Sunday, 3 July 2011

Performing Poetry and Meeting Craig Charles at The Mostly Jazz Fest

One of the best things about being a poet is the random opportunities you get. I mean, it could come from anywhere... Radio, Film, Theatre, Animation, Publishing, Advertising etc although this kind of flimsiness comes with its uncertainties and sometimes you just don’t know when next to expect (PAID) work and this creates anxiety.

Today I was in Birmingham for the Mostly Jazz Festival. The poetry, as usual with festivals took place in a small tent in the corner of a field... away from the main stage but still close enough to hear how many more people appreciate bands. If the festival was a school playground the poetry tent would be the nurse’s room for kids isolated for having a contagious disease. For years poets have popped their heads out their small poetry tents with scorn, glaring out across the felid at the crowd of hearts and knickers at the feet of musicians and singers.

“Honestly, a strong poet with a strong poem could hold that stage” I found myself saying to Birmingham based poet Jodi Ann Bickey. (she was the only other poet on the bill on that day) She agreed... but she’s a poet... so of course she will.

“If we just had someone from outside the scene with a genuine love and understanding for what we do we’d be able to access more people and mediums.”

Then I thought about someone I was introduced to recently, Kieran Yates who is a freelance journalist and is responsible for the Spoken Word write up in the metro last week. This has given some of us a cookie with the hope of milk.

Anthony Anaxagorou said to me the other day how little poets actually support each other. His ‘If I Told You’ Video has had over 3000 views and only five poets or so have blogged it or put it on their facebook. We’re running around dreaming we’re going to be the ones to popularise spoken word but it’s going to take more than one poet to do it. FACT.

Anyway, I got sidetracked... I met Craig Charles at the festival and asked him about his interview with Gil Scott Heron. I asked him if he felt like he was interviewing a broken man... “yeah” said Craig “a strong spirit in a broken body. I’m pretty sure it was the AIDS/HIV that took him in the end”

I didn’t know how to carry on the conversation from there.. I just said something like.. “I love Gil’s last album” ...then I was tempted to say “I fucking love Red Dwarf!” but thought better of it.

Back at the poetry stage with Jodi Ann Bickley, we had two time slots. Our first was at 1pm, we had about 10 people sitting on plastic chairs having a rest and most of them looking like they were thinking about something else while we performed... perhaps Eastenders or when the football season is starting again... but the second set at 4pm was good. There was a moment of silence between the songs from bands on the main stage and it felt like if we had something profound to say that’s when it should drop.

“HEY EVERYONE! When you’re an alcoholic, being sober is just another word for THIRSTY!”

I felt a sudden connection with the audience at one point of the “between song main stage silence” and I even heard a “oh’ this ain’t bad” from one man sitting on the grass by the stage... but he might have been talking about his beer.

I got into a conversation with one of the stewards working at the festival. He saw me and Jodi do our poetry and came over. “Hey, enjoyed your poems guys”. Giving compliments to me can be like giving bananas to a monkey with no hands. I just don’t know what to do with them... but I know I want them and anyone that says they don’t are lying filth!

“Hey, I’ve got something that’ll make you jealous Ray” said the steward, a middle aged man with a face like a battered pillow. He got out his wallet and showed me a picture of a black, yellow eyed African woman. “That’s my wife” he said, “very nice!” I told him... although the picture looked more like a mug shot of a woman who’s just been caught with a kilo of cocaine.

Then he showed me another picture, this time of a little girl with an even darker complexion. “And this is my daughter” said the steward who by the way was white... in fact, very white with blue eyes.

The picture also looked like a mug shot but of a little girl who is promised sweets if she lets a stranger take her picture.

He goes on to tell me his wife and daughter are Gambian Muslims who have embraced him as their own and how his wife keeps failing the British citizenship tests so he can’t make their marriage official yet but he’s paying for her to re-sit it. “no shit” I said politely. Jodi looked at me and tried not to laugh.

Now I’m on the train back to London writing this and thinking about inventing a phrase that describes the difficulty of trying to write when a very attractive person is sitting opposite you. It’s crazy how self conscious you get in those moments... I’ve caught myself pouting my lips each time I turn my head to see my reflection in the train window... I’m going to slyly take her photo and show her off as my new wife when I get home.


  1. And you didn't think to ask Craig Charles about the fact that he started his career as...... a poet? Epic fail dude. Maybe he'll be back next year :-)

  2. wait.... are you saying Craig Charles started his career as a poet? ... WTF! that is a fail!

  3. Yep. Published and everything. There's clips on YouTube if you don't believe me!

  4. Unsuspecting celebrity poets...I smell a feature coming on...