My Mum often reminds me that Buster Merryfield, who played Uncle Albert in Only Fools And Horses, didn’t become an actor until he was in his fifties (my Mum knows everything!). I recently turned 28. Though I don’t consider myself old, I do think that I was a bit of a latecomer into Poetry and Spoken Word, compared to some of the ever increasing list of brilliant performers I’ve seen that are under the age of 20. I have vague recollections of covering the subject of poetry back when I was at school, though most of those were of reading Roald Dahl poems when I was very young. I remember my GCSE NEAB Anthology was covered in graffiti about football and insults towards people’s Mums (not mine though yea!). Other than a picture of Shamus Heaney, that is about all I can recollect. No poems, just rubbish graffiti. It pretty much sums up my formal education.
I must have picked something up though, because I had a basic understanding of poems that used rhyming couplets and I was independently able to string some very simple pieces together the day that I decided I was going to have a go at writing poems, though I was no stranger to rhyming, at that stage I’d already spent a few years penning rap bars which certainly helped.
I came into Poetry fully aware that I knew next to nothing. Effectively uneducated, I’m quite sure this has reflected in my work. I remember one of the first poetry events I ever went to, Poetry Unplugged at the Poetry Café, watching a young guy step up to the microphone and explain in his pre-amble that he was highly influenced by Keats, receiving a few nods of approval amongst the many people sat in the cramped basement of the Poetry Café. Not only did I have no idea who Keats was, but I also had no idea, not for want of trying, what the poet was talking about when he read his piece. I certainly did not feel the bliss of ignorance at that moment, put simply, I felt stupid. If it wasn’t for hearing Niall O’Sullivan speak and then perform, and thinking to myself that he was both a genius and a bit of a geezer, I probably never would have gone back.
The interesting thing about my complete lack of poetical knowledge when I started out, is that my parents are very well-read (I told you, my Mum knows everything, and cooks a mean Sunday roast!). Despite both coming from working class backgrounds they believe education holds the key to betterment and would often tell me this. Of course I probably rubbished this, like I had done with most things at school. Unsurprisingly I spent the next 10 years after leaving school at 16 in all manner of mundane low-paid jobs, constantly battling to keep the creative part of my brain active.
When I first started going to Poetry nights, I quickly developed an enthusiasm for it. Knowing where my negative attitude had got me in the past, I was able to easily dismiss any pre-conceptions that I held and absorb as much as I possibly could without prejudice. I carried this attitude into a creative writing course I soon took up at Birckbeck College and then into theatre, when I got involved at BAC.
As embarrassing as it was, and still is, being that I’ve just exposed myself in this blog (as if you didn’t know!) it has been far outweighed by my enthusiasm, satisfaction and the enjoyment I’ve gained from the journey so far. I guess what I’m trying to say is, like the dearly departed Buster Merryfield ,and my Mum, who knows everything (except about the graffiti on my NEAB Anthology book), you’re never too old to give poetry a go, or most things for that matter!
Don’t be shy now….