you think of your work as experimental? Or is the scene at large just not very innovative?
On the contrary it is precisely because the scene is so innovative that I do it. There are so many unique and compelling voices lifting from the cacophony (Dockers MC, Scroobius Pip vs Dan Le Sac, Aisle16 et al) that it is no longer enough to just be funny or just be able to write a half decent rhyme. So I suppose what you’ve described is my attempt at a ‘signature’.
And I have another motivation, to wit: I am a total audience whore!! It can’t just be me who has suffered that horrendous sinking feeling of being stuck in a monumentally long poem, and the crowd just aren’t feeling it, and there is nothing to do but stoically cough the thing out ’til completion, and swallow your shame. But if your audience don’t know when the poetry has started, then how can they possibly know when to stop listening? Ba dum chhh.