Yesterday I bore witness to the poetical powerhouse that is Sadie Davidson, in a twenty five minute spoken word set that bit with lightning like fury and machine gun delivery. This was edgy and dangerous poetry.
She got me thinking. What is it that made this work have a massive impact on me? Why did I get goosebumps. Why did I believe her? In a conversation with a few other poets after the event it became obvious why it had been so believable. It was real. Every last word was a word of truth. Every image had once been seen through her eyes and every emotion was hers, still present, bubbling just below the surface, burning behind her eyes.
It almost goes without saying that the best art draws experience from real life. As poets we want to show one another the world through our own eyes. In a world where much seems increasingly false, transient and utterly pointless, something that is truly real is often hard to come by.
I spent my teens obsessed with punk music. I was involved in a few bands as a performer and did a tiny bit of roadie work as well. If there is one thing I took away from that scene, it was the importance placed on being "real". Bands had to be genuine. A real importance was placed on being from a working class background and being proud. Kids with fancy clothes and half decent instruments were sneered at. You wanted to be the spitting, swearing bloke with a cheap guitar and charity shop clothes because he was real.
In hindsight not an awful lot of that scene was very real at all! Most of us were playing dress-up as pantomime working class kids. We tried a little bit too hard. It's cool if your jeans got ripped. Its seriously uncool if you did, like me, once take your mums cheese grater to a pair of perfectly good jeans in order to make them look ripped!
But still, there was a craving for something raw, something without the edges knocked off of it, something visceral and real. When I think about the most inspiring songs and poems I have ever heard, they all share that one thing in common. They all somehow cut through the corporate polished pop sound and mainstream message. They all cut through all of that haze and let the listener or reader somehow peer in.
This is why an awful lot of (but not all of) the poetry used in advertising is so very painful to listen to. Try making a poem that doesn't make a statement. Try making a poem that fits within the boundaries of what a company wants and doesn't say anything that might go against their carefully cultivated image. It is really not easy.* It's hard to create quality work while holding something back or to create half decent art when coming purely from a motivation to make a few quid as opposed to writing what has naturally come to you and reflects what you think and feel.
So how as poets can we create something "real"? I think Sadie has this down perfectly. We need to be honest. We need to be honest with ourselves. We need to be ourselves and not what we think we should be.
Anybody familiar with my body of work may have been quite surprised when they read my most recent work "Cro-Magnon Plan". This didn't fit the previous mould that I had created for myself. My poetry had always been reflections upon growing up in Basildon, social commentary and occasionally political rants. This had all been very important to me, and still is. However after suffering a massive loss and upheaval in my life around a year or so ago, my focus shifted. I was in an extremely dark place.
I attempted to channel a deep depression into creativity, using writing purely as a cathartic exercise. This poetry was angry, self pitying and far too honest. It was real. It was so real in fact I shoved it in a great wooden crate alongside the Ark from Indiana Jones and stamped it "Not fit for human consumption." I sat on my secret Nazi crate for months.
"Life is a series of peaks and troughs" according to David Brent**. Soon I was on the mend. This was
partly due to my own determination to get better but more so because of the love and support from those closest to me. I was then confronted with the fact that I had become a generally happy-go-lucky sort of chap who owned a secret deep dark poetry collection in the store room next to the Ark and all the Nazi gold.
Eventually I decided to release this body of work. At the time I think it meant closure. Upon reflection I think that it is some of my favourite poetry that I have ever created***. I think it is the realest I have ever been. This is the closest I have ever come to really bearing my soul and putting a piece of myself onto the page.
Is it any good? How the hell do I know? I can just promise that it is real! I know that when I see other artists, like Sadie and so many others in our ever growing South Essex scene, at their best it is when they draw from their own experience and channel it into creativity without any apologies or any holding back.
Sadie spoke to me last night about how spoken word has been a massive positive influence in her life. She, like so many of us midnight scribblers, has used poetry as a way of raising herself up and taking control of changing her own circumstances. She has taken personal pain and suffering and converted it into a righteous zeal, a furious and unstoppable art form that forces the listener to see what she has seen, and just for a moment, feel what she has felt.
For me, the equation I used to create what I believe to be the best thing that I have created thus far**** was Pain + Time = Art. I took real life pain, experienced it and lived it, then when the time was right I poured it into what I created. Yesterday I saw Sadie do this too and every time I see a poet who makes me stop, listen and believe them, I guarantee that they have done the same.
Sadie Davidson, hands down one of the "realest" poets you are ever likely to hear can be found at:
My book Cro-Magnon plan is currently available to buy from:
*Believe me I've tried. I've applied for a few advertising gigs and failed miserably! Maybe I'm just too real man!
**Eastern wisdom. So...
***Tried to find different ways to write this that didn't sound like I like the smell of my own farts. I failed! As artists we all have pieces of work we like and others we like less...or down right hate!
****Okay, so what if I like the smell of my own farts? (metaphorically speaking!)
PHOTO CREDIT: DEAN LONSDALE, YELLOW ADVERTISER