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Patrick Neate

Patrick Neate

15 May 2009

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

I write poetry and other things. Some people think poetry's all black coffee and angst. They're not wholly right. Each month, I'm going to tell you where you can find out the truth for yourself. In the words of the famous advert, what's the worst that could happen?

You become a writer to escape drudgery. Ironic, then, that it's a career choice that frequently condemns you to little else, as you tackle McJob after McJob in the hope of earning the money to allow the space to write and escape. If you think a fool and his money are easily parted, you should see the speed with which a writer can lose his... his what? Principles, say some. Delusions, say others.

For my part, I try to keep all work - even the paying kind - connected to the main game. So I write novels, poetry, journalism, screenplays and, occasionally, I teach others how to write novels, poetry, journalism and screenplays. As old Geoff Chaucer put it, 'First he wrought, and afterward he taught.' Exactly, Geoff. I swamp any sensations of charlatanism with enthusiasm and milky tea.

I also organise a live literature event called Book Slam, which features writers of all sorts alongside musicians, comedians and so forth. It may not make my fortune, but it does make me fortunate. Sometimes I call Book Slam 'London's best literary nightclub'. I used to call it 'London's only literary nightclub', but that's hardly true any more as lately there has sprung up what my mum would almost certainly describe as 'a scene' - Homework, the B Club, One Taste and many more. There are lots of us, it seems, trying to wade our way out of the mass market slurry.

It is strange to think that poetry, arguably the oldest form of creative expression, may now be fundamentally counter-cultural. I suspect this may be a curious by-product of our celebrity-obsessed society. Let me put it like this - Warhol thought that everyone would be famous for 15 minutes. He was almost right. These days, everyone is famous for 15 minutes except poets. They are, therefore, the epitome of counter culture. Poets, you see, have their minds on higher things and don't want to be famous... except the ones who do. But they must be perforce insane and, therefore, forgiven.

The last Book Slam featured poetry from Scroobius Pip and Dockers MC, two stars of spoken word. In fact, Scroob is about as famous as a poet can get without becoming a rapper. It was amazing to hear them inhabit their characters irrespective of age or occupation, race or class. In fact, both reminded me somewhat of old Geoff whose tales were populated with 'sondry folk'; from knight to nun, friar to franklin. Now I come to think of it, Geoff had some McJobs in his time too - customs officer, courier and clerk. Little changes, it seems.

Events for June

If songwriters are often frustrated poets, the reverse is also true. On 15 June some of London's finest including Musa Okwonga and Polarbear, are joined by their bands (Benin City and Afrobear respectively) at the E4 Udderbelly, a 400-seat inflatable cow on the Southbank. Now that's got to be worth a look.

Apples and Snakes are the UK's best poetry producers. Their latest project Three Way features the distinct voices of Malika Booker, Yusra Warsama and Birmingham's own RT for a poetic conversation about 'why we tiptoe around difference'. It's at the Birmingham Rep on 24 and 25 June as part of Punch Records' Bass 09 festival.

External Links:
Polarbear's site
Benin City
Southbank Centre
Apples and Snakes
Three Way
Punch Records

New talent

Dockers MC is set to be a phenomenon. She's already published two books (Mistakes in the Background and Ugly Shy Girl) and is a smart and witty commentator on the Wii Fit generation.

Byron Vincent describes himself as "poorly educated on various northern sink estates". He delivered the best poem I've heard about Britain's drink problems and is underrated by nobody but himself.

External Links:
Dockers MC
Byron Vincent


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