Saturday 29 January 2011

Has Mike Skinner been reading this blog?

Mike Skinner from The Streets has just released a free mixtape and on that he has included a spoken word accapella track. Could this be an indication that Mike is finally standing up as a poet in his own right?

not that he's never been one... I just remember when I fell in love with The Streets all those years ago and I'd hear people say "he's only chatting... pay me to talk over bloody beats, I sound better than that!"

A lot of people didn't get it but I really connected with it... well, a lot of people did.. he's a top selling artist.

I saw The Streets live and to the crowd Mike said rather apologetically "I'm not the best Rapper in the world but I love what I do!"

which kind of disheartened me because it was almost like he was apologising for being an artist who puts substance over style.

Here you can download The Streets Mixtape and I've included other Spoken Word artists who you need on your radar.

Dizraeli is a favorite of mine, he incorporates Spoken Word ingeniously into his raps. Check out his 2009 release 'Scrabblebag'

Possibly the most popular Spoken Word artist in the UK 'Polarbear'

The amazingly talented Indigo Williams has a new Spoken Word release out!

New release from Hollie Mcnish - Touch

Mike McGee is one of the best loved Spoken Word artists in North America... I see why.

Carlos Andreas Gomez is incredible - he truly packs style and substance in his work- a true Spoken Word Artist.

also check out one of my favorite bands headed by a poet - Benin City. They'll be doing big things this year. Also, check out an album that should go down in Spoken Word history - The Short Story Long by Shane Koyczan.

Fianlly, Kate Tempest has a new album coming out and this video by the brilliant poet 'John Berkavitch' is testimony of things to come.

Thursday 27 January 2011

London's first EVER Anti-Love Slam!

the anti-slam anti-valentine from paula varjack on Vimeo.

Date: 14th February

Time: 19:30 - 23:00

Cost: Fiver

Location: Artch
Arch 11, Gales Gardens (Under Bethnal Green Rails by Bethnal Green Tube Station

The Lowest Score... Wins.

The anti-slam challenges great performance poets, to write the worst poems that they can imagine, and perform them... well.
We think competition is overrated,
actually, we celebrate FAILURE!!!

We launched in bar called S.I.N in Berlin, on July 1st 2009. We stumbled back three months later to an underground ping-pong bar in September. We returned last February to protest Valentines day with the worst love poems... ever (who knew heartbreak could be so funny?)

As friends in Poland began their own event in Warsaw, Friends in London struck back with their own brand of poetic anarchy in ARtch in East London.

The Anti-Slam is back to protest Valentines day again, this year running events in London and Berlin AT THE VERY SAME TIME!!! .

The Anti-SLam London ANti-Valentine's Day Special hosted by: Raymond Antrobus and Captain of the Rant

FB Eventpage -!/event.php?eid=164945980218349

Saturday 15 January 2011

My Hero Orson Welles

Orson Welles is one of my heroes for many reasons... He just seemed like a man you could go to about anything...

"Hey Orson, I'm writing something... help me out... hey Orson, my girlfriend left me.. cheer me up.. hey Orson ...tell me a story that'll make me cry then another one to make me laugh... hey Orson, I'm looking for my voice... help me find it"

Although he had such a strong and powerful presence on screen which even came through on his radio recordings, I sense this mysterious, troublesome vulnerability about him...

He was a man with a classic and romantic mind who wanted to live in the past even through he was 100 years ahead of his time... He was an extremely progressive thinker... directing Shakespeare plays and casting all black actors in the 40's.. He wrote screenplays, radio plays and made films that exposed mediocrity. He was shunned by Hollywood, slated by jealous and conservative critics... but kept on working despite his genius being overlooked during most of his life... his parents died when he was young... he became a wanderer... a boy who loved travelling, magic and painting... He then discovered the theatre, film and radio.

"I want to use the motion picture camera as an instrument of poetry"

I'm currently reading his biography and he talks about being separate from his art. Even in this interview he's adamant about the concept of "rosebud" being what he least liked about his film 'Citizen Kane' yet, as a human being he admits longing for one place to call home.

Art is a mirror of the artist even if the artist (or anyone) tries to smash it.

Anyway, this is a brilliant interview with the man himself... although rather ballooned... Welles is sharp, poetic and honest (even about the things he can't do).

Friday 14 January 2011

EYE EYE/ We're Automatic (Poems in Progress)

"The aim of idealogies of ethnicity, nationality, religion and gender is to remove the sense of one's own individual limitions and failure as a human being and to replace the "I" by a "we" - Charles Simic


I... I
I’m... I
I’m trying
I'm trying not to say “I” so much

it’s no way to start a poem.

I... I
I... I need
I need to start somewhere.

A We Poem

We’re better at breaking things than we are at juggling

We wear costumes better than ourselves
We pretend we’re all alike
We fight

We go home with all the stupid things we said that day
We lock ourselves away
We punch walls
We go mad because it proves we’re capable of love
We see the world like a lonely place
We dream in other people’s houses

We have earthquakes inside us
We see rainbows while they’re happening
We take chemicals and go to carnivals
We’re afraid of clowns
We’re afraid of flying but we wish we could
We’re afraid of going missing we’re not afraid of being missed
We’re afraid of smiling at strangers
We’re afraid of bombs on train tracks
We’re afraid of aeroplanes becoming fireworks
We’re afraid of depression
We’re afraid of expanding our minds when happiness is a tunnel vision

We want to look for people like us and we want to find them in love
We want more than life and the time it lasts
We want safety
We want people to be honest with us so we can be honest with people
We want diamonds in our mirrors
We want warm deathbeds and summer rain
We want to know if silence exists
We want to cut down cities and build rainforests
We want cycle paths, quiet parks and fast lanes on motorways

We want sharp brakes, steep slopes and no hands on handlebars
We smell like dead grass and featherbeds
We smell like heavy traffic and Oregano Mountains
like fluoride and drinking fountains

We smell like surgery

We’re arrowheads with neck pain
We’re hearts with headaches
We’re the weather in our dreams
We’re sea water in aquariums
We’re blind and photogenic
We’re deaf in the sound of sleep.

Wednesday 12 January 2011

Poetry Meets Religion and then other things part 2

As we zoom out the universe that Niall O’Sullivan has scrutinized under his telescope, we can hang up our lab coats, free the monkeys from their cages and put away the Oxford Dictionary.

Let us now look into an even more ambiguous belief system - one of spoken word performer - James Massiah.

I mentioned religion being a bit of a crowd splitter so I was a bit worried about getting in contact with James just to ask about his religious views, like some kind of overeager Jehovah’s Witness recruit.

Having seen James perform a few times I decided to ask him more specific questions about the topics he tackles.

Here he is performing a piece called Dance With The Devil.

Massiah, you challenge a lot of stereotypes enforced by society on young black boys... what is your role in breaking down those barriers and does your faith provide a role in that?

Everyone deserves a fair shot at life, and because of the stereotypes and assumptions that are often put on young black males we don't really get that fair shot. Throughout history people have come along and changed social ideals and altered people’s perceptions on certain things I would hope that my art allows people to change their perceptions in a similar way to those that have done so in the past in the fields of art, science, religion, politics and so on. More specifically in regards to this question, I'd hope that I change people’s negative or infantile views on ideas about race, culture and ethnicity; through not only my art but my character and moral values too.

Do you think preaching and sermonising can be used as a form of performance poetry?

In as much as a sermon is often a man with a microphone telling a story and sharing his views on an issue I certainly think so. There may be a marked difference in the preachers style and form in that it may not be as verse oriented as a poet's, but I've seen many an evangelist with tons of charisma turn a congregation much in the way that I have seen performance poets rouse crowds with their poems.

I preached my first sermon before I performed my first poem and so I definitely feel there is an overlap between the two that allows for one to be able to learn or appreciate the values of another, stylistically at least if not theologically.

Are you saving the world or saving yourself?

I'm no pessimist, but I shall certainly sound like one when I say that the world is beyond saving. In saying that though, I truly hope that in saving myself, the small pockets of the world that hear my poetry, see my shows and meet me will be changed for the better as a result.

I would like to sign out with this quote from one of my favorite poets of the moment Charles Simic -

"as far as I'm concerned it is not a contradiction to say both - God does and does not exist"

Sunday 9 January 2011

The Religion of Poetry Meets The Poetry Of Religion part 1 w/ Niall O'Sullivan

We humans create many things that create division between us. I believe power and the hunger for it is what keeps most people divided.

Of course there is also natural division (what we're born with) but here I’d like to explore another language of human division – Religion.

I had a performance piece exploring my religious views (was listening to lots of George Carlin at the time) and it always seemed to create tension.

I know you can’t please everyone and everyone has their own truths. I can tackle my own truths on many things and instigate a constructive and stimulating conversation through my work.

However that never seems the case when exploring religion.

You seem to enforce the belief people already have whether its for or against religion and it always seems to create division between you and the audience.

Maybe I just shouldn’t drop it at a poetry night full of evangelical Christians.

I’ve seen Baba Brinkman’s Hip-Hop show on Charles Darwin’s theory of Evolution and its brilliant but I guess Baba Brinkman is an artist who has found his audience. (and it isn’t a group of evangelical Christians)

Anyway I pulled in two London poets ‘Niall O’Sullivan’ who runs Poetry Unplugged at the poetry cafe in Covent Garden. He’s published two books called 'You’re not singing anymore' and 'Ventriloquism for Monkeys'.

He’s written many poems inspired by Darwinism.

I also pulled up young performance poet James Massiah for Part 2 of this discussion. James is a regular face and voice on the London poetry circuit.

Niall was quick to point out that James is not the messiah... he’s a very naughty boy!

So Niall, first question is who is your favourite biblical character and why?

The snake in the Garden of Eden. Read in a certain way, the collection of Semitic literature that we call the Bible begins with a world of dumb perfection brought into being by a god who is very much involved with human affairs and ends in a world of our own abyssal freedom with a god who is no longer involved and has, perhaps, stepped away from the act of being itself. The snake, and the subsequent exile from Eden represent the first step of this narrative.

The snake is often lazily labelled as the Devil or Satan within Christian cultures. The Devil is the product of the collision between Judaistic mythology with Graeco-Roman Paganism. There is no mention of the Devil in the Hebrew scriptures. Satan is mentioned a few times but is often appointed as a devious associate of Yahweh rather than an outright adversary (one translation of his name is The Prosecutor, a role that is carried out in accordance with Yahweh's as Judge, such as in the Book of Job). The snake is not the Devil, neither is it Satan.

The story of a man, woman, tree and snake is older than the Book of Genesis, images of the scene appear in Sumerian seals. The comparative mythologist Joseph Campbell points out that the snake is revered in other cultures and religions. Its body flows like water and its tongue flickers like flame. The snake is also a symbol of transformation, illustrated in how it sheds its skin.

What were Adam and Eve before the fall? A couple of babies wandering about Eden, with no problems to contend with, snug in the mind-numbing tedium of perfection. The fact that they were threatened with expulsion if they ate from the fruit of the tree of knowledge presented it as the only way to reject the dull, predictable world of perfection. In place of this world they were given a world that contained pain and struggle, but with this pain and struggle their lives were given meaning and freedom. Campbell also goes on to explain that in other versions of the story the serpent is the mother goddess. Is it not curious that in the story of Yahweh, the male god, the mother goddess snake and Eve are both scape-goated for the presence of pain and struggle? With those out of the way, we get the dominance of the genocidal, ethnic cleansing Yahweh of the Flood and Exodus. But this is also the Yahweh that no longer walks with man in the garden. Moses can only glimpse his “hind parts” during their meeting at Mount Sinai. Yahweh becomes a human in the Gospels and is put to death. Finally, he disappears into the skies. What is left is a Holy Spirit, the brother-and-sisterhood of humankind. Could this not be read as the gradual retreat of a god as mankind takes responsibility for itself, all put in motion by the agent of transformation, the snake?

So you’re sitting on an empty tube carriage at midnight and your drunk and on the way back from Jesus’s birthday party (Christmas) and Charles Darwin gets on at Holborn and sits next to you... what would you say to him?

Darwin was a quiet, humble man during his life. He sat on his theory of Natural Selection for decades before Alfred Russell Wallace forced his hand by also discovering the theory. So I'm not sure Darwin would have felt comfortable with some drunk guy yammering on at him on public transport. Darwin is often portrayed as some kind of iconoclast, but evolution itself was a much older idea and non-literal readings of Genesis go back to Thomas Aquinas and St Augustine. If anything destroyed Darwin's faith, it was the death of his daughter rather than evolution. Even on losing his faith, Darwin would walk his family to church of Sundays and sit outside until it was time for them to leave.

As an atheist, I find myself just as exasperated by the appropriation of Darwinism as the last nail in god's coffin as I am with biblical literalists. Both the vulgar atheists of today and the Young Earth Creationists of the evangelic community are tied together by a mutual misunderstanding of mythology. The relevance of mythology has nothing to do with its facticity, mythology is a mirror of human nature.

So, back to Darwin, I don't think I'd waste my moment with the great naturalist talking about religion. I'd tell him about what we've discovered since his work on the Origin. He knew the mechanism of Natural Selection, but he didn't know of the unit of inheritance, DNA. I would also have told him that his hunch about Africa being the cauldron for human evolution was also true. I guess I'd ply him with knowledge about how far we've taken the science so far and after giving him ample time to take it all in, I'd ask him where we are currently going wrong. Of course, if Darwin had figured out how to get and use an oyster card, he probably would have got up to scratch on the current science and wouldn't need it explained by pish like me. I think I'd be happier to leave him sitting alone as he did outside that church, his mind hovering around the periphery of something brilliant.

Considering all holy books and scriptures are written poetically does that imply there is some form of authority and empowerment embedded in poetry and how does poetry and religion interact with each other?

I'd not go as far as to say all holy books are written poetically, there are countless tedious passages in the Scriptures about who begat who and furnishing tips. For every Ecclesiastes we get a Leviticus. We should also remember that our idea about the uniform poetical qualities of the Bible are more inherent to the King James translation than to the variable content of the original Hebrew Old Testament and Greek New Testament books.

That said, it cannot be denied that there is plenty of beautiful language in religious texts. An otherwise ridiculous and nonsensical statement can seem to make sense when phrased poetically. The ear tends to casually accept that which flatters it. Rhyme, assonance and alliteration all lend their own logic to a sentence. Moral instructions are often phrased in rhyming mnemonic ways to help them lodge within the brains of children and adults. I've often heard poetry audiences hum in approval to lines that Larkin would have dismissed as beautiful crap.

As someone with an inherent distrust of organised religion, I find it heartening that we can appropriate the poetry of religious texts to strike against it, in the way that William Blake and Friedrich Nietzsche have. Is Nobodaddy not one of the most perceptive names man has given to god?

It is interesting that a lot of contemporary poetry has shied away from the “heightened speech” of religious texts, making use of more intimate and casual terminology. Poets that try to bring “heightened speech” into poetry often end up sounding comically archaic. That's not to say we might not see a return of this kind of rhetoric, but it takes a poet as good as Blake to make the breakthrough.

Slavoj Zizek made some interesting points about god in a recent lecture ( ). Many have removed the need for a god in our discourse on reality. We know that god doesn't exist, but does god know this too? What does this question mean? It simply means that we cannot get rid of god by disqualifying him from reality, not when so many religious and theistic assumptions make up the functional fictions of our world. Those functional fictions come from religious poetry and mythology, deeply meshed together within the implicit and the unconscious. We have killed god, but every time we open our mouths, he lives again.

Saturday 1 January 2011


She said you are the centre
of yourself
and I couldn’t tell if it was criticism
or advise for someone outside
but considering her surname, Copernicus
I imagine she’s shoved
burial ground of her gut
pointed it up
with her jaw dropped
from the weight
of what she see’s
through the lens
of her heart
looking up
towards headlights
in the sky.


when she talks
she talks
like she’s visiting planets.

It’s amazing
how the muscles in her throat
are so small
but she pulls in the universe
drawing breath
and giving it back, layered
black and bright
like every season in space.

she see’s all my flaws
in the ways I try to hide them

in the ways I say things
that aren’t worth breaking any silence

in the ways
I keep dreaming in other people’s houses

in the ways
I get depressed and say it’s because I’m an artist

she said fine,
be a perfectionist
but know you are not
the moon
you cannot shine every night
but I’d never tell you
not to try.