Q: So do you like poetry or do you hate it or what?
It has become a bit of a running joke that someone (me) who spends so much of his time writing and performing poetry, writing reviews of other people’s poetry events and making a monthly poetry podcast can’t possibly really hate poetry: “How hilarious that he continues to pretend to hate it!” The simple answer is that I do hate poetry, you twats. However, I love the power of individual poems to connect with and affect audiences. It’s this power that attracts me to the art form.
The reason for the hate comes from the seemingly endless stream of shit poetry and the exclusive air that pervades a lot of the London poetry scene. I’ll go on to talk about the shit poetry in a bit but for now I’ll concentrate on the snobbery of a large number of poets. I feel that it is a huge shame that the right to express oneself in verse (or indeed prose) remains, mainly, the preserve of the educated or affluent. We need to remind ourselves that the right to communicate in any way we choose is inherent to us all. Whether or not barriers do exist it cannot be ignored that some people do feel excluded and feel it’s too intimidating to attend certain events.
I’m also bipolar and my sometimes obsessive nature leads me to often hate my own creative endeavours while, perversely, pushing me to continue with the process.
Q: You chat with poets and then upload the conversations as podcasts, why do you do that?
I’ve been wanting to start an aural/oral history project for a while now and the podcast format seemed attractive for a couple of reasons, but Scroobius Pip put it well in a recent podcast of his when he said something along the lines of, in the age of Twitter and social media status updates, podcasts are re-introducing the art of long conversation. This appeals to me a lot.
The idea of a poetry podcast was the result of a series of conversations with Paul McMenemy, the editor of Lunar Poetry. These conversations kept finding their way back to the lack of critical discussion within spoken word.
This brings me back to shit poetry. I strongly believe that bad poetry is, in part, the result of the overtly amiable environment that the poetry scene currently exists in. I don’t think poets are critical enough about the work of their peers (at least not to their face or in print.) We won’t grow as artists if audiences applaud our every utterance. I started making the L.P. pods in order to initiate critical conversations among poets and, hopefully, other artists. The aim of the conversations is to start debates rather than resolve them. It has never been my intention to claim a position of authority, but to highlight topics which I believe are under-discussed or perhaps discussed in what I think is the wrong way.
Q: You also run a poetry-night, I’ve never run a poetry-night, tell me a thing or two about running a poetry-night.
The best thing about running a poetry night is watching it happen. Seeing poets connecting with audiences, and audience members connecting with each other, is great, and of course the ego boost of knowing you made it all happen is pretty fulfilling. The danger though is getting caught up in that nonsense and settling for doing the same thing every month in front of the same crowd.
Starting a poetry night is really easy, as all you need are people to read and people to listen. Things like venues and sound equipment (you don’t need a fucking mic!) are minor worries. I would advise people to try and start something a bit different but that may just be a selfish wish for variety.
Q: Most of the Lunar Poetry podcast guests and the Silence Found A Tongue features have been white, why does David Turner hate black people? [Joke, I won’t actually print that!] [[Oh, okay: the question was entirely intended as throwaway silliness but D.T. wanted to give a serious answer and wanted me to print it.]]
Now, I know you’ve got your tongue in your cheek while asking that, but I have, of course, had black and mixed-race guests, though listeners wouldn’t necessarily know as I would never point out this fact in the podcast description. As it’s a purely audio based medium it seems that there would actually be a real danger of then trying to choose guests that somehow ‘sound black’ to highlight how inclusive my guest list is. This would obviously be ridiculous.
It is definitely a concern of mine as to whether I should be more conscious of selecting guests based on their ethnicity, gender or sexuality. When I started the pods I held the belief that I would just choose the guest that could address that month’s topic most eloquently, and that this would naturally lead to a mix of guests. This assumption was based on me being an arts-loving liberal wanker surrounded by other arts-loving liberal wankers. The truth, though, is that I ‘work’ within a scene for which white, heterosexual males have designed all the mechanisms of entry.
If black people (if we are to, rather oddly, single them out) want to come along and perform at our night, SFAT, then they can. They will then be seen by me, and the chance for them to be invited to guest on the podcast will present itself. This is probably bullshit though. I’ve come to realise recently that this is a pretty ignorant and narrow view. I suppose what we should really be asking is, “What can we do to attract a mix of people to the night, rather than sitting back and waiting for them to turn up?”
I don’t have an answer at the moment, but I’m definitely, regularly, asking myself whether I should be employing more positive discrimination when considering guests. This is almost certainly going to be the topic of a future podcast.
Q: I go back and forth on whether I believe there’s a London poetry-scene to speak of or just separate bubbles of individuals individually pursuing their career aspirations, do you feel you’re part of a poetry-scene?
I would, boringly, say that a scene of separate bubbles exists. The existence of a scene is inevitable in a large city, as a scene can be simply a collection of disparate factions, as well as different groups moving in a similar creative direction.
There are certainly different cliques and groups, but I think this just reflects how London deals with all forms of art. London scenes are often defined by the pursuit of individuality, which normally results in the individual identifying with a group of people claiming to be individual in exactly the same way. This may be why there isn’t much critical discussion as, although audiences are very accepting of differing performing styles, I think that a lot of this acceptance is based on the knowledge that this particular poet will go back to their own clique after their performance, and the audience can bitch about them afterward.
I still consider myself an artist rather than a poet so I don’t believe I fit into any particular scene or scenes. Though I’m not a fucking idiot (well, maybe), and I know that I must because I think scenes are often classified by outside observers rather than the artists themselves. I’m sure it wouldn’t be particularly difficult for an observer to identify me as part of a particular scene. Where would you place me?
Q: First let me say where I disagree with you: “The existence of a scene is inevitable in a large city…” I don’t think a collection of artists making art inbetween their beers and day-jobs in itself constitutes an art-scene, I don’t think we all revere the Beats just because they were living in roughly the same place at roughly the same time: there has to be some shared vision, shared intensity, a something-is-happening buzz in the present and a let’s-push-things-forward attitude to the future. So I would place you as someone who’s working for that sort of scene, trying to create new connections, conversations, critiques. If you agree or sort-of-agree, I suppose the obvious next question would be, assuming a poetry-scene is a good thing, how can it be better? What could poets be doing that we aren’t currently doing?
I think maybe all we’re disagreeing on here is the meaning of the term scene. I don’t believe there needs to be any level of professionalism or coherent collective direction to constitute a scene. Though I definitely agree that any scene sharing these factors would be stronger for it. Maybe we should be using the word movement instead?
I agree with your placement of me as someone pushing for more unity of vision in the spoken word community. Though, I don’t know if this places me anywhere in particular. A desire for more unity with regard to moving spoken word forward among poets in the U.K. was a driving force behind the podcasts.
While we disagree on whether or not there is a scene in London [Well, I said I go back and forth on the matter!] I don’t think it’s as open and healthy as it could be. It’s definitely held back by the selfish and insular attitudes of many poets. I’ve mentioned it a few times on the pods and I still don’t know how it would be implemented, but I’d like to see some more critical poetry nights, maybe with open-floor discussions of the poetry rather than any form of heckling. The scene in London, or indeed anywhere, won’t grow without this critical discussion and without it the scene will remain just that, and never become a movement.
Q: If you were me, what last question would you ask yourself? And what would the answer be?
“How would you like the podcast to develop?”
I want the podcasts to stay fresh and I think ultimately that means introducing more hosts to bring in different perspectives. The purpose of the pods was not to give me a platform to rant (I’ll do that on the No.35 bus if I want), but to start interesting discussions. If everything goes to plan then the twelfth episode will go out in October and after that I will be handing over several episodes to other people. I recently started putting out some shorter podcasts which will begin to have guest hosts as early as April.
“Silence Found A Tongue,” co-hosted by David Turner and Lizzie Palmer, takes place at the charming I’klectik café in Lambeth on the second Tuesday of every month; if you haven’t been yet you’re a mug. The Lunar Poetry podcasts have their own ever-growing Youtube channel and are all worth a listen.