Poetry has always had a strange place within society. It has come in bursts of popularity throughout time. Some people loved it, some people hated it.

Many would say they didn’t understand it, many more say they still don’t. But it has always played its part in society.

Ever since the Epic of Gigamesh was written more than 3,000 years ago, and possibly even earlier, poetry has had something to say.

It has communicated the stories of Odysseus, changed our view of hell’s inferno, and situated itself within our everyday language (think William Blake, Dylan Thomas and William Shakespeare).

The scene

Over the last thirty years in the UK the scene has been building again, and new poets with new influences and new styles have been coming in, eager to show their work to the world.

In London, this scene is as vibrant as ever; events are happening almost every night for all ages and poetic leanings.

Gabriel Jones, a London-based poet and member of Spare the Poets, has taken some time out of his university life to give us his take on the London poetry scene and why he keeps coming back to it:

On Sunday, October 25, SLAMbassadors hosted its annual poetry slam. Organised by the Poetry Society, this is a competition that runs throughout the year and is geared towards 13 to 18-year-olds, re-engaging them with poetry.

The top seven poets in the competition are sent to London to perform at the SLAMbassador Finals.

Joelle Taylor, the founder of Slambassadors, along with Anthony Anaxagorou, a previous winner of the London Mayor Poetry Slam, were judges and performers at the event.

Poetry can often be seen as a calm, quiet endeavour. Because of this, events such as Bang said the Gun, Human Gloop, and Hammer and Tongue have been set up specifically to highlight to people that poetry can be loud, it can be energetic, and it can be crazy.

But perhaps energetic and crazy just isn’t your cup of tea. Perhaps something a little more calm and collected is up your street.

Poetry in the UK has often been paired well with music; 30 years ago it was punk, which morphed slowly to hip hop (looking at you, Kate Tempest). Jazz is another popular pairing.

Fourth Friday at the Poetry Cafe might be an event worth checking out if that last one pricked your interest. Friday, October 23 saw the mixing of poetry and jazz, and Friday, November 27 is set to combine blues and poetry.

The poets

Poets in London come in all ages, from 14 to 74. John Mole, a popular figure in the London poetry scene, has been performing poetry since the 1960s and is still going strong.

Many different things compel poets to write what they do and the style and variety of topics is immense.

Artefact managed to get a hold of Lauri Ogden and Theresa Lola, two popular London-based poets, to ask them why, in their own way, they write and perform poetry. Here is their poem:

Learning about the different poets, however, can be daunting and although a few avid fans know every name of every poet on the scene, most people do not.

So here is a generalised breakdown of how it works to get you started, along with some of the names worth checking out.

These are the ones that have made a name for themselves. They are the ones who always sell out shows and have done a fair amount of touring the world.

  • Photo from Anthony Anaxagorou.

This category is always changing as the poets make a name for themselves and move forward. Essentially, these poets are still on their first few years on the scene but are quickly becoming household names.

  • Photo by Ant Smith, Flickr CC.

The hardest to define and least recognised, these are the poets that have made it and are so important to the spoken word scene. They may not be the most famous but they keep the scene going and still have a loyal and strong following.

  • Photo by Aida Muluneh, CC.

History

The scene today is vibrant. Poets are all over the place performing in all sorts of places. People now know what ‘spoken word’ is, and more people are now going specifically to see spoken word.

But it hasn’t always been that way are there has been a lot of changes occurring. Artefact sat down with Joelle Taylor to see what’s been happening:

John Mole also took time to share his experience of how things have been changing.

“The late 1960s were heady times. Performance poetry was taking off, with events at the Royal Albert Hall, visiting beat poets, and instinctive British performers like Adrian Mitchell and Michael Horovitz.

“There were also regular Poetry International events on the South Bank. Around this time, too, LP recordings – mainly from Argo and Caedmon – were very important to me. I would spend hours listening to W.B.Yeats, Graves and Auden, Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams etc. with a copies of their poems in front of me.

“Now there is a much greater diversity of voices, styles, manners, [and] ethnicities. There is just so much more of everything everywhere, not just in London!”

He also recognises the change in everything now being what he calls ‘workshopped’ and he mentions his skepticism towards it, citing this poem of his.

Photo from John Mole, CC.

John Mole

This little poem is troubled
by silence in the room.
Afraid that it might become
the one that got away
because it struck out on its own
 
it needs your reassurance,
not to be left behind
or, too late, discovered
to be missing.
Get it workshopped at once!

John Mole

 

The future

Poetry has evolved throughout time. It is constantly developing, shaping and being shaped by the time that it exists in. Today’s poetry is no different. What will be interesting to see now is just how this new wave of young poets is going to change the landscape.

Joelle recognises the ‘bottom heavy’ nature of today’s poetry scene and she cautions the ‘celebritisation’ that seems to be occurring with names like Kate Tempest becoming so big and with every young poet wanting to be famous like her.

At the end of our interview with her she talked about the poets that are making a living but who will never be the recognised names that sell out venues twice over. These poets will never know the health hazards of 1,500 people showing up to an event that holds 500, something that Kate Tempest has to deal with.

Artefact spoke to Anthony Anaxagorou about his life as a poet. Click here to check out the full interview.

These poets, Joelle say, are the important ones, the crucial ones, ‘the filling in the sandwich’ of the poetry scene. They are the ones that will continue with the fame stops.

To Anthony Anaxagorou, the future looks bright as we sit on the fourth floor of the Southbank Centre, surrounded by other artists and poets and creators, talking about the new generation of poets that are coming through.

“There’s a lot of younger poets now doing really incredible things. [There are] a lot of people who’ve been galvanised, that are involved, and have a lot of very interesting things to say and ways to say them. And that’s what defines good poetry,” he says.

 


Featured image and all filming by Joshua Potter.

The Poets photo credits: Anthony Anaxagorou: copyright Anthonyanaxagorou.com; Kate Tempest: photo by Abi Dainton, Flickr CC; Jack Underwood: photo by Ant Smith, Flickr CC; Gabriel Jones: photo by Gabriel Jones, CC; Laurie Ogden: photo from Laurie Ogden, CC; Theresa Lola: photo from Theresa Lola, CC; Lemn Sissay: photo by Aida Muluneh, CC; Zena Edwards: photo by Richard Kaby, Flickr CC; John Hegley: photo by Jackie di Stefano.