Crisis and Collaboration
It’s a few years back and I’m still pretty active on the London open-mic scene. I’ve not long started out and there aren’t many spoken word nights in South Essex for us to attend*, so we’ve hit the London scene pretty hard. Nowadays we’ve got legends like Jay Laker and his Peggy Sue nights, The Estuary Fringe Festival, Shane Ibbs running story telling evenings, and our own Poetry in Commotion nights. But as I said, it’s a few years back, and these events either haven’t began yet, or I am yet to discover them – so London it is.
I’ve managed to blag a few feature nights here and there at poetry events around the city and a poet called Liam Mac an Phearsúin, who I have open miced with and got talking to, has asked me to do a feature slot at a poetry event he is running down Brick Lane. I’m sharing the bill with a poet I’ve never met before called “Ghettogeek”. So I do what any red blooded millennial does before they meet someone for the first time, I Facebook stalk him.
I’m seeing videos of his stuff and I like what I see. I wind up adding him on the pretence that we are sharing a stage so we should probably have a chat beforehand, sort out a poster for the show and coordinate our sets etc – but it’s mostly because he seems like an interesting chap, with a world view not a million miles away from my own. I’d started out writing in partnership with another artist. We were the worlds smallest collective- “The Tory Town Poets”**. But we’ve recently knocked that on the head and I’m looking to write collaboratively again. I’ve always found that writing with a like minded person can be a exhilarating experience and has, in my opinion, lead to some of my most energetic and exciting work. Miserable poetry – I can do that on my own quite happily. Something exciting with a bit of kick – nothing can beat the energy that comes from batting ideas around, finishing one another’s ideas and becoming mutually excited about the same piece of art. It creates dynamism that translates directly to the page.
So we do the gig. It’s a good gig! And afterwards we’re talking about ideas for future projects. It seems collaboration is on both of our minds.
So now it is a week or so later and we are racking our brains about what sort of form this collaboration should take. We are both poets, but love our hip hop so we know we want something fast and angry, something that is a protest in verse, something with calls, responses and a punchy delivery. We are the same wave length politically, and bat around a few ideas but it’s 2015 and the amount of nasty stuff happening in society to write about is an extremely long list. The cuts we have been promised for so long have started to take effect, and most of us realise that this is only the start.
Out of the general chit chat Thomas reveals that his sister is a carer and coincidentally my sister is doing the exact same job. On top of that my mother is a receptionist at a doctor’s surgery and I am regularly going to parties at my mate’s house which are inexplicably full of break-dancing student doctors***.We are discussing how these people in our lives, working in healthcare are getting such a rough deal. We are talking about how the patients are the ones who truly suffer when it comes to government cuts. We are talking junior doctors and their struggle. We are discussing PFI and creeping privatisation. It feels like we have our idea.
Frodo went to Mordor, Bonzo went to Bitburg and a month down the line, Thomas Owoo is coming to Basildon. Basildon, for those of you not in the know, is the cultural capital of Essex. We are the home of Depeche Mode, the “Basildon” Hollywood letters, and (according the sign on the side of the van) the “Best Kebab”. Thomas and I have found ourselves in the Winged Horse, my local pub, and after purchasing a couple of pints (that cost about the third of the price that London based Thomas is used to) – we share our notes.
I listen to Blindboy from the Rubberbandit’s**** pod cast religiously. He talks an awful lot about something called flow. When you are doing something that you are so engrossed in that nothing else outside of what you are doing is happening. Painters and writers get this a lot – a state where you are feverishly creating, sometimes neglecting eat and drink. It’s not just artists – you can get in a state of flow mowing the garden, solving mathematical puzzles or preparing a meal. I’ve experienced flow many times when writing – but this is the first time I have reached that creative state writing collaboratively with somebody else. The creative process is natural and it is effortless. Ideas just spill onto the page. The second one of us stops, the other knows exactly where to take it. Sometimes it is like two runners keeping pace with one another and occasionally it is a relay with one picking up from where the other hands over. After a couple of pints in the corner of an Essex pub, the currently unnamed NHS poem has taken form in its first draft. (Apologies for those of you who thought this was going to be a love story. We just wrote a spoken word poem together. Nothing else happened.)
Now it’s 2016 and we are sitting on this poem*****. We feel like this is going to be something big but it needs to presented in the correct way. Sure we can just perform it at a few nights, take it on a little tour, but that would only reach a handful of people. Plus it’s a universally recognised fact that the vast majority of people at poetry nights are other poets. And yeah, it’s grand that we share our work with one another, steel sharpens steel after all, but that’s not going to get this poem out to our intended audience – the general public. Tom thinks big, much bigger than me; the guy is a poet entrepreneur. Where my ideas for sharing a piece of art like this would probably be a camera phone recording shakily held at an open mic night, Thomas is already booking up a recording studio to get a high quality audio track to go alongside a professional video.
It’s 2017, Ghettogeek and I have been off doing our own thing. He’s been kicking arse with Ghettogeek TV and continuing to make massive waves in the London scene, we’ve both been making our moves in the poetry/education world, I’ve started up my poetry night, had a few film opportunities and got the website up and running – but we’ve still got this poem. Meanwhile the crisis in the NHS, still in it’s infancy in 2015 is growing and growing. Every day I’m awaking to headlines about junior doctor strikes, winter crises and the news is hitting closer and closer to home as rumours begin to spread that one of my local hospitals is a risk of closure. Those cuts that seemed like dark clouds on the horizon when pen first hit paper are now tempest tearing through health service creating very tangible, very real harm on the population.
We’ve toyed with the idea of filming a live action video, even got as far shooting a scene. But we are both working in education and balancing countless art projects – so it’s not exactly straight forward to coordinate. We’ve spoken about how we want something more than just audio, something that hits just as hard as the words and leaves a lasting impression. Thomas has got just the thing.
It is late 2017 and I’m sitting in my car, in a car park******. I’ve just been sent a first draft of what animator, Crissy Bogusz, has done with our creation. The Dada style cut outs, the eerie Blade Runner-esque soundtrack, the words that hit with the text. It looks like it sounds and it sounds like it looks. I am extremely proud of what we have created and even more impressed with what it has evolved into. I await the green light for release day.
It is now early 2018 and we are finally sharing with the world the fruit of our labours. This isn’t just a poem, for me this a creative project spanning two years of my life. In many ways I’m sorry to see it finished but on the other hand I cannot wait for the rest of you to see it. The fact that this poem, first conceived of in the early days of the cuts, has only grown more and more relevant is deeply upsetting – but maybe that’s the reason it needs to be shared now. Maybe this is the perfect time for Thomas and I to unleash our best kept secret, our collaboration – NHS Crisis
*Excluding Sundown Arts of course. You guys have been holding it down since day dot!
**The smallest collective you can have is two. Sorry. One person is a collection of cells I suppose…but they can’t be an art collective. And even if they could – one person calling themselves a collective is definitely sad.
*** For real.
**** If you don’t know the Rubberbandits – get to know them now.
****** It wasn’t anything weird. I just don’t text and drive and neither should you!