Sunday, January 13, 2013

Is poetry the new comedy?

The performance poetry scene is in excellent health. Daisy Bowie-Sell asks what everyone is getting excited about.

Poet Zena Edwards

Poet Zena Edwards Photo: Elinor Jones

In a room at the back of a dark, dank pub in East London a group of people are heckling a man with a microphone. “Two out of ten!” shouts someone; “seven out of ten!” shouts another as the room laughs. The man onstage could be a stand-up comedian being bothered by a rowdy audience. But this isn’t comedy – this is poetry.
Hammer and Tongue is one of the many performance poetry nights happening every week all over the country. Contrary to the stereotyped view of poetry recitals – pale romantics reading to an enraptured, silent audience – these are dynamic, two-way events filled with noise. This evening’s event is called a slam: poets perform their set, the audience vote, and those with the most points go the next round until there is an overall winner. Winning is as much about the performance as the poetry.
Thirty-year-old Sam Berkson – stage name Angry Sam – is the East London coordinator of Hammer and Tongue. He started performing with the collective in Oxford and has worked with them for eight years. He knows from experience how hard it can be for a poet to face a loud audience. Starting out, he tells me at the launch of his first printed collection, “I was really forgettable, I used to come back every week and would get announced as ‘a poet that we’ve never had before’. It made me realise I might have been clever in my own head, but the test is how humans react to it.” 
Berkson acknowledges the division between “performance” and “page” poetry: “It’s like a class division: an underground class versus the establishment.” But he also thinks this division “artificial” and plenty of other poets agree. Performance poetry veteran Salena Godden sees herself primarily as a writer: “I just happen to read out my stuff,” she says.

Full piece at The Telegraph

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