Luke Wright was one of the people who got me writing poetry. At an Edinburgh Fringe a few years ago, after a year where I’d finally started to get into rap and hip-hop, I spent a blissful two days at his poetry tent — a free event space on the Meadows where he’d invited some of Britain’s best and craziest performance poets to perform, all day long. It was seeing that, combined with catching the amazing Baba Brinkman and especially his clarion call The Rhyme Renaissance, that got me thinking I really could do performance poetry and slam. I wrote Introduction about my rap/poetry anxieties soon after (it still in part holds true for me) and I’ve never looked back.
So I’ve got a major soft spot for him. Quite apart from being a great poet, he’s done a lot to revitalise and promote the form. I do think performance poetry needs more shameless self-promoters. But there’s a downside to that, when an ignorant media can make it seem like these guys are all there is. Take this article in the Independent, which LW posted the other day:
Performance poetry. It’s not a phrase that strikes joy into many people’s hearts – there’s a fear it’ll be some fop emoting furiously about a penchant for self-harm, or a lame attempt to make an archaic art form ‘hip’.
Bollocks! Is that really what most people think of when they hear the words “performance poetry”? “Open mic” or “spoken word”, but we’ve worked so hard for so long to make poetry exciting and immediate! Is this just journalistic excess, or is something really wrong? Also:
But one young poetry collective is proving it doesn’t have to be that way.
Bollocks! Self-promoters (and thus poetry-promoters) we need, but we don’t need the way journalists latch onto that and make it seem like one group, one person is all their is. This isn’t the fault of Aisle 16, I’m not saying that in any way; I just hate the way it’s so easy to make it seem like there isn’t a massive community, a massive culture behind what celebrities we have, doing really exciting things. We’ve got to be careful not to encourage the understanding of that whenever we can.
I’m reminded of this Times article about Farrago. It’s a bit more respectful to the whole culture, it says “Every week in small theatres and pubs across Britain, poetry is being dragged back into popular culture by a new generation”, showing the widespread collectivity of the scene, but at the same time it’s so basic, so simple and so unaware of how big this thing is now. Poetry is big! Isn’t it? I mean, Farrago’s been going for a decade and a half! Don’t we get more recognition than that now?
Or are we all overcome with hubris? Are people much less aware of what we’re trying to do than we thought? I believe so passionately in the power of art to give people voices, to make essential testimony, to empower people to take charge of their lives, I really do. I love even the worst slam poetry because someone is getting to speak and people are getting to listen. I really believe in making that happen and spreading it out. So in that mission, in this celebration of the Year of the Poet, there’s a lot of work to be done, and a lot of pitfalls to avoid. But we can do it. Right?