Tell us about some of the 'parklife' stories you encountered as Poet in Resident at Regent's Park
I was resident poet in four of London’s central parks. Spending time in parks you realise they have a life of their own, their own daily rhythm and individual personality. My favourite was Primrose Hill above Regents Park, not just for the spectacular views across central London but on summer evenings the park comes alive in the spirit of a quiet festival.
In Nine Types of Poet you explore different spoken word techniques from the mumbler to the ones who've got nothing to say. What kind of poet are you?
All and none of them. Nine Types of Poet opens with a poem called Me. An absurdist look at how self-obsessed we are. It’s tragic-comedy. Our culture encourages you to spend time, effort and money reinforcing your sense of identity. Your sense of self. And yet, I think we feel most alive when we lose our sense of self. Surreal humour and poetic insight are a means of reconnecting with the world.
Your mailouts always begin with 'dear shimmering mountain of enigmatic people'. Which poets for you fulfill this criteria?
I would say Indian poet and playwright Mamta Sagar is quite enigmatic. And her new book Hide and Seek is full of shimmering poems. We toured together in southern India earlier this year and are now half through a UK tour.
The first time I saw you perform was at Hello Hubmarine and you were screaming at a window (not because you have a problem with windows but as part of your performance) and I half expected someone passing by to walk in and lamp you, believing you were directing comments at them. With this in mind, what kind of weird situations has your poetry (or performances) got you into over the years?
To be honest I can’t remember screaming at a window... are you sure I hadn’t trapped my finger? But yes, my performances have landed me in some unusual situations. Years ago I was the Rude Awakening on Ram FM. A wife had asked the radio station to help get her husband out of bed in time for his early shift. We went on air at 6am with a poem that begins softly then builds to a crescendo. Wearing a radio mic, I started the poem at the bottom of the stairs crept up to the landing then burst into his room. The thing was the DJ didn’t follow me in. It was just me, my poem and a very bewildered husband. He sat bolt upright with the sheets pulled up to his chin. And I could tell he was thinking: Where are the wife and kids? Has this bastard tied them up and told them poems, too? And then the DJ appeared with his big microphone to get the husband’s reaction. He couldn’t speak.
Another memorable episode occurred when I was invited to work with a failing secondary school in Macclesfield. A school about to close. The three teachers who led me to the classroom spent a good five mins bawling at the kids to sit down and be quiet but to no avail. In fact, the only kid sat quietly was rolling a spliff. One of the teachers turned to me and said I think you’re just going to have to start. So I began and for the duration of the poem the class was stunned. An adult was suddenly behaving more ridiculously than them. And doing it in rhyme! In another school classroom, half way through a performance, a lad piped up 'Is this man meant to be in school'? He was serious. As if some mad man had hijacked the class! The comment must rank as one of my favourite quotes. But the weirdest of weird situations has to be the World Superbike Championships at Donnington Park. Telling poetry to 2000 bikers. Part way through my performance I thought 'This is beautiful!' I’m telling poetry to 2000 bikers! Then a can of beer came sailing out of the middle of the crowd. Then more were thrown. The front row dropped their trousers, turned round and pulled a collective moony... I was telling poetry to arseholes!
You're in Nottingham for the Arts for Change festival. Can you tell us a bit about how you got involved and what it's all about?
I’m doing a tour with Indian poet Mamta Sagar, who’s in the UK receiving a fellowship for her work in translation. Melanie Abrahams of Renaissance One is producing the tour and our evening at the New Art Exchange also features: Andrew ‘Mulletproof’ Graves, Kirsty Fox of BeesMakeHoney, Kallina Brailsford of Human Camera, Panya Banjoko and Nottingham Black Archives, Michelle 'Mother' Hubbard and Blackdrop, Saraa Rain, Melanie Abrahams, Fiona Linday, Michael Brome and our in-house DJ, Psykhomantus.
Do you think that art can really lead to meaningful change and if so, could you give us an example.
First and foremost art allows a meaningful change among its practitioners. As a youth I suffered with chronic anxiety. And I felt isolated. Very little in the mainstream media communicated to me. Then someone gave me a copy of TS Eliot’s Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock, The Hollow Men and The Wasteland. I knew nothing of Eliot but it felt like I’d just been given magic on paper. His words spoke to something buried within me. I couldn’t work out how or why his words had such a profound effect but I began to realise how powerful our thoughts and words are. We really do create our own sense of reality. And thus, we have the potential to change things.
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