Saturday, 27 August 2011

Poetry, What's the Point?

On 26th August, I had the privilege of being in the presence of one of the UK's poetry greats, Benjamin Zephaniah, Poet-in-Residence at Keats House, Hampstead, London at an event called Poetry, What's the Point? This was one of a series of monthly events being held. The last time I saw Benjamin live was on 10th July 2009, at his exclusive show at the Southbank Centre, as part of the London Literature Festival 2009, where he read from new work and older favourites.

I arrived early and had the rare opportunity of talking to Benjamin who said, “The evening is an experiment, a kind of intimate talk amongst friends.” I selected Poetry, What's the Point particularly because of my love of poetry and this 'experiment', turned out to be much more than that. The bonus for all of us delighted folk in the audience was that it was a great platform to share what poetry means to us, starting with Benjamin telling us how using poetry to express his anger - particularly in the late seventies and early eighties when the police 'suss' laws meant that any excuse was used to arrest anyone who looked 'suspicious' - transformed negative feelings into something creative and powerful.  “Poetry was also a way of surviving through the National Front's and skinhead's presence on our streets” Benjamin said.

I shared how I write poetry that is mostly personal, with some that has political context depending on the theme and that I found the process revealing and sometimes cathartic as I worked out issues during the artistic process of writing in this way.  One thing was evident, that if you write poetry, make it so that it moves from the page to the stage at some point. Yes, consider performing; this is something Benjamin feels strongly about and even though he has books published, this wasn't always the case, especially in the early days of his writing career. Not everyone has reading books as a priority in their lives, what with all the fierce distractions of the Internet, computer games, etc, but people from all walks of life will gain such a lot from hearing poetry, in the same way it feels good to hear lyrics of a song rather than read them in a book. Of course, there's room for both but writing for the page with your reader being an individual audience is different from writing for the stage when you reach a much wider landscape. It's good to have a go at both, making those appropriate changes so that your poetry is as accessible as it can be.

This wonderfully interactive event gave everyone a golden opportunity to soak up the front-room style atmosphere and feel right at home. I left feeling refreshed, inspired and uplifted and urge anyone interested in poetry and any other form of creative writing to pay Benjamin Zephaniah a visit at his next event.

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Photo: Top – Benjamin Zephaniah & Nicole Moore (courtesy of Georgiana Jackson-Callen, Poet)