Monday, 28 March 2011

Hey Chicago/Ray & Sully On Love/ Featuring At The Green Mill

Hey Chicago! You are living proof that the 90s is the new 80s. You showed me enough black guys in flat tops, high tops and light blue Denim to confirm the new wave. Chicago, you are a really cool human being. You talk with a cigarette hanging out your mouth; you have pictures of The Beatles and Hendrix all over your walls. You tell everyone James Dean is your brother and you miss him dearly... no, actually Chicago, you are James Dean.... James Dean with little man syndrome. You got the attitude that owns Illinois and really hot women are attracted to you but you know it... You join gangs, you get into fist fights and you’re a functional alcoholic. You’ve been on both sides of drive bys but during the day I’d take you for a breezy natured kind of guy. You give the impression that you are in control of your life on the edge... You front Chicago but I love your style and how true you are to yourself in the night time.

In Chicago I am.

Asking the natives how to experience Chicago they always tell me what plate of food should be in front of me... Pizza, Mexican, Fish, Costa Rican etc. I’ve hosted a few international poets around London recently and when they’ve asked how to experience London the food wasn’t on my tour guide.

My first few days were spent with Dan Sullivan, a 29 year old educator and poet (he hates the term ‘Spoken Word Artist’ but he is a brilliant performer and Slam Champion). Dan has a rather beautiful existence and an obsession with Zombies. He was throwing a surprise party for his girlfriend Whitney. He wanted me to play dumb about her birthday when I met her. I did. Then he got all her friends and all his friends together and had his flatmate let them into the house while Dan went to pick up his unsuspecting lady. Dan (suited and booted, looking like a true gentleman) picked up Whitney pretending to be taking her to the theatre but then “forgot the tickets” and had to turn around. Throwing a hissy fit and pretending to be annoyed with himself he enters the house with Whitney who was wearing a silk white dress and ... “SUPRISE!” Whitney loses her breath standing among a crowd of friends she’s never seen in the same room before... it was so cute and Dan is truly a G for gentleman.

Me and Dan got into a conversation about long term relationships and I told him of my difficulty to balance life as a poet and the expectations a woman has for me as a boyfriend. I’ve been through a breakup recently and it being my second long term relationship breakdown I noticed how much people change through time. You can meet someone and the person they are at that time can be perfect for you, but as we develop new ideas about ourselves as individuals, as partners we tend to become less compatible. Also living in a society designed to make us compare ourselves with other people (airbrushed celebrities, strangers with big houses and nice cars, better looking friends with great relationships and better clothes etc) we can never be happy with what we have.

Happiness doesn’t have to be an illusion and happiness itself isn’t complicated. The complication comes from our flawed expectations of ourselves and other people in our lives.

Dan said to me “when someone asked my Dad how he managed to keep a marriage going he says he’s been in a marriage for thirty years and has fallen in love with five different women” me and Dan were standing in his living room and the sun streamed into the room at that point. We both looked out the window and Dan smiled and said “I have a lot to live up to”

I found it refreshing to meet someone as creatively talented as Dan with so much love and stability in his life. We don’t have to draw off the bitter taste of our catharsis to fuel creativity. yay.

Chicago is the birth place of Slam poetry. Every Sunday at The Green Mill there is a night of jazz and poetry hosted/created by “Chicago’s only true celebrity poet” Marc Smith. The Green Mill is the Chicago equivalent of Ronnie Scotts Jazz Bar in Soho, London. There is a great poetry night at Ronnie Scotts once a month (I’ve done two feature sets there now and its always amazing) hosted by Jumoke’ Fashola check that out.

Marc Smith is in high demand and was out of town so a poet by the name of J.W Baz stepped into the hosting square. JW Baz is a poet who’s work I heard online a few months ago was blown away (partially by his piece ‘Ex Lover Count Down’) so I knew I’d have to be on form. Baz is a funny dude and he challenges his audience with jokes about babies with Lupus... yeah, he’s a monster in many ways... no wait that sounds gay... he’s one of those guys who is really talented but he’s also very aware of his talent. He can come off cocky but he’s fun and likeable and even though he knows it, he is an extremely talented poet.

The Green Mill is a poet’s dream gig, not only because of its prestigious and edgy reputation (Al Capone used to own it and pretty much every credible Jazz Musician performed there) but you get such an incredibly attentive and diverse audience. People show up to listen.. people who aren’t poets themselves... just plain fans... yes, they exist and Marc Smith has put a lot into creating an accessible community of poets that write and perform accessible poetry. Robb Q Telfer (Chicago based poet and educator) summed this up for me perfectly when he said
“if your audience consists only of other writers and poets your doing something wrong”.
Like Tongue Fu (another high calibre London based Spoken Word night and is one of my favourite gigs to attend and perform at) they have in-house Jazz improv musicians so the poets can jam with the band and they make it work every time.

While on stage at The Mill I couldn’t get over the idea that I was setting foot on the most famous performance poetry stage in the world. I gave it that kind of praise. When I said this to Robb he shrugged and said something like “it’s just a space man. Marc Smith doesn’t make a big deal out of it... in fact he’d probably mock you just to make sure you don’t take yourself too seriously up there”

“People ignore poetry because poetry ignores most people” – Adrian Mitchell

It went well, the vibe was great, the turnout was great and the audience was highly responsive. I even sold the last of my chapbooks from my Berlin tour. Yep, it’s that easy to make a poets dream gig.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Focus, Light and Shake Experiments by Raymond Antrobus plus Chicago Tour Dates

Chicago Dates

March 20th Green Mill w/ JW Baz

March 21st Mental Graffiti Poetry Slam w/ Emily Rose & Tim Stafford

March 22nd Word Play

March 23rd One Ear

London Dates

March 27th Keats House Forum w/ Niall O’Sullivan, Aofie Mannix (2pm-4pm)

March 27th Try Poetry w/ Dan Tsu, Rosy Carrick, Alex Millar plus others (8pm-10pm)

March 30th Chill Pill w/ Tim Clare, Harry Baker, Greeds (Keynotes), Keith Jarrett, Vanessa Kisuule & The Chill Pill poets.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Solid In The Hopeless (in prose)

never felt much solid in the hopeless, they build themselves on fault lines,
they shake themselves down to the ground to bury God in their guts
or their gutters. they say it’s naive to be happy in a world of catastrophes,
you cannot belong to the gravity on this planet and carry humanity
without taking lashes. I’ve been reading books to look for some beautiful sense
of the “I”. I’ve been performing my gender, my sexuality, my race and my non-belief.
I stand up in the place I think I belong as it breaks into earthquakes and the only friction I can’t shake is the infliction of my birthplace. I can’t read history without sucking the pain of the past into my face and wanting to punch some people alive today. Until I find a way to acknowledge the sufferance endured by people oppressed. This is a stone drop, heavy on the past, to kick sandstorms inside those deserted from the idea of what they are. I’m tired of wearing history like the raw colour of tattered skin and a fractured heart snapped from the branch of my chest into the dark of my stomach to dissolve in a puddle of angry acid. these poems are so hard to resolve. there are ways to balance the baggage you happen to travel with and when I find optimism in people, I’m glad to breathe it in because I’m sick of losing tears over heaps of hopeless reasons... and with all the intellectual readings opening wounds I didn’t know existed, I was never blissful in my ignorance I was always too inquisitive... and I want to tell these pessimists that laziness is our enemy and excising our minds with conspiracy theories about how powerless we are is alternative mental slavery. My heart used to be a waiting room without an entrance and it took me years to notice that no one could enter. I was a community of emptiness, confused by the point of living and tied to the exhausting view that I can never make a difference because the majority of people are stupid... basically... I was a self righteous prick and it got to the point I noticed how useless that is. I would criticize anyone who took action, I would have told you your efforts are pointless, the system will counteract them, told you go home and wait for the establishment to collapse on itself and I have no idea how I ever felt this submission would help. I’ve never seen the future set in stone and this prose is not written on any tablets and I haven’t been talking to any burning bushes... I’ve just come to some conclusions that the flaws of others have got to stop depressing me... and I’ve made peace with the lashes that damaged our backs with our history. we can look back but we can’t stay there, we must progress until we can all believe it’s not naive to be happy.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Do This In Remembrance Of Me

The other day I walked past a Church. Outside there was a banner put up on the door that said with God everything is possible. I always thought God was some kind of metaphor for the spirit of our imaginations – I still do.

My Granddad was a minster at a Congregational Church and gave Sermons every Sunday. I never met him; he died of Leukaemia two months before I was born. My Grandma keeps a photograph of him on her mantelpiece above her fireplace. He’s lying down on a grass lawn and even though the picture is in black and white you can tell the sun is shining and the grass is warm.

In November last year I read one of my poems on BBC Radio. My Grandma told everyone at her Church. The ratings must have gone through the roof – 50 little old ladies in the middle of Hertfordshire were roaring from their sofas as my poem was spoken into their living rooms.


When I next saw my Grandma she spoke much about my Granddad and how he’d written sermons, short stories and poems while at home and travelling around. She gave me a box with the text of many of the sermons he gave. The papers looked brown and aged, some of the sermons were written up on a typewriter and others in cursive hand writing. His writing is incredibly neat and it’s always in blue. I couldn’t wait to be left alone with these. I took them home and started reading them in my room.

The papers smelt faintly rotten so I opened the window and read the sermon at the top of the pile. The heading read “Do this in remembrance of me”

I turned towards the window and read this out loud.

Luke – 22:14 – 20 (A.V.) Text – Luke 22:19

“Imagination. The vivid imagination of a child leads him to live in the world of his own creating. He really is Davy Crockett or Robin Hood or the policeman in Z Cars. Although the line between fact and fiction in the child’s imagination is not clearly drawn (ask him if he’s washed the back of his neck) such play is sometimes the beginning of a real career. The girl playing with her doll is preparing for motherhood. Imagination is an important factor in our lives that can lead to actual good or ill. It was the continual evil imagination of the thoughts of his heart that brought the destruction of the flood upon mankind, (Geneses 6) it can lead to arrogant opposition to God, “why do the heathen imagine a vain thing?” (Psalm 2)

On the other hand, it was the lively imagination of the Ethiopian guard at the Judean court that made him feel for the emaciated Jeremiah, a prisoner in the pit dungeon who let down some old rags to pad the rope with which he was to pull the prophet out of his prison.

Kindled Imagination can also lead us to grasp a reality so that we can act upon it. Memory tends to fade without some token to recall to the imagination of what we remember. In a play by J.B Priestly, a young widow complains that time is robbing her even of the memory of what her husband looked like. One reason for a photograph is so that we can recall to mind, through the imagination, not only the appearance but the personality of someone far from us”

I stopped reading and stood there with the imagination of my Granddad, a man who only exists to me as a photograph I’ve smiled at for years. I heard his voice echo inside a church hall and I smiled so hard you would have thought I was crying.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Chill Pill RELAUNCH - 30th March - Soho Theatre

Chill Pill created by Mista Gee (BBC Radio 4 - Bespoken Word, Rhyme & Reason host) Raymond Antrobus, Deanna Rodger, Simon Mole and Kim-Leng Hills.

A night of Word based entertainment. Due to Chill Pill's major success after a run at Scream Bar, Chill Pill is relaunching at Soho Theatre on March 30th.

Doors - 7.30pm

PRE-BOOK Tickets (£5) -

Tim Clare is a writer, stand-up poet and musician. His autobiographical book about having one last shot at your dreams, We Can’t All Be Astronauts, won Best Biography/Memoir at the East Anglian Book Awards 2009. It is out now from Ebury Press. He has written for the Guardian, the Times and the Independent, and has appeared on BBC2, Radio 1, 2, 4 and 6. In 2005 he presented the Channel 4 series ‘How To Get A Book Deal’.

Greeds (with Key notes) G.R.E.Ed.S (Generating Rhymes to Engage the EnlighteneD Soul) A performer, a poet, an entertainer with a love for music. Poetry provides him with a therapeutic space that has no boundaries where he can create his own pace, and tell his story his way. His journey is taking a new twist... Follow him as he shares this with you.

Harry Baker is a phenomenal 18 year old performance poet and winner of the online European Slam. Harry says he's on a whirlwind adventure since winning the poetry slam at Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2010.

Vanessa Kisuule is a performance poet and was a regular at Chill Pill, consistently burning the place down. Don't worry Soho have fire exits.

Keith Jarret is a national and international Slam Champion. A Chill Pill favourite. Camden based poet, teacher and short story writer.