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