Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Q&A with Milton Keynes Based Spoken Word Poet Mark Niel

It’s Niel... Not Neil, Niall or O’Neill.

N I E L!

Mark could be considered a slam poet (he’s won a lot of bloody slams) or even a satirical poet but I don’t think these descriptions alone do him justice.

His poetry is celebratory and fun on the stage. His skills translate onto the page as rhythmic, energetic and surprisingly sentimental at times.

I’ve always been told if you want to do well in this game its best to be strategic and organised. This will court 70% of your success. Unfortunately, poets wander lonely as clouds and don't get shit done.

Mark is one of the hands on the steering wheel of this humbly fast accelerating Spoken Word movement and his grip is tight. I was at an event organised by Mark in Oxford recently and he managed to get spoken word event organisers from all over the UK in one room to discuss how we can all connect and establish this little understood and hugely overlooked art form into a highly valued, respected and progressive one.

Q. Mark Niel, how many people have compared you to Peter Griffin?

A. None (that are still living).

Q. What’s more crucial to being a good poet - personality or the craft of poetry?

A. There are a lot of different expressions in the live literature scene and personality will stand you in good stead if you’re aiming for the Slam/cabaret part of the scene. Ultimately, I think the craft is the essential element if you want your work to have longevity. Being able to read well or perform a poem will get you so far, but if there is no substance to back it up audiences will quickly mark you down as a one trick pony. I try to vary my set to the tone of the event. Some are more readings than performances and welcome more lyrical, thoughtful words and imagery. Others count entertainment as important as the art form but the underlying writing still has to be solid. Funny poems can take as long to perfect as serious pieces and you also might need to give them three or four performances and tinker with rhythms and the all important timing before you’re happy with it. Though I’m better known for being on the lighter side of poetry, I’m still delighted when my serious poems are published or win competitions.
Q. Our meeting at Oxford: The ‘Tongue In Chic’ Poets and Promoters Forum was brilliant, I think we need an event/organisation like that to serve as an agency and advice bureau for Spoken Word artists. Ideally how would the spoken word scene look?

A. Richer, better funded and respected is the short answer but I don’t think there are any short cuts to get there. I’d like to think that over the next five years we can start to see spoken word artists breaking though into the mainstream. I definitely detect an upswing in media coverage with artists such as Aisle 16 getting great write-ups in the national media for individual and collective events and tours. Spoken Word stages are springing up at a lot of Festivals now. I’d like to see the scene grow some of the excellent grass roots events into bigger venues. I think it would help if some sort of agency or professional body was established for poets. There may well be a need for professional guidelines to be developed to help poets and events organisers know where they stand. The scene is vibrant in terms of lots of the number of open mics, Slams etc and we have some quality poets who should really be household names but don’t fit the traditional mould and I’d love to see a few of them break through. Once that happens, I think it will be easier for others to follow.

Q It’s said that slam is a young person’s game but I don’t think I know any poet with more slam titles than you... any advice to those 40 plus year old poets who feel excluded from what we’re trying to create within the Spoken Word circuit?

A I really don’t see age as an issue. 40 is the new 21! What matters in Slams is great writing, confident whole-hearted performances and the ability to communicate. I’ve seen Slams won by both pensioners and teenagers so don’t let age or the lack of it stop you. For me, Slams are a great showcase. You get three minutes to show the world who you are, or what matters to you, or simply to badmouth your ex! Make sure your poem is well written and perform it with panache. Do whatever you want but do it in style. It is more important to give a good account of yourself than to win: “to thy own self be true”. I have been had as many bookings from Slams I didn’t win as from those I did.

My website, A Kick in the Arts has 20 top tips for taking part in Slams if people want to read more.

Q Answer this question with a poem - Poetry was used in many ancient traditions to tell stories, record history and spread news. In a modern society with information so readily at our finger tips why is poetry still important?


I’m connected.
I’ve perfected
the art of multi-tasking.
No matter who is asking
I can tell you
who’s hot, who’s not,
which trend is up or down,
the shows that got five stars
and those that are closing down.
I absorb data streams in a blink
before I realise I’m being told
what to think.
So much noise, noise, noise
But what does it mean?
Do I have to go with the flow?
Can I depart from the mean?
So I switch off my iphone,
(Yes it does that!)
log off the PC,
take a walk in the sun
just you and me.
There are people with lives,
real human beings.
This is life unplugged
And for the first time I’m seeing
is different to
Here a “digital interaction”
is a handshake
and it makes me sad
to think I’ve been had.
How many of my Facebook friends
have I actually met?
I forget or daren’t check
Because I know real friends
Are not made by a mouse click
But a click of the heart
when you find a kindred spirit
On a park bench I take out a book
and read aloud a poem.
Just you, pigeons and trees
For a crowd.
I set the words loose
to have a life of their own
finding new homes to live in.
This quiet, tranquil afternoon
feels like rebellion.
I’m not stressed,
Hyped up or dejected
For the first day in many
I finally feel

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