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TRCH Classic Thriller Season

Nottingham Poetry Festival

16 November 15 words: Lucy Manning
The city is getting taken over by a bunch of bards. We spoke to Henry Normal, Atilla the Stockbroker, Luke Wright and Brian Patten ahead of the festival
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illustration: Ali Emm
We caught up with four of the performers: Atilla the Stockbroker, a political activist and performance poet who’s been touring for the past 35 years. Luke Wright, a writer of bawdy bar-room ballads who got Edinburgh all excited on his recent tour. Brian Patten who made his name back in the sixties as one of the Liverpool Poets. And Henry Normal, whose past TV credits have been mentioned in the previous paragraph, but what we didn’t mention is that he’s got six poetry collections under his belt. He’ll be performing on Sunday 26 November with Lemn Sissay MBE, a poet whose work featured on a Leftfield album and also inspired a violin concerto.

Henry Normal

Given that poetry and comedy are two different beasts, what do you do to prepare to write?
If I’m writing comedy, I can do that anywhere. It’s like doing a crossword puzzle. Part logic, part music. With poetry, I need to be more internally focused. For me, it’s tapping into what I really want to communicate to the world. What I am experiencing not only at a level of understanding, but emotionally. Both comedy and poetry concern truth, but I find poetry more fulfilling in some sort of personal spiritual way. Nourishment for the soul.

What’s been a career highlight for you?
With poetry, I have been lucky enough to share a stage with Seamus Heaney, Adrian Mitchell, John Cooper Clarke and Lemn Sissay. My poems have been read at wedding and funerals. On the film and TV front, I’ve won many awards but being a producer on my wife’s film, Snowcake, is my proudest moment. It stars Sigourney Weaver as an autistic woman, and is drawn from our family experience with our son who is autistic. A beautiful, funny and truthful film.

A favourite poem…
My favourite poem is by Piet Hien who wrote over 10,000 short poems which he called Grooks:
            Love is like a pineapple
           Sweet and indefinable
I also love a Russian poem, Wait For Me, by Konstantin Simonov that was read on the World at War read by Laurence Olivier.

If you could collaborate with any other poet, who would it be and why?
I don’t think you can write poetry other than by yourself. Comedy is much more fun writing together. Graham Duff is great to write with. He wrote Ideal and together we wrote Dr Terrible’s House of Horrible. I like performing with Lemn Sissay. He’s the best in the world in my opinion.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
If it’s wet and it’s not yours, don’t touch it.

What advice would you give to young, aspiring poets?
Be true to yourself. Write what you want to say, not what you believe people want to hear.

Henry Normal website


Attila the Stockbroker

What do you do to prepare to write?
I write about what happens to me and what I see happening in the world, and I do it when I am inspired to do so. This can be anytime, anywhere – walking down the street, in the pub, on the toilet or (quite often) in the small hours, in bed.

What’s been a career highlight for you?
The publication of my autobiography, Arguments Yard, by Cherry Red Books in September 2015 after 35 years as Attila the Stockbroker (34 of them earning a living as a poet) and more than 3,000 gigs in 24 countries, 7 books of poetry, and around 40 LPs/CDs.

Your favourite/least favourite poem…
Favourite: Jim by Hilaire Belloc. Least favourite: Dark Ages by Christopher Reid.

If you could collaborate with any other poet, who would it be and why?
Hilaire Belloc. Sadly not possible. And I reckon we’d have hated each other anyway.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
“Most people ignore most poetry because most poetry ignores most people”, Adrian Mitchell. I’ve turned it into a t-shirt.

What advice would you give to young, aspiring poets?
If they’re good: Get a website. Get a Twitter feed. Get gigs. Get noticed. Get a living as a poet. If they’re not: Get a proper job.

Attila the Stockbroker website

Luke Wright

What do you do to prepare to write?
I need time to fully settle down and concentrate, you have to completely give yourself to do it. The nature of my job, all the travelling around, means that I have to be able to write anywhere – mostly on trains.

What’s been a career highlight for you?
Making my most recent show, What I Learned From Johnny Bevan, it’s a sixty-minute poem/play. It won awards at Edinburgh this year but the highlight was the first time I performed it in its finished state and knew that I’d made a good piece of work. Landing good gigs or pay days, awards or meeting famous people is fun but it has to be about creating the work.

Your favourite poem?
One of my own I’m particularly pleased with is a new poem called Lullaby, about the current political climate in the UK. I’m also very proud of The Toll, a ballad about a girl called Tracy which you can see on my site. Poems by other poets I love are Aubade by Larkin and Business Girls by Betjeman.

If you could collaborate with any other poet, who would it be and why?
I would have loved to have worked with John Betjeman, but he died when I was two. I have the great privilege of touring with another of my heroes, John Cooper Clarke – he’s one cool motherfucker.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
Don’t look sideways. Don’t concern yourself with what other artists are doing or achieving – focus on your own work.

What advice would you give to young, aspiring poets?
Read a lot, watch a lot, and write as much as you can. Don’t be afraid of writing bad poems, you have to before you can write better ones. If you think something is hard to understand or you don’t get it - it’s not your fault, read something you do like.

Luke Wright website

Brian Patten

What do you do to prepare to write?
The poems come best when I’m alone and have no appointments to keep. I like writing in out of the way pubs and cafés, I usually have a notebook with me.

What’s been a career highlight for you?
I’ve read in places as varied as the Islamic Students Union in Khartoum, and the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London, but one of the best gigs was a poetry reading for an audience of deaf people at the Roundhouse, London. It was signed in English (and also in American sign-language by the actress Phyllis Frelich, for whom Children of a Lesser God was written). Sylvester McCoy, who was playing Dr Who back then, mimed the work. It was an eye-opener, and uplifting.

If you could meet any other poet, who would it be and why?
It would have to be the nineteenth century French poet, Arthur Rimbaud. I first read him in translation when I was fifteen and he’s fascinated me ever since. He turned his back on Europe in his early twenties and became a trader in Abyssinia. I won’t bang on about him. Any young writer reading this can easily find him for themselves if they wish.

What advice would you give to young, aspiring poets?
Don’t forget humour in your work – it’s seriously important. Also, there’s a special powder you can buy to sprinkle over clichés that makes them wither up and vanish. Buy some immediately. And remember: the best poetry reminds us of what we forgot we knew.

Brian Patten website

Nottingham Poetry Festival runs from 17 November to 2 December, with the main weekend of events taking place on Friday 27 - Sunday 29 November at Nottingham Arts Theatre.

Nottingham Poetry Festival website