Thursday 30 December 2010

Notice Board Resolutions for 2011.

1. If the state of your room reflects the state of your mind you are fucked up and you need to sort it out.

2. Accept that not everyone is as passionate as you about all the things you hate.

3. Explore as many angles and possibilities before reaching conclusions and always be open to contradict them.

4. Spend less time on facebook. Distraction = lack of growth.

5. Be a bit more of a bastard by being more selective of who you give your time to.

6. Hunger is more important than talent. Work with hunger.

7. Embrace and accept your hearing aids as a part of you as if they were your heart or artificial limbs.

8. Trust your own voice. Write how you speak. Write where it hurts you and write where it tickles you.

9. Live life like a piece of art – keep adding to it.

10. Spend more time with Grandma – she’s amazing!

11. If people don’t accept you or your work – accept it!

12. Make breakthroughs but remember if you’re not enjoying it there’s no point.

13. Make your mistakes now rather than later – it’ll be more productive.

14. Always take time to consider the world through the eyes of others.

15. Keep reading, listening and writing poems.

16. Be good. Really good.

Saturday 25 December 2010

Testimony To The London Spoken Word Movement 2011

In 2011 I’m determined to help get the London Spoken Word scene whipped into better shape.

Less self-indulgent, un-interesting, unexplored writings and performances, less spoken word nights filled only with the friends of performers and failed bitter poets... less having to sit through a bunch of painful nonsense before getting to anything decent!

We need to connect the movement and establish a hierarchy of ability in performers to give progressing poets more to aspire to.

The US poets may aspire to be in Def Poetry Jam or a slot as a featured poet in the top Spoken Word nights or featured in a popular podcast or tour... these are the ingredients for progress.

If I didn’t know what Spoken Word was and I walked into some these nights I’d never have known its potential or value... some of the bollocks that’s displayed is putting off people that would actually make brilliant spoken word artists themselves and forcing the already well practiced spoken word artist to disassociate themselves with the overall movement... This is discrediting the art form.

Thank goodness the first nights I went to were filled with inspiring magic... but those nights were either in other countries, closed down or they're still going but they lost the spark)

Everyone seems too precious about their own space in a pond... forget the pond.. and even the garden... we live in a city.

I know it sounds a bit ranty and arrogant but the fact I see a lot of good spoken word artists who are good but would absolutely flourish with a strengthened, quality and well connected scene (myself included) is slightly disheartening. I’ve sat down with some mega talented poets and people to discuss how to keep this movement as progressive as possible and things are taking starter kicks.

I aim to bring the best Spoken Word artists together to contribute to the three nights I help run now. (Chill Pill, Try Poetry and Keats House Forum)

I aim in 2011 for all three of these events to serve testimony to the great talented poets, writers and performers we have in UK.

I’ve set up an i-tune podcast with Kaamil Ahmed for the best of the UK’s Spoken Word artists to let off some poems and do some interviews.

so far its rough and we're still smoothing it out and working out a format but there are 2 episodes with Musa Okwonga and Ruby Kid and one in the pipe-line with Indigo Williams) -

We need to get this movement connected.

Frustrated but enthusiastic spoken word artist.


Join the Chill Pill group if you haven't yet -

“I'm excited at the prospect of developing a platform that is driven by *quality* (which accommodates a variety of tastes and styles) rather than *access*, which is already well provided for in the performance poetry scene.

Such a platform would not undermine or compete with the current model, rather it would complement it by establishing a standard to which poets can aspire, and acting as motor to raise our expectations of what top-end performance poetry can look like.” –
Sian Robins-Grace

Thursday 23 December 2010

Therapy in Spoken Word and Spoken Word in Therapy. A Conversation with Jasmine Cooray

My ex-girlfriend said to me she’d read in the paper "writing poetry is good for mental health"

Considering she has a degree in psychology it surprised me this was a revelation to her but apparently on a degree level art and psychology are never linked.

Recently I sat through a set of poetry by London based poet and Spoken Word artist Jasmin Cooray.

Jasmin captures something disturbingly beautiful in her work.

Some of it goes beyond bone to the marrow. She has a piece called ‘How The Tiger Got His Stripes’ which intensely explores self harm from a personal perspective.

She’s training to work in mental health and this led me to approach her to find out if the drive to get into mental health is connected to being a poet.

Hey Jasmine, ‘How The Tiger Got its Stripes' is a bold and a brilliant piece of work. I’d like to ask you if it was written for your own therapy and how does the line get drawn from a poetry reading/ performance and a public counseling session?

I wrote 'How the Tiger Got His Stripes' to tell a mishmash of stories. It contains a combination of moments of my own experience of self harm, partial fiction, and complete fiction. It would not be accurate to say it had a therapeutic function for me: my internal work around learning why I self harmed and how to cope with emotional difficulty in a healthier way came later, and continues. I didn’t ‘feel better’ after writing performing that piece, because it only contained some of my story. I don’t think you can do it halfway. People said it was a brave piece, but I think that is because it is uncomfortable to talk about spaces of vulnerability, and then, in front of an audience you increase that vulnerability. But I was emotionally detached from myself so it wasn’t therapeutic to perform personal work. What was nice was having people come up and talk about the significance the piece had for them, that it spoke for some part of them that was silent.

But it is a risk. An audience holds no guarantees: they owe you nothing, so you could receive compassion and sympathy or rejection and shock. To impose a demand for support on their audience, a performer would have to indulge in a serious illusion that their audience had an investment in them, and, on a more basic level, were listening. Most of the time, social guidelines mean that audiences display a basic level of respect. The convention is that they listen to you, but they could wander, switch off, chat. No one is obligated to really come with you into what you’re saying, because no one will pull them up later. On the flipside, there is also a wall between you which is protective, at least in this culture.

Counselling is about being listened to and supported. The only two similarities I can identify at this point between performance and therapeutic work are 1: having a space to say what you want to say and 2: having some form of validation, whether that is applause or someone showing that they are listening without judgment. The spaces are very different, though. Performance is often one-way, not interactive, often edited, not spontaneous, and it calls for approval rather than exploration. If you’re asking where the line is between the self indulgent and personal…who is at liberty to say? If we can take indulgence to mean taking beyond need ( ‘I will have another potato even though I am well fed’) then you could suggest that writing/performance that calls for the audience to do work the artist should be doing for themselves is indulgent. Often we can stimulate audiences to respond to us in particular ways, and take from them that way. For example, maybe I rarely use explicit humour in my work because I don’t like being laughed at. Maybe I use personal subject matter because the silence makes me feel I’m being listened to, which I need. I don’t think it is possible to always give yourself everything you need. Performance can be a go-between.

Therapeutic work and where it meets creativity is highly complex, and at the same time, extremely simple: we need to be heard, we need to find ways to be and survive, we need to work through difficulties. There isn’t one way. Each of our ways is different.

where should the lines be drawn between the poet and the poem or the art and the artist and can art be cathartic?

I wonder if it is possible or useful to draw a line between an artist and their work. The work does not come about by itself. Even if someone reads or hears a poem and doesn’t know of the writer or anything about them, what we write is born through our opinions, feelings, the patchwork that is woven of our experience. I love this: I want to meet the person in their work. Even if something is anonymous, it still holds the person who made it within it: the same way everyone makes a cup of tea a different way. Beyond this, I think it is up to the consumer how much importance they assign to the creator of something that they like or enjoy. Often the work means more to a person than the creator. For example, Michael Jackson often inspires the phrase ‘I don’t care what he might have done, he made great music’. In this case, whatever importance the listener places upon their enjoyment outweighs questions that challenge the integrity of the maker. But then we live in a society where denial courts convenience. It’s our choice whether we engage with the full picture that frames both artist and work, or choose to crop it according to our comfort level.

Considering the craft of writing poetry is largely to do with finding your own truth in your own voice how can this be achieved without becoming overly self conscious, egotistical or vain?

I think it depends on who you are. Some work relies on arrogance to carry it- but then the sacrifice can be a connection with the audience. A lot of people don’t care if they display inflated ego within their performance, it’s part of whom they are or what they want to present. That is for the onlooker to decipher. But we have to have some form of self-confidence to even get up there and share our work. In terms of truth: only we really know what is true and what is not. If we perform work that doesn’t fit with who we are, we can create a split in ourselves, so then the choice rears its head: stay in the cushioned safety of a persona or venture into yourself. If you are validated as a persona it is safe but meaningless. As yourself, the risk is bigger, but at least whatever comes your way is really for you, an at least your audience can trust you.

Thursday 16 December 2010

Raymond Tells The Truth (in free verse)

Looking down
my arms at my palms
where skin is blistered
yellow from weight I’ve lifted
feeling light because I’m strong.

Looking down
my torso at the tattoo
on the left side of my chest
that says something my dad
said to me
when his heartbreak became intense.

Looking down
my own legs at my feet
where land is cracked
and dry white from long walks
that cleared my head.

Looking down
my own belly
at the button
where gut feelings are fastened
by scars.

Looking down
my own pelvis
at my penis
Which is just another vulnerability
of mine.

only eyes on the inside walls
of my clothes
know how naked I am
when I’m not on stage.

here I am.

Looking further than the horizon, never seeing the sky as a ceiling

squinting eyes


I need to write to lift meteorites that...


my body is an environment
built with iron, asteroid shards
and protein shakes
so I can be the shape of superman
but I’m no hero

I cannot save time
without making it feel
and I cannot sleep next to
a woman
without creating the type of silence
That can’t be slept through.

But when I do get to dream I lighten up
and shake that shadow, see
I am a hero but only when my eyes close.

When I'm not a hero
I'm awake...
in a real life.

I cannot shy away from something
I have to facelift to look like I'm brave
although I know what it means to be weak and look
that way

there are too many women to impress that say...
they like their men to be men.

Back when I was a boy
I was so self-conscious I didn't see other people
I just saw other people seeing me.

When my voice broke
it wasn't how it sounded when it was inside me

some people say the voice they hear inside them
is God.

But I wouldn't trust my ears to hear God's voice
and even if I heard it correctly I'd be too cynical
to believe it.

Looking up my own dictionary
at the names I get when I'm rejected
by people I approve of.

Looking up footage my heart is heavy with -
I can't edit it.

Looking up my own love
at the best part
where arms lock -

and my heart learns a name it will know until it stops....

Friday 19 November 2010

Back on the road... Spoken Word in Scotland, Edinburgh.

I heard there is an uprising Spoken Word scene in Glasgow and Newcastle.

I don’t know any poets out there but I do know a poet in Edinburgh called Harry Giles. Me and Harry used to be Slam poets and almost always ended up head to head.

What I really loved about that is the fact we’d always hang out and have a laugh afterwards. We both understand that slams don’t mean shit and you’re only as good as five people say you are on the night.

So, I jumped on the mega bus and headed up to see Harry and hoped to get some insight in Edinburgh’s Spoken Word scene.

The bus took eight and a half hours but to be honest it wasn’t a bad journey...

Well, to me there is no such thing as a bad journey if you get a good piece out of it.

I put my headphones on and listened to Polarbear’s 2006 EP ‘Keep It Simple'. There was a line I needed to hear.

“...I got to keep telling myself it’s not a lottery, just put in the work and the rest will come properly...”

I arrived in Edinburgh in the early evening and met with Harry. We headed down to a local arts centre called 'The Falcon'.

There were three rooms of different things happening. On the main stage there was a band who plugged a Game Boy into an amp then cut up the sounds into break beats with a man half rapping half doing Spoken Word. Sounds cool right? Well... It was more like being slapped around the head by butch lesbians; I didn’t know how to respond to the assult on my ears... I just stood around and as the room formed a mosh pit my head formed an ache.

In the next room there were some art films being projected, each film based around narrative poems written by the students. The idea was good but the subtitles moved too fast so it just became a mental game of “how many words in a paragraph can I read in 5 seconds”.

The third room was the poetry. There was a vintage arcade version of Pac-Man set up where the poets were reading and ironically the poetry was themed around technology. The idea being whether people are in a que to play Pac-Man or standing around in a trance by the bright red, blue and green flashing screen at least the poets have an audience... ah the things we do to feel appreciated.

I’ve spent most of the day walking around the town. I think I’ve walked most of Edinburgh in 7 hours.

It’s a great place to go and lose yourself in. It’s not a complicated town, it’s almost like it’s built within a bowl that you can climb out of and look down on.

I love that there’s a lot of greenery surrounding the old grey buildings.

Every sociologist should be a travelling poet.

I’ve performed in quite a few countries and cities now and it’s really made me reflect on how the environment reflects the art that’s created within it.

I wrote about this in my ‘poet in New York blog’ and having performed in a few other cities since then I can expand on that idea.

Most of the poetry I’ve heard in green lands like Edinburgh has come from a place outside the artist. For example it’s mostly been nature, landscape, political or historical poetry and these are the themes explored commonly by suburban poets.

Poets from the city seem to be more neurotic in their work, more detached from nature and perhaps more in their own heads and up their own asses.

I find this an accurate reflection on the people because poets are subjective reflections of their enviroment.

The more greenery you’re surrounded by the easier it is to put yourself into perspective as a human being in a world that's so much bigger than us.

Too much grey makes you lose perspective of real life because real life isn’t the bubble that consumes you in the city.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a city boy to death but there’s nothing I needed more right now than to get out of the bubble of London so I can look at my life and my art at a distance where it's more green.

Wednesday 10 November 2010

The Chill Pill family's latest addition...

Please welcome Simon Mole...

The Worlds First Poetry Promo / Music-less Music Video*

He promises to fix his hair and look sharp for our Chill Pill nights...

Friday 5 November 2010

New Videos and Publications from Chill Pill's featured Artists


The Leano

Indigo Williams

Anthony Anaxagorou is currently on tour with UK Hip-Hop artist Akala and has just published a new collection of poems

Ross Sutherland is quite a genius. His new publication 'Twelve Nudes' is out now.

Shout out to Suli Breaks for distributing a DVD of his poetry. 'Poetry is kool'.

Chill Pill relaunches in a new venue in February 2011.

Tuesday 26 October 2010

Raymond Antrobus & Musa Okwonga interviewed on Colourful Radio with Dom Servini

Musa, Dom and me talk about how we link Football, Football managing, Personal Training and Hip-Hop to our poetry. Includes a few performances and talk about Chill Pill's relaunch.

Click number 23 on the Listen Again Player.

Sunday 24 October 2010

Bad Poetry in popular Culture

Ahead of the anti-slam event which is happening this Wednesday we thought we'd warm you up with some great bad poetry from some Hollywood nutters.

Mike Myers competes for the anti-slam title.

Taylor Mali competes for the Anti-Slam

Kids in The Hall competes for the anti-slam

Will Smith competes for the anti-slam

Geoffrey from The Fresh Prince competes for the anti-slam

Cookie Monster competes for the anti-slam

Tom Cruise competes for the anti-slam title. (Thanks to Ross Sutherland for showing me this)

See you at Arch 11. This Wednesday 27th Oct 2010. (round the corner from Bethnal Green Tube station)

Sunday 17 October 2010

Q&A with Oxford based Spoken Word artist 'Pete The Temp'

If Pete The Temp ruled the world it would be squeezed between his chest and arms in a giant metaphysical man hug.

If Pete The Temp ruled the world the C Word would be "Classism".

If Pete The Temp ruled the world he’d sell a lot of CDs.

Every now and then you pick up some roadie stories as a travelling artist and one of my favorites involves the day I met Pete. We were on the same bill at a Festival in Cambridge and Pete had a late set. As festival audiences go the later you’re set the higher chances of a drunken and disorderly audience.

Pete launched into a poem and some disgruntled, pink-eyed drunk woman in the audience barged onto the stage and wrestled Pete. Unable to get Pete on the floor she decided to jump on his back while Pete (without stopping his performance) punched his poem out his panting lungs. He completed his set carrying the woman off stage on piggyback…

Pete The Temp instantly became my hero.

Q. So Pete, you’re a temp?

I graduated with an arts degree and consequently spent my early twenties as a temp. Much of my early work was workplace satire. The Temp part of my name is about solidarity with the underdog. It is for everyone who believes that there is more to life than mindless work that devalues people as human beings, pays them fuck all and channels all their productive time into menial tasks that make a small minority of people rich. You know those vans, that drive up to dusty roadside junctions near the Mexican boarder to pick up men and children desperate for half a days work? That's the same thing as a temp agency. I have spoken to countless people who find an escape from this in writing and performing. By laughing at it and poking fun at it we can make something positive out of something negative.

I used to do human rights work in Colombia where standing up for yourself as a worker can lead to assassination at the hands of a death squad. Workers there are at the sharp end of the same system – one that values profit over people and seeks to trivialise and casualise employees. The temp thing is also an expression of solidarity with them. But no, I’m not a temp, I haven't been for years. I'm now a corporate lawyer.

Q. I thoroughly enjoy the social commentary in your poems but does poetry and politics have a good relationship?

My big mouth is my gift. It is my duty to channel my creative energies into making a song and dance about what I believe to be important. Historically poets have always been a bit subversive. Poetry engages you intellectually and creates arenas of public discussion and critical thinking. It could be about sexual politics, relationship politics or politics politics. People who prefer to spend their evenings in these environments rather than watching TV are less likely to accept what 'The Man' tells them.

I am currently working on a spoken word stage show: 'Pete the Temp verses Climate Change! We are in the process of finding people and venues interested in hosting it. The aim of the show is to get people talking about climate change and laughing at the same time. While the mouths are open you can throw in some food for thought.
Q. You teach performance poetry. How do you teach someone to become a good Spoken Word poet?

Games are an important part of the creative process and are missing from the school curriculum. De-constructing the text of John Hegley and Benjamin Zephaniah from books is not enough to spark young imaginations to engage with 'spoken word'. A large proportion of the workshops we carry out at Hammer & Tongue are warm up games, improvisation games, rap battles and mini – competitions. Games are fun. They engage your body and get blood pumping to the brain which releases endorphins and sparks creativity. I believe this is how we can bring the words to life, get people performing and resurrect the oral tradition.

Q. You sing and play guitar and you have a lot of call and response material in your performance catalogue. Do you feel poetry on its own is never enough to engage your audiences?

You can do anything on a spoken word stage – satire, music, character acting, audience participation. I’ve even got away with doing sketch comedy once. The call and response stuff creates a nice dialogue between audience and performer. For every ego on stage there are another twenty in the audience. When it comes to the guitar, stand up poetry has masses of musicality in it already – even without an instrument. Imagery and metaphor is important but that is not to say that it cannot be brought to life! I don’t think that there is any less 'content' or 'writing' in heavily performative poetry – it is just that the pieces are designed to have different effects on the listener.

Q. You were born and bred in Oxford right? When I think of Oxford I think of the place that isn’t Eton or Cambridge University but it might as well be. How the hell did you become the public menace you are?

I exist in the badlands of Oxford. I eat rats in tunnels below the colleges and periodically jump out to eat rich people with my fingernails and teeth.

Q. You’ve performed all over the country how do your audiences vary and what does this teach you as an artist?

Being a performer has given me the great privilege of backpacking round my own country and experiencing new places and people. Poetry is about community as much as it is about words and spoken word audiences are unlike any other – open minded, attentive, aware and friendly. Each venue, night and point in time has its own demographic and its own vibe. The challenge for me is to tap into this and to orchestrate the right set for that particular audience.

Q. Are the rumors true? Do poets die poor?

Someone once said “there is no money in poetry, but then again, there is no poetry in money.” Bollocks! There are too many fantastic performers out there who are not getting paid for the professional work they do. This is not the case in other branches of spoken word like stand up. It doesn't have to be this way. In France and Germany poets regularly perform to audiences of 400 plus. Not all nights have a budget to pay performers and that's fine. Poets in the UK do after all operate in a small artistic economy but this is changing all the time. People are waking up to the fact that poetry can move you, inspire you and even get you singing along. How many poetry gigs have you been to where people are like “Wow! I never knew poetry could be like that!”?. I don't know any poets who want to be rich but they do want to be able pay their rent. Valuing our work as poets is part of the task of changing public perceptions of poetry. If you are a poet and someone asks you to do “a reading during the interval” - decline the offer!

Q. Pete, I love your work and you’re a top bloke... I’d give you a permanent contract any day!

I'd be your office bitch any day my friend. Keep up the good work.


Pete The Temp is the 'current Hammer & Tongue National Slam Champion'.
Become his fan on Facebook.

Monday 11 October 2010

The Anti-Slam comes to London! (27th October 2010)

After success in New York, Berlin and Warsaw, the event that smacks the poetry slam format upside the head comes to London for the FIRST (and probably last) Time!!!!!

The Anti-Slam is back.... from paula varjack on Vimeo.

27/10/10, Starts at 7.30pm at ARTCH, (next door to ten gales gallery) Arch 11, Gales Gardens London, Bethnal Green, E2 0EJ (just around the corner from Bethnal Green Tube)

Flying in from Berlin is Paula Varjack and coming from his Hackney housing place, one of the Anti-Slam champs Raymond Antrobus will host the night.

Judging over the mayhem is a glittering ensemble of London's spoken word hosts and poetry promoters. in no particular order...

Richard Tyrone Jones (Utter)
Niall O'Sullivan (Unplugged/ The Cellar)
Michelle Madsen (Hammer and Tongue)
Naomi Woddis (Poetry Gazebo)

the evening will commence with sacrificial poet: Simon Mole
putting himself forward bravely for scoring calibration

And as for our anti-slammers, pushing themselves
to glory..badly

Hollie McNish
Bohdan Piasecki
MC Angel
Musa Okwonga
Pete The Temp
Niall Spooner Harvey
Mark Walton
Sabrina Mahfouz
Rob Auton
Captain Of The Rant

Our DJ/ bad poet on the night will be BBC's Mista Gee.

"The lowest score wins..."

If you want to know more. email us at

Sunday 3 October 2010

Q&A with Spoken Word superstar 'Inua Ellams'

“I held my 13 Negro tales
And made a backbone
Swapped it for my own
Stood to the wind and dared earth
To spin me off its shoulders
Not knowing I had soldered my pen to its core
And ink planted a metaphor”

13 Negro Tales by Inua Ellams

Nigerian born Inua Ellams is one of the most exciting poets in the UK right now. Still very young, he’s already published a book of his poetry, sold out the National Theatre with his one man show, toured all over the country and was even one of the first poets to win a Fringe First award.

His words, his passion, his achievements and his humbleness has deeply inspired me as a writer and performer.

Me and Inua are part of the same poetry collective (PiP) and we were speaking recently about whether the artists involved in our art form should call themselves poets, Spoken Word artists, writers, performers, performance poets, live literature artists or show boaty wind bags?

Q. Inua, are you a show boaty wind bag?

In my younger days, I wrote and performed things, which if I saw on stage now (with a better grasp of what this game is about) I’d consider to be hot air. Yup, I was the wind baggiest of them all. But now, I consider myself a poet and a performer. I don’t write poems for stages, and don’t see a stage as the end-goal of a poem. For me, the performance of a poem is secondary to the act of writing and creating. The label we choose to attach to what we do should come from a sort of honest, critical S.W.O.T analysis. Only then are they meaningful.

Q. How can you tell when a poem wants the stage or a poem just wants the page?

The difference between a stage poem and a page poem are as thin as line breaks. That is to say, a poem on a page fools around with visual tricks, with layout, with shapes, with word spacing etc and a poem on stage is purely audio. If with a voice you cannot recreate the tricks of a page poem, then it has no business being on stage, and would make for a poor reading / performance of the poem. – That does the poem a disservice. // Anything else should work decently on a stage, if the poem is read with enough command, intention and control.

Q. A mate of mine once said “one of the biggest influences of a writer is their environment.” How does your Nigerian heritage combine with the experience of growing up in London and how does that translate into poetry?

Nigeria itself has had little to no influence on my writing. I only discovered the power of language in Dublin at 16, 5 years after I had left Nigeria and 3 years before I would consider myself a writer. But it has created a strong sense of responsibility. Naija, holds the belief that stories, poems have to carry a message otherwise they are pointless, might as well be a large dot in the centre of a page / a black hole centre stage.

The Nigeria that exists as a shared headspace within my family has however; my father is a great story-teller, my mother is moralist. My father is quite daring and charming, my mother very respectful. These traits of theirs are tinged with their strong Nigerian backgrounds. Subsequently, I am coloured with it and it dictates what I write about, why I write about it and how I do.

Q. You write a lot. I’m jealous. Apparently writers block is a necessary part of writing quality work. Do you agree?

I don’t think I write a lot. The last poem I finished, that I am happy with, that I have shared on a stage and has been published in Journals took a whole year to write. // I do think a writer’s block is necessary though, if you liken it to climbing the steps to a waterslide, the actual slide is the pay off, the fun bits, in order to get to it, to enjoy it, you gotta climb up.
Q. Your book and your one man show ‘The 14th Tale’ was funded by The Arts Council. Do the recent cuts in arts funding worry you as an artist?

YES and NO. // YES because it means that work such as mine will be difficult to create without support. NO because art will always find a way. // YES because undoubtedly a smaller amount of art works will be produced. NO because when things are created, when free time and effort are spent on it, it’s gotta be good, will be brilliant, has to be worth its while. // YES because some good artists will give this up to find 9 – 5s. NO because it is poetry, we are not exactly rolling in it anyway. // YES because we will have to think smaller and go back to the basics. NO Because we will have to think smaller and go back to the basics //

Q. You’ve achieved a lot this year. What new tricks have you learned?

“This above else: to thine own self be true.” As Ol’ Bill put it in Hamlet. There will be critics and counter critics, poet and rival poets, room to be jealous, and rooms full of jealousy. The important thing is to stick to your guns, do what makes you happy, run your own race.

Q. Lastly Inua, your book is brilliant, I’ve read it front to back many times. Plus your one-man show blew my mind, even my girlfriend really liked it and she thinks “poetry is naff!” Can I have your autograph before you get too famous for these kinds of interviews?

haha. You can get an unlimited supply of graph anytime, but it’ll cost you a gourd of Nigerian palm wine, Ghanian red red, Senegalese Jollof Rice, 3 kola nuts, a stick of pure white chalk, and the Tail of a Blue bird. - deal?


Follow Inua on Twitter

here's the trailer -

Tuesday 28 September 2010

Kate Tempest is on FIRE!

This blog just isn't legit without acknowledging those that are sitting on the top of their game right now..

This is the rather remarkable 'Kate Tempest'.


Kate Tempest - Patterns: Live In A Garden (DVD Trailer) from Kim-Leng Hills on Vimeo.

Line In The Sand

Teens' Speech

Monday 20 September 2010

Q&A with Birmingham/ London based Spoken Word superstar 'Polarbear'

Mike Skinner is not a shit rapper; he’s a good poet. Someone needs to tell him that… However, no one needs to tell Polarbear he’s not shit.

Steven Camden aka Polarbear doesn’t like to be hyped up but many would stand by me when I say he’s one of the best writer/performer/Spoken Word artists in the UK by any standard.

If you like your wordsmiths to be humble, home grown and clean cut storytellers in flat caps I may have found you a street corner hero.

Polarbear, your last one-man show was called ‘Return’ and on the flyer it says ‘A Spoken Film’. What is ‘Spoken Film’? Are you pioneering a new genre of theatre?

I dunno. I doubt it. Not on purpose anyways. A spoken film is me speaking a screenplay; shot description, dialogue and so on. I had a story I wanted to tell and an idea of how I could do it. I sat down and with Yael crafted a screenplay for my mouth. The idea is really an extension of what I’ve been trying to do with shorter pieces for a while now. I really wanted to test how filmic I could make a story feel as an experience both to tell and to listen to. I’m touring it until Feb 2011 on and off. It’s been a brilliant process and I’ve grown as a writer and performer through it. I worked really closely with a couple of people and I’m happy with what we made. It’s feels nice to take a starting point and get a piece to be exactly what you wanted. ‘RETURN’ is that.

I want you to know, there are a lot of little Polarbear imitators out there… I saw a performer completely rip you off a few weeks ago and it hurt to watch.. what should I do when I witness such horrific crimes against creativity?

Everything is borrowed lad. I wouldn’t worry. I think when you’re just starting out at something it’s inevitable that what you’re into will be present for people to see. That’s just a development thing I think. People sometimes need a base to grow their style on. A biter is always gonna shoot themselves in the foot at some point, either directly or indirectly. I remember teachers at school saying that imitation was the best form of flattery. I guess I should be flattered. Once, then it’s just lazy.

You’re a Dad. How has fatherhood impacted you as a writer? I imagine you’ve had to have your discipline on lock?

Fatherhood just made me have less time and as a consequence of that a desire not to waste any. I can now get done in three hours what it used to take a whole day to do. In terms of discipline and my work I think it’s added some maturity maybe. I’m now a man capable of acting like a boy as oppose to the other way around. I still wake up at 4am needing to write ideas down and sometimes that can mess you up when you have dad responsibilities, but it’s like anything else, I only do what I’m excited by so if I’m excited by an idea I make time to realize it.

Seems you’ve had a pretty good career as a Spoken Word artist so far but how do you measure success if not by your capital?

I don’t really think beyond the next idea. It’s funny cos every now and then I’m around a conversation about spoken word and important artists in that world or whatever and it always strikes me that the people using the word success the most are the ones I find least interesting.

The fact is I make a living from ideas and that’s something that will never not be nuts. I’m lucky. I’ve paid dues and I deliver so I get opportunities. There are words that I’ve written that might live longer than me. Crazy. I work on a lot of writing/performance projects and have made a lot of friends. Thanks to my email inbox I know there are a couple of writers who have an interest or passion to write stuff in part due to me and that there are a few more people who believe that stories can be written by anyone who’s good at it regardless of back ground. That’s pretty cool. How do I measure success? To be honest lad I don’t know. Where I come from work is work and play is play. I get to blend the two and that’s as successful as I need to be.

I once read an interview you did a while back where you spoke about your frustration with the lack of quality in the UK ‘Spoken Word scene’ and you went on to disassociate yourself with the term “poet”… Has Spoken Word poetry moved along or are you sticking to your claws?

Again I’ve gotta be annoying and say I don’t really know. I rarely go to spoken word events I’m not involved with because of time and I still have no desire to be known as a poet. It’s pretty simple to me. The form of spoken word at it’s best to me is immediate, engaging and hopefully has a lasting resonance. I just wasn’t seeing a whole lot of stuff that met all of those points. There are lots of strong artists doing it and a whole heap of absolutely crap ones (in my opinion) but none of that really enters my head when I’m writing.

I don’t consider myself to be a poet. I feel comfortable speaking work on stage to an audience so I’m cool with the spoken word label, but if I wake up tomorrow and decide to write a cookbook, then that’s what I’ll do.
Has spoken word moved along? Of course it has and so have audiences. There’ll always be good and there’ll always be awful, it’s just with spoken word there’s nothing to hide behind. It’s important that individuals keep pushing themselves and their ideas. That sounded a little more political than I intended.

You are part of the OneTaste collective. Each poet in there really holds their own. Kate Tempest, David J and yourself couldn’t make a better example of how three completely different styles of writing and performance can be equally as powerful as each other. Are you three on any kind of mission as the poets in a collective dominated by musicians?

No. OneTaste is a bunch of artists who just do stuff together. Sometimes people collaborate, other times we just perform on the same night. We’re friends who make stuff. Some of us talk, some of us sing and play. I don’t see the rest of them half as much as I used to so I don’t want to speak for them, but for me it’s just a mark of quality. Justice League, although to be honest I always found Justice League to be a little bit wet, but I mean when you’re around quality you want to bring more quality and that just makes it good for anyone watching.

Musa Okwonga once said to me that the term “Spoken Word Artist” sounds apologetic. So many of us essentially do the same thing (write and perform) but market ourselves with different names e.g. poet, writer, performer, live literature artist… why can’t we all come together and figure this out… aren’t we confusing our audience or are we trying to avoid the stigma of the terms “poet” or “poetry”?

Man you think properly about this shit eh?

I don’t have these thoughts lad. I’m a writer. I can say that with confidence now. Sometimes I speak my work to an audience, but I don’t need to. I don’t have dreams about being on stage in front of screaming crowds. Used to be that I spoke stuff cos it was the quickest way to share stuff. Now I enjoy the craft. Musa’s funny. He can be the most apologetic person ever then switch and be proper hardcore. I get called all kinds of stuff from beat poet to everyday word wizard and it’s never once changed what I do. I’ll just keep doing that and let other people worry about the definitions.

Finally Polarbear, you’re an absolute legend and an inspiration to so many poets and writers out there… you’re going down in history and your imitators will die nameless. Yay!

I come from Birmingham.

Here's Polarbear at Chill Pill a few weeks ago with his poem 'The Scene' -
"there's a reason they call it 'the scene', it's because it's not real"

Monday 13 September 2010

Q&A with South London's Spoken Word rising star 'Indigo Williams'

I met Indigo Williams at a show I did with her at Middlesex University last February. She writes and performs with such intense conviction she could be considered a weapon.

Slender at the waist, cheek bones high and a flower beaming from the silk branches of her afro… she’s cute… but the name ‘Indigo Williams’ can only belong to someone who could shake down a temple.

See, I was expecting some intimate campfire poems, but she left me dwelling in the world of an imagination that sparks fires!

Q. Indigo, I’d never have guessed it but you’re fairly new to all this ‘Spoken Word stuff’ aren’t you?

Yes I am indeed, everybody assumes I’ve been doing this for years when in actual fact I only decided I wanted to be a spoken word artist in august of 09 and by November 09 I was performing- so that’s about 9 months. (Performing that is)

Q. How did South London make a poet out of you?

It didn’t. I’ve always been talented at writing I just never took it seriously. I wanted to be a writer as a child but then I had a teacher who told the 8 year old me that I wasn’t smart enough and so I stopped for a while. In any case I don’t think you can really make a poet you either are or you’re not but you can inspire a poet and many things about growing up in south London have inspired me and that is evident in my work.

Q. I like your facebook updates, there was one that stuck with me – “Its not hard to woo a crowd. The true test is whether you can touch and leave them changed” what is the change you hope to give to your audience?

Good question! I am a strong believer that if you want to help make the world a better place then you are to be the example of the change you hope for. The only problem with that is there are millions of things that will probably work against you but I believe if you can change the way a man thinks you can change a man. So I would say the change I hope to give to any audience is the power of thought; the power to take them out of their world and into somebody else’s so that together we learn empathy, we learn patience for one another and we learn to think outside of our own boxes. Hence my slogan ‘Painting worlds with words’ (yes I have a slogan) lol

Q. I noticed you feel all the creative industries are saturated with fakes and cop-outs. Is the fact that Spoken Word is away from the mainstream and more of an underground movement part of its appeal to you?

This is such a funny question lool. I HATE COP OUTS! Fake people are inevitable but a cop out is just laziness. For example the old saying “sex sells” urm…yeah, but so do other things BE CREATIVE!


What appealed to me wasn’t the lack of fake people because anybody who knows enough people in the scene will know that is far from the truth as I am discovering lol (ooooo no she didn’t -yes is I did.)

I joined the scene because nobody knew who I was, nobody gave a shit about who I was and that was exactly what I needed at that time especially. I’ve come from the music world and I’ve grown up around extreeeeemly talented people, which meant a VERY high standard was always expected of me from a very young age. After a while music wasn’t fun anymore and then I found spoken word and I could be free with it, I could do a bad show and it really wouldn’t matter. I didn’t have that freedom when I was a singer but it turns out I’m better at spoken word anyways. (In my opinion)

Q. How far can a Spoken Word artist go to be successful before "selling out"?

You could sell out at any point it depends on why you do what you do. Ultimately the only person you are going to answer to is yourself, every choice is a declaration of who you choose to be so the moment your actions contradict your conscious choice then you have gone back on yourself. Its just a matter of whether that bothers you or not and it also depends on your interpretation of success.

Q. You’ve been performing a lot of your poetry at festivals recently. What is this teaching you as an artist?

It’s taught me that I would only ever go to a festival if I were an artist because you get privileges any other way is straight up LONG! Those toilets are just nasty!

Q. What’s next for Indigo Williams?

Graduating uni, Freelance journalism, starting a company called ‘The Platform’ (look out for it.) Acting, films, Art + poetry exhibition, writing a book, dusting off my guitar and combining my poetry and music and hopefully leaving a trail of change wherever I go especially with young people. I plan to work with young people in all of this…at some point.

Q. Finally Indigo, next time you perform and I’m in the crowd look at my “wow, what the fuck “face and tell me if you like it?

Haha okay. I’m gonna actually take a picture of your, ‘wow, what the fuck face” lol.

For more on Indigo Williams -

Wednesday 8 September 2010

Spoken Word is an art form where the craft is being yourself.

Anis Mojgani is one of the world's leading Spoken Word artists... quite frankly.. he's incredible and a master of our time... watch how its done.

incredible right?

now let me show you how it's not done... I've seen biters before... but rarely as blunt as this..

Push (2009)


This made me think about a story someone told me about what happened to North-Essex based poet 'Luke Wright'.

At a open mic, some guy gets up and blows everyone away with a poem... a poem that he'd heard Luke Wright perform and he'd wrote it down and tried to pass it off as his own work... HOWEVER, in the audience a friend of Luke Wright JUST so happened to be there and gave Luke a call... Luke then drives down to the venue and makes the guy get on stage and admit he's a big phoney...

poetic justice. :-)

Monday 30 August 2010

Q&A With Spoken Word superstar Scroobius Pip

It would be a challenge to forget Scroobius Pip. The appearance of a full thick and untrimmed bush of a beard grown out the face of a man who wears suits with baseball caps to perform poetry is quite striking.

I was first made aware of Scroob in 2007 when a mate of mine invited me to a music night called ‘The Spitz’.

The opening act was cockney poet ‘Tim Wells’. Put Tim Wells in any Irish or British pub and you’d think he owned the place.
He’s a stocky geezer who took the stage in an overcoat, then rolled up his sleeves to reveal two inked up lumberjack forearms.

Get on the wrong side of Tim and expect a baseball bat to the face or a poem dedicated to your mother, best to expect both.

The next act was ‘Chris Redmond’ a.k.a ‘The Ventriloquist’. A slim man in a straw hat who has the most astonishing talent to make a stroll through the park sound like a spiritual exploration inside three dimensions of a supernatural universe (without being hippy about it).

Some lads from Essex topped the night. The wordsmith ‘Scroobius Pip’ and the electric kicks from lap top producer ‘Dan Le Sac’. It’s cliché’ but this line up on this night changed my life.

Since then, The Spiz has been run out of the East End and Scroobius Pip has gone on to release two successful albums with Dan Le Sac, sign to ‘Strange Famous’ (a label run by American Spoken Word and indie Rapper superstar ‘Sage Francis’) tour around the world and god forbid – has he ditched the suits and trimmed his beard?

Q. Scroob! Haven’t seen the suits for a while, where are they?

I still have them! It’s a weird thing, the whole wearing suits thing was never really a stage image. When i worked in a record shop i wore jeans and t-shirt to work. Because of this, i enjoyed the aesthetic of coming home and changing in to a suit for my evenings and nights out. Sounds ridiculous i know. So, after a year or two of wearing suits onstage it kind of became a uniform again so I relaxed on it. I still always wear a shirt and tie though! Got to keep some kind of standard around here...

Q. You’ve had quite an amazing career so far. You’ve inspired poets all over the country and shown us maybe commercial success as a poet is attainable. Was popularising poetry ever on the agenda?

Not particularly. To be honest, there was never much of an agenda to start with. I wanted to write, and, when i had stuff I was pleased with, I wanted to perform it. Everything else after that has just been a bonus. Commercial success is often shied away from in the quest to be "underground" but ive never been sold on that. If you are writing something that means something to you then surely you would want as many people as possible to hear it? Obviously, if you start to change what you write about in the pursuit of commercial success then thats a different story. But, in general, its been great to get to speak to so many different people around the world, and to then have the opportunity to put on poetry nights and show more of the scene to some of the people that have enjoyed what i do.

Q. I’ve seen you do Spoken Word sets as well as music sets with 6ft Pianist, Dan Le Sac and even Kate Nash. Is combining your poetry with music always necessary to reach larger audiences and do you make compromises as a writer?

I dont really know to be honest. For me, i have always been a huge music fan. I am a music fan before a poetry fan really, so there was always a natural urge and desire to work with music too. I stumbled in to spoken word through the lack of anyone to make music with! So when those opportunities started to come up i was eager to see what could be achieved.

Q. How has your journey as an artist changed you as a person since your days participating in slam poetry events and open mic nights?

Its hard to say from my perspective really. I dont really feel it has changed me as a person much. One change is not having as much time to write new stuff as i used too! But thats a product of having a busy schedule so i cant complain about that. In the early days i was always quite confident at the open mics and slams. I always felt that, if i am willing to stand up in front of a room and tell these poems, then i must be pleased with them and proud of them.

Q. You got signed by the amazing Sage Francis, how did this come about and what does he expect from Scroobius Pip?

Signing with Sage was a huge honor! I have been a fan of his for many years and he has definately influenced my work in many ways. It basically came about when someone he knew pointed him in the direction of our myspace page. "Thou Shalt Always Kill" was just starting to build a buzz and he left a comment saying he liked it. Fast forward a year or so and we were finishing off our first album (Angles) and we didnt have a record deal in America. I decided to send Sage a myspace message asking if he would be interested in releasing our album and he said "Yes"! It was as simple as that! Im not really sure what Sage "expects" from me really but it has been great to build a relationship with the guy. Long may it continue.

Q. This year you published a book of your poems which seems to be doing well by poetry publication standards. What’s the story behind this and are you reading any poetry at the moment?

The answer to your first question kind of lays in the answer to your second. Im not reading any poetry right now. And i have never really been a big reader of poetry. It was this fact that made me uncomfortable when i was approached to release a collection of poems. I had always loved watching poetry performed live but rarely read that much. It therefore felt somewhat arrogant to release a book of poetry. "I dont read much of the stuff but you should read mine..." After some thought i came up with the idea of presenting a collection of poems in a more unusual and engaging way. I then spent two years getting different artists and illustrators to submit visual interpretations of my poems via myspace. This was always a side project whilst touring so it all just seemed to build up and come together. All of a sudden i had a graphic novel of poetry. I got in touch with a few different publishers and when Titan showed an interest i jumped at the chance to work with them. Having put out "the watchmen", "Kickass" and numerous others they seemed like a great choice. Several moths later, i had a book in the shops! It really was overwhelming.

Q. I’ve noticed sometimes you’re referred to as a rapper and sometimes as a Spoken Word artist or a poet and I’ve never seen you correct anyone... Just what is Scroobius Pip?

Whatever! haha. I have never been too precious over titles. I normally choose "spoken word" artist as it is the most literal description of what i do. I speak words. All the time. Sometimes to crowded rooms, sometimes in a recording studio. I think people are often too eager to label things when we dont really need too. I took my name from an Edward Lear poem about that exact same issue. Trying to catagorize that which cannot be catagorized.

Q. Scroob, you’re an absolute inspiration to so many of us out here... but how much would I have to pay you to chop the ol’ beard?

Young man you don't have the bank balance to enter in to such negotiations...

Friday 20 August 2010

What poets everywhere should be learning about Berlin.

Two a.m. Berlin’s dim street lights make the city look like a homemade dinner over candle light. The night air is warm like dry breath. I’m sitting on a window ledge outside a bar called ‘Wild At Heart’ surrounded by new friends. Johnny Cash strums his deep bass voice through a boom box. I’m handed a spliff, I take a few tokes and pass it on... I look up with this smile that knows that this is a moment I’ll be seeing again as a reflective old man.

Berlin is the second city I’ve visited and I’ve said to myself “man, I could live here”. The people I meet are always friendly, interesting and usually artists of some sort, the bars are always so cool (I love them and I don’t even drink) and Spoken Word poetry is largely embraced!

I was on stage at the ‘Kreuzberg Slam’ within two hours of getting off the plane from London and I had an audience of at least 300 people. That’s considered a quiet Tuesday early evening crowd! All the other performances were in German but more or less everyone spoke English as a second language.

I was backstage talking to some poets, comedians and musicians about London’s poetry scene and finding out how in the hell is Berlin’s scene drawing such vast audiences.

“The Poetry Slam scene is more established than the comedy scene” one guy tells me “over the last three years poetry slams have become bigger and bigger”. Then I got to meet one of Berlin’s Spoken Word God Fathers ‘Wolf Hogekamp’ who tells me Spoken Word is so huge in Switzerland they teach it on the basic educational curriculum. He also tells me it’s on the rise in Austria and Poland... interesting.

The venue had one of the biggest stages I’ve ever performed on and the audience were so tuned in.

It’s always an amazing feeling to be worthy of so many ears and eyes.

The Kreuzberg Slam had the best format of slam poetry I’ve ever seen... When a performer goes over time, dark eerie music starts playing and the host walks slowly onto the stage towards the performer. Gradually the music gets louder and louder to drain out the performance and if the performance is still running when the host is standing next to the performer the music is turned RIGHT UP and totally drowns them out. Meanwhile the host on the stage stands painfully close to them and smiles like a psycho... GENIUS!

Less than 24 hours later my host and local Spoken Word celebrity ‘Paula Varjack’ gets me on her radio show called ‘Now Hear this’ to do some poems, play some music from my Speed Camera Shy project and talk London, poetry and Dubstep! It was great fun!

Listen to me saying “interesting” over and over again –

We then went from the radio station to the Anti-Slam which was hosted by Paula Varjack and Wolf Hogekemp. In an Anti-Slam you take everything you hate about a regular slam and turn it up! e.g. cliché’ love, political or ‘where I’m from’ poems, defensive amateur poets, bad judges, overly dramatic pauses which involves moodily staring into the distance, shaky hands holding the paper, awkward stage presence, unconvincing acting and the whole self satisfying mentality all gets put in the mix... and I should mention the audience are encouraged to heckle.

Here’s an extract from an Icelandic poet who walked onto the stage awkwardly, fiddled with the mic and said “Testing, Testing, Testing... Animals need protection from animal testing” another line I remember in this poem was “Animals need a lawyer// from the people who drink milk that ain’t Soya”. His piece even had a poorly executed repetitive chorus .. ahh it was fantastically awful!

I did a political poem about “change” in the voice of a hippy on a street corner .. I half wrote it then started improvising... I got heckled so badly my poem was barely heard but I think the ending won it with “Is change taking place?// There is no Mass Debate!” followed by an awkward pause, then turning around and telling all the judges to fuck off to inspire a bad score (the lowest scoring poet wins)

I made it to the second round and was given 15 minutes to write a poem in a second language. I don’t have a second language so I had to write something in German and the audience asked for a poem about ‘Nelson Mandela,’’ Maradona’ and a dildo... I ran around trying to get as many German words and phrases in... then jumped back on stage, getting most the pronunciation wrong and it ended up being a nonsensical poem about Marradona trying to come on to Mandela with his “vist du de hand godes” which is his “hand of god” but Mandela not having it by saying he doesn’t need a hand of god when he has a dildo ... yeah... I won... and I’m now the fourth Berlin Anti Slam Champion. Ha!

I was rewarded with a big bottle of Jägermeister and a birthday cake... oh’ and “congratulations you suck” comments!

Happy times!
So I wanted to know what the Germans are doing that the British aren’t in terms of generating such mass appeal for the Spoken Word art form?

I caught up with Italian poet Sergio Garau who has spent a considerable amount of time gigging his poetry around Germany, England and Poland.

“I think the German slam scene is huge because of the scenes' engagement and coordination - it's a "circolo virtuoso": the audiences are big (around 300-400 paying guests in the main slams), the MCs can then afford to invite quality artists from the whole country or even form abroad. The poets then get to perform in front of big audiences and publicise their work. The fact that the best German slammers are travelling around a lot, not only performing but also doing workshops allows some of them to live out of their writing - the existence of professional poetry slammers makes it also more appealing and many join the scenes. Another element is probably the variety of personalities that are involved: from authors highly considerate in academical milieu to popular stand-up comedians, from post-stop-avantgardists to emo-kids, from greats craftsmen of the rhyme to novelists and so on. The Medias, Literature Festivals and the Goethe Institute get interested and involved in making the scene grow even more.”

So is it the fault of the artists, the audiences or is it just that we aren’t getting the marketing, funding and adequate support from the arts councils and other creative organizations?

Or am I being overambitious about the Spoken Word movement, maybe its fine as it is – unpackaged, raw and for the few, maybe that’s the beauty of it?

Being involved in the movement of an art form that has little commercial value and therefore has huge freedoms to be creative is exciting but frustrating. Everyone wants to be appreciated but at what point does our integrity and “street credibility” suffer for our success?

I think I’ve stumbled across a new theme for the second series of the Q&A...

Thanks for reading and stay tuned!

p.s. myself and Paula Varjack will be hosting the first ever London Anti-Slam this October.