Sunday 24 February 2013

Chill Pill at The Albany w/ David J, Ross Sutherland, Kristiana Rae Colón
You can't argue with the word power of this line up at Chill Pill, The Albany on Thursday 28th.

David J

Kristiana Rae Colón

Ross Sutherland

of course... Mista Gee, Raymond Antrobus, Deanna Rodger, Simon Mole & Adam Kammerling will also be making an appearance.

This show is likely to sell out so guarantee your ticket and book in advance...

Thursday 21 February 2013

On Poetry, Writing & Other People (Short Essay by Raymond Antrobus)

Eduardo.C Carol is a poet from New York; I came across an interview of his online where he talks on his own progress as a poet.

“I was writing tidbits of autobiography instead of poems. It took me years of practice to learn how to listen to language, to follow it not lead it.”

This led me to question the validity of where I am at as a poet who is writing mainly autobiographical prose poems. How much control do I have over my own poetic craft if I am driven by needing to resolve things personally. Furthermore, how do I assure that what I write is of interest and value to other people?

I came across this quote from the late Kurt Vonnegut, “write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia”. A poet doesn’t need to concern him or herself with mass appeal, as what poets offer as a kind of alternative to mainstream culture. But if my writing only appeals to other poets and writers I am neglecting the taste of those outside my aesthetic mentality, which is pretty much most of the world.

Gorge The Poet gave a brilliant interview in the Observer recently where he spoke on the social reasonability of rappers.

"Rappers have so much power to do good and they squander it, I want to tell them, I wish you knew you were like my big brother. I wish you knew I could have been in the best mood, but I wanted to have a fight directly after listening to your song."

In my opinion the poet in modern society is most effective as an educator, campaigner and entertainer; these are all roles that aim to influence culture. As a Spoken Word Artist, poetry and performance is a vehicle towards that which is something the late Lancashire poet, Graham Hough has written - 

“The fact that poetry is not of the slightest economic or political importance, that it has no attachment to any of the powers that control the modern world, may set it free to do the only thing that in this age it can do – to keep some neglected part of the human experience alive until the weather changes; as in some unforeseeable way it may do”

This weather change could be a resistance against the current dominating celebrity culture; I’m not saying there isn’t a place for it but the machine is so huge and is responsible for deluding the minds of a lot of people (particularly the young and impressionable).

The neglected part of the human experience in the western world could be the part that is beyond materialist thinking. As well as educating, campaigning and entertaining I also feel the poets job is to uplift, it is to say I KNOW HOW TO CELEBRATE LIFE IN SPITE OF DEATH, WAR, HATRED, HEARTBREAK etc, so back to myself and how I write, I hope my poems like One Night At Zula Bar In Cape Town (published in my fist pamphlet) achieves a kind of universality so no one feels they’ve wasted time experiencing my poetry or life story or claim to fame... or whatever you call it. 

If The Floor Could Dance It Would Dance On You (Poem)

This is your room.

It’s a cell.

You can have everything you want except the key for the door.

If you ever get the key (which you won’t) stay here and use it to scrawl poetry into the wall, but don’t you dare call yourself a prisoner.

You are mad and you have to learn to speak without your voice digging tunnels to run through like a victim of yourself.

There are other heads, in other cells, holding out their ears for something that breaths quietly.

But you will turn them to the dark and they will want to chop off their arms for being within your reach.

Every colour you see is wet, colour dries nothing.

Your feet will need more faith if they are to carry you across the rust into the part of you that’s this dark and scratched up.

Create your own season and let it touch you, weather reports are useless here.

Tomorrow morning you will hear instructions, follow them until you’re somewhere warm.

You will see what you thought were walls was actually your perspective inspired by the lines between the last poem you grated into the air with your teeth.

Don’t let anyone see how the plot rattles in your head like marbles in a whisky bottle.

They will judge you and your sentence will just be another thing you can’t finish.

Love will one day become a type of grief and you won’t survive if it’s the only thing that feeds you.

Your parents were wrong; you can be wiser than them.

You will never fit your mother into words because words aren’t beautiful enough.

I will write until I lose God and find out I am a religion.

I just noticed there is a waiting room in my heart and there is no entrance.

Ask your Grandma to write you a letter about what it’s like to be young.

Chase the light out the sky; it only wants to criticize you.

Run up to the first person you see and tell them your eyes fell out their pocket.

Notice yourself reading this and then imagine you wasted your time writing it.

The best liar you will ever meet will make love look easy.

Count up to a high number, start at one and stop when you start to feel lonely, that’s the number of days you’ve walked the streets feeling like that.

Get on the Underground in the morning and smile just to be good at being different.

I was standing in a warehouse one night, the walls were pealing and the only light came from a projector that was playing a film about the dying art of shadows.

If there was any sense in my direction I’d stop here and let peace stand next to me in the dark and whisper something profound into the room.

I don’t want to be anything but a temple strong enough to handle love.

What would Lego men make of you?

If tears cried you do you think you’d taste like vinegar?

There are flowers left on the road side, they are dead, the flowers I mean. Does that imply the grievers have moved on or is it still too painful for them to keep some things alive?

How to be wise – observe animals in their habitat and surround yourself with older people and children – write down everything they say.

I have just walked passed a man sitting down in the street holding a cardboard cut out of himself. The sign of a good life is never cut from cardboard.

All the cold places I can think of are quiet.

Why did I feel nothing when I read a headline that said Children dead in a house fire?

I’d like to find the universe where trees chop down people and study people work instead of wood work.

Do not think too much about the words you say, the heart doesn’t think – it’s a beautifully stupid organ.

Get up and walk down the street and start a conversation with the first person you see that’s singing.

If every ear in the world went deaf would the human race become closer or would we isolate ourselves even more than we already do?

If you made friends with death do you think it would live for you?

Saturday 16 February 2013

The London Anti Slam Champion

In 2010 I won the Berlin Anti-Slam which is a Slam where the worst poet wins. Inspired by US poet 'Jamie Dewolf', Paula Varjack started the Anti-Slam in Berlin in 2009. The way to win is not to be shit, but to be good at being shit, it's quite a challenge. When the Anti-Slam was brought to London in 2011, Adam Kammerling took the title with his 'Love, Sex' masterpiece of shit poetry... Last night Dan Simpson and Paula Varjack crowned a new Anti-Slam champion - Amy McAlester.   

JUDGED! - Paula and Dan nudge 'Consciousness' aka Keith Jarrett off stage 
Former Champion - Adam Kammerling
NEW Champ - Amy McAlester 

Thursday 7 February 2013

What Poets Teach - Q&A With Mark Grist

Mark Grist and Mixy of Dead Poets
Q1. Mr.Grist! First off congratulations to you and Mixy on all your success. How’s it all going?
Hey, Ray. It's going pretty well, I think. We had a rough first year when we went full time, but things are starting to pick up steam. At the moment we seem to be spending a lot of time in meetings with TV and Film companies – we’re currently finalizing the development of a feature film with Film 4. It’s based on my journey from English teacher to rap battler. It’s taken ages to sort out the rights, and it’ll take a year and a half to get the script together, but it should be a fun project. Otherwise, we’re doing a lot of work in schools and we've been commissioned to create a new Dead Poets Live Lit show - hopefully it'll be all done and ready for Edinburgh in 2014.
Q2. There are a few heads from the poetry scene battling on Don’t Flop, namely Chill Pill’s Adam Kammerling and Simon Mole. As you’ve become popular battling emcees what can a poet teach the average battle rapper?

Probably as much as a battle rapper can teach us, really. I think that, in general, a poet’s focus on the content of the lines is tighter - some battlers tend to hang their content on the end of their lines, whereas poets flesh their writing out a little more. Poets also are used to thinking up alternative angles, which can help them frame their rounds more effectively. That being said, I’ve learnt so much about delivery and showmanship from rap battlers and their use of multi-syllabic rhyme really interests me. When the project comes to an end (in the next year, most likely) I’m pretty sure that I’ll owe a lot to the battling community.
Q3. Some people say the role of the poet is to uplift, where as the role of the battle rapper is to put down, what would you say to this?

I'd say that those people probably don't know either art form particularly well. On the surface that could be seen to be the case. Rap battles are transparent in their competitive nature and put-downs are inherent to the sport (although that’s not the only thing going on in a performance). Poetry appears to lack this sense of competition (at least on the surface) and so the material has more range to it. Whilst I agree that poetry can certainly ‘lift you up’ the problem with this statement would be that you don’t cease being a poet once your performance is over.

My real issue with poetry in the UK is the negativity and back biting that has dominated ‘the scene’ for as long as I’ve been a part of it. In the last year and a half we’ve had The Oxford Professor of Poetry calling Carol Anne Duffy ‘The Mills and Boon of poetry’ a London poet plagiarizing Helen Mort’s work (along with the work of others) to win a National competition, Senior members of The Poetry Society trying to oust the magazine’s editor, involving (in her words) ‘bullying’ and ‘death threats’, and an article in a National paper claiming that ‘Poetry Slams do nothing to keep the art form alive’ from a guy who makes a living from selling slam poetry workshops to schools. Added to that, we also get frenzied responses to these actions that take a bad situation and often make it even worse. If poets just got on and wrote poetry it might not be so bad. Don’t get me wrong; rap battlers can be shitty too. But there’s no great moral distinction in my mind.
Q4. You did a tour recently with Mixy where you agreed to perform anywhere in the country, from living rooms to local pubs. What was the most bizarre gig on the tour?

There were a few - Mixy performed in a taxi cab for some middle-aged women in exchange for his cab fare was pretty funny. We also performed in a couple of sitting rooms in exchange for cups of tea. The weirdest gig was three nights in to the tour at a heavy metal night in Andover. They cancelled the normal band and we went on to a pretty rowdy crowd, announcing that we were going to give them an hour of poetry instead of the thrash metal they normally had.

We got ripped so badly by hecklers for the first ten to fifteen minutes, but we just shot back as best we could, got a few laughs and by the end it was probably the best gig we'd ever had. The vast majority of the audience had never experienced poetry before and they just seemed really grateful, as though they’d never expected to be allowed to enjoy it.
Q5. I’ve found some Hip-Hop crowds tend to disapprove any words that are said on stage that don’t flow, you’re a poet but you rhyme and have flow, what exactly is the difference between a Spoken Word poet and a rapper?

I think most of the rappers I know would contest that my flow is pretty weak. The delivery of your material is so, so important - something I learnt in a recent battle against Deffinition where my delivery was all over the place. I could offer an answer on this, but I think I’d just be paraphrasing George the Poet’s response to a similar question on your blog. He’s got it spot on, I think.
Q6. You’re still teaching right? How have your students responded to seeing their teacher in rap battles?

I don't teach any more, although I tend to do 2/3 school gigs a week. Mixy and I both quit our jobs nearly three years ago to continue the Dead Poets experiment, but we like to work with teenagers - as we felt that, as kids, nobody from outside our classrooms told us that our interest in creating rhymes was a worthwhile pursuit.
Q7. What can the average teacher learn from the poet in education?

Loads, I think. But it works both ways. Just as with Spoken Word artists and rappers. Education is a two way street. It's a communication – one of the reasons I wanted to try battling was to enable a discussion to take place between teachers and students about both rap battling and lyricism in general. Dead Poets is all about trying to find ways to bridge that gap in communication.
Q8. Man, need to get you in for a show at Chill Pill, would be great to share a stage again… You going to come down if you’re not too busy?

I'd love to come down. You guys are doing some great stuff! I'd also like to see Simon Mole battling again - his performance at Latitude was one of my favourites of the year.

See Mark in his latest Don't Flop battle below...

Follow Mark on Twitter - @MontyGristo

watch out for the next Chill Pill at The Roundhouse on 13th February.

Chill Pill on 28th February at The Albany featuring David J, Kristiana Rae Colóne, Ross Sutherland

Saturday 2 February 2013

In Response To The Independent Article Poetry Slams Do Nothing To Help The Art Form Survive

My name is Raymond Antrobus, I have been a poet and Spoken Word artist for six years. I am currently studying for an MA in Spoken Word Education at Goldsmith University and I am writing this as a response to The Independent's article which appeared today titled 'Poetry Slams Do Nothing To Help The Art-form Survive' written by self proclaimed poet and Slam workshop facilitator, 'Nathan A Thompson'. -

Let's dissect this article, it begins...

Poetry is dying. Actually, it's pretty dead already for all intents and purposes and the rise of performance poetry slams is doing nothing to help matters. I know, I used to be a performance poet.

a) I've never heard of you mate. b) what are your credentials? I believe it was Inua Ellams who said to me once, "you are not a poet until someone calls you one" -

Anyway, quite a sweeping statement to open with Nathan, but you're trying to get our attention, let's see how you back up this opinion of yours.

The first poetry slam competition was held in Chicago in 1984. Named after a brutal wrestling move, the slam saw poets perform original pieces for a live audience who voted for a winner. The early slam poets railed against what they pejoratively referred to as page poetry. They demanded, along with Bukowski, that poetry “have guts”. They wanted to democratise poetry and drag it from the academic ivory tower.

OK, why you did enough research to know Slam began in Chicago, yet you didn't want to credit the name of the poet, Marc Kelly Smith? 
Slam Papi Marc Smith
But there never was an ivory tower. There was no cabal of posh people who had purposely made poetry unintelligible. Poetry has always been words on a page, open to anyone. The politicisation of art and the drawing of sectarian lines continues to damage poetry to this today.

Nathan, your Ivory Tower analogy contradicts itself, there is an academic Ivory Tower and you are clearly defending it. 

The statement that "poetry has always been words on the page" is a pillar out of place in your tower. I do believe poetry began as an oral tradition before a written one. New York Poet and founder of The Bowery Poetry Club, Bob Holmon calls a poem that is written and performed the practice of 'Oral-ture', I think this suits as it acknowledges a craft of writing and an art of public speaking. 

The truth is "words on a page" are only "open" to someone who can read them, in schools the most common educational need is for students with writing and reading difficulties. Unless you are deaf, speaking verbally is always going to be more accessible than anything literary. 

Why not check in on a Revolutionary Russian poet from the 1920's called Vladimir Mayakovsky? In his book 'How Verses Are Made' he states

“The question of the tone of a poetic work is connected with matters of technique. You mustn’t design the thing to function in some airless void, or as is often the case with poetry, in an all too airy void. You must keep your audience constantly before your eyes, the audience with whom this poem is aimed. This is important in our day when the most significant means of communicating with the masses is the auditorium, the public platform, the voice, the spoken word"

Mayakovsky speaks in favour of the idea of craft of poetry but against your elitist idea that poetry belongs on the page, accessible only to those already privileged enough to be able to read.

Like sipping a fine wine, reading poetry cannot be rushed. It reveals its pleasures over time, rewarding the careful reader with something new and beautiful each time. It runs bang against the grain of our quick-fix culture. It is already a lost discipline. I have taught poetry to hundreds of children aged seven to 14 and not one of them could name me a poet beyond Shakespeare.

Wine sipping analogies Nathan? oh' I say! so there is a correct way to appreciate poetry

I am also teaching in a school in East London, leading lessons on GCSE Poetry, poetry workshops and in class open mics as part of my Spoken Word Education MA. Some of the kids have watched youtube poetry videos by George The Poet and Anthony Anaxagorou. Simon Armitage, Inua Ellams, Benjamin Zephaniaire, Hollie Mcnish, Roger McGough, even Dr. Sessus are poets who have been referenced in other schools and workshops I have attended and ran. 

The reason Shakespeare is still the main reference point for people who haven't experienced poetry outside of education is because Shakespeare is claimed by the people in the Ivory Tower who use his work to symbolise British national pride. English teachers fear teaching poetry because of it's ambiguity, but engaging classrooms with debates and setting context suitable to the experience of young people is essential and most teachers fail to achieve this, fortunately I can name many Poets in schools who are achieving this to revolutionary levels - Jacob Sam La Rose, Peter Kahn etc

A further nail in the coffin is the rise of poetry slams. I have performed at many slams and the audience is almost always half drunk and if you want to win you have to pitch your poem pretty low. The result is a scene rife with the poetic equivalent of nob jokes – and plenty of actual nob jokes.

Seriously Nathan a) Poetry Slams are not on the rise - Slam Poetry is a genre of Spoken Word and that is what is on the rise - Spoken Word. b) Check the actual Slam Champions in this country - Keith Jarrett, Harry Baker, Adam Kammerling, Stephanie Dogfoot, Indigo Williams, David Lee Morgan, Deanna Rodger, Hollie McNish. Doesn't sound like you have had the experience of witnessing actual Slam Champions who do not have a knob joke to boot.

The only division in poetry is between those people willing to take the time to read it and those who will not. When Emily Dickinson said only “the fairest” may enter her house of “possibility”, she wasn't being elitist –she was putting up a barrier against the lazy.

So you've decided to reference another poet and that is Emily Dickinson - a poet from the 1800's... a dead poet... i.e. a poet who will not come and take the job you have facilitating slams in schools, a poet who will not be booked to read her work instead of you at this years Literature Festival - Safe move Nathan.

Most slam poems are not strong enough to be published in even minor poetry journals. And that's fine; maybe they don't want to be. Then why attack the poems that do? It's like there is an oedipal urge to kill the art that made it. We cannot allow slam poetry to replace the role poetry plays in our lives. The threat is there.

John Keats fell victim to these criticisms for writing poems in cockney, "what business does a boy from Moorgate have writing poetry in his lowly manner" they sneered. Again, Slam Poetry is not replacing the role poetry plays in our lives, it is however challenging, revitalising and opening up new pathways which could lead to the question "what is poetry?" - and maybe then they will then go and seek out poets who can write in a way that person can understand. I believe there is a poet for everyone alive, it is about discovering them.

There is a school of thought that thinks slams are the answer. The slams I have attended have little to do with poetry and everything to do with a Darwinian death match where the audience picks the winner like some blood-crazed Circus Maximus mob. Poetry, like all art, whispers its message and we must learn to slow down and take the time to hear it.

Why do you accuse invisible people Nathan, who has this school of thought? can you please do your research before attacking a culture? isn't this how fascism starts? someone gets the wrong idea about a group of people and starts spewing propaganda against them? 

Nathan, admit it, you are not talking about "the death of poetry", you are talking about the "death" of your definition of poetry, but it is not a death Nathan, it is just a shake up. Realistically, what is threatening you from reading poems, slowly and carefully while sipping wine in your Ivory Tower?