Friday 12 June 2015
Final year Comparative Literature student Bruno Cooke helps organise the Queen Mary Review creative writing publication and spoken word poetry evenings. We spoke to him about his passion for spoken word and development of QM Review and the spoken word performance evenings in Ground.
How did you become familiar with spoken word and performance poetry?
I guess I was exposed to it just by being in London, in East London, and being aware of slams and spoken word events happening around. Genesis Slam was one of the first events I went to. I was pretty blown away by the performers there and have tried to see a lot of stuff since. Favourite artists are people like Kate Tempets, Joelle Taylor, Hollie Mcnish, and a few one-offs I’ve seen on the Button Poetry YouTube channel. There’s also a bunch of poets who traverse the gap between spoken word and hip-hop such as Cecil Otter, Brother Ali, Aesop Rock, Scroobius Pip to create a type of melodious wordy hip-hop
When the QM Review start and what was its primary aim?
QM Review started in 2012 with Patrick Chester and Will Hall as chiefs. I joined at the end of my first year in 2013 and was co-chief with Tahmeed Zaki in my second year. This year Ali Copland, Becky Collis and I are co-chiefs. This year the spoken word poetry evenings in Ground, mainly organised by Ali and myself, have been a great success which we hope will be continued. We both knew the joy of live spoken word and wanted to spread it to others and, because we’re both performers ourselves, we understand the importance of setting up a solid platform where others can perform without too much inhibition. It can be terrifying, so we try and make it as comfortable and uninhibited as we can—I hope the ‘unrehearsedness’ of our little presenter bits achieves this….
When and where are the spoken word evenings held?
They’re held at Ground café on the Mile End campus twice a semester in the evenings, usually on a Tuesday or Thursday, but be sure to check out our Facebook page for specific dates and times. They’ve been huge this year! The biggest audience we’ve had was about 120, and we reliably have 70 – 80 people for each of the evenings. If you would like to perform you just need to let us know on the night and we’ll put you on the list!
Have you won any awards for QM Review and the spoken word evenings?
We won the Most Innovative Award at this year’s Union Awards. We’ve also received recognition from the chief executive officer of the SU, who asked us to put together an End of Year Review, comprising transcripts of performed poems with little bios of poets alongside and promised us funding for it.
On a more personal note, I got through to the London SLAM final last year and I’m hanging onto the small chance that Glastonbury accepts my bid this year as well. Ali has made it through to the Genesis Slam final this year as well.
Which performers have stood out for you this academic year and why?
Hard to say as there have been so many, and all at an incredible standard. Big fat cliché but I’ve honestly been humbled by everyone who’s come out and performed for the first time, second time, fifth time, whatever. All good. A proper answer to this question also requires me to remember everyone that’s been, which is tough… I’d say specific people who have stuck out this year are Roya, Edie, Annabelle, Amanda, Dushant, but there have been so many and I’ve become worse and worse at remembering names… They’ve all been fab.
Both of you are spoken word performers yourselves; do you have any tips for writing or performing?
Writing: don’t try to ‘write a poem’. If you enjoy performing, write something you’ll have fun performing.
Performing: don’t try to ‘recite a poem’. If you enjoy writing, perform something you had fun writing.
What would you say to students who are nervous about publishing their work?
Might as well do it, nothing to lose – we’re all just people reading and writing stuff, none of it really matters.
Can you recommend any spoken word events that take place in London that you enjoy?
- Hammer & Tongue events in Camden and Hackney
- Jawdance at Richmix
- Genesis Slam – monthly.
- Farrago Slams – happen all year round, in the Poetry Café and all around.
- SLAMbassadors UK – young people’s national slam competition, set up by Joelle Taylor who sometimes presents Jawdance (try and go when she’s presenting)
And there are so many more that crop up all over London all the time. Slams every day of the week. Plenty on and around Brick Lane, all over the shop.
How can students publish their creative writing in QM Review? Is there a selection process for the work that is published?
Yes, email your work into one of these three:
All material goes through section editors for poetry and fiction whereas features are read by everyone. Then the texts are pooled and discussed with head editors of each section and as a larger group.
To check out previous performances and media of spoken poetry evenings click on the links below:
How can students get in contact?
We also spoke to final year Drama student Amanda Hohenberg, who has performed at the spoken word performance evenings in Ground, about her interest in Spoken Word Poetry and what inspires her to write and perform.
What inspires you to write poetry?
My words come from the strange shapes of the everyday, they are the last pineapple on the shelf, they are the people who design puzzles, they are 4am, they are the random single shoe and they are the cat that follows you home all the way from Sainsbury's.
But what makes me write is a general passion for languages and words. I love that words aren't just letters, you know? It's more like this tap-dance of associations, phonetics and semantics. I guess I've always had a sort of peculiar attention towards words because English isn't my first language, so the way I approached speaking was - and still somehow is - from an outsider’s perspective. Like a voyeur, almost.
How would describe your process of writing?
Unfortunately I can't just sit down and write – that's probably also reflective of my ‘style’, which is very chaotic and stream of consciousness-y. I collect material by always carrying my shreddy, little green notebook with me. That way I'm prepared for those fleeting moments of poetry that mostly happen at places that, for me at least, feel like meeting points of the exquisite and the everyday; ... the last bus home, or the moment after a particularly firm handshake, or – most often actually - on the toilette.
Writing a poem and performing a poem are two very different things. When you write do you think of the ways in which you will perform the poem? Or is the performative element the last stage of the process?
Personally, I couldn't really do one without the other. Performance really feeds my words, it aids my poetry. Actually, I would go even further than that – perhaps it is my poetry. After all, I am first and foremost a performer, and not a very lyrical one, so I am often very reluctant to print my poetry, as I feel that I need to make it come to life before it is any good. But then again, I also believe that reading something to yourself is performative in itself, even without the help of a performer.
How did you become familiar with spoken word and performance poetry? Is there a particular artist you admire?
The first times I came across Spoken word...I remember going to every Open Stage Night ever, to do some songs on the Ukulele, I remember young poet friends of mine doing readings in their living room while grilling sweetcorn, I remember little coffee shops, luring me inside with dubious ‘Spoke Word Nights’ signs. It attracted me because I've always been a theatre geek that liked to read poetry – so it felt natural to source out the combination of the two.
My heart lies with the DaDa-ists, like Raoul Hausmann but there is such a wealth of amazing contemporary spoken word artists out there. The other day I saw a guy called Thick Richard, who was pretty rock'n'roll.
What would you say to students who are nervous about publishing or performing their work?
Right now is the perfect time to give it a go.
Can you recommend any spoken word events that take place in London that you enjoy?
Apples and Snakes are a wonderful performance poetry organization. They always have stuff going on whether it's events or opportunities. Definitely check out their monthly event at Richmix called JawDance, which is an OpenMic that always finds the perfect balance between ‘wow’ and ‘what the hell.’
Can you give us an example of your poetry?
This is a strange little poem I wrote after living in New York for a while, reminiscing about food and boys.
when you sprinkled basil
on my shoulder blades
I was left with leaves
and -flets that
I've got two basic problems
I'm neither dog nor cat person
I always smoke my cigarettes
down to burning fingertips.
only roots back down to this.
When I came back
No condiments for me please,
I was never a fan of ketchup.
for that matter.
But I do like dogs.
new york has cost me
what was lost
in the currency exchange
three coloured hair
Maybe I should not keep on dragging on
but then again:
that's also how I treat
When I come back I will
smell of herbs and not
trick dyslexic people
into playing scrabble
And maybe this time I will settle.
For a boy with dangly arms.
Or a fish and nicotine chewing gums.