Let’s Push Things Forward

There’s a group of ageing Hollywood actors who appear to have given up learning their craft. They might have been a hot ticket in town 30 years ago, but now they turn up in forgettable films, probably thinking only of the paycheck.

For as long as I write and perform spoken word, I never want to slip into this mentality. I always want to be able to look at other poets – and folks in other creative fields – and take something from their work that hadn’t occurred to me.

To chart my progress so far, I need to go back to the Millennium, years before I began writing. This was when I first heard the Gil Scott Heron track The Revolution Will Not Be Televised on the radio.

Gil Scott-Heron
Gil Scott-Heron (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’d never heard anything like it, this relentless and repetitive stream of consciousness with cultural and political references I only half understood. It opened my eyes to what can be done with words. I eventually bought the whole album on vinyl, and it’s of an equally high standard.

Another early influence was Original Pirate Material, the debut album by The Streets, and its follow-up A Grand Don’t Come for Free. I was at university at this time and whenever I listen to these, I’m transported back there.

Looking back, I can now spot weak points in the lyrics, but I particularly admire the concept album structure of the latter. There are two other major releases by The Streets that followed these, but I’ve never liked them as much as the first two.

These days, I continue to be influenced by those I’ve seen and heard: the humour of John Cooper Clarke, the forthrightness of Andrea Gibson, the politics of Alan Bissett.

I recently attended two performances by my friend Gemma Connell, who’s a dancer. But as well as movements, she made prolonged eye contact and even brief physical contact with members of the audience. And last week, I once again saw Luke Wright, who gave an energetic performance of What I Learned from Johnny Bevan. I’m now asking myself how can I make an audience feel the same way as I did, but using my own words.

Of course, there comes a point where I can have too much creative input and I think I’ve reached that stage now. So I’m going to let it settle, then start writing my own original pirate material.

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Gavin’s improv chums.

On Thursday, I was asked to take part in an event at short notice as one of the poets was unwell. Flow! is a project by Gemma Connell where a poet is teamed up with a dancer. The dancer knows nothing about what the poet will read and has to react spontaneously. The best way to explain it is by watching part of Thursday’s event:

The first poet in this video was the fabulous Amy Gilbrook. She performs most of her work from memory and makes excellent use of internal rhyme. I’d met her before, but I wasn’t acquainted with the dancers.

There are challenges to complete throughout the night, including a section where audience members are invited to writes phrases on pieces of paper. The poets then must assemble these into a new poem, then read it out there and then.

Each dancer and each poet is allowed to take part in no more than three Flow! events, so there’s a potential to take part in two more, and I would happily oblige.

However, it occurs to me that I’m neglecting someone. Prose. When I started out, she was the one I followed, the one I allowed to infiltrate my body of work. But along the way, Poetry surfaced, showed me her possibilities within her boundaries for which Prose has no equivalent.

Now it’s time to go back and find a balance between her and Poetry. Yet there will be no grovelling; there will be the knowledge that Poetry bestowed upon me: how to stretch myself, how to structure, how to affect an audience. And I’ll approach Prose with a renewed enthusiasm, a new sense of purpose, and challenge her to help me produce something to make Poetry jealous.

To that end, I’m going to worship Prose tonight at Hotchpotch, an open-mike night for writers. Anyone can come along and read out their work – or even that of a published author – with no judgement or criticism. If you happen to be in Dundee tonight, it’s at the Burgh Coffeehouse on Commercial Street, and the readings begin at 7pm.