Introducing: Helen and Benita Johnson, Organisers of Glastonbury Poetry&Words

The Johnsons, by Scott Tyrrell

The Johnsons, by Scott Tyrrell

Time to tell you something about the history of the stage, and thereby Helen Johnson, who’ll be there with partner Benita every day, barring a natural disaster! If they’re new to you/ you’d like a reminder, read on:

In Helen’s own words:

“The Poetry&Words stage was set up in 1992 by Pat V T West. It started off in a yurt and then moved quickly to a small stage in the corner of the Green Fields. Just before her untimely death in 2008 Pat called me to her flat in Clifton to ask me if I would take over the stage. To say I was taken aback would be a massive under-statement. I had absolutely no idea that was coming! At the time, I was in the midst of my PhD, juggling that with a full-time teaching job. I had no idea how I could possibly run a festival stage too, but you just can’t say no to that!

“So I said yes – on condition that the infrastructure was sorted out for me. (No arriving two weeks’ before to a bare patch of grass for me; I needed the tent up already!) So it was that the Poetry&Words stage moved to Theatre and Circus, who had a tent they would house us in for a few hours a day; a tent, as it turned out, that was several times the size of Poetry&Words Mark I.

“That first year, before I headed off to a conference in Saskatoon, Canada, I packed two bags – one for Canada and one for Glastonbury. After the conference, I got back to my house, had a shower, switched bags and caught the train to the festival! I had a skeleton crew that first year and ran much of it myself – compering, performing, organising etc, alongside a few helpers and poets. By the Sunday, I was so exhausted by jet lag and festival fever that I literally fell asleep on my feet (to quite a lively band, as it happens!)

“Anyway, fast forward to 2010. The stage now ran all day and I had a full crew to help me with it (having discovered the wonders of delegation). At the time, I was performing my poetry as part of the duo, Yaffle, with musician, Benita Johnson. I invited Benita along to perform with me at the festival. Two years later we were married (not something, I can assure you, that happens with everyone I book, though we did get engaged at the festival in 2011).

“When we had our son, Jake, in 2015, Benita stood in for me as stage manager, and I had the pleasure of attending as a punter for only the third time ever, along with our 6 week old boy. Benita proved to be so adept at running the stage, that we’ve worked together on it ever since. I suspect that Jake won’t be far behind. He helped me laminate Scott Tyrrell’s bunting this year, talking to each of the poets as they went through the laminator. (Some were told off for being naughty, but most, you’ll be pleased to hear, behaved well and made friends with him on their journey.)”

Reviews:

“Her sparkling witty poetry is continuing to wow audiences on the performance poetry circuit.” ~ Three Tuns Poetry

“…poignant yet sultry and stirring, complex and sweet.” ~ Everton Hartley

“She glides and canters over hills and vales of words leaving a landscape of language hanging on the wall of your mind.” ~ Mal Travers, Acoustic Night

“Like Ani DiFranco on steroids.” ~ Bob (happy audience member at a Yaffle performance)

Fay Other people’s words:

I really wanted to highlight the folk who make this all possible. It turns out we haven’t heard explicitly from Helen since Scott’s interview in 2015, so it felt like time! In a total cop-out, I canvassed those poets who I know who’ve worked with Helen (and Benita) in the past. They have this to say:

“These two create, curate, and nurture one of the most unique stages at Glasto – a true space for listeners to open themselves or take a quiet breath among the chaos. The two of them create life changing experiences for poets – I can genuinely say going to Glasto, my first ever gig in the U.K., was transformative – and it was thanks to them.” – Erin Fornoff

“How hard Helen and Benita work for make P&W happen is indescribable by even a billion villanelles!

“Loadsa folks believe these things ‘just happen’, they don’t consider how much organisation it takes to make it happen. That attitude is the greatest sign the event is well managed, cos most people only notice when stuff goes wrong. P&W is a Glastonbury Festival staple any poet worth their sonnets is proud to shout about being on the team.

“Helen has deeply studied the art of performance poetry, she knows what makes a solid stanza, and her love for our art is evident in all she achieves.

“Long may P&W’s flags triumphantly fly!” – Dominic Berry

“I met Helen around 2003, when we were both part of the Bristol poetry scene, and when Pat West was still the P&W boss. The stage has grown and diversified so dramatically in the years since Helen’s been at the helm and I’m so glad to still be a part of it now, and to see her and her growing family (and amazing thigh-bum-bag thing) pottering gloriously around the site!” – Rosy Carrick

“We met Helen and Benita at Larmer Tree festival in 2011. I had submitted The Antipoet for Glastonbury, along with a couple of thousand other people that year. I had never seen so much negativity on social media before! Many people that realised they hadn’t been chosen were angry and expressed themselves accordingly. I felt I needed to address the balance and simply wrote on line, that even though they hadn’t been selected, that they would happily step in if anyone had a problem at the last minute and thanked them for all their hard work and wished them good luck with it all. A few similar responses appeared after mine and the ‘angries’ petered out. I received a response a couple of days later stating that yes, I was correct in thinking that they hadn’t got Glastonbury but would they be interested in Larmer Tree, another poetry Stage that Helen ran? Yes please! They did it, had a ball and found a great fan base that saw them being asked to play there every year since. I didn’t give up submitting to Glastonbury and the next year when they were given the second opportunity to play Larmer Tree, they were pleased but Ian simply acknowledged my text notifying them with a, ‘lovely, I guess that means no Glastonbury’. I said, ‘never say never’ and a few weeks afterwards we were told they had been successful in applying for Poetry and Words as well that year! I cannot put into words how happy they both were as I’m the manager and they’re the creatives but I can still remember the look on Paul’s face when I read out the email over breakfast. He never did finish that boiled egg.

“Having done that I realise it’s more how they all got together than about Helen and Benita themselves 😮 It just all came flooding back. The fact that they’re lovely people, who have a stupidly hard job sorting through submissions every year and juggling poets that can really handle festivals and create a good mix across the board in all areas whilst looking for performers they know that can trust to turn up and do the job should be forgotten either.” – Donna Ray, Manager of The Antipoet

“Both Helen and Benita have thrown themselves into the gargantuan task of getting a world class lineup together every single year. A lineup that flows and wows seamlessly and effortlessly over 3 days. They’ve worked hard to get a first class backstage team to grease the wheels, and they have an unerring eye for spotting talent and giving them a platform at the world’s greatest outdoor festival. The likes of Luke Wright, Kate Tempest and Hollie McNish all started out being picked for Poetry&Words when they were bright, young, hungry things. And I personally have huge gratitude for being allowed to have plied both my love of illustration and spoken word at such an amazing place regularly over the years. I am truly in their debt.” – Scott Tyrrell


I’m really looking forward to finally meeting Helen and Benita in person later this month and telling them in person what an amazing job they do! ♥

Sneak preview:

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Introducing: Fay Roberts, blogger

Fay Roberts (c) Louise Frohock

Performing for the first time with us is Fay Roberts, 12:05-12:30 Sunday. If ze’s new to you/ you’d like a reminder, read on:

In zir own words:

“Born in 1975, Fay is a classically-trained singer from Cardiff who has been getting on stages since the early ’80s. Ze was finally bitten by the performance poetry bug in Spring 2006 in, of all places, Milton Keynes, after a favour to a friend turned into a place in the final of a poetry slam. These days ze describes zirself as ‘a performance poet and peripatetic percussionist who by day pokes projects and by night projects across a microphone…’

“Ze has been involved with the Cambridge chapter of Hammer & Tongue since 2010, hosting it since January 2012; and frequently performs across Central and South-East England. Ze set up Cambridge arts label Allographic in 2011, hosting live events and producing poetry anthologies, pamphlets, and books. Ze has been the Artistic Director of Spoken Word at The Free Fringe in Edinburgh since 2013, and host of critically-acclaimed Fringe show Other Voices Spoken Word Cabaret since 2012. In 2014, ze ‘won’ the Edinburgh Fringe Anti-Slam (where the worst poem and performance with the lowest points wins a terrible prize), as judged by Mark Grist, Rachel McCrum, and Oh Standfast. In 2017, zir first solo show, The Selkie, was shortlisted as best spoken word show of 2016-17.

“Ze still sings – it’s actually practically impossible to stop zir…

“Zir work has been described as: ‘lyrical’, ‘engaging’, ‘scarily good’ and, memorably: ‘too many words… I got lost…’ Zir voice has been described as: ‘musical’, ‘mellifluous’, and ‘mesmerising’.

“Fay has performed poetry in: pubs, clubs, theatres, tents, shopping centres and stately gardens; in open mic, showcases, features, support, collaboration, competition and costume. Sometimes ze bangs a drum, and sometimes ze performs in silence, while the words flutter in front of zir…”

Reviews:

“We need more poetry like this… funny, confident, modest and a really bloody good poet to listen to” Hollie McNish

“Her poetry combines lyrical flair with a solid emotional core… there is no one quite like her” Tim Clare

“Gorgeously sensuous” SabotageReviews.com

“Known to us as ‘The Welsh Whisperer’, Fay Roberts has the ability to bring a room to total silence, her mellifluous tones sending her audience into a dream like trance… cannot recommend her highly enough.” – Paul Eccentric, speaking part of The Antipoet

Fay’s Scott’s words:

As Fay has been exquisitely bigging up the rest of us, I decided as a Poetry Blogging Alum to say a few words about zir.

With the calm of a Summer pond and the voice of an ASMR specialist, Fay is a velvet cushion of a poet, threading words together with the weft and warp of a witch with a PhD in word crochet. We first met many years ago at the now no-more Jibba Jabba spoken word night in Newcastle where ze was headlining and I was main support. I was doing my usual ‘well if I’m not headlining I’m going to be amazing and storm this to make the headliner work for the top slot’ load of bollocks, Prima Donna thing. No one need have worried, not only did ze deliver a beautiful, layered set but ze’d actually written a poem during the course of the night celebrating the best lines and sentiments spoken on stage that evening. I was extremely impressed.

Not only is ze a wonderful, respected poet in zir own right, an hilarious send-up of the archetypal Somerset hippy as zir Anti-Slam alter-ego, Melody Starchild, but ze’s also an amazing Hammer & Tongue Host, an unwavering, stoic advocate for Spoken Word and a voice of calm reason in a sea of artistic temperaments. It’s no wonder ze’s been asked to be Poetry Blogger this year for the world’s most iconic outdoor festival. And I reckon ze’s already doing a better job than I did. And I stormed it. Amazing, I was. People still talk about it 😉

Sneak preview:

Introducing: Scott Tyrrell, illustrator

scott Tyrrell
Back to perform with us is Scott Tyrrell, 15:05-15:30 Saturday . If he’s new to you/ you’d like a reminder, read on:

In his own words:

“Scott has been a poet and performer since the turn of the century. An award-winning comedian, creative director and multiple slam-winning poet (including the BBC Slam and UK Anti- Slam), he has performed his work at Glastonbury, the Edinburgh Fringe, the Prague Fringe, STAnza, WOMAD, Larmer Tree and the Cheltenham Literature Festival. He has written for TV, radio and performed for Radio 4, Radio 3’s the Verb, Sky Atlantic, ITV, BBC4 and BBC Arts. His most recent poetry collection, Honest, is published by Burning Eye Books. He lives in Newcastle with his wife, son, a goldfish, a one-eyed cat and a small fluffy dog.”

Reviews:

“Scott Tyrrell is one of the best comic poets there is.” – Kate Fox, poet and presenter

“A writer who has always had a singular voice of resilience, humour and self-knowledge. Scott is a poet who understands what it is to be uncomfortable in your own skin, and how the gaze of others can compound that feeling, but he’s also a poet who can find the funny bone in anything and everything.” – Beccy Owen, Singer Songwriter

“Brilliant” – Phill Jupitus

“Scott has a weird kid’s cynicism and wonder, an artist’s eye for the telling detail, and a stand-up’s guts when it comes to stating the truth in all its ugly, miraculous glory.” – Tim Clare, Author

“Scott is one of those rare poets who can have you belly-laughing one moment before stunning you with some powerful poignancy the next. He is a super-engaging performer whose charismatic stage presence is backed up by a depth and diversity of high quality writing.” – Dan Simpson, Former Canterbury Poet Laureate

Fay’s words:

The first time I saw Scott performing was in Newcastle. I was nervously perched at the back of the auditorium, knowing no-one but the person who’d booked me, who’d had to leave early. I’d maybe met the host of the event once, in a darkened open mic at Edinburgh Fringe. I was doing that thing I do when I’m nervous, which is pick up bits of the poems I’ve seen through the night and weave them into a tribute for the performers. The format of the open mic was organised chaos, where the artists flung themselves onto the stage without order, setup, or introduction, and somehow it worked wonderfully. (Jibba Jabba was a wonderful night – a moment’s silence, please.) Then Scott, the other booked performer, came up and I nearly dropped my pen. In a self-deprecating but incredibly authoritative manner, he spun out some of the most gorgeous poetry I’d heard in possibly ever. And then had me rocking with laughter the next minute, before proceeding to have me dab surreptitiously at my eye. This was a man who turned every feeling – rage, dismay, love, pride, frustration, exasperation, embarrassment, and joy – into unforgettable imagery, so tightly crafted there was no room to slide so much as a sheet of paper between them. And then I saw him spank the BBC EdFringe Slam into submission as people cackled and cooed, and we had to somehow judge it. And then he toured Hammer & Tongue and held our often cynical Cambridge audience right in the palm of his hand and sold out of books quicker than I’ve ever seen anyone do there.

And then it turns out that he’s a ridiculously talented illustrator, who’s literally mapped the UK & Ireland spoken word scene and several years of Glastonbury Poetry&Words. It’s going to be wonderful seeing that deadpan wit and wisdom shine at the Festival next month! In addition, he’ll be live illustrating each day’s performances.

Sneak preview:

Introducing the Chroniclers

Hello there! How’s 2019 shaping up for you so far?

Applications for this year have closed and, while the rest of the team are busy picking some of the best spoken word artists out there for Glastonbury Poetry&Words, we thought we’d take this opportunity to introduce you to two of the other people whose job starts well before June in chronicling what’s to come and the weekend itself.

Images

Did you know that Glastonbury Poetry&Words have our own illustrator and on-site artist during the Festival? Scott Tyrrell will be rendering the artists into art as he has done for the past several Glastonbury Festivals. Here’s some more about him:

scott@1.5x-8

Scott has been a poet and performer since the turn of the century. An award-winning comedian, creative director and multiple slam-winning poet (including the BBC Slam and UK Anti-Slam), he has performed his work at Glastonbury, the Edinburgh Fringe, the Prague Fringe, STAnza, WOMAD, Larmer Tree and the Cheltenham Literature Festival. He has written for TV, radio and performed for Radio 4, Radio 3’s the Verb, Sky Atlantic, ITV, BBC4 and BBC Arts. His most recent poetry collection, Honest, is published by Burning Eye Books. He lives in Newcastle with his wife, son, a goldfish, a one-eyed cat and a small fluffy dog.

Words

And joining him to document the long weekend in words (and the occasional photo), and to let you know what’s coming up via this site, is Glastonbury Poetry&Words 2019’s blogger, Fay Roberts. Here’s some more about, well, me (hi):

Fay@1.5x-8

Fay Roberts is a peripatetic, percussive performance poet by night, and a professional projector by day. Ze runs the Cambridge branch of the Hammer & Tongue slam series, and zir own poetry label Allographic (which functions as a small press and a platform for performers), along with directing the Spoken Word section of The Free Fringe in Edinburgh from 2013 to present. Ze is a classically-trained singer, a self-taught drummer, a bit of a mumbler sometimes, and speaks with zir hands. In 2014, ze “won” the Edinburgh Fringe Anti-Slam (channelling the spirit of Melody Starchild). In 2017, zir first solo show, “The Selkie”, was shortlisted as best spoken word show of 2016-17.

(I promise to keep this “writing about myself in third person” stuff to a minimum! ☺)

Are you following us on social media? You can find us on Twitter, Facebook, and now Instagram, and we’ll be using the tag #GlastoPoetry19 where at all possible.

Joaquin Zihuatanejo’s tribute to the cows of Worthy Farm

A couple of weeks ago I asked a bunch of the Glasto poets if they’d like (if they had the time) to write a few lines of verse in tribute to the bonny bovines whose home we are about to squat in for a week. I was chuffed at the response which I’ve posted in the previous blog. But I was incredibly touched that our Friday night headliner, a World Poetry Slam champ and incredible spoken word artist has also penned this touching tribute…

cows

Of Cows and Men

They are moving the cows for us
Nay, they are moving the cows because of us
We, the intrusive humans
So in love with the sound of our own voices
While they, the divine bovine
Love only grass, the gentle breeze and other cows
Whose place will I take on that field
With my tent and books and pocket full of poems
Will they send the poor beast to Texas to graze in my backyard
And if they do, and my poor wife leaves the gate open
And the cow heads east and slightly north toward Glastonbury
Managing only to make it as far as Fort Worth
And stumbles upon a solitary Texas longhorn grazing in a pasture
Will he look down upon the steer
With his American moo so queer
To the ear of the more refined British cow
Will they argue the merits of Huck Finn and Harry Potter,
Of Longfellow and Whitman
Of Perry Mason and Sherlock Holmes
Will he long for home
Or will he be glad to have roamed
And what of the stoic steer
Will he be filled with rage
That something so foreign is so near
Or will they find a way to put aside their differences
And realize that they
Like we
Are cut from the same cloth
Creatures and brothers separated by an ocean
And the foolish notion
That the grass is always greener on the other side

I am so looking forward to this!!! Next blog will be from a field in Pilton

Scott 🙂

 

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…

rosy

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…

vanessa2

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…

meg4

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.

erin

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 🙂