The Poet Beyond Compere – Rosy Carrick

…Ok so that was a terrible pun. Meet one half of this year’s Poetry&Words compering duo. Along with the inimitable Dreadlockalien, she’ll be bigging up poets, baying for whoops and hollers and bringing audiences to the boil. Ladies and gentlemen I give you the bold, brazen, brilliant Brighton-based MC, Rosy Carrick…

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You have a reputation for being hard-hitting, underpinned with a playfulness and a penchant for the rude. You host Hammer & Tongue Brighton and cult movie-themed club extravaganza, ‘Trailer Trash!’, not to mention hosting at Latitude. The job of co-compering the Glastonbury Poetry stage seems perfect for you. Looking forward to it?

Yes! It’s a great stage to compere, a great team of people involved and, of course, an awesome festival, I can’t wait!

Compering is easily the hardest and most thankless job amongst all us poets at the festival. (It would scare the sh*t out of me). Do you prefer MCing, or given the choice would you do longer sets?

Actually I’m looking forward to compering the Glastonbury stage much more than I would be if I were performing a regular set. There’s so much going on at that festival all the time, so audiences are transient and sometimes impatient for something immediately grabbing, and my poetry doesn’t really work that way — I’ve performed at Glastonbury a couple of times in the past, but I always find myself avoiding the poems I like best in favour of dependable audience faves… WHEREAS I am a grade A expert at ordering people around and getting them to shut the hell up/be noisy/dance for my amusement etc… so this is really the perfect context for me to be there in! I do a lot of compering in all manner of places, and I really love it!

The P&W tent can be veritable hive of hippies, festy lovers and the literary batty, but on the occasions when the tent is a tad sparse, do have anything up your sleeve for pulling in the punters?

The poet Derrick Brown did a cool thing there a few years ago when things were sparse – he plugged his iPod into the speakers, played some BANGING TUNES for about 20 seconds and then got what audience there was to scream, yell, applaud and whatnot as loud as they could for as long as they could. It worked a treat! Lure them in with false enthusiam, and then retain them with death threats (or the magnetic power of poetry. I guess it’ll depend on who’s onstage at the time).

To digress ever so slightly, please tell us about your menstrual blood beauty tips videos. What was the idea behind those?

Aha. Well I have a 13 year-old daughter and last year she and her buddies went through this phase of watching online beauty tips videos, and they were all EXACTLY the same — super American, super ridiculous and super demoralising. And I was like: oh my god, what’s happening to my child?! What will this do to her?! Why is she watching this?! How can these even exist in all earnestness in the real world?! I needed to to take the power out of them pronto, and what better way to (literally) illustrate my point than with period blood. Given that half the population of the whole world bleed out of their vaginas for a quarter of their adult lives, I find the perpetual widespread disgust for menstruation completely bewildering.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t love being on the blob, but it’s powerful, and the way that women are made to feel ashamed and embarrassed about it is significant in the wider context of gender inequality. So: unnecessary beauty instructions which play into mainstream cultural female degradation + reviled yet inescapable bodily female experience = blood on your lips, blood in your hair, blood everywhere! (And bee tea double-ewe Olive thought they were funny too — and she no longer watches beauty tips videos!) Maybe I’ll do a bloody make-over stall at the poetry stage actually, it could be very lucrative.

What or who are you most looking forward to seeing at Glastonbury?

Eek. I can’t wait to see ex-Pussy Rioters Masha and Nadya talking about their political work. I spend nearly every day writing about early Soviet Russian politics for my PhD, and there are some very interesting parallels going on at the moment. OH NO! I’ve just realised I’ll be compering the poetry whilst they’re on! That’s it, I quit! I was also really looking forward to seeing the Foo Fighters, but now of course leg-gate has scuppered that. So I guess I’m just going to be sitting in my tent crying all weekend. And dancing to DJ Dad’s awesome Djing at the night-time. There’s no one I’m super duper excited about this year to be honest, although I’m well looking forward to seeing Patti Smith. Who else is performing? I haven’t had a proper look yet. I can’t believe about the Pussy Riot thing, thanks for bringing it up, man!

And now a test for you, Rosy. I give you……

‘The Hypothetical Heckler’as a seasoned MC, tell us what you’d do in the following hypothetical situations…

A man tries to stage dive inappropriately during a tender poem by Charlotte Higgins.

Get him offstage, wait till the poem is over and, if he’s still there, invite Charlotte and the whole audience to dive on him in return as a fun interlude. Then tie him up so he can’t do it again.

A streaker does a lap round the tent.

I’m cool with that, as long as it’s just the one lap.

Somebody shouts “Poems are supposed to rhyme”

“You were supposed to be the contents of a condom, but sometimes we all have to accept that not everything happens as we’d hope.”

A couple refuse to join in on one of John Hegley’s songs.

Totally fine with that. One of my biggest fears is being forced into audience participation (pantomimes make me cry, it’s a terrible phobia!) Having said that, John Hegley’s songs instill such pure joy into my heart that I always join in with full vigour, so if I do see people not joining in I will probably just think quietly to myself that although I am fine with it, they are probably dead inside.

A member of the audience tries to get up on stage and grab the mic, claiming their poem about their recently deceased gerbil is better than anything they’ve heard so far from the professionals.

If they were clearly wasted/ a trouble-making dickwad, I’d take them out of the tent and make sure there were some crew members around to stop them from returning. If not… I would say something like: “To be honest, I suspect you are merely blinded by your own grief, but nevertheless I would love to hear your memorial poem…. but only AT THE OPEN SLAM on Sunday (which you can sign up for in the P&W tent any time over the weekend), at which time *I* shall be the judge of this alleged greatness… but in the meantime please bugger off because you’re f***ing up the programme, and your big-headedness might sully people’s impressions of your potentially fine poetry, not to mention the memory of poor innocent Mr. Dead.”

Kanye West gets up when the slam champion has been announced, grabs the trophy and insists it should go to Beyonce.

I like the idea that I would say something about how, unfortch, for me his misogynistic lyrics preclude his opinions about how much Beyonce should win the trophy in this case (particularly if she hadn’t entered the slam!)… but to be honest I would probably be like: OH-MY-GOD-I-CAN’T-BELIEVE-IT—SURE-BEYONCE-CAN-HAVE-IT-BUT-CAN-SHE-COME-TO-THE-STAGE-TO-PICK-IT-UP-SO-I-CAN-MEET-HER-AND-WILL-SHE-BE-MY-FRIEND-WILL-SHE-REALLY-THOUGH???, before chucking the real winner a packet of polos as a replacement prize and sailing off into the sunset in the glorious ship of Beyonce’s massive and beautiful-smelling hair.

Wonderful. Along with Dreadlockalien, Rosy will be whip-cracking the programme on all weekend from Friday 26th.

If you wish to sign up for the Open Mic (Saturday 27th at 12.50pm) or the Poetry Slam (Sunday 28th at 5pm), come to the Poetry&Words tent in Bella’s Field and ask either Rosy or Dreadlockalien to put your name down. Dreadlock will be the guy with the big hat and the dreadlocks (weirdly enough).

Only 6 days to go till the gates open!!!

Scott 🙂

 

 

A woman who spits – Vanessa Kisuule

Vanessa is naturally gifted poet and performer, and along with Anna Freeman managed to twist my arm into drawing her as an owl in exchange for an interview (these Bristolians can be quite pushy 😉 ). I asked the hugely talented Vanessa Kisuule about what started her on her literary road, her experience performing for the BBC and the spectacle of Glastonbury…

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What or who first made you want to write poetry?

My cousin introduced to me it, actually – I’d enjoyed the page stuff for a while but didn’t know anything about spoken word. He talked about how much he loved it and I wasn’t particularly convinced. I thought it sounded pretentious – but he showed me a Def Jam poetry video and it blew the top of my skull off. I thought it was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen and I was enthralled by it for months. Ironically, that contrived American slam style of poetry really grinds my gears now. My taste has changed a lot since I first started out and I now prefer less didactic poetry. But I will always be grateful for that initial spark of inspiration that those videos lit – you can never underestimate how incendiary a thing it is for someone to be stood up on stage telling their story in their own voice. So simple and yet so beautiful.

What was the first thing you wrote which made you feel like a poet?

I wrote a poem called ‘Strawberry Laces’ when I was fourteen about asking for the number of a guy that worked behind the counter at a record shop and getting rejected. In hindsight, that makes sense because I was fourteen and he was at least in his early twenties and him saying yes would have been many shades of gross. But anyway, it was the first time that an experience compelled me to write my feelings down in poetry form. I don’t even know if that made me feel like a poet then, or even if I feel like a poet now. Pah. What a wonderfully meandering and pointless answer to the question….

You were recently chosen along with Megan Beech (another of our Glastonbury poets this year) to be one of five poets performing for the BBC’s ‘Women Who Spit’ series of short films. Your poem ‘Take Up Space’ is a powerful call to arms for women to take their share of society without fear or apology. Tell us about the impetus behind the films and how you became involved. Did you write the piece specifically for the project?

The BBC contacted me having seen my stuff on YouTube and were interested in getting me involved with a project involving a group of young female spoken word artists writing poems around feminism. What’s really great is that that manifested in very different ways for each poet – whilst it’s great that women are now getting more platforms to talk about feminism, I think we can end up shoehorned into a limited space in which we are deemed unequipped to talk about anything else which is almost as bad as being completely silenced. So there’s a variety of topics addressed by all five of the commissioned poets – I wanted to write something positive and affirmative around the topic of feminism as it can be quite wearying constantly reminding ourselves of the oppression that we live with daily. It was important to me that the piece celebrated rather than lamented the experience of being a woman. It’s a love letter of sorts to the many, many women I know and love who are so brilliant, intelligent and uninhibited – being surrounded by them as an example means I have never felt like I had any limits on who or what I should be as a woman.

You seem really comfortable in front of the camera. Do you have any theatre training or are you just a naturally relaxed performer? Would you pursue other film projects?

This is hilarious, because I chronically hate being in front of the camera and there aren’t many other contexts in which I feel less comfortable. I actually had to drink a bit of wine to loosen up enough to get through shooting the BBC video – I’m glad that my nerves didn’t come across in the finished product! I am super comfortable being on stage – that, to me, is like being in my living room. I feel at home with the audience and in my body and it’s just lovely. But there’s something about the artifice of performing for this dead, unblinking camera lens that just makes me go cold. I did do theatre stuff when I was in school, but again I loved the stage and didn’t really do anything film related. I do respect and enjoy film and the power of visuals, just as long as it doesn’t involve me in front of the camera! I worked with an incredible production company last year on a few videos, one had a cast of actors and another was a gorgeous sand animation. I think there’s so much to explore as far as the medium of spoken word video is concerned so I’m looking to do more creative things than just say my poem into my webcam (which is absolutely fine and valid but just not for me!).

Any current or future projects you can share with us?

I’m actually just taking a bit of a breather from what’s been quite a mental few months. I only made the plunge into full time poet-ing a few months ago and I’ve been lucky beyond belief in just about staying afloat. So right now I’m writing new stuff, reading a lot and hatching a plan of where I want to go next. I’m keen to do some weird and uncomfortable things and push myself away from the template of what I’ve been doing over the past few years as a writer and performer. It’s the only way to grow and evolve – so hopefully by next year I’ll be doing things I can’t even conceive of now!

This will be your second Glastonbury performing for Poetry&Words. What are your memories of the first time?

I didn’t actually enjoy Glastonbury very much my first time round, if I’m honest. It was my first ever festival and I think I’d created far too high expectations in my head. I hadn’t even slept in a tent before then so the vastness of it all was too much for me to take in. There are lots of things I know about festival-ing now that I didn’t then. I pitched my tent in some random area away from the other poets so I was really isolated. I’d bought a cheap one man tent that I couldn’t even sit up in – it was like a polythene coffin. I also put way too much emphasis on seeing everything and I now know that the most fun happens when you chuck the programme over your shoulder and go with the flow. I did have two wonderful moments though: 1) Beyonce and 2) raving in a cage in Shangri La with Adam Kammerling at silly o clock on the last night. I have done many more festival perfomances now so I consider myself ‘seasoned’, so my experience will hopefully be ten thousand times better – and I will be pitching my THREE MAN tent backstage with all the other lovely Poetry and Words crew and I am certain I’ll have a whale of a time!

Who in the Poetry&Words tent (other than your good self) would you recommend this year as unmissable?

Harry Baker is a dear friend and absolutely blinding poet whose pun credentials remain unrivalled. I’ve not seen Antosh Wodjck live yet but I’ve seen his pieces on YouTube and his writing makes me want to eat my own fist with envy. Anna Freeman consistently brings the funnies and Paula Varjack and Dan Simpson are a dynamite hosting duo. It’s gonna be fab!

Which acts on the bigger stages are you most looking forward to seeing at Glastonbury?

I cannot WAIT to see Kanye. No matter what, it’s going to be a talking point! Will hopefully be checking out Mary J Blige, Pharrell Williams, Lianne La Havas, Florence and The Machine, Patti Smith, Funkadelic and The Family Stone and Flying Lotus. But like I said, I’m going to try and go with the flow, so if I see even three of these I’ll be happy. It’s all about the random gems anyway – the little performances on tiny stages that you stumble across on your way to somewhere else…..

Will you be bringing your book ‘Joyriding the Storm’ with you? I’ll swap you for one of mine. Mine’s got pictures in it and everything.

I will bring a fat stack of my books to sell – and one has got your name on it Tyrrell! (YES to the pictures)

Finally, can I put in a request for ‘A Personal Malleable Manifesto’ when you play the P&W tent?

You most certainly can :). I almost always end my sets with it so you’re in luck.

Wicked! Looking forward to that. You can catch Vanessa Kisuule in the Poetry&Words tent on:

Friday 26th at 1.40pm and Saturday 27th at 12.25pm

It’s getting so close now, but still more to come!

Scott 🙂

Glastonbury Poetry Sunday Showcase – Anna Freeman

Right. Sooooo…you may notice in place of the usual photo of the poet there is, instead, an owl. Short story is this – last year I designed the poster for Poetry&Words and went to town drawing a great number of the poets as owls. The overall response to this was one of general enthusiasm and a few of this year’s poets expressed disappointment at not being owl-ised this year – none more so than Anna Freeman who refused to give me an interview (that may or may not be an exaggeration) unless I draw her as one. Ergo, the resulting image below.

I spoke to Anna, a Glastonbury veteran, about her first Glastonbury Showcase spot, her novel, TV dramatisation, camping preferences and if she had a favourite illustrator. Hmmm…

anna_alone2How the hell are you?

I’m pretty good! I’ve got a mini bakewell tart so, you know, pretty good. Looking forward to seeing you.

Your novel, ‘The Fair Fight’ is doing quite well out in the world – critically acclaimed and selling very well. Has your expectation of being a successful novelist matched up to the reality?

I’m sorry, I’m just too important to think about that. I’ll have one of my people get back to you. Um. Really I don’t know. I don’t know if I’d definitely call it successful. The hardback has been doing well as hardbacks go, but the paperback comes out soon and that’s when you really know whether it sells. I don’t think about it much or I go weird. I’m much more comfortable being anxious about the second novel.

I understand the BBC have optioned the book for dramatization. In an ideal world, which actors would you want to play your fantasy cast? In particular the two main protagonists, Ruth and Charlotte?

I don’t know much about actors, tbh. But the woman who’s in charge of the development at the BBC definitely thinks like me about it – they can’t be too pretty. Nothing about the dramatisation should be prettied up.

It’s not an accident that my two female protagonists don’t look the way that women are told they ‘should’. One of them is covered in smallpox scars and the other has had half her teeth knocked out. The book is largely about their gradual empowerment, and part of that – though definitely not all of it – is about overcoming the pressures that women are under to look a certain way. The book is grimy and blood spattered. The cast have to be as well.

It’s quite a leap to take from writing poetry to a full blown novel. What were the writing challenges you encountered in making the transition?

You need loads more biscuits to do a novel than you do for a poem. Don’t underestimate that.

Can you tell us what you are currently working on?

I’m doing this Q&A for my friend Scott because he promised to draw me an owl. But after that I’m going to have another go at writing a bit more of my second novel. It’s a thriller set in the fifties. We’ll see if it turns out okay – I can’t tell. It’s either pure rubbish or a work of genius. One of those two.

I’m also going on tour with my show, Animal, starting in the spring and ending at Edinburgh Fringe 2016. It’s a show I’ve been writing for AGES (Really ages) with Chris Redmond and the Tongue Fu band. It’s a spoken word comedy about life choices and spirit animals, set to live music, and it’s one of the funnest things I get to do.

You’ve played the Big G a couple of times before, but this will be your first Showcase gig. What can we expect? Will there be book reading and poetry? Or just poetry? Or just book-reading? Will it be funny? Will you be wearing a hat?

No hats. And I don’t think novel either. I’ll just do my very best to be funny. And not too hungover. That’s the plan.

You’ve played your fair share of festivals. What makes Glastonbury different from the rest?

The size, to start with! But also it belongs to me in a weird way because I’ve been going to it since I was a kid.

What has been your favourite Glastonbury moment?

A couple of years ago, with Bohdan Piasecki, Deanna Rodger, Adam Kammerling, Erin Fornoff and Dan Simpson, dancing to The Destroyers. I was stone cold sober but I was so filled with pure joy that I thought, “Surely someone’s spiked me. I can’t be having this much fun sober. No way.” That’s the kind of thing my OCD brain thinks. But it was just a magic bit of dancing time.

Which acts are you looking forward to seeing at the festival?

My sister’s band, The Jolenes. I love them. All-female bluegrass high energy dancing. I don’t care who else I see. Genuinely. I don’t like making a plan. I just let what happens, happen. I’ll end up watching a lot of the poets, because the line up is ace and it’s where I live in the day.

Quick fire Camping questions…

 Airbed or roll-out mat?

Airbed all the way. I’m not a HEATHEN.

Cider or lager?

Lager. I might be from Bristol but cider makes my stomach hurt.

Do you put your towel over the dome of your tent to dry?

Um. Probably. If I’ve bothered to wash enough for my towel to get wet.

Do you bother with Guy ropes?

Of course! There’s no point having a tent if people aren’t going to fall over it in the night.

What colour wellies can we expect from you?

Whatever’s cheapest…? Or my massive army boots.

If you were forced to ditch one of these two, which would you lose – loo roll or torch?

Oh god. Why are you messing with my head?

 Trapped in a tent with – Michael Eavis or Michael Palin?

TRAPPED IN A TENT! Why am I trapped in a tent? I’m going to be way more worried about how to get out than who else is in there. I’ll pick whichever of them has a pocket knife we can use to cut a new door. Or the sharpest teeth for gnawing.

And finally some quick but VERY IMPORTANT questions…

Do you have a favourite poetry blogger?

This is a blatant bid for flattery but I’ll let you get away with it because none of the other ones have drawn me an owl.

Objectively, who do you think the best illustrator of authors as owls is?

Haha! I hadn’t read this question when I anwered the one above. I can’t do it, Scott. It makes me feel grubby. Even if I do have one of your prints framed and hung up in my house.

Which poet are you going to give a signed copy of your poetry book ‘Gingering the World from the Inside’ to, upon your immediate arrival at Glastonbury?

Oh, oh, I know this. Is it Hegley? I’m pretty sure it’s Hegley. *emoticon of a face blowing a raspberry*

(I’ve owed Scott a copy of my book for a shamefully long time in exchange for one of his that he actually remembered to post.)

 

The extremely talented Anna Freeman will be performing her showcase spot in the Poetry&Words tent on Sunday 28th at 2pm. DO NOT MISS IT!!! Find out more about Anna here: http: www.annafreemanwriter.com

Still more to come!

Scott 🙂

 

Megan Beech – poet, feminist and your P&W Open Mic host

I first met this woman at the Larmer Tree festival in Salisbury 3 years ago where she belted out her stuff with huge power and conviction not long after winning both the Slambassador’s Poetry Society National Youth Slam AND the Poetry Rivals UK under 18’s Slam. I asked the thoroughly marvellous and humble Megan Beech about Glastonbury, the BBC, feminism and fantasy Open Mic spots…

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It’s been three years since I first saw you perform and in that time you have seared a groove that is all yours as a performer, writer and feminist. So much so that the BBC have taken notice and included you in their ‘Women who Spit’ series of short films. How did that come about?

The whole BBC thing happened very suddenly and very unexpectedly. I actually received a Facebook message saying they’d seen some of my work on YouTube and were keen to meet with me to film a poem with a feminist message. I was totally thrilled but my mum was convinced it was a hoax and definitely didn’t believe me until I sent her a photo of my entry pass! It was undoubtedly the most professionally and personally exciting experience I’ve had as a poet: I got to work with a camera crew and an amazing female director, Kate Misrahi, I got to meet JANE GARVEY- that goddess of quality midday Radio 4 broadcasting (!!!) and visit the Woman’s Hour studio- such stuff as dreams are made of! But, most importantly I got to share a message I feel deeply passionate about- that women are not given enough prominence in broadcasting and that there is still a bias towards the pale, stale, male patriarchy that exists and thrives in our society. To meet and have responses from some of the bold, bright, brilliant women like Jane Garvey, Lauren Laverne and Gemma Cairney who are breaking the mould with amazing top-tier broadcasting and to hear from young girls saying the piece has encouraged them has just been the BEST thing!

This is the trailer for Women who Spit featuring Megan and another Glastonbury poet this year – Vanessa Kisuule PLUS last year’s P&W blogger, Deanna Rodger. Click on the links at the end of the trailer to get the individual films on BBC iPlayer.

Your poetry book, ‘When I grow up I want to be Mary Beard’ has been talked up with much love amongst performance poets since its release as a wonderful feminist work. And the title poem was a reaction to actual bigotry hurled at the hero of the piece. Do you think it is the anonymity and transience of social media that encourages casual sexism, racism and homophobia or do you think that kind of bigotry is still embedded and we need far more consciousness-raising?

First of all-thanks very much. It’s always heartening to know that other people in the spoken word world who you respect and admire appreciate your work. I think that the anonymity of social media platforms (looking at you Twitter) does allow certain types of virulent and vicious misogyny to thrive but I think it is just one means of expressing the sexism and bigoted thinking that is still endemic in society. The thing I valued most about the whole ‘Mary Beard’ poem experience was that what I just intended to be a small message of solidarity to Mary Beard, a brilliant woman who I admire, in the face of hideous misogyny, actually got shared around a lot by loads of people. I got to chat to Mary Beard through Twitter. I got to perform at Newnham, her college at Cambridge through Twitter. I feel like if Twitter is the tool for the misogynist troll, it is also one to unify and unite women, to let our voices be heard and to share our words and ideas with likeminded people.

What are you currently working on? Any exciting projects coming up?

I have had a 45 minute spoken word show kicking around in my brain, the half-written sketchy fragments of which I’ve had in my back pocket for about a year now. It’s called PAYtriarchy at the moment, it’s all about my experiences of depression and the Gender Pay Gap- a laugh-out-loud riot I know! I’m hoping to make that happen in the next year or so. Other than that I’m gigging over the summer including Proms Extra which is broadcast on Radio 3 from (the Elgar Room at) the Royal Albert Hall. I’ve also just graduated with a First from King’s College London so I fancy a bit of a lie-down before the hard work starts again on my literature MPhil at Newnham College, Cambridge in October.

You’re hosting the Poetry&Words Open Mic this year. I’ve often fantasised about the idea of major singer/songwriters who perform on the big stages coming along and trying their words out in the Poetry&Words tent. I’ve even joked to Helen Johnson about trying to sign Michael Eavis up. Who would be your big name fantasy lyricists performing at the open mic?

WOW! What a question! I saw Michael Eavis sing ‘Happy Birthday’ with Stevie Wonder in 2010 and that was pretty special, so I can only imagine how good he would be on the poetry mic! I’d love Patti Smith to just pop over from the Pyramid and drop some verses. I once wrote a letter to PJ Harvey asking her to perform when I was working as a Young Producer for the Southbank Centre’s ‘National Poetry Day Live’ – she did not get back to us, but I live in hope, she’d be AMAZING! But y’know I’m a nineteenth century gal at heart so I’d love to have the Romantics (the original poetical boy band) perform. Shelley would astound with biting political satire attacking the Tory government and shaming David Cameron, I could share a lift with Coleridge who lived in the Somerset village, Nether Stowey, next to my hometown Bridgwater and Byron would forget to turn up. Glorious!

You’ve stood and performed on the Glastonbury Poetry stage. What advice would you give to the open mic’ers doing it for the first time?

My advice would be don’t be nervous. The atmosphere of the whole festival for me has always been about supporting everyone else, revelling in the unity born out of sharing such a lush space with other lucky people for 5 days. Go for it! Why not? Half of us are probably drunk, the other half fatigued and eager to enjoy. I entered the slam last year, I came 2nd but had the BEST time performing and listening to everyone else. Get involved- get your voice heard, you won’t regret it, I guarantee that!

Will you be bringing any of your Mary Beard books with you to the festival? We promised to swap books last year and never got round to it 🙂

Yes, I definitely will be bringing some! I have forgotten to order more from my publisher- I really NEED to get on that, thanks for reminding me! Looking forward to getting my hands on yours too!

Who or what are you looking forward to seeing at the festival?

To single anything out would be impossible. Glastonbury is such an important and magnificent part of my life, this will be my fifth year. I’m looking forward to shaking off some of the stress of the city and being back in my home county: Somerset. I’m looking forward to feeling right-on in the Leftfield with the annual sing-along to ‘A New England’ with Billy Bragg, to the mid-evening chill as you climb to see the sunset from the top of the hill, to the first cool sip of cider bus cider, to stumbling across a new band in a tiny tent in the middle of the night, to long walks back from Shangri-La at 3am, to tired feet, to a soul drenched in joy and wellies covered in mud. Just about everything really!

Sharing a tent with – Mary Beard or Emmeline Pankhurst?

Both would be a joy obviously but I reckon the Beard edges it as she would undoubtedly be an excellent festival companion. We’d invite Lauren Laverne for a big feminist drinking sess and late night philosophical chat! God, that’d be cool! Can we make this happen? I mean obviously not, but can we?!

We can get drunk and try, dammit! 🙂

You can see Megan Beech perform a set in the Poetry&Words tent on Friday 26th at 12.25pm.

If you wish to sign up for an Open Mic spot which takes place Saturday 27th at 12.50pm come as early as possible to the Poetry&Words tent and approach one of the MC’s to put your name down.

More to come…

Scott 🙂

Introducing the reigning Glastonbury Poetry Slam Champion – Erin Bolens

She kept her nerve, she fought off stunning competition, she broke through the judges’ (I was one of them) icy forensic gaze and even held in a wee to become 2014’s Slam champ, joining the ranks of hugley respected poets like Toby Thompson, Hollie McNish and Luke Wright. I asked the thoroughly charming “but not so confident you want to punch her” Erin Bolens about her win, her work and her tips for this year’s slammers.

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First off, an extremely belated congratulations for winning last year’s slam. You did brilliantly (obviously) and looked so relaxed despite the intensity of the setting. Can you tell us about the experience?

Thank you! I remember being really nervous actually and dithering a lot about when to run to the loo.

It was all very surreal. Dolly Parton was playing in the background, my friends were sat covered in mud and eating ice cream. It was one of those experiences that even as a dream would seem bizarre. I very nearly didn’t enter – mostly I just the wanted the experience of performing a few poems. When you’re starting out you rarely get more than two minutes anywhere so it’s really hard to get that experience. That’s what drew me in. It’s something the festival and Poetry & Words should be so proud of. It opened a lot of doors for me and made me feel able to pursue it with more vigour.

Where sits your fabulous trophy now?

Until recently I was living in very mouldy quarters so I protected it fiercely and locked it away. It survived and is now on my bookcase. I couldn’t believe the level of care and detail that had gone in to it – it’s so spectacular!

As a consequence of you winning you are faced with your first official Glastonbury Poetry&Words booking. A full twenty minute spot to engage with a crowd who have thousands of other performers outside the tent clamouring for their attention. Looking forward to it? 😉

So much! I hadn’t really thought about all that. I guess I naturally assume that I will be performing to my mum and a couple of twitching sleeping bags, but maybe I’ll be lucky and it’ll rain (sorry!) and there will be loads of people just grateful not to be drenched.

I’m also doing a set in the Greenpeace field at 00.50 on Wednesday night – I’m not sure that’s the most natural time for poetry and also not a time I often see so I think that one will be interesting too!

Will you come prepared with an unshakable set in mind, or do you plan to wing it when you arrive? (I have no problem with either approach).

Last year I got a bit confused. I didn’t really know the rules of a slam as I had never done anything like it. For some reason I was convinced that you had to write pieces specifically for the competition. I didn’t manage three on the spot as I didn’t think I’d get that far but I wrote my first, about the festival, a day or two before. I realise you don’t have to do that now – I’ll be a little bit more rehearsed!

You have a very relaxed, punchy and distinctly Northern style (I can say that, I’m a Geordie) in your gentle mockery of pretence and celebrating the absurd. Does your observation tend to always lean to the comic, or would you consider doing a hyper-serious 24 stanza epic about the futility of existence?

Really? I’ll take that. Um, it probably does at the moment but it’s not an intentional style. I think it’s different for everyone. I feel that you need a massive amount of confidence in your own views and opinions to write very hard hitting stuff; I find that difficult to muster and feel it has to be earned a bit by age and experience. However, I’ve heard other poets speak similarly about writing comically so I guess it’s just horses for courses.

As I gain experience I’m beginning to become more comfortable writing more personally. For me that comes with getting more airtime – I was getting into a habit of doing two minute slots and performing the same couple of poems. I don’t like becoming bored of pieces because I’m wheeling them out too often! It’s great to be trying out more new poems at the moment.

As for being Northern – that has definitely intensified since I moved to London. Its probably something very deep about identity.

The futility of existence? I’d be up for that – perhaps it could be a group piece we all write over the course of the festival?

You recently came runner-up in the prestigious Roundhouse Slam. Tell us about that.

It was amazing! I think 700 people were watching 12 young poets – that’s incredible. I was really naive about it; I had no idea how popular it is or how big the Roundhouse main space is – from above it looked like this huge sacrificial pit. I started to think maybe one of us would get burned at the mic. It was a real celebration of words; the standard was very high and the styles very different so I was so chuffed to come second.

Quickfire camping questions

Airbed or Roll-out mat?

I upgraded to an airbed a couple of years ago. Do it.

Lager or cider?

Gin til I die.

PieMinster or Goan Fish Curries?

As much as I love a pun based meal I don’t think I’ve had either – I tend to take advantage of all amazing vegetarian feasts. I also spend about a month’s wages on chai. At least.

Wellies or docs?

Wellies always.

Trapped in a tent with – Lionel Ritchie or Roger Daltry?

Probably have to be Roger. I don’t think I’d have a lot to say to Lionel after establishing it wasn’t him I was looking for. That in itself would probably take longer than it should.

Finally, what advice would you give potential Glastonbury Slammers this year?

Do it! It’s such a great atmosphere. I’m often a little put off by the competitive element of slams but as long as you remember that it’s all subjective and there’s a big dash of luck in the first rounds particularly, then it’s really good fun. I really can’t wait to watch.

P.S. Really enjoying these posts Scott, cheers!

Shucks, aint she sweet? You can see why Erin Bolens is such a formidable performer in the Poetry&Words tent on Friday 26th at 4.55pm

The 2015 Glastonbury Poetry Slam will take place on Sunday 28th at 5pm at the Poetry&Words tent. If you wish to sign up for either the Poetry Slam or an Open Mic spot (which takes place Saturday 27th at 12.50pm) come as early as possible to the Poetry&Words tent and approach one of the MC’s to put your name down.

More fab folk on the way…

Scott 🙂

Behind every great Slam Trophy…

…is an artist hoping the slammer won’t drop it before they get off stage.

Behold, this year’s Glastonbury Poetry Slam trophy and she’s a beauty. This proud, rearing mare awaits she or he who holds their nerve and delivers the most powerful poetry performance at this year’s Poetry Slam.

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This wonderful work of unsubtlety was created, as always by the poet and visual artist, Peter Hunter. I asked Pete recently about his involvement with Poetry&Words over the years and his inspiration for this year’s piece.

Peter Hunter – artist & P&W unsung hero

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You’ve had a long history of creating the prestigious Glastonbury Slam trophy. How did you get involved in the first place?

I met Helen Johnson (then Gregory) when she started performing at an open mic I was running in Bristol many moons ago. We became friends and were involved in several projects with other poets over the years. When Helen inherited the Poetry&Words stage, she invited me to help out. As part of this I volunteered what skills I had, other than poetry and hosting,  in trying to find a revamped identity for Poetry&Words, this included the stage props and backdrop, various sorts of signage, redesigning the Poetry&Words poster each year, the introduction of the mini-programme and of course a glamorous trophy for the slam winners to receive in recognition of their poetic derring-do.

Tell us about your background as a sculptor and visual artist.

I have always had an aptitude for visual arts, it was the thing I most liked doing at school, and I was fortunate enough to study (study being a loose term) Fine Art at Falmouth School of Art back in the days when going to college didn’t leave you with crippling debt afterwards.

After that, for some reason, I became a ceramicist (making things out of clay, rather than sitting at a potter’s wheel making ‘pots’ and being a potter) and had a studio in central Bristol where I didn’t quite scrape enough money together to earn a proper living. I also did a short stint at an animation company making plasticine puppets for TV shows (to this day you can find some of my work on Youtube – I made the mouths for the animated Elton John in the Stars in Their Eyes titles from the 90’s).  I had some of my work featured on TV as an April Fools – fossils of fairies found on the banks of the river Severn – and at one point a woman came to my studio claiming to be the aunt of Robert Downey Jnr and bought him some chop-stick holders that I’d made that looked like little reclining people. (‘He’ll just love them!’)

In 2007 I managed to combine both my sculpting and poeting skills for Bristol Poetry Festival by creating a faux contemporary art exhibition at Arnolfini (Bristol’s main contemporary art gallery) which I then critiqued in rhyme. It was a controversial piece that didn’t go down very well with contemporay fine artists but apparently the volunteer staff liked it. Also the Arnolfini had to call me in because one of my ‘exhibits’ was starting to rot and the smell was getting into the air conditioning and begining to stink out the whole building, which I thought was a nice, if unplanned, touch.  There’s a (poor quality) vid of the piece here if you’re interested:

This year’s effort is quite special, having departed from your usual convention of a mic with embellishments to the radical creation of a rearing unicorn with a logo on its butt. Can you tell us your inspiration for this?

I try and make something unique and relatively different each year. It’s an opportunity for me to try out ideas within a loose theme. Usually the ideas are a reflection of what I’m generally interested in, or whatever pops into my head when I’m soaking in the bath.

Last year’s 3D pop-up book trophy was because I was wandering around charity shops and there seemed to be a lot of pop-up books and I thought I’d give it a go – it also meant that the trophy was relatively safe to transport when the book was closed.

erin_trophyPreviously I’ve got hold of a microphone and, as you say, embellished it – once as a space ship, once as a towering sculpture over a festival site diarama. There is always an element of tongue-in-cheek about the trophy and this year I thought I’d push it a little further by creating this grand rampant golden unicorn with the microphone carried in it’s mouth, as if the unicorn represented the poets’ magical transformation from slam hopeful to slam champion! Or something.

I also like the trophy’s to have some sort of interactive element if possible. The spaceship one was also a bedside light, the book was pop-up and this years unicorn is a pencil sharpener. I’ll leave that to your imagination.

Which of the trophies you’ve created do you have the most fondness for?

Obviously the latest one is the best one, but I do have a fondness for the spaceship trophy – I think that was for the 2010 slam – it seemed to tick many fun design boxes for me.

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I used the mic for the spaceship body with the rounded head of the mic being the ‘front end’ with the jack-plug attached for a point. Then I added 3 tail-fins like a 1950’s style rocket – the sort you might see on the cover of an old sci-fi comic – but what I was most pleased with, was that I found a ceiling light that was slightly domed, and when it was turned upside down (so the dome faced up) it was curved like the surface of a planet and I stuck the mic-rocket onto that, as if it had landed – and the best thing was,

if you pushed the rocket down, the planet lit up! It was brilliant!

I still have a love for the trophy I won from the Bristol Slam of 2002 which you made (which was kind of a gold brick with an etching of the UK on it) How far back does your slam trophy creation go?

I think you have the first slam trophy I made (nice one for getting your City of Culture Slam win into the interview, Scott)*.  That didn’t quite turn out as planned. I had intended it to be all sharp edged and geometic and professional-looking, it even has a real gold-leaf coating. But I left it late and the material I made it out of didn’t set properly, so it’s a bit rough around the edges and the varnish I used took the glister off the gold. I seem to remember you refering to it at the time as ‘a golden brick’. Still, I’m glad it has a homely charm. 😉

*Well, why not? it’s not like I brought up the Ant-Slam ceramic fish I won recently, Or the Great Northern Slam microphone, Or the Apples&Snakes Poetry Boxing belt, Or the Belfast Intercity Slam glass bowl… 😉

What are you working on at the moment?

I don’t have a studio at the moment – haven’t for a few years now – so everyhting I do sculpture-wise is restricted to being small enough to fit on my desk.

I’ve been making some props for the local youth theatre production of His Dark Materials and I amuse myself by gluing stuff together to see what happens (the neighbours cat will never be the same again) I’ve also been working on some small lino-prints and then there’s a bigger project in the pipeline that I can’t say too much about, but it’s working with a local arts group and I’m hoping they’ll allow me to make a full-sized mock-up space cargo transporter. All being well…

What advice would you give the winner of this year’s trophy regarding a) taking care of it b) the best room/setting to display it?

Having won the trophy, the next problem is getting it home in one piece (it’s not that delicate, but it may not withstand being worn as a hat in the dance tent untill 4am) If possible, hire a couple of security guards to stand over it for the Sunday evening and then order a helicopter to airlift it off site and back home.

Once there I’d suggest, if they don’t already have a trophy room, maybe try the traditional pride-of-place on the mantlepiece – somewhere that’s in full view to everyone who comes into the house, so they can marvel at it. Or, for a fee, I can build a wall-mounted, climate controlled, plexi-glass fronted, fully alarmed, trophy cabinet. Get in touch with me via Glastonbury Poetry…

If you wish to be in with a chance to be the owner a beautiful gold unicorn chewing a microphone, the Glastonbury Poetry Slam will take place on Sunday 28th at 5pm at the Poetry&Words tent.

If you wish to sign up for either the Poetry Slam or an Open Mic spot (which takes place Saturday 27th at 12.50pm) come as early as possible to the Poetry&Words tent and approach one of the MC’s to put your name down.

Coming up next…an interview with last year’s Slam winner, Erin Bolens.

Scott 🙂

 

Meet your Glastonbury 2015 Poetry Slam hosts – Varjack & Simpson

I caught up with Paula Varjack and Dan Simpson in London last week at the Anti-Slam Apocalypse to ask them about their partnership, their quirky projects and their plans for the hallowed Glastonbury Slam…

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The two of you have becoming quite a formidable creative partnership. How did poets of such wildly different styles end up working together?

Paula: I first met Dan at a gig where he was performing and I was hosting. I won’t give any details about the event other than it was a very strange format and all a bit awkward. At the break Dan and I bonded over how weird a gig it was, and how much we liked what the other was doing. It was then we realised he had performed at the second London Anti-Slam, the only one I had missed. I was excited about his enthusiasm for it and approached him after to co-produce it.

Dan: So then Paula asked me to help organise and co-host one year, and we got on really well on- and off-stage and it went from there. Our working styles and what we like making are quite similar – stuff that’s super fun for audiences to watch and, challenges performers in an interesting way.

One of your best known endeavours as a team has been the Anti-Slam. Whose idea was that, and how did it come about?

Paula: In 2009 I was living in Berlin and very much a part of the Slam scene there, and had links to the English language comedy scene that had begun to develop. I wanted to create an event where all of the performers from these artform and language divisions could participate. I was getting tired of the competition element of poetry slam. Not long after thinking all this, I went on a trip to Chicago & New York (a kind of pilgrimage to the early homes of poetry slam) and saw this performance by Jamie De Wolf at the Nuyorican Poetry Cafe that blew me away:

When I returned to Berlin I was inspired to create an “anti-slam” – a piss-take of a poetry slam, where I would programme those poets and comedians. By challenging everyone to do their worst, no one cared about the competition element. Because it was all so ridiculous, and it kept to the 3 minute time limit, it meant that audiences could enjoy performances despite the language differences.

European friends heard about it, so events ended up happening in Warsaw, Cologne, Turin, Sardenia – and even Sydney. I then went on to co-host it in Berlin with the Godfather of the Berlin slam scene Wolf Hogekamp for four years. Ray Antrobus visited me and helped me bring the first one to London, then Dan came on board! We now have events happening in 8 cities in the UK. It has become a brilliant Valentines event that sells out every year, and we have our Apocalypse – a national Anti-Slam final – and we’re keen to keep adding cities every year. I think one of my favourite things about it is how each city brings its own energy and helps revise the format.

Having had the privilege of participating in the Anti-Slam this year I found it hugely liberating to purposefully write bad poetry, particularly having had to sit through quite a few gigs over the last 15 years that have been strewn liberally with it. Have your other participants felt similarly liberated by the Anti-Slam format?

Dan: we get that response a lot! It’s a nice combination of challenge and liberation for excellent and established performers to engage with their bad side – but to do that entertainingly! As a gig organiser and host, as well as a performer, you do see a lot of genuinely “bad” writing and performers on the circuit – so The Anti-Slam certainly serves to perhaps relieve a bit of tension about that!

Paula: Yeah – I think there is so much that can be cathartic and liberating about it. It allows you to get one back at all the awful pieces and people you have contended with on the open mic and slam circuit. More importantly it enables you to harness the inner critic that respond directly to it. Something about this opens the floodgates of all kinds of shades of creativity. I think its about taking your fears of everything you try to avoid and going into it willingly, rather than being blocked by it.

You’ve been charged with running the revered Glastonbury Poetry Slam this year and the quality is always pretty damn high. Winners in the past have included now-massive poets like Hollie McNish and Luke Wright. Nervous? 

Dan: I love hosting regular, non-Anti slams too! It’s an honour to be asked, and always interesting to see who does well at these things. Not too many nerves – hosting is supposed to be the invisible foundations that the slammers can build their 3 minutes of stage time on!

Paula: I think the Slam is one of the nicest things that happen over the weekend. It always draws a nice mix of emerging poets and poets very very new to performance. I think the fact that the winner gets a set next year and a ticket to the festival really adds to the energy of it. It’s such a great way to get new voices on board so I am super excited about hosting it. I have hosted the Poetry and Words stage at Glastonbury before, many Anti-Slams with Dan, and also monthly host at Hammer & Tongue Hackney – so no nerves, I am only looking forward to it.

Tell us about your other projects like the Fail Better Podcast and Poetry Goes Pop!

Paula: In Fail Better we chat to two artists about their most interesting failures – usually something like messing up a gig in an epic way! We also look at fails of the month, and a current pop song that has terrible lyrics. It follows on from The Anti-Slam a bit – we both like the idea of failure and what we can do with it. I think embracing failure, rather than being ashamed of it, is fantastic for creativity. As much as I want my work to be polished, I am constantly reminding myself that I connect to other artists when they show their vulnerability. I also love interviewing people, and am obsessed with artists’ process, so the show is this great excuse to have conversations with artists I love and respect. I like them especially as they come on the show because they are as interested in the theme as Dan and I are and tell the most engaging stories.  We get lovely guests on the show every time.

Dan: Poetry Goes Pop! is a spoken word comedy panel show where we mash up pop culture and poetry. We play silly games like Poetry Karaoke – singing a poem to the tune of a popular song and Pop to Poem – turning bad pop lyrics into a serious performance of poetry. Like this!

Both of you have performed before at Glastonbury, independently. Can you share your weirdest moment(s)?

Dan: The giant mechanical spider. Every festival should have a giant mechanical spider.

Paula: Oh this is hard, I’ve had so many! My top 3 in no particular order are

1. Walking in and out of the Miniscule of Sound.

2. Finding the secret room behind the room down the rabbit hole.

3. A live art piece of a group of pregnant woman walking in a hazy daze through the fields. At least I think it was live art…

Finally, what advice would you give to potential Glastonbury slammers this year?

Dan: Don’t be intimidated by the setting – Paula and I will make it really fun and friendly! And don’t worry too much about the competition element – winning is awesome, but the best thing a slam can do is make you simply want to perform your work as well as possible.

Paula: Yeah what Dan said. I think my advice generally to anyone who is performing in any slam, regardless of whether they want to win or not is the same: Be the most you that you can possibly be. Perform with your own unique energy – the piece that is most distinctly the way you write and about what you are interested in. That more than anything is what audiences respond to. You can’t compete with anything else. Also remember scoring poems with numbers is always going to be at least a little bit arbitrary. Personal or Fantastical, Political or Silly, Lyrical or Monologue – just be super you.

The Glastonbury Poetry Slam will take place on Sunday 28th at 5pm at the Poetry&Words tent. If you wish to sign up for either the Poetry Slam or an Open Mic spot (which takes place Saturday 27th at 12.50pm) come as early as possible to the Poetry&Words tent and approach one of the MC’s to put your name down.

More interviews on the way…

Scott 🙂

 

Interview (not an argument) with Attila the Stockbroker


I saw Attila the Stockbroker perform at the Cumberland Arms in Byker, Newcastle when I first started to write and perform poetry. He was funny and truthful, with real righteous acid in his tongue. You knew he’d seen both wrongdoing and optimism and thought and fought hard about them both. You knew this was someone that loved deeply enough to sink his teeth into injustice and hang on until the last dog died. Attila was kind enough to give me an interview about his recent autobiography, his politics and his history with the festival.

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Your autobiography is out this year, and you’ve clearly had quite a life. What prompted you to write it, and how easy was it to get it on paper?

I’ve earned my living as a poet/musician for 35 years, done over 3000 gigs in 24 countries and got an unbelievable amount of experiences to share. I hope the book will make people laugh, think..and occasionally weep! As I say in the foreword, my message is this: you don’t need to be ‘a celebrity’ to have a happy and fulfilling life doing what you love – you just have to have a way with words, the self confidence and organisational ability of Napoleon and a skin thicker than the armour of a Chieftain tank. (Not everyone has those, of course…..)

It was very easy to write and a most enjoyable process, the first time I had embarked on something of this magnitude. My respect for people who write books for a living has increased enormously!

You’ve been a massive political campaigner and polemicist for decades.
What are your thoughts about the recent election? Are you surprised at what happened?

No. Given that there is no freedom of the press in this country, just a brazen Tory propaganda machine run by Murdoch, the Barclays and Desmond, and that many  English (not British!) people are endemically conformist cap-doffing Ragged Trousered Philanthropists who meekly do what they’re told, I’m not at all surprised that when yelled at to vote Tory by nearly every press outlet in this country, 38% of them did. In fact, I’m surprised that not more did. It’s totally undemocratic. I’d shut the Sun, Mail and Express down in the interests of public decency. They can keep the Times and the Telegraph, we can have the Mirror and the Guardian. That’d be fair.  I think it is fashionable to underplay the role of print newspapers in elections and claim that ‘the British public is more sophisticated’. Sorry, but I think if the Sun told people to shave off their pubes and put brillo pads in their underwear or they’d get crabs I reckon the dustmen would have a very hairy load the following week and the supermarkets would sell out of scourers!

Have your audiences changed throughout the years? Do you think there’s generally less political interest amongst the young than there was back when you first took up the mic?

It’s complicated because there is often politics there, just expressed in a different way. I think the fact I came out of punk and lived through the battles of the 80s meant that my delivery and focus was very militant and forceful. Most of the young people I hear now are more subtle (and often confused) about their politics.   I’ve always been much more that JUST a political polemicist, though, and some of my best recent work has been intensely personal, as you probably know.  There is a fair bit of action on the streets…I wish it was a bit more focussed, that’s all!

Are there any poets out there now that you think are successfully carrying on the mantle of poetic polemicist?

Yes, loads. Luke Wright, Itch from the King Blues, Janine Booth, Nextgen, Captain of the Rant…there are loads.  Different from me but with a lot of the same sort of values and ideas. Looking forward to checking out some new ones in the poetry tent.

What are we likely to see you do on the P&W stage this year?

Lots of new poems – and a couple of autobiography bits.

This will be your 26th Glastonbury. What is it about Glastonbury that keeps you coming back? Can you remember your first? Who played?

I love Glastonbury – it’s the only festival anywhere where you can have a thoroughly enjoyable time without ever visiting any of the major stages, just wandering around, looking, hearing, soaking up the atmosphere.  What keeps me coming back? The fact that I have been asked to perform here for the last 26 festivals. And I am very proud and grateful for that.

You’ve shared in this blog that you once fell asleep on your back, naked at Glasto and woke up sunburnt. Can you share any similarly weird episodes during your many times here?

TWO GLASTONBURY ERRORS
(Dedicated to the memory of Arabella Churchill)

Now I’ve performed at Glastonbury since 1983 –
That’s 25 so far this year, though each feels new to me
I’ve seen it grow from hippy roots into a massive splurge
A massive celebration where the old and new converge
And that’s OK. Each to their own. Us old school hardcore purists
And all the mobile-cashpoint-weekend-hippie Glasto tourists.
I have a thousand memories of sunshine, rain and flood!
Joe Strummer on the main stage, John Peel in the mud…
No time for all. Two special stories, and a rare old mixture.
The beer-befuddled memoirs of a punk rock Glasto fixture.

The first concerns a gruesome and apocryphal event
Concerning those unfortunates ensconced in the Dance Tent
One afternoon when Glasto staff were cleaning out the loos.
The bloke inside the toilet truck had two buttons to choose –
The one emblazoned ‘Suck’ and the other labelled ‘Blow’…
Wrong button, wrong place and wrong time. The end result?
Oh, no.

The second is more personal and close to home, I’d say.
My wife and I were wandering one sunny Saturday
Amidst the close-pressed masses of a modern Glasto crowd
When she had a whim to do something to make her husband proud
Give me a lift, despite my beers, and really set me up
So she gently reached behind herself to make a loving cup
But my stopping by the beer tent quite undid her wifely plan
And the loving cup was given to an unsuspecting man….
Her fingers knew at once the heinous nature of her error
And she dashed off in embarrassment, confusion, pain and terror!
I’ve never asked Robina if the grounds for her surprise
Were because her chosen target was over- or undersized……
Or was it just a different shape? Well, that’s as it may be.
Long live Michel Eavis, and long live Glastonbury!

I’ve seen you perform twice in the Poetry&Words tent now, and you’ve smashed it both times. Do you have a secret for keeping the crowd on your side?

Start off as a performer shouting anti fascist poems at drunk nazi boneheads and being attacked on stage. After that, any audience is a piece of piss.

What’s next for you? Any projects coming up you’d like to share?

Autobiography published by Cherry Red Books in September and a huge book launch tour taking in everywhere that will have me!

Finally, can I put in a request for ‘Doggy on a String’ for when you play the P&W tent?

You can.

Mint! Attila the Stockbroker will be performing ‘Doggy on a String’ just for me (and some more of his work) in the Poetry&Words tent on:

Sunday 28th at 1.15pm.

Come early as he always packs out the tent! Find out more about Atilla the Stockbroker here: www.attilathestockbroker.com

More interviews lined up. Stay tuned.

Scott 🙂

 

Interview with Helen Johnson – Glastonbury Poetry’s Heart and Soul

I thought it was about time that the true unsung hero of Poetry&Words stepped out of the shadows. She’s the woman who’s poured over thousands of applications over the years, given emerging stars a world stage to perform on, faced abuse by prima donna poets that didn’t make the line up (Don’t you know who I am?!!! How dare you pass me over!!!) and fought mud-soaked technical, emotional, inclement, bureaucratic battles and won. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the stoic, sleep-deprived, possibly currently-lactating high commander of Poetry&Words, Dr. Helen Johnson…

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You’ve been running the Poetry&Words tent at Glastonbury since you took over from Pat V T West in 2008. How has it changed in that time?

In her time, Pat would take over a small, empty corner of the Green Fields and transform it into a poetry haven.  She’d take several weeks and a small crew of miracle workers to do so.  When she asked me to take over the reins just before she passed away, I said I’d love to, but couldn’t possibly put in all that pre-festival work on the infrastructure.  With her help, we moved Poetry&Words to our current home in the Theatre and Circus fields.  We now share a tent with Mavericks (late night cabaret), so I don’t have to worry about getting the tent, green room etc set-up weeks before the festival starts.

That’s a great relief, as there’s plenty to worry about with the just programming!  We started off programming just 4½ hours a day with around 20 poets.  Now we’re on non-stop from 11.30-19.00 every day (Friday to Sunday) and we book around 30 poets.  That first year, I had no crew to speak off and was quite literally asleep on my feet Sunday evening.  Since then I have learned the joys of delegating and I now have a crew of around 7 to help make things happen!

It being Glastonbury there are a huge of number of poets and spoken word artists each year applying for a spot at one of the greatest festivals on Earth and I understand this year has had the highest volume of applications (close to 900). What are your criteria for who makes the stage?

That’s a really difficult question!  Obviously we’re looking for amazing poets.  The Festival isn’t an easy gig – There are a hundred other things competing for the audience’s attention at any one time, so our poets need to be great performers as well as great writers.  They need to know how to work an audience; how to grab and keep their attention.  That means we’re looking for experienced, professional artists and definitely not people who are new to the scene; though we’ve had some fantastic up-and-coming poets on the stage over the years.  We also look for a mix of voices, in terms of writing/performance style, poets’ background, subject matter, poetic genre etc.  It’s important for us to have a balanced bill, which showcases a good selection of the rich, wonderful and varied spoken word offerings currently on the scene.

Without naming names, which have been your strangest applications over the years?

We’ve had all sorts!  Last year, there was someone who wanted to come and give a nappy demonstration.  This year, we had several poets who were keen on performing naked – One I could have overlooked, but there was a real trend emerging there!  Then we get a good chunk of applications every year from musicians trying to sneak in under the radar – reading their song lyrics out without musical backing, submitting clips of shows where they introduce their songs with a lot of banter; that kind of thing.  We’ve had so many of them now that I don’t think they really count as strange anymore; but it is rather strange that, with so many different music venues at Glastonbury, musicians are directing their attentions to the poetry stage!

How has the type of poetry performed at the festival changed over time? Has the influence of rap and slam poetry had an influence in the line ups in recent years?

When I first started in 2008 we had a lot of comic poets on the bill, now the balance has shifted more towards serious, hard hitting poetry with a message, though a lot of our poets have a range of serious and funny work in their repertoires.  We did go through a phase of getting lots of rappers applying to perform on the stage.  A highlight for me, rap-wise, would have to be the fantastic Baba Brinkman.  Things seem to have quietened down on that front now however.  One notable trend in recent years has been an increase in poetry-music combos and particularly poetry bands.  I’m sure that artists like Kate Tempest and Dizraeli (both of whom have graced the stage in the past) have played a role in this.  We could probably fill the bill with poetry-music acts now.  A limited ticket allocation and the need for a balanced bill vetoes this though and we tend just to have a handful of acts that bring music into their sets as a dominant influence.  This year, we have Jess Green and the Mischief Thieves, for instance, as well as the inimitable Antipoet who will be opening the stage every day with their poetry pre-show.

As for ‘slam poetry,’ I wrote my PhD thesis on that, so it’s probably best not to get me started.  I have about 100,000 words to offer up on the subject if you’re having trouble sleeping at any point…

I realise your role as manager of the Poetry&Words tent doesn’t allow you a lot time to relax and enjoy the acts, but in the rare moments when you’ve had the opportunity were there any standout performances you’ve seen that have left their mark?

Can I say all of them?  Seriously, with hundreds of amazing poets to choose from, we don’t book anyone who’s less than fantastic!  You’re right that I miss a lot of the in-tent action though.  A lot of my enduring memories have been backstage – John Hegley rehearsing in the green room with Keith Moore; Raymond Antrobus humouring me by reprising a poem I’d caught a brief snippet of when passing through the P&W tent; Hollie McNish, Andreatta Chuma and Pete Hunter performing their segments for the BBC Radio 4 show Glastonbury Poetry Diaries which we recorded in 2010…  I also make the trek up to festival radio Worthy FM’s HQ every year, leading a small gaggle of poets behind me, and we’ve had some really great moments recording poetry for them in the fields.

You’ve seen a lot of young poets who’ve performed at Glastonbury go on to become huge stars in the field of performance poetry and literature. Are there are any who you are especially proud of?

I’m not sure I’d use the word ‘proud,’ as that implies we’re somehow responsible for their achievements, but we have been privileged to book some truly fantastic up and coming poets over the years.  We’ve hosted some particularly strong young performance poets, who’ve come up through the youth spoken word and slam scene, honing their talents on programmes like Slambassadors and in groups like Barbican Young Poets.  By the time we come across them they are already  incredible, strong writers, confident, engaging performers and consummate professionals with a lot of experience performing on the scene. Some names to watch out for this year in that regard are Antosh Wojcik, Megan Beech, Kayo Chingonyi, Charlotte Higgins and Vanessa Kisuule.  We’ve had Antosh and Vanessa along in the past, and the others will be joining us for the first time this year.

Can you share any of your more weirder moments at Glastonbury?

I’ll always remember the first time John Hegley performed with Keith Moore.  Keith plays the double bass and we had to get them and their instruments safely off site after the gig.  I’d tried to organise some kind of transport, but after about an hour of failure on that front, I ended up borrowing a wheelbarrow.  We then proceeded to push this, laden with Keith’s double bass, up a variety of muddy, crowded slopes to the car park!

Have you ever been tempted to persuade Michael or Emily Eavis to sign up for the Poetry Slam?

Michael has been spotted hanging out in the Poetry&Words tent, but I’m not sure how he or Emily would respond if I asked them to join in on stage!  They’d have to be quick anyway, if they wanted to sign up.  The lists for the slam and the open mic fill up really quickly and both are really popular events.  I’m sure some of the lure of the slam is the fact that the winner gets a spot in the following year’s programme, but there’s also the kudos of competing in one of the longest running slams in the country and performing on the same stage as some of the top poets in the UK and beyond.

The running of the Poetry&Words tent is a military operation with a handful of dedicated staff zig-zagging like honey bees trying to keep everything ticking over. I’ve seen how stressful it can get but has there ever been a situation that has completely flummoxed you?

There’s always something. It constantly amazes me that such a vast and complex festival appears to come off so smoothly every year.  Usually, whatever hitches there are stay firmly behind the scenes, but occasionally there’s something that shows front of stage.  Two particular incidents spring to mind: A few years’ ago, we were almost half an hour late oepning on the first morning as we were missing our fire exit signs.  You might think the exits are obvious in a large tent, but Health and Safety rules say we can’t open without the signs, so we had to put the show on hold while we franticly tried to obtain some.  Luckily our intrepid compere, Dreadlockalien, was able to keep our audience entertained outside the tent by rapping into a small PA he just happened to have on hand!  I now keep my own supply of fire exit signs on standby just in case…

The other incident happened last year.  Just as our Friday evening headliners, The Fugitives, were due to take the stage, there was a big thunder storm and all tents were ordered to cut the power to their generators.  The Fugitives are an amazing four piece poetry band from Canada and they were obviously expecting to perform with full amplification.  Luckily they are consummate professionals and took it all in their stride.  They stepped down from the stage, drew the audience close and performed unplugged to an incredibly attentive crowd.  It turned out to be a wonderfully intimate gig in the suddenly quiet setting of Bella’s Field.

Finally, you’re taking this year off and handing over the reins to Benita Johnson, due to the arrival of baby Johnson. What words of wisdom would you give to Benita to cope in your absence? And do you plan to return to Glastonbury next year with young Jake?

Benita’s held me up (sometimes literally!) as I’ve run the stage for the past four years, so I’m not sure there’s much I could say that would surprise her!  Also, she will have a solid crew to rely on in the form of Jack Bird, Joe Sawdon-Smith, Paul Vallis, Jane Yarham and our brilliant sound guys Mark Bothwick and Adrian Keefe.  I guess I’d tell her to rely on their experience and to listen to her own advice to me – roll with the punches, enjoy the highs, remember to take breaks (and eat!) and believe that, ultimately, it will all come together wonderfully, as it always does!

Baby Jake and I are hoping to come to the festival this year just for the Saturday and Sunday, but we will be there in a strictly punters-only capacity.  Next year, we should be back as a whole family, running the P&W stage.  I imagine Jake will be giving the orders!  Talking of which, would anyone like to see my baby photos?  He’s really very cute…

He is. I’ve seen the photos..so many photos. So, future Glastonbury poets – be prepared to be stage-managed by a very serious toddler 😉

More exclusive interviews on the way…

Scott 🙂

 

Featured Artist: Julian Ramsey-Wade

Julian_r-w

Q1) What is your connection with Poetry&Words?
Some of the facts may be distorted by memory – this is Glastonbury we’re talking about after all. I think I first went to the festival in the early 90’s and connected with the Poetry&Words Tent in 1997’ish’. I’m just not sure. I was still cutting teeth as a naïve performer when I first enrolled into the community that Pat V T West had created there as a performer, doing a 15 minute set at first. 

Back in Bristol, I co-hosted and coordinated the Verscity Slam for 3 or so years, with my wife Christine E Ramsey-Wade, and on the back of that we were invited to host the Glastonbury Poetry Slam at least a couple of times. That was a real privilege; we got to give away guest performer tickets for the following year to the winners. We were, quite literally, invited to a place we love to do a thing we love which resulted in us giving artists we loved a prize they loved.

Speaking of love, there is a real soul connection too; Glastonbury Festival is one of my favourite places on earth, I love it, and I love the essence of the artists, performers and poets that the environment tends to attract. I’ve been back a few times since, most recently as host of the open mic. in 2010; that too was a real privilege, sharing in the creation of the magic.

Q2) If you had to describe the Poetry & Words stage in just three words, what would they be?
Artistic, routes, extravagstanza.

Q3) How would you describe Glastonbury Festival to someone who’s never been there?
In three more words? Get a ticket.

Q4) Can you name two other poets who you admire?
Yes. I could name 20 before pausing to draw breath for thought; but if we are sticking at just two, I must choose wisely… Wait… I actually can’t do this, so instead I will tell you that these aren’t my “favourite poets” per se, but… Soul Thomas Williams’ performance of “Ohm” in the 1996 US national finals from the film Slam Nation is one of the single most inspiring performances of Hip Hop / Slam / Poetry fusion that I’ve ever seen:

You can’t write lines like, “I burn seven day candles that melt into twelve inch circles on my mantle and spin funk like myrrh” without someone pointing out how awesome that is. He won the individual prize that year.  Rudyard Kipling’s “If” (voted the nation’s favourite poem) is another of my all time ever things, in and out of the world of poetry:
http://www.kipling.org.uk/poems_if.htm

 
Q5) What kinds of things inspire you to write?
Ha, don’t get me started! Contradictions. When apparently good people have polarized views, either they have something to learn, or I do.


Q6) Where is the most unusual place you’ve performed your work?
The Galleries shopping centre in Bristol was unusual; people don’t come to a shopping centre to listen to poetry, do they? It was a very rewarding feeling when people did stop. At one point we had people peering over the balconies from the two floors above us. But, hands down, a rock bar in Den Heldar, Holland, was definitely the most challenging. It was a place where Friday night drinkers came to listen to loud music.  It was rowdy and I didn’t think they could even understand what we were saying; I actually thought we were going to get lynched at one point but it turns out they loved us. As the barman put it, “Things would have been a lot worse if they didn’t like you!”

Q7) What are you working on at the moment?
A table. Da dum dum ching! My wife, kids and the daze job keep me busy, but I do find time for my bi-weekly outlet, Acoustic Night Bristol. Also, I have been looking back through about 5 years of unfinished ideas with a view to completing them as works. After reading an article on Facebook that I found shared by the troubadour that is known as Jo Bell, “20 top tips for writers,” I came to realize how much I needed to be reminded that writing and editing are two separate processes. This has really re-opened the channels for the juices to flow through. Amazing how much more you can achieve when you switch your self-critical gene off. This doesn’t mean that I’ll have a load more performable pieces but it does mean I’ll have more pieces and I reckon that one, two or a few of them will be performable by the time I’m done.

Q8) What’s the closest rhyme for ‘orange’ you can find?
Purple. Let’s put this in a sentence, shall we? “I watched her pull her purple cart up to the line that marked the start of the shooting gallery, or range.” “Pint” is another tough one.

Q9) Can we have a poem please?
OK. This is from the Skype overload slam, the world’s first, and currently last, Skype video link poetry slam. Bristol VS Melbourne from opposite sides of the world! I think this is the only available video there is of any of my work so, oh well:

Q10) Where can we find out more about your work?
I don’t do self-promotion. Come to Acoustic Night in Bristol, so that we can learn more about your work:
http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Acoustic-Night-Bristol/116688498377873