The world's most celebrated spoken word artists will be wrapping their tongues around a fortnight dedicated to the art form at The Last Word festival this month.
With performances at the Roundhouse from Mark Grist, Tim Clare and Tongue Fu, new work from London poets including Talia Randall, Sophie Rose and Cecelia Knapp plus a play by Polarbear, scratch afternoons, poetry collective appearances and one-man poetry shows, you'll need a guide to help you decide what to see. Lettie McKie spoke to some of those taking part and asked them for their tips.
Claire Leavey told us about her plans for this huge show on 30 May: "50 years ago Allen Ginsberg’s Poetry Incarnation was a major event at the Royal Albert Hall, an iconic moment in the beat poetry era with an unprecedented audience of 7,000 people. We’ve worked with Ginsberg’s peer, Michael Horovitz, who is in his 80s and has curated a show which includes some of the biggest names in spoken word, across two generations. John Hegley, Patience Agabi and John Cooper Clarke are among those performing in this extravaganza of spoken word hosted by Bang Said the Gun creator Dan Cockrill. We’re reinventing the revolutionary spirit of the Poetry Incarnation and there will also be screening of Wholly Communion which documents the original event."
On 31 May Cockrill is also hosting the finals of the Roundhouse Poetry Slam, which gives budding poets a rare opportunity to be noticed. Many of these will have come through the Roundhouse programme of workshops for young people.
"I’ve hosted the slam for the last five years and I’m always blown away by the standard of the young poets taking part," Cockrill tells Londonist, citing Rob Auton's Water Show as a must-see. "Rob’s work is always very original, funny and extremely poignant," he says. "Jack Rooke’s Good Grief on 29 May is a comedy about the highs and lows of losing someone who is close to you. What’s not to like? Death with jokes. I’ll also definitely be buying a ticket to Mark Grist and Tim Clare’s Shitty Poetry on 29 May."
Grist tells us about his expletively-titled show: "Tim Clare and I have teamed up to see if we can write the worst poems we can think of. Teaching poetry to young people we’ve noticed that they get frustrated when they don’t think their stuff is good. We want to highlight the fact that the greatest, most revered poets wrote some absolute stinkers and that it’s actually good for writers to get it wrong, as that’s how you learn. We’re exploring what makes a really shit poem, in the hope that will help us and the audience understand good poetry better. We’ll be inspired by shit poems we’ve found that were written by famous poets. The event also includes the final of the Anti-Slam where poets compete to be as deliberately bad as possible."
"The show is a cross-disciplinary collaboration between myself and a sound-designer," Randall explains. "We’re exploring how words can be broken down into sounds to make music. It’s about how to speak the unspeakable and coming to terms with the baggage of your past using comedy to mask the hard stuff. The set will include loads of repurposed objects hooked up to microphones and will be an insight into my life and mind via an 80s jumble sale."
As well as performances there will be workshops and other opportunities to participate, plus meeting the poets involved. On 28 May Deanna Rodger is curating a show called Home. "It’s a sort of live Gogglebox event with ideas and opinions coming from a range of viewpoints — poets, activists, filmmakers and theatre makers," she explains. On 31 May Deanna is also running a workshop with South African poet Xabiso where anyone involved can write their own piece and have it filmed.
And The Poetry Takeaway will be onsite; order up a poem like you would a chicken chow mein! Just ask the poetry ‘chefs’ what you want and they’ll cook it for you, for free.
Last Word runs 16-31 May. Tickets various prices, see the website for details.