How I Fell In Love With Poetry

I haven’t been posting lately. I wrote a poetry show, though. Seriously! A whole show, with words, and poems, and feminist theory and a song at the end and EVERYTHING. I mean, it’s not done yet, obviously, but it’s a solid, recognisable first draft. I am thrilled.

Also surprised. I did an MA in Writing, but I never wanted to write poetry. I wanted to be a novelist – all up in a cafe with a latte and a macbook, being all moody and dreaming about how much ass I was going to get once I won a Booker prize. I thought poets seemed like a bunch of self aggrandising, deeper-than-thou tossers. And, I thought I’d never get published.

But I also thought – “Hey. I’m self funding this MA. I’m going to squeeze this place dry of every last little drop of knowledge I can wring from its tatty yet hallowed halls.” So I basically audited everything I could get my little studenty mitts on.

One of the courses I mooched was called The Apprentice for Artists. It was run by Adriano Shaplin and Peter Blegvad, and the concept was (this was a creative writing department – there was normally a concept) that every week we’d try a new form of art out. So we did cartoons, radio plays, flash fiction, trying to be psychic … everything we could think of. And one week it was Slam Poetry.

This was back when Slam was still a fairly American thing. I’d never heard of it. But Adriano sat us down and told us about these aggressive, awesome sounding poetry nights they have in America, where everyone drinks beer and someone wins $100, and he played us a string of youtubes, charting performance poetry from the beat poets of the 60’s through to present day Slam. The first clip he showed us was this –

And … Boom. Mindblown. Brilliant. I literally couldn’t believe that something could be so clear, and so true, and so … bloody good. And it was a poem! A POEM. That was first read in front of thousands of protestors as they scuffled with the police below the stage, and was written not because the author wanted to show off how clever they were, but because they had something they wanted to say. Needed to say.

Adriano announced that the next week, he was bringing in a crate of beer and we were having a slam. And everyone had to write three poems.


But I did it. And I won. And that gave me the confidence to enter a slam when I moved to Oxford. And because of that, I kept doing it, and got better, and made friends, and, most helpful of all, held on to a bit of a sense of self for the 18 months I was working in insurance and living in a soulless suburban estate. It gave me something to be when I wasn’t a student any more. I didn’t have to be a corporate drone. I could be a poet.

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