Stephen Thomas is a locally-based poet and rapper whose show Poetercize: The Poetry Game Show will be performed as part of the Nottingham Poetry Festival. We had a chat with him about his latest projects in preparation for this year’s festival...
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Well, I’ve been performing for about seven or eight years. I’m at that comfortable point where I feel like I can smash pretty much any gig now, which is great. I’m not from a writing background, save for the stories I wrote when I was little. I got into that trap a lot of people get stuck in at school where you think that you need a sturdy science or maths degree to get a decent job, and it was only in my mid-twenties that I really got back into writing.
Why did you get back into poetry?
That’s a good question, actually… It might sound shallow, but I thought that I was a more interesting person than the life I was living. I felt like there was something missing, or that I had a load of really exciting, funny, insightful stories that I wasn’t sharing. I felt like I was a creative person who wasn’t doing anything about it. I’ve always dressed like I have a really interesting job, but at the time I really didn’t. To be honest, I think there are probably a lot of people out there who have similar experiences: there’s so much pressure to repress certain parts of ourselves, and I think it is important for people to engage with their more creative sides.
Where do you find inspiration for your shows?
I think a lot of it is in response to the earnestness and seriousness of more mainstream poetry – I want to do something completely silly, completely trivial. I think people don’t enjoy being preached at, so if you can do something that is a bit fun, a bit crazy, a bit different, whilst still saying something important, that can have a huge impact. I like to encourage randomness and chaos at my shows, as you can’t normally improvise poetry or spoken word to great effect. With stuff like Poetercize, I grew up watching shows like Knightmare, Funhouse, and the Crystal Maze, and I always loved that element of entering another world that was unlike any other experience. I suppose that was something I wanted to channel into the arts: something that’s a bit crazy and a bit messy and just a lot of fun.
Can you tell us a bit about your show Poetercize?
Basically it involves two teams of poets going against each other in a series of lyrical and physical challenges. It’s pretty much the classic game-show format: There are rounds, you score points, and somebody wins. The name suggests that it is very poetry based, but it also involves a lot of word-play. Really, it’s about our understanding of language. There are a lot of physical elements as well: There’s a section where they have to run around collecting words printed on fridge magnets and write a poem in under three minutes. Obviously you get some really rough pieces, but there have been some really good lines to have come out of it. Having said that, Confetti are filming this show, so it’s probably going to be a bit more polished and TV-ready than our usual stuff.
What are the main influences in your artistic life?
A bit of everything, really. I think most artistic people are influenced by every piece of media or art they consume, starting from a really young age right up to the present day. I’d say for me it was mostly comedy and rap music. I’ve always really enjoyed surreal stuff like Harry Hill, Reeves and Mortimer and The Mighty Boosh, and then when I started listening to rap music I began to notice these really clever wordplays cropping up. Notorious B.I.G was always great for that sort of stuff. It’s a bit sacrilegious for a poet to say this, but I’m not massively into poetry. I think it’s very easy to get too entrenched in the things you work on, and you can end up sounding just like everyone else in your industry.
What are your thoughts on Nottingham’s local poetry scene?
I find it fascinating. I’ve been based in the East Midlands for a few years now and kind of jumped between Leicester, Derby and Nottingham, and it’s interesting to see the energy shift more towards Nottingham and its Creative Quarter. There’s definitely a precedent for it, I think: Nottingham has a heritage of poets and rebels, and that is something you can really see today. Another thing is that Nottingham’s spoken word scene, and spoken word in general, is so supportive and tight-knit, I always find myself feeling welcomed. People want to help each other grow as artists, which is always lovely.
Are you excited for the poetry festival?
Yeah! I’m doing a few things with Big White Shed, and I’ve got some friends who are putting events on. There’s going to be something new and exciting on every night, and I honestly think it has the potential to really raise the game for Nottingham’s art community. I think it can be a really good opportunity to introduce new people to the scene, too: these events can sometimes draw in the same old crowds, but there’s definitely been an expansion recently within Nottingham’s arts and poetry communities. The only thing I think we could do better is get the word out about the festival, start getting people excited! The great thing about spoken word is that it’s accessible, it can attract people from a literary background, a rap background. It’s all about getting people involved, because once they’re involved they usually love it.
Any plans for the future?
Actually, I’ve got a book in the works! It’s a collection of short written pieces called Alphabet Spaghetti¸ and it focuses around alliteration – each piece centres around a letter of the alphabet, with every word in that piece beginning with the same letter. It’s been a challenge, but I’m really pleased with the finished result. I’m expecting the book to be out in May, and I’ll be touring the country to promote it around the same time. And of course, I’ll be continuing my work with Poetry is Dead Good over the next few months!
Stephen Thomas’ show Poetercize! The Poetry Game Show will be part of Book Off, on the 23rd of April between 4.00pm and 9.00pm at Rough Trade, Nottingham. His book Alphabet Spaghetti is expected to be released in May.
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