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Patrick Neate

It's not really rock 'n' roll

24 August 2009

Hi, my name's Patrick Neate and welcome to the latest of my monthly Spoken Word columns for BBC Poetry Season.


This month I salute a Liverpudlian prince among poets, dust off the tent to hit the festival circuit, pick out some more rising and under-appreciated stars of the spoken word scene and look ahead to the best live poetry events September has to offer.

I recently read an interview in The Telegraph with that prince of poets, Roger McGough. He and I have something in common. Almost. His poetic talents led him from a working class estate in Liverpool to the twee suburban shores of Barnes, south London, where I happened to be born. My poetry led me in precisely the opposite direction. Poetry is, for the most part, a meritocracy.

In this interview, among his many pearls, McGough said of poetry: "It's never going to be the new rock 'n' roll, nor should it be." He is, of course, correct. What interested me about this comment was simply the fact that it needed saying at all.

If you saw an interview with a celebrated judge in, say, 'Wigs and Gavels' magazine, you'd be more than a little surprised if he felt the need to say that law is not the new rock 'n' roll. Why is poetry any different? Surely the only possible reason is that some people think poetry could be more populist, popular and, perhaps, puerile. But who are those people? Not poets. Not McGough anyway.

All of this seems particularly pertinent during festival season. Over the last few years, presumably because we're all getting older, music festivals have decided they need to 'grow up', and a whole bunch of new festivals have emerged that seemingly emphasise the point. How can you tell if a festival falls into this category? One surefire way is to see if they have a poetry arena/tent/grotto or treehouse.

Over the last few years many poets who are comfortable on stage (and frankly, a few who are not) have taken to traipsing around the English countryside throughout July and August to perform at the likes of Glastonbury, Camp Bestival, The Big Chill and Port Eliot. These can be nerve-wracking events, but, weather-permitting (ie, rain) they can also present an exhilarating opportunity to perform in front of large, captive crowds and feel - whisper it quietly - just a little bit like a popstar.

Perhaps the most successful of these poetry stages is at the Latitude festival - the 'largest poetry event in Europe' apparently - which is programmed by the extraordinary and energetic Luke Wright.

At Latitude, I stood outside the heaving tent with some of my favourite poets - Charlie Dark, Francesca Beard and Aoife Mannix. As the crowd whooped, we discussed child care, who follows who on Twitter and the perils of sleeping under canvas. It wasn't, truth be told, very rock 'n' roll.

External Links:
Telegraph: Roger McGough interview
Luke Wright's site
Charlie Dark's MySpace page
Francesca Beard online
Aoife Mannix's site

Events for September 2009

Head to London's Theatre Royal, Stratford East on 10-12 September for Spoke-Lab, a trilogy of pieces over three nights fusing theatre and spoken word, written and performed by three of the capital's finest wordsmiths - Kat Francois, Nick Makoha and Roger Robinson. Directed by Dawn Reid, Spoke-Lab should be well worth a gander.

For an arguably more leisurely experience, the King's Lynn Poetry Festival from 25-27 September promises appearances from the wonderful Moniza Alvi and Lachlan Mackinnon among many others.

External Links:
Theatre Royal, Stratford East
Kat Francois' MySpace page
Nick Makoha site
Roger Robinson's site
King's Lynn Poetry Festival

New talent

Okay, we're all agreed that poetry's not the new rock 'n' roll? But, if it were, Mr Gee, host of Radio 4's Bespoken Word and Russell Brand's radio poet-in-residence, would be a stadium act.

Again we're agreed that poetry isn't the new rock 'n' roll? But, if it were, Kate Tempest would be about to go global with her edgy, angry poetry.

External Links:
Mr Gee on MySpace
Kate Tempest's MySpace page

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