Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Poet asks a poet - What Do You Do When The Words Don't Come?

Naomi Woodis put up a facebook status that said "what do you do when the words don't come" and a bunch of replies followed - "table tennis! yoga! running! take your notebook and go for a walk! absinthe!"

Poet Nick Feild made a great point
"I think forcing yourself to sit and stare at a bit of paper is a good way to go a bit Black Swan. Also I find free writing really helpful, forget about form and structure and even making sense for a bit and just pour some stuff out and then see what you've got, it's quite cathartic."

we all want to write words with the weight of as many dimensions as possible and we want to write the words that almost can't be said in any other order.

Those moments of brilliance for most of us are few and far between but many of us are living for them!

now here's how poet/writer/singer/nutter Salena Godden answered the question.

masturbation...followed by hysterical laughter...then go to the nearest pub...have a beer or a glass of wine...flirt with the bar man...maybe he won't notice you much as he is wiping glasses...write about it...the polished glasses...you read a newspaper...flicking through the pictures mostly...war and war and tits...watch the sky...that's more like it...write about the lilac light of a february afternoon...then get a warm sense of gratitude...think what a lucky person you are...order soup...enjoy eating too much butter on thick chunky bread...salt...yes...another beer...wine...why not...flirt with the owner...look at the surface of the oak...wonder to yourself... are my friends with normal (working) hours finished working yet? must be soon its dusk...text 'i am in my pub, fancy supper?'...then await replies...order another beer...maybe flirt with the bar staff a bit more...or write about them all...laugh to yourself...how amusing your little story is about the old man in the corner of the pub...he has a nose like a beetroot...the street lights are orange now...its dark outside...rush hour has picked up...the city is changing tempo...vibrating differently...its not afternoon anymore...a new crowd starts to come in...they twitter..they bring cold air inside...they phone each other from across the pub... maybe your friends will come meet you...or maybe not...it doesn't matter now either way..."because the thing you were stuck writing...the block was not a block...you just needed a man with a nose like a beetroot"...and what a wonderful life it is...when we don't write about it but live inside it...

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Honorable Mention - David J

Since being active in this Spoken Word thing some of us do, David J has instigated some of the maddest conversations out of all the whacko poets I know.

I remember once me and David were talking about madness and genius over a glass of orange juice after a gig.

He said "the genius steps towards the cliff of madness and peers over the edge, able to pull himself away, but the one's that jump have no way back".

He incorperates this into his own practice saying when he's being creative he's trying to get his toes as close to that edge as possible.

David J is one of those poets who never really gets the credit he deserves and is often over-shadowed by the hype of another "in-the-moment" poet" and there are reasons for this I won't go into but I'd just like to ackowledge him as someone who has been an inspiration to me and many other Spoken Word poets.

I've heard David J desribed as the "poets, poet" or the "wise man in the shadow of a moutain".

Polarbear says David J is "one of the only poets worthy of the title 'performance poet'".

He's right and this post is to acknowledge a man who has been doing this for longer than a lot of us have been alive.

A story I love hearing is the night David J was working as a cloak room attendent. While he was on his break he bumped into the Rapper Canibus and kicked up a battle.

David J won the battle and Canibus asked who he was and David just said "I'm a cloakroom attendant" then went back to work, hanging up peoples coats. ha!

This is the genius of David J.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011


One of my favorite poets/Spoken Word artists. - Jon Sands

I interviewed Jon last year. You can catch up on that interview here -


Another favorite of mine.

Fellow member of Poem Inbetween People - Inua Ellams whom is also one of the many fantastic poets featuring on my new i-tunes podcast with William Stopha - Headjob.

Monday, 7 February 2011

How Verses Are Made? by Vladimir Mayakovsky - A Manifesto For The Spoken Word Artist

The day the poetry of Vladimir Mayakovsky was introduced to me was probably the day I knew I wanted to be a poet as well as a Spoken Word artist. I’d been writing for years already but hadn’t yet found a so called “academic” poet to connect with.

I was just listening to lots of Bob Dylan, Gil Scott Heron, Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, Saul Williams, Sage Francis, Peter Tosh, Jehst, Atmosphere, Big L, Jay-Z, Pharoahe Monch etc. It was summer 2008 when Mayakovsky’s poem ‘A Cloud In Trousers’ was put under my eyes.

Ladies and Gents!
Amateur collectors
Of blasphemies,
Have you seen
What’s most frightening of all-
My face when I am
Absolute calm”

The poem instantly spread wild fire across my brain before cutting open my soul with knuckle dusters. It wouldn’t be far off to say Vladimir Mayakovsky was the Eminem of his day. He was a true craftsman of energetic rhythmic flow, highly controversial and had a great understanding of the craft of poetry and performance.

He was essentially a Spoken Word Artist.

“For you I
Will tear out my soul,
Crush it underfoot
To make it bigger! –
And give it to you all bloody, for a banner.”

Reading the poem ‘A Cloud In Trousers’ you can really see how it must have inspired 'Howl' by Alan Ginsberg who was also a big Mayakovsky fan.

Mayakovsky wrote about his process as a writer and performer of poetry in 1926, the book is called How Are Verses Made?

It has since become one of my bibles as a Spoken Word artist and I say serves almost as a manifesto to poets who perform their poetry.
“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.

You must adopt a tone that fits your audience – persuasive or pleading, commanding or questioning. The larger part of my work is based on a controversial tone. But despite all my planning this tone isn’t a fixed thing, established once for all, but a stance I often change in the course of reading, according to the kind of audience I have. Thus for example the printed text speaks in rather dispassionate tones, aiming at a qualified reader.

When you’re writing a poem that’s destined for publication you must calculate how the printed text will be received as a printed text”

“A poet must develop just this feeling for rhythm in himself, and not go learning up other peoples measurements: iambus, trochee or even this much vaunted free verse: rhythm accommodating itself to some concrete situation, and of use only for that concrete situation. Like for example, magnetic energy discharged onto a horseshoe, which will attract iron filings, but which you can’t use for anything else. I know nothing of metre...”

Most Spoken Word artists I come across don’t read poetry and you can usually tell from the quality of their work, I don’t mean to sound smug, its true. I do appreciate that page poetry and performance poetry are two different genres of poetry but they're often viewed as rivals rather than compliments of each other, especially in the UK.

The key reason Mayakovsky means so much to me is because he broke down my own prejudices of what poetry is on the page. He roared in his own voice, his work is passionate, sincere, intense, unrestrained and wildly imaginative without being as he puts it "airless voids" or pretentious.

He doesn’t write in stiff, outdated classic forms. I mean, how would anyone writing a poem and using eighteenth century language going to sound authentic or relatable to the common people?

Poetry is for the common people as explained rather famously by the American bard poet 'Amiri Baraka'.

"I used to tell my students, you think your stuff (poetry) is good? see those guys digging a hole in the street there, when they get a minute off to eat a sandwich go read em' a poem, see if you get hit in the head, if you don't get hit in the head, you got a future"
Mayakovsky's words scream with life and intense urgency from the page. My discovery of Mayakovsky then led me onto reading other poets in other genres and eras (Pablo Neruda, Andre Breton, Mark Strand, Sharon Olds, Dylan Thomas, Adrienne Rich, Raymond Carver, Maya Angelou, Li Po, Bukowski, Roger Robinson, Claude McKay, Ben Okri etc) the list goes on and I’m still as open as I was before to inspiration from other Spoken Word artists, musicians and song writers.

Thank you Mayakovsky.

Saturday, 5 February 2011


Dostoevsky is everywhere I turn these days. I got into an argument recently about how the "show don't tell" philosophy that's endoctinated so many young creative writers isn't a rule to live by. Dostoevsky's poetry for example was full of telling images and statements which didn't discredit or undermine him as a great creative thinker or a poet. However, someone like Dostoevsky was great in a pragmatic sense too, this gave him authenticity and we as readers are always sceptical of obscure writers and poets.

I'd like to quote this from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

Beauty Will Save The World.

"One day Dostoevsky threw out the enigmatic remark: "Beauty will save the world". What sort of a statement is that? For a long time I considered it mere words. How could that be possible? When in bloodthirsty history did beauty ever save anyone from anything? Ennobled, uplifted, yes - but whom has it saved?

There is, however, a certain peculiarity in the essence of beauty, a peculiarity in the status of art: namely, the convincingness of a true work of art is completely irrefutable and it forces even an opposing heart to surrender. It is possible to compose an outwardly smooth and elegant political speech, a headstrong article, a social program, or a philosophical system on the basis of both a mistake and a lie. What is hidden, what distorted, will not immediately become obvious.

Then a contradictory speech, article, program, a differently constructed philosophy rallies in opposition - and all just as elegant and smooth, and once again it works. Which is why such things are both trusted and mistrusted.

In vain to reiterate what does not reach the heart.

But a work of art bears within itself its own verification: conceptions which are devised or stretched do not stand being portrayed in images, they all come crashing down, appear sickly and pale, convince no one. But those works of art which have scooped up the truth and presented it to us as a living force - they take hold of us, compel us, and nobody ever, not even in ages to come, will appear to refute them.

So perhaps that ancient trinity of Truth, Goodness and Beauty is not simply an empty, faded formula as we thought in the days of our self-confident, materialistic youth? If the tops of these three trees converge, as the scholars maintained, but the too blatant, too direct stems of Truth and Goodness are crushed, cut down, not allowed through - then perhaps the fantastic, unpredictable, unexpected stems of Beauty will push through and soar to that very same place, and in so doing will fulfil the work of all three?

In that case Dostoevsky's remark, "Beauty will save the world", was not a careless phrase but a prophecy? After all he was granted to see much, a man of fantastic illumination.

And in that case art, literature might really be able to help the world today?"

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 www.akickinthearts.co.uk 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