Ben Norris: Joint winner of LitroTV’s transgression competition

Litro had such a hard time choosing the winners of LitroTV’s competition that we awarded the prize to two, very different, but equally talented poets. Here is our first winning entry, Ben Norris’s ‘Dismembered Voices,’ with an introduction for LitroTV viewers by the poet himself.

Ben Norris is an actor, a writer, and a spoken-word artist. He was born and grew up in Nottingham, but is now based in Birmingham where he is studying English with Creative Writing.

Norris’s work explores the theatrical potential of poetry and the poetic elements of theatre, while ensuring words remain at the heart of what he does. Occasionally, however, he simply rants about the concept of being charged to use the toilet at most major British railway stations.

His career began on Birmingham’s open-mic circuit before expanding to take in regional and national poetry slams, including the inaugural UK Team Poetry Slam, Ledbury Poetry Festival, Bristol Poetry Festival, Cheltenham Literary Festival, Bang Said The Gun, and University Poetry Slams against Edinburgh and Cambridge respectively. Following his success in the world of slam poetry, Norris now plays gigs up and down the country, and is currently working on his first one-man show.

He is also the Literary Events Officer for Writers’ Bloc, the University of Birmingham’s Creative Writing Society, and runs and hosts two spoken-word nights in the city: Scribble Kicks, a night of page poetry and prose readings, and Grizzly Pear, a raucous performance poetry extravaganza. In addition to these, Ben organises less regular but no less spectacular inter-University poetry slams.

Alongside writing and performing poetry individually, Ben collaborates with guitarist James Grady in a music and spoken-word band. He also writes for the stage, and has had his plays staged at Leicester Curve and Theatre503.


performs his sharply crafted poems with breathtaking verve and expertise” Cheltenham Poetry Festival

infallible and energetic” UoB Blogfest

both harrowing and hilarious…impressive as always” Redbrick Newspaper

had the gathering instantly hooked”

For more information about Ben visit

In The Bedroom: Bathwater and Poetry News

This week Sally performs her brilliant poem Bathwater and bigs up fellow poet Anna Freeman’s new book, Gingering the World From the Inside, in the latest poetry news.

Photo by Maya
Photo by Maya

In the Bedroom: Hammer & Tongue,Not So Bad

This week LitroTV’s resident poet Sally Jenkinson kicks off our Poland theme with her first In the Bedroom feature. She updates us on last weekend’s Hammer and Tongue news, and in a specially written poem, brings Poland to South Yorkshire. We let her do all the talking…….

The Hammer and Tongue National Slam Final 2013

Looking for something to do next weekend? Get yourself down to the world’s oldest surviving music hall where poetry slam winners from across the country come together for a day of high-energy, top-quality live poetry.

The event at Wiltons Music Hall kicks off at 14:30 with team slams, featuring teams of poets from across the six Hammer and Tongue regions. It then moves on to the Individual Slam where poets, who have battled through to take prizes in their home towns, come from across the country to try to take this year’s National title. Qualifiers start at 18.00 and the main event begins at 20.00.

Team slams (14.30 – 17.30)
i. Brighton vs Camden vs Oxford
ii. Bristol vs Cambridge vs Hackney
iii. Winner Slam (i) vs Winner Slam (ii)

Individual Slam (18.00-22.30)

Hammer & Tongue Regional Winners (20.00-22.30)

1. Davy Mac (Oxford) Homeless Oratorio Poet & Professional Nomad
2. Mel Jones (Camden) : Filthy words from a clever bird
3. Poet Curious (Hackney): Street poetry for humans on earth
4. Stephen Morrison-Burke (Cambridge): Peeping Tom or just very observant?
5. Steve Duncan (Bristol): Thought-provoking passion about human society
6. Tommy Sissons (Brighton)- Deftly delivered incisive hip hop poetry

Qualifiers (18.00 – 19.30)

7. Brenda Read-Browne – Swindon Literature Festival Slam Champion
8. Dan Duke – Cheltenham UK Allstars Slam Champion
9. David Lee Morgan (Hackney): science, love and revolution
10. Dave Martin (Bang Said The Gun, London) Fudge Loving Old Skool Poetry Dude
11. Jackie O’Hagan (Bang Said the Gun, Manchester): Council-estate Rainbow Brite raised by hecklers
12. Jeremy Toombs (Bristol): Bearded Kentucky beat-blues man got soul
13. Kate Turner (Cambridge): Performer by choice, poet by accident
14. Spliff Richard – Rapid rhyming rambling red-eyed rhetoric

Here is a glimpse at last years event…

LitroTV is especially excited to see our new resident poet Sally Jenkinson representing her home turf of Bristol in a team with another LitroTV friend Anna Freeman, Jon Seagrave and Rebecca Tantony.

Tickets are £15 full price (in advance), £12 concession (in advance) and £16.50 on the door. Buy them here now

In The Bedroom: Introducing Our Resident Poet Sally Jenkinson


This week LitroTV is thrilled to announce our new slot In the Bedroom with our resident poet, Sally Jenkinson. In the Bedroom will feature Sally fortnightly, offering viewers an exciting mix of original performances, updates of latest gigs, festivals and open mics and reviewing and showcasing whatever takes her fancy. Sally’s first slot will kick off our next issue Poland with a special themed piece.

To get to know her better, LitroTV talks to her about what poetry means to her, what is says on her tax return and mining…….

Photo by Adam Simons
Photo by Adam Simons

Tell us about your collaboration with LitroTV and how excited you are.

I’m going to be presenting poetry videos, new work and original recordings, and maybe some reviews, regularly to LitroTV as their poet in residence. I’m really excited because Litro provides such a brilliant platform for all kinds of literature, so I’m proud to be representing poetry, and specifically live poetry, in such an exciting literary environment.

Tell us something about yourself that we won’t find on the internet.

I am currently working on a poem about superheroes, as requested by my friend (and excellent poet) Wilf Merttens. We give each other homework sometimes.

When you were first starting out, was promoting yourself and your work as important to you as creating it?

No. It never occurred to me for ages. I was just writing things and enjoying telling them out loud. Self-promotion is this weird pathogen that creeps in as you spend more time performing. Then suddenly its part of your job and it is terrifying! It doesn’t come naturally to me. My publisher literally had to sit me down in a café, buy me breakfast and walk me through building my website step by step. I’m very grateful that he did though, I’m getting to grips with it now!

How much is storytelling a part of your work?

Because I perform a lot, and because I’m a gobshite, there tends to be a lot of chatter in between poems. It’s not story-telling exactly, in the same way as professional story-tellers do it. It’s more a kind of coat, gloves and hat for the poem before you send it off into the outside world. As much as poems should obviously stand alone as pieces of work, in performance I relish spinning yarns around them- for context, for embellishment, to put listeners at ease or to invite them into the poems. Not all the stories I tell around the poems are true. I don’t think they have to be, but they will compliment and support (or counterpoint) the poem in a way that I hope helps people to enjoy it.

Poetry, as an oral tradition, has always been a way of telling stories, sharing commonalities between human and chewing over our differences in a communal setting. I find it very comforting.

When did you start considering poetry as your career and not a hobby?

It was very gradual. I’ve always had two, three, four jobs, ever since I was 16. Then over the last two years I had less and less ‘other’ work, and more writing, performing and workshops. It was a kind of an accident. And don’t get me wrong, even though it says ‘poet’ on my tax return, some months it’s all occasional bar shifts, a day of supply teaching, agency support work, stage managing, face-painting, house cleaning… whatever is temporary and provides ready cash and won’t interfere too much with writing! But there are chunks of time these days when I am not anything but a poet, and they are fun and gleeful and scary and surreal!

Is it important to you that people understand the meaning (if there is one) of your poems?

Yes. I want them to be really communicative. I want people to get something from them. I don’t think all poetry should have to be that way. I really relish poetry, or any art actually, that is difficult or obtuse or challenging or avant-garde. I think it’s essential that that stuff exists in order for progress to be able to happen. But I’m a sucker for a shared experience and I want to make people gasp and grin and squeeze their mates hand and maybe pop a little tear out.

Do you prefer writing or performing your poems?

Both, and they definitely inform each other. There’s something challenging about performing, because it means you have to think about a direct connection between you and the person / people listening. I’m not naturally gregarious in some ways. I’m terrified of eye contact. It’s good to challenge yourself. But it’s the writing bit that I look forward to the most. It’s like mining. You have to be really tough and dig around in loads of shit ideas until you find something good to say!

Gun to head -what is your favourite poem?

Eeeeep! Ok, ok. I’m having three…

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost (for weighty, comforting, brilliant words)

Banana Milk by Caroline Bird (for the visceral relief when poetry articulates your own experiences)

Little Viennese Waltz by Federico Garcia Lorca / Take This Waltz by Leonard Cohen (for the gleeful, delicious possibility of words)

Sally Jenkinson: “However Big You Think You Are”

“Sensuous, surreal, bold and beautiful, Sally Jenkinson’s image-filled poems spill gloriously across the page. Often, a line will leap out and squeeze you by the throat. Poetry that sings from a poet whose song I’d like to hear more of.” –  Kate Fox

This week LitroTV presents Sally Jenkinson reading her poem However Big You Think You Are. Summing up everything you need to know about her in one sentence, “I’m really good at going on holiday, I’m the world’s worst vegan,” Sally is probably one of the busiest poets on the scene.

Being busy has clearly paid off and 2012 was filled with particular career highs for her. Towards the end of the year, her debut collection of poems Sweat-borne Secrets was released by Burning Eye Books to critical acclaim and she also began touring the country with her own show, Folly. A spoken word piece that veers between a play and a miserable poetry musical, “grumpy girl drags broken heart around South-East Asia and wonders what the fuck everybody else is doing there” is accompanied by a guitar score by Nuala Honan.

Sally also lent her skills to Apples and Snakes for their inspiring Shake the Dust project when she agreed to coach to younger poets.

This year doesn’t look set to slow down for her either and, after leading workshops for an up-and-coming art project WORD/PLAY, Sally has now teamed up with us at LitroTV for an exciting on going collaboration. Look out for details of this next week when we get to know Sally better with a Q&A, and she talks about her forthcoming work with LitroTV.

If you are a budding performance poet and could do with a spot of advice, or a fan of Sally’s with a deep yearning to know what her favourite colour is; email your questions to [email protected] by 15th May to be included.

Amy McCallum: Joint winner of LitroTV’s transgression competition

Litro had such a hard time choosing the winners of LitroTV’s competition that we awarded the prize to two, very different, but equally talented poets. Here is our second winning entry, Amy McCallum’s ‘The Basis of Something That’s A Bit More Than Nothing.’


Amy is a London based actress and poet and has recently graduated from the Drama Centre London.  Previous to this she studied English Literature and Drama at the University of East Anglia wishing mostly to be training at a drama school.  With retrospect she now says that ‘it is the challenges and discomforts (however minor) in life that we seem to learn the most from’ and that all those hours spent escaping the place by going off into the realms of creative writing (if you could call it that then…it was unfathomable!) were as valuable as ever.  She has only just begun performing her poetry this year.


Performance Poetry: Anna Freeman

For Litro’s transgression theme, this week’s LitroTV performance is brought to you by multi-slam winning poet Anna Freeman, with an introduction filmed for LitroTV viewers from the poet herself.

As someone whose poetry ‘‘has been known to leave a greasy after-taste of lingering wrongness. Like a kebab”, her work illustrates perfectly how transgression and comedy go hand in hand. Done badly, transgressive comedy can feel like a relentless pursuit of offensive one-upmanship but done well, it looks something like this.

Anna’s first foray into the spoken word scene came whilst she was studying for her BA at University and was required to go to an open mic night as part of her performance poetry module. She has since performed at Latitude, The Eden Project Festival, Shambala, Cheltenham Poetry Festival and Bristol Poetry Festival. She has more recently been involved with Tongue Fu, a brilliantly innovative spoken word event held regularly which experiments with live literature, music, film and improvisation. Spoken word is the only element that is crafted before the show and the performers only have a few seconds on stage to suggest to the band behind them the style of music which best suits their poem. Which is why in her video you can hear Anna mentioning a tune “something like Saving Private Ryan?”

Anna’s first poetry collection Gingering the World from the Inside will be released by Burning Eye Books in May and is available to pre-order now.

LitroTV meets: Adam Kammerling

Adam Kammerling
Adam Kammerling

Describing himself as a “poet, rapper and general miscreant,” Adam Kammerling is certainly an exciting and entertaining member of the contemporary spoken word scene. Hailing from Brighton, where he, “cut his teeth on the open-mic cyphers and rap battles on the local hip-hop scene”, he has travelled around the UK and abroad leaving a trail of expertly interwoven words in his wake.

Winner of the Brighton Hammer and Tongue Slam Champion 2010, the Hackney Slam Champion 2011 and the UK Slam Champion 2012, he has performed at Glastonbury, Latitude and Big Chill festivals, done theatre shows in Soho and Bristol Old Vic, as well as numerous collaborative projects with bands and charities, such as the Cambodian break dancing NGO Tiny Toones, promoting rap and spoken word as healthy forms of self-expression.

We talked to him after his performance at Hammer and Tongue Hackney about the projects he’s working on at the moment and what’s next in the pipeline. “The main thing is writing,” he says. “You get caught up in everything else and just don’t have the time to write. April is going to be a writing month – so expect new material.”

Adam is currently touring, running workshops and working with a band – but he’s keeping schtum about that. Instead, he recommends we “keep our ears peeled” for updates.

Check out more of Adam’s work at his website.

LitroTV meets: Femi Martin

Femi Martin
Femi Martin

It’s not often that you witness someone telling a short story with as much rhythm and passion as a poem. But we couldn’t take our eyes of flash fiction writer and performer Femi Martin at spoken word event Hammer & Tongue in Hackney recently. She captivated the audience with her compelling lyrical compositions and energetic, honest storytelling.

Femi is no stranger to performing her work. In February 2012 she was appointed as the Dickens Young Writer in Residence, working closely with The Charles Dickens Museum, Spread the Word and Cityread London, where five pieces of her flash fiction inspired by quotes from Dickens’s novels were commissioned. She has performed at various festivals, venues and events, including Bloomsbury Festival, the  Southbank Centre, Wilderness Festival, Tongue Fu and Come Rhyme With Me.

Telling intimate stories about love and relationships, Femi’s narratives take you into private worlds that ache with tragedy and beam with humor and sensitivity, while feeling oddly familiar. We all know what it feels like when another school kid steals your chocolate bar out of your coat pocket, or what someone special really means by what they’re not saying, or “the under-word”, as Femi recounts in her story “Dig“. She delivers these tales with such ease and fluidity, that it is impossible not to listen, laugh, and feel.

Recently she has been working on new pieces of flash fiction, scripts, running workshops and developing a one woman show called All the Men I thought I Loved, which she performed a scratch of last year at Theatre503 in Clapham.

Check out what Femi is up to at the moment over at her website

LitroTV meets: Kate Tempest

Kate Tempest

As her name suggests, Kate Tempest is a veritable storm of talent and energy. 10 years ago she was rapping at strangers on night buses; now she is a multi-award-winning poet, published playwright and respected recording artist.

After touring all over the world with her band, Sound of Rum, writing plays for the Royal Shakespeare Company, featuring on songs with Sinéad O Connor and Bastille, even performing an original poem for Aung San Suu Kyi, she has decided to concentrate on several solo ventures, including a CD/DVD/book package, Everything Speaks in its Own Way, and a new collection of poetry, published by Picador next year.

“I’m taking a bit of a breather from gigging to just get my head down and do some writing – which has been amazing,” Kate tells LitroTV at spoken word and flash fiction event Hammer & Tongue Hackney.

Kate has been present on the London spoken word scene since she was a 16 year-old, pestering MCs to let her on the mic at raves. You can feel her energy and musicality with words as they trip off her tongue and into the audience. Hammer & Tongue runs nights in London, Bristol, Brighton, Oxford and Cambridge, showcasing some of the country’s most innovative and exciting slam poets, spoken word artists and story tellers.

What’s next for Kate? “I’m working on an album with a music producer and a novel that goes along side it,” she says. “So yeah – loads of writing.”

For more information on Kate’s work, visit her website.

Listen to Kate talking about Everything Speaks in Its Own Way, and some poems from the book, on the LitroLab podcast.

Performance Poetry: Jodi Ann Bickley

jodi-ann-bickley1‘‘Talk about current affairs whilst I counted your eyelashes. 93 over 90. I hoped you’d lost the last 3 on wishes about me.’’ – Jodi Ann Bickley, Drive Home

This week LitroTV brings you two poems by Jodi Ann Bickley that explore what is surely the greatest mystery of all – love.

It’s a theme which features heavily throughout the 25 year old poets work and she tackles it with the perfect mix of witty observation and whimsical rhymes. “Drive Home” and “I’m a dickhead but I love you!” were filmed at a London Writers Block event and are also the poet’s personal favourites.

After winning the 2009 Roundhouse poetry slam, Jodi gained considerable exposure and went on to perform at Glastonbury, Bestival, Camp Bestival and Shambala. She also took part in one of the most exciting poetry movements to happen in the last couple of years, where spoken word and electronica music joined forces, something critics named poetronica. Teaming up with dubstep heavyweight Skream, Jodi describes the collaboration as incorporating a “classic minimal dubstep beat” to aid her narrative. “A beat has to do whatever suits the poet. I aim towards proper storytelling with a beginning, middle and end, so it has to be minimal. Dubstep beats give me a blank canvas; they aren’t too overpowering and can be calm if I need them to be. Dubstep can create a sense of place just like poetry can.”

Of late it has been her personal life that has received the larger amount of attention, after she was bitten by a tick at a festival and contracted encephalitis. A stroke robbed her of her ability to walk and write and she successfully taught herself to do both all over again. Endearingly honest about her experiences on her blog, her ability to find new ways of telling stories make her one of the most talented and inspirational poets on the scene at the moment.

Performance Poetry:A Footballer’s Life For Me by Rob Auton

imageThe Internet can turn into a sour pastime fairly rapidly. Suddenly you’ve lost two hours you should have spent doing something else, and you’re left feeling empty and vaguely embarrassed. But just occasionally, random searching can uncover online gold. We recently discovered the website of York-born performance poet Rob Auton, full of weird and wonderful videos showcasing his talent for the spoken word (including a 20 minute poem about the colour yellow).

We invited Rob to be the first guest poet on our new slot, Litro TV, where over the coming months we’ll be showcasing performance poetry and other visual arts. Litro had a hard time picking a favourite of Rob’s poems, but “A Footballer’s Life For Me” came out top, featuring Rob in his job at an art shop, cheered on by an ever-present football crowd as he stacks shelves and flattens cardboard boxes.

Rob says, “I worked in an art supplies shop in London and kept reading stories about footballers getting paid lots of money. I wondered what it would be like if I had the perks of a professional footballer’s job in the art shop.”

On his journey into performance poetry, Rob says “In 2008 I started saying things out loud to people without wanting them to respond verbally.” Since then he has performed at Latitude festival, Glastonbury, Tate Britain and the Edinburgh Fringe festival three times.

In 2012, Channel 4 televised five short films made by London poetry extravaganza Bang Said the Gun and the Mob Film Company. One of the five was a silent film version of “A Footballer’s Life For Me”.

For more information on Rob’s work, visit

Calling All Performance Poets!


Litro is expanding, and to celebrate the launch of our LitroTV channel on YouTube we are running an exciting competition dedicated to the word that is spoken, uttered, shouted or whispered.
We are asking for performance poets and artists to send us an original spoken-word performance video based on our April theme of TRANSGRESSION.

The winner will be invited to perform their winning piece at our very first Litro Book Club event in April which will be held at a secret location in Mayfair. They will also receive one years free membership to Litro magazine and an artist profile on our website.

The closing date for entries is 20th March and the winner will be announced on the website on 2nd April.


-Entries must be no longer than 10 minutes.

-Once entries have been received, Litro reserves the right to use them on any of our platforms.

-Directly or indirectly, entries must be based on the theme of transgression.


Email your entry as a video file to [email protected] , in one of the following formats: .MOV , .MPEG4 or .AVI

Everything Speaks In Its Own Way: An Interview with Performance Poet Kate Tempest

Kate Tempest, Everything Speaks In Its Own Way
Kate Tempest, Everything Speaks In Its Own Way

“So, call me Caliban. They gave me language so I could reign down my curses in verses. I’ll take ’em on word for word — I know the worst is I have to watch my good friends getting caught up in circuits. The serpent rehearses his hisses. He makes the valiant viscous. I know now never to waste wishes. So go on then, conjure a storm on the head of your enemy — you will find yourself victim of negative energy.” —Kate Tempest, ‘What We Came After’

Kate Tempest
Kate Tempest

Kate Tempest‘s angry, heart-felt, sing-song performance style and allusive, pulsating writing come together to create poetry that’s literary, musical and mesmerizing.

In this podcast, we talk to Kate about her love of hip hop, her first slams, telling her poems to squat raves and punk gigs, and the relationship between lyrics and poetry. We also hear some of the tracks from her fantastic new spoken-word album, Everything Speaks In Its Own Way.

Listen to the podcast using the player below, or subscribe on iTunes by searching “Litro Lab”.

Kate Tempest got up on stage in her first rap battle when she was sixteen. She discovered poetry and began to speak her lyrics in poetry slams. Since then she’s gone on to perform her writing all over the world, from the Nu-Yorican poetry café to all the major European music festivals, and has written poems for the BBC and the Royal Shakespeare Company. She also tours with her band, Sound of Rum, and last year her first play, Wasted, was staged in London to glowing reviews.

Beautifully packaged: "Everything Speaks In Its Own Way"
Beautifully packaged: “Everything Speaks In Its Own Way”

You can buy the album Everything Speaks In Its Own Way, which comes packaged with a beautifully produced book of her poetry, at Kate’s website.

The tracks ‘Live and Die’, ‘What We Came After’, ‘Your Sister Thinks I Love You’, ‘Hip Hop’, ‘Babbling Brook’, and ‘Theme From Zingaro’ are taken from Kate Tempest’s album, Everything Speaks in its Own Way, with the kind permission of Kate Tempest.

A Literary Mixtape: Featuring Saul Williams, Caits Meissner, Joshua Kleinberg, Matt Mason, Inua Ellams and Bree Rolfe.

Tonight at the Southbank Centre in London, performance poet and musician Saul Williams introduces his new anthology, Chorus: A Literary Mixtape, an introduction to 100 young street poets, students and outsiders he is championing. Litro Lab is delighted to welcome Saul to the podcast to talk about the anthology and his own work.

Saul Williams is a performance poet and musician whose fierce, philosophical rants cross genres and weave together hip hop, politics and poetry. Starting out performing his poetry at the legendary Nuyorican Poets open-mic events in the 1990s, Saul Williams has gone on to release rap albums, publish poetry books and star in Slam, the film that won the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes in 1998.

In this podcast you’ll hear Saul talking about the anthology and reading a meta-poem he has written using words from the work of the 100 poems in the Chorus anthology. You’ll also hear the voices of some of the poets who contributed to the book reading their work: Caits Meissner reading “Kissing”, Joshua Kleinberg reading “Transient”, Matt Mason reading “Connections”, Inua Ellams reading “Guerilla Garden Writing Poem”, and Bree Rolfe reading “Non-Verbal Learning Disorder”.

To listen to the podcast, use the player below.

Saul Williams’ Literary Mixtape is on at the Southbank Centre tonight, Thursday  29th November.

Sound credits:
“Unanswered Questions” by Kevin MacLeod (, licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0.

LitroTV Launches!

Back in July 2010, we posted a review of John Cooper Clarke’s show for the London Literature Festival:

John Cooper Clarke, photo by Tim Duncan
John Cooper Clarke, photo by Tim Duncan

The Bard of Salford was on good form, despite the temperature. Now in his 60s, he still has the style of Bob Dylan, mixed with the dead-pan delivery of Alan Bennett and just the right sprinkle of Bernard Manning. He delivered a stream of curiously old-fashioned stand-up, interspersed with his own brand of rapid-fire performance poetry. His disjointed jokes and puns revelled in an infectious love of language, perfect for a literary festival.

You can read the whole review by Emily Cleaver here.

Litro is keen to support performance poetry and the spoken word. Our Litro Live! events aim to bring you the latest talent, as well as great music. This year, we want to take this further.

Last month we launched LitroTV on YouTube. To celebrate, we want readers to send us video performances of  their readings. The winners will be featured on the YouTube channel. Videos should be no more than five minutes in length. Please send them to [email protected].

Poems as performance: John Cooper Clarke

Last week I squeezed into a packed and sweaty auditorium at the South Bank Centre to watch performance poet and punk legend John Cooper Clarke’s show for the London Literature Festival.

The Bard of Salford was on good form, despite the temperature. Now in his 60s, he still has the style of Bob Dylan, mixed with the dead-pan delivery of Alan Bennett and just the right sprinkle of Bernard Manning. He delivered a stream of curiously old-fashioned stand-up, interspersed with his own brand of rapid-fire performance poetry. His disjointed jokes and puns revelled in an infectious love of language, perfect for a literary festival. (“If you shot a peasant, could you get off on the grounds of dyslexia?”)

John Cooper Clarke, photo by Tim Duncan
John Cooper Clarke, photo by Tim Duncan

His poems, which were clearly what the crowd had come to hear, were fast, funny, and close to the bone. Performing some by heart and reading others from a scruffy handwritten notepad, he kept the audience happy with classics like Beasley Street and Evidently Chicken Town, as well as a few less familiar ones.

Short, simple and deceptively slight in subject matter, his poems work because of the obvious joy they take in the performance possibilities of rhyme and rhythm. My favourites were the frenetic Hire Car, (“Hire car, hire car, why would anybody buy a car, bang it, prang it, say ta-ta, it’s a hire car, baby”) and the brilliantly un-PC ode to sex changes, Crossing the Floor (“Bye-bye Boddingtons, hello shorts, I wear size 9 kitten-heel courts. I’m going to get a vagina … of sorts.”) It’s no surprise that after 30 years performing, Cooper Clarke’s work is still a major influence on modern bands whose lyrics hover between poetic story-telling and music, from The Streets to the Arctic Monkeys.

The ‘Very Best of’ CD I bought after the show has a good mix of Cooper Clarke’s stuff – some straight poetry and some poems performed to music, blurring the lines between the two genres. We’ve been listening to it all weekend at work.

Inspired, I’ve made a start on a playlist celebrating cross-overs between music and poetry. It’s a bit eclectic so far, but I rather like the contrast between Tom Waits talking us through Small Change and the spooky recording of John Masefield’s sing-song rendition of Sea Fever, or the leap from Woody Guthrie’s Washington Talkin’ Blues to Ivor Cutler’s weird Scottish ramblings.

If you have Spotify, you can have a listen at this link. Otherwise, here’s my “Pusic? No, Moetry” tracklisting, for anyone who fancies reconstructing it themselves. Suggested additions welcome…

Pusic? No, Moetry  – A Playlist
John Cooper Clarke – Twat
The Streets – Don’t Mug Yourself
Sir John Betjeman – The Licorice Fields At Pontefract
Tom Waits – Small Change
Flanders & Swann – The Gnu Song
Woody Guthrie – Washington Talkin’ Blues
Ivor Cutler – Life In A Scotch Sittingroom
Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band – The Host The Ghost The Most Holy O
Edith Sitwell – Scotch Rhapsody
Langston Hughes – The Story of the Blues
John Lee Hooker – Talkin’ The Blues
John Masefield – Sea Fever
John Cooper Clarke – Evidently Chickentown