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Monday, 3 August 2015

Rorscharch interview in translation...

I promised I'd post this at some point, so here it is:

Read the interview in Spanish here at Revista Bardo, super Argentinian poetry magazine, focussing specifically on spoken word culture.

1)      At what age did you start writing poetry?
I wrote a ‘get well’ poem for my aunt when I was 7. Does that count?
As a kid, I read and listened to a lot of rhyming stories and funny poems. At some point – I can’t be sure exactly when – I started making my own

2)      At what age did you start reciting it?
I wasn’t aware of “oral poetry” as a genre before. I remember reading out John Agard’s “I din’ do nuttin’” as a kid at home, out loud. But that’s the kind of thing I did at home with my siblings; we always recited things and sang. Later, as a teenager, I got into hip-hop and I would create and perform raps with friends. It wasn’t until I discovered the spoken word scene in London when I was about twenty-one that I started performing poetry in public.

3)      Why do you keep doing it?
I ask myself the same question a lot!
Short answer: it’s addictive.
Medium answer: A lot of people I really like keep inviting me to perform and I don’t want to say no; a lot of my social life revolves around the spoken word scene. I often get free drinks tickets at these things.
Longer answer: It’s a bit like asking why I write. I write because it’s an innate part of my self-expression; it’s how I make sense of the world. Performing poetry is the counterpoint to all of that: when I speak my words, I let go. When I speak, I connect directly with other people. When I speak, all of my inward energy and all of the considered thought that goes into a poem goes back out into the room.

4)      How was the first time that you recite in public?
Hehe. For me, it was gradual. I’d acted in a play before. I’d tried to start a rap group before, when I was at school. So going to a small open mic night in London wasn’t a massive step away from what I’d already done. For me, the biggest step was moving from there to my first ever slam. That was exciting and strange and new. The energy at a poetry slam can be immense, a far cry from some of the quieter poetry nights around the city. 

5)      What does poetry win (gain?) when recited?
Some of the same things that a script gains when it’s made into a movie. Spoken word is a 3D version of a poem; it has rhythm, dialect, pace, volume and, of course, the physical presence of the author… all these things transform it into a moment.

6)      What does it lose?
Some words might get lost. The audience has less control over the poem. They cannot contemplate the line breaks, or the visual aesthetic of the words. They cannot pause and allow the words to sink in. The author/performer has a lot more responsibility in delivering meaning.

7)      What does poetry serve for?
Big question! I’ll have to answer it in three smaller ways, in order to chisel away at it a little.
1 – On a personal level, it gives me a lot of pleasure playing with words. I sit on a bus and mishear a line of conversation and it replays in my head until I write it down. Or I toy with an idea, or a sound, and try to alter the meaning by making small changes. Words are important in how we communicate and poetry is a way of creating new meaning. 
2 – On a physical level, poetry has literally taken me to places I would most likely never have been: several secondary schools and universities in London, the Channel Islands, Warsaw, Washington D.C., FLUPP festival in Rio de Janeiro, etc… And in all those places, I have encountered open, warm people with a passion for truth and knowledge-sharing.   
3 – On that level of truth-sharing, I remember running a writing workshop at a centre for people living with HIV, a couple of years ago. Few of the attendees had done any creative writing before; all of them had signed up because they were interested in exploring new ways to express themselves. One of the attendees told me she disliked and had little confidence in her ability to write poetry. Yet, when she gave herself over to the exercises, she wrote the most amazing poem, in the form of a love letter to HIV. She had found a metaphor that best described her daily relationship with her medical condition. When she read it out, you should have felt the atmosphere in the room. She had just found a way of putting into words how she felt that everyone could relate to. Poetry is basically about metaphor and story-telling, in order to get to a higher truth, in order to transfer a feeling or a moment in time.      

8)      Do you find poetry in everyday situations, nature or anywhere else?
When I’m in the mood, I can find poetry anywhere. When I’m not, I find it very difficult to write but I still try.

9)      It´s the existence of men necessary for poetry to exist?
Men – or humans in general?
There would continue to be poetry without men, no doubt.
Humans, on the other hand… well, that’s more of an existential question. The conditions that poetry describes – some of those will still exist without humanity. 

10)   What feelings does reciting in public arise you? Does it frighten you?
Yes. It frightens me. And it’s also exhilarating.

11)   Which was the best experience that you lived with oral poetry?
I’ve had a lot of great experiences, so can’t really pin one down and say that was the best. I’ve just come back from Rio de Janeiro… that was one hell of an amazing experience. I got to perform at a slam as part of a favela literary festival, FLUPP, with loads of people from other countries, having no idea if the surtitles behind me were going ok or not! Or performing with a samba band during that same festival. Or, last year, watching a pupil I taught at a school performing a poem… and understanding all of the circumstances in her life that had led her to that point where she was confident enough to read out her poem, and have everyone applaud… that’s also incredible. Or maybe even the gig a few weeks ago where a couple of my relatives turned up unexpectedly. Or one where I gave the most honest, raw poem about my parents, which I may never repeat again… I could go on!

12)   Which was the most incredible place where you recited?
See above…. FLUPP.

13)   Can oral poetry change the world?

14)   Why is it important to write poetry?
In my answer to question 7, I think I started to touch on it. Again, it’s a big question…
Poetry is about partially about finding metaphors. If I say: “this question is a donkey and I need to pull its reins”, I’ve started to use metaphorical language that then leads to interrogation of the question. How can the question be a donkey? What commonality do these two things have? I start to make connections between two unrelated concepts and I start to use my imagination to pull the strands together. When we start to use our imaginations, it takes us from the present reality into other possibilities…. There goes the theory, right?
Going back to question 7, when the woman from the workshop described her medical condition as her lover, I began to see it – and her – in a different way. The poem was a little dark, actually. It wasn’t the conventional lover you can just split up with! But the poem was short, and powerful, and I gained a new understanding of the woman in front of me – and other people in the room were moved to tears – just because of the way in which she used a few words.   

15)   Do you believe in poetry as an educational tool?
Yes -  but I would say that; I’ve used it in schools and I’ve used it as a form of emotional literacy, as well as a tool for encouraging literacy in general.

16)   Is oral poetry a new genre, opposed to written poetry?
Have new spoken word movements arisen over time? Yes.
But poetry has always had a wide history of being spoken as well as written.

17)   Is humor a valid resource in oral poetry or does it turn it into standup comedy?
Yes, humour is valid and sometimes necessary. But I come from a country with a huge tradition of satire, so I would say that. You can be funny and make a point; in fact, when you’re funny, it can make a serious point have an even bigger impact. Stand-up comedy and oral poetry have a lot in common.

18)   Does the oral poet have to write for the public or for himself?
It depends on the editing process. I always write for myself first. I make sense of the world by writing. I make sense of myself by writing. I write a lot of stuff that no one else will ever see.
Then… and this is the important bit, I think… I reread what I’ve written and think, which parts of this will only make sense to me? Which parts could be different? Which parts do I have a personal attachment to, but aren’t going to connect with other readers/listeners?  For me, that’s one of the hardest bits.

19)   How important is the body when reciting?
Very. My body is part of the poem.
That doesn’t mean I’m acting when I’m on stage, or that I’m going to be making loads of theatrical movements. But, at the very basic level, it means I’m going to pay attention to my posture, my breathing, my use of space and movement, my facial expressions, etc.

20)   Can performance on stage turn good a poem that isn´t?
Sometimes, if you have the right combination of an extraordinarily compelling performer who can deliver words in a convincing way, what they’re actually saying becomes less of a focus.

21)   In that sense, is the "how" more important that the "what"?
No. They’re two sides of the same poetry coin.

22)   Can anyone be an oral poet?
Yes. Absolutely anyone. Just like anyone can be a footballer, musician, serial killer… If you have the passion for it and put in the time, why not?

23)   Do competitions such a Slams contribute to oral poetry or do they turn it into something frivolous?
Slam culture has had a huge and overwhelmingly positive impact on oral poetry; there’s no denying it. By the same token, I disagree that you can really judge a poem’s merit on a scale of 1-10, against other poets, on any given evening, based sometimes purely on applause. If that was the real point of slam poetry, then I would refuse to take part; the competitive element has the function of attracting new audiences, making poetry nights more atmospheric, making it a democratic space, and allowing different voices to be heard.


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