Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Q&A with London and Brighton based Spoken Word legend - Paradox

The man, the myth, the legend – ‘Rodney Christopher Paradox’ is one of those rare human beings with the aura of strong gales of wisdom and knowledge you feel before he’s even fluttered his lips. His story is awe-inspiring but I’d rather let him tell it. I was doing at least 3 gigs a week in 2008 on the London Spoken Word circuit and ‘Paradox’ is a name that kept coming up. “Yo man, you seen that cat Paradox – he’s amazing but I haven’t seen him for a while” I hadn’t met the man but I felt his presence. Then a good friend of mine, Dr.Stewart sent me a video of him performing up a tree that blew my mind! I did a gig recently at Chris Redmond and Shane Solanki’s night of improvisational musicians and Spoken Word poetry – Tongue Fu. The line up was Laura Dockrill, Bryon Vincent, Deanna Rodger and the man himself – He performed a piece about losing a limb, I’d waited two years to hear that poem and it was everything I wanted it to be. He’s the fourth Spoken Word poet to make me cry – and I got a strong heart dammit!

Q. Paradox, you know there are quite a lot of emcees and Spoken Word artists called ‘Paradox’ but you’re the only one worthy of the name I’ve yet to see, what does it mean? Why Paradox?

Actually I didn't know that Raymond, but I think its perfectly appropriate that there are many singular beings called paradox! The definition of paradox that I like best is; "an apparent contradiction which nevertheless feels true" e.g. the "sound of silence". My life has always been defined and even dominated by paradox, in that the "worst day of my life" was the "best day of my life", the "stupidest thing I ever did" was the "smartest thing I ever did", and the "worst thing that ever happened to me" was the "best thing that ever happened to me." It was these painfully perfect personal paradoxes that inspired me to start writing performance poetry at the age of 35, having never written a poem in my life before that. So by taking on the name, I think I was basically honoring my muse, whilst at the same time ensuring my contradictory experience would continue to provide me with poetic material! Most importantly though, its just a shit hot stage name innit? hahaha.

Q. You quit a £70,000 a year job and discovered Spoken Word poetry. Please share that story with us.

Well Raymond, the problem with the rat race is that even if you win, you're still a rat! And after 14 years in sales, marketing, media and advertising I discovered (with a little help from Bill Hicks and Bob Marley) that I was living someone else’s life... and that someone was an ignorant, selfish consumer-competitor with virtually no social conscience and an empty hole in his life where meaning and purpose should be. So I decided to quit his life and get a life of my own. Initially this involved using skills developed during 7 years as a media researcher to inform myself about the mysterious entity that is the raison d’être of the rat race and (apparently) makes the world go round. What I discovered about money and the private "bankstas" who create it out of thin air, at a profit (while saddling the people and governments of the world with an un-payable debt), and the astonishingly far reaching and wholly negative impact this insane and fraudulent system of money supply has on our society, completely blew my mind and left me utterly disillusioned with the world. In fact I was so disillusioned that I decided to give it all up and become a homeless Big Issue Seller!

However as a consciously destitute, conscientious objector to a world run by private banks, I didn't fancy the urine and Special Brew soaked boudoir of your typical street sleeper, so I decided to go back to nature and sleep under a tree. As a London boy that meant going to live in my favourite park!!! So on April 11th 2002 I arrived in Battersea Park, with a bin liner full of clothes and a bin liner full of books and a determination to stay there until the Universe showed me what the hell I was supposed to do with my life. After an hour long reconnaissance I found my spot and made a home for myself under a tree in a fenced off area called "The Meadow", which was just across from the tennis courts and near the Buddhist Pagoda by the river (for those of you who know London's loveliest park;). For 7 months I contemplated life, the Universe and Oligarchy from my ex-army sleeping bag bed, under the stars of south London. I'd get up in the morning, walk to the Big Issue offices in Vauxhall, buy my magazines for the day and then walk down Vauxhall Bridge Road to my pitch on Victoria Street. Fortunately there was a homeless shelter there called "The Passage", where you could get a hot shower and your laundry done, so I managed to stay pretty clean and sweet smelling (well relatively speaking anyway) ;-)

I was lucky enough to be offered a room in a squat in October, so I didn't have to face an English winter exposed to the elements and I had an ex-army waterproof blanket to keep me dry when it rained, so I was actually pretty comfortable under my tree! As for my day job, I didn't know it at the time, but selling the Big Issue was an ideal preparation/practice for becoming a Performance Poet, because I soon figured out that if I gave an "entertaining performance" not only I could sell roughly 15 magazines per hour, but the often soul destroying, awkward and humiliating experience of Big Issue selling, could actually be a real buzz for me and lots of fun for my "audience"!

When you live in a park you can live pretty well on £20 a day, so after an hour or two of "performing" I'd spend the rest of the day hanging out "at home" feeding the ducks, or in the library studying or in an internet cafe researching. After three months of this my disillusionment had transformed into the natural peace and joy of a happy simpleton. And out of my renunciates bliss, paradoxical metaphysical poetry poured forth from my virgin lips, like a kind of spiritual dysentery. Having never considered myself an artist or even particularly creative, the experience of "hearing" a poem forming in the ethers of my mind with a hitherto unknown and unutilised extra sensory perception, was so indescribably orgasmic (not to mention having been shown my life purpose so definitively) that in my puppy dog enthusiasm I found myself accosting innocent members of the public to ask them "would you like a poem?" and launching into one well before they'd had a chance to reply. After a month or so of doing an uncanny impersonation of the "mad guy in the park", I discovered the weird and wonderful world of Open Mics. Firstly at The Foundry on Old Street and then at The Mass in Brixton, where I met Shortman, El Crisis, Mr Gee, David J, Floetic Lara, Dom de Mic and other super talented Poets who were taking the London Spoken Word scene by storm. The rest, as they say, is History.

Q. Your poetry has many philosophical qualities and provokes much radical thought – What do you essentially hope people get out of your work?

Well I'm not a good enough writer to inspire people with my lyrical imagery and I'm not a good enough performer to blow em away with a David J-like dramatic Tour de Force, so the heart of my work has always been the message. All of my poems were originally inspired by some kind of insight about the human experience, (the literary definition of paradox is "an anomalous juxtaposition of incongruous ideas for the sake of striking exposition or unorthodox insight) and in the process of composing them I attempt to construct and engage an entertaining, adult nursery rhyme around that insight and hopefully evoke the same inspiration in the audience that evoked the poem in me. I see my job as a poet as passing on the inspiration I've been given, so if the audience is inspired by what they've heard, then they've made an old man very happy. As a poet, what they do with that inspiration is none of my business, but as an workshop facilitator, youth worker and social activist, I would hope they would be inspired to live a more meaningful life and make the world a better place for them being in it.

Q. Who do you rate on the scene at the moment? Is there even a “scene”?

I'm not really clued up with the scene any more, "scenes" are for the young bruv! But the poets I admire most are Yap, Tony Bison, Moksha, Dave Pepper, Ash, Interference, Spliff Richard & Kate Tempest. Writing that list it's clear to me that the poets who inspire me are those who are continuing the oral tradition, which we sometimes forget is thousands of years older than the literary one. The original spoken word performers and the Bards of these isles, were all about informing and empowering the people with their hard earned life wisdom and insight, in order to inspire growth and social action. All the poets I've mentioned are true to that "bardic" spirit.

Q. How does one grow as a Spoken Word artist?

Well of course I can only speak for myself, but the key for me to grow as an artist, has been to grow as a person. It was a common occurrence a few years ago for me to write a poem that was eulogising a certain life choice/path that I myself wasn't choosing/walking. What I found was that until I did start to walk my talk consistently, writers block would descend and no further inspiration would be given! I am very happy to say that apart from The Matrix, which is a poem about the still operative system of debt based money, I don't perform any poems that are more than about three years old, for the simple reason that I've changed (grown hopefully) so much in that time, that I don't feel the words I once wrote anymore. Aside from all that, the answer as to how to grow as an artist, spoken word or otherwise, is well known enough to be a cliché: face your fears; constantly challenge yourself and don't rest on your laurels. If you do that, you won't be able to help but grow...but be careful what you wish for!

Q. Where do you see Spoken Word poetry going as an art form/ genre in the next decade? What’s the way forward?

Well given my view on the "scene", it won't surprise you to hear that I feel Spoken Word will go back to its roots and be more about inspiring growth and social action and less about "art for art sake". The economic crash of 2008 as well as the current situation in Greece was both inevitable consequences of basing the world’s money supply on a Ponzi scheme. So as the inherently insane and self destructive nature of a world ruled by banks becomes more and more obvious, I can see more and more Poets using Spoken word for what it was originally intended for...to inform, inspire and empower. In fact I think this is already happening. I put on an Open Mic night in Brighton called Attitude Kings and I go to about 7 or 8 festivals every summer, and most of the super talented young poets I've seen are socially conscious "Bard-Poets." Thank fuck!!!

Q. Can we expect any publications from you?

Yes I'm working on an album. But don't hold your breath!

Q. Paradox you’re a legend and an inspiration! You know that right?

Well I've been called a legend a handful of times, but I figure those people were just easily impressed or slightly retarded, or both i.e. fans of Big Brother, so I'm not buying that. However I have been told that I'm inspirational thousands of times, so despite the risk of inflating my ego even further (if that's even possible) I've decided to accept that it must be true! After all, thousands of people can't be wrong can they? Drat! I've just realised how many people voted in the general election in the belief that the party political system is actually democratic. Bang goes that theory!

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