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 failure...er 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 antislam@live.com

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 -