Last weekend I had the joy of being able to attend one of The Hague’s most-loved cultural events. Crossing Border is a music and literature festival and each year, while my teenage sons feast on a range of eclectic musical tastes, I make a beeline for the writers. I love to hear them being interviewed. It fascinates me to find out that these icons, these people I revere, are all pretty normal. It is thanks to Crossing Border that I have discovered new writers, like Stefan Merrill-Block, who wrote the wonderful Story of Forgetting. And it was here that I discovered the wonderful writing of MJ Hyland and This is How.
This year, I was reintroduced to the surprisingly ordinary Roddy Doyle and the definitely rather naughty DBC Pierre, but the thrill of the night came from an interview between two unusual poets – the Ronnie Wood lookalike punk poet, John Cooper Clarke, and the hiphop rapper/poet with the name inspired by an Edward Lear poem, Scroobius Pip. Clarke is in his 60s, Pip in his 30s. If you saw them together you would consider them a strange union. One is gangly, dresses scruffily in jeans and teshirts and sports a long dark beard. The other is whippet skinny in skinnier black jeans, has a black feather duster hairdo and wears yellow-lenses in his oversized reading glasses. Yet, onstage it became clear that they had much more in common than the dead pan dullish delivery of their far from lyrical poems. Yet, these two poets must be feted and thanked for what they have done. They have brought poetry to the people, they have performed at slam and open mike events and Clarke now gigs as as a stand up too. It is not the perfection of their poems that makes them worthy. No. Many of their works would have Wilfred Owen turning in his grave. It is the depth, the meaning and the points of their poems. The stories they tell and the messages they convey.
When I am helping my students and mentees to write I often find myself reminding them that whatever they write must have a point. It must have a purpose, a reason to live. The world has to be a better place for having those words in it. I believe that poets have to be wise. They have to be insightful and to be able to write words that resonate or provoke. Pip writes of dark subjects such as suicide, poverty and self-harming. Cooper Clarke writes about hire cars, streets and shirts. Every poem deserves to be there.
It stands to reason then, that the wisdom of these two unusual poets is worth sharing with you here. So here are my top three lines:
“[being a poet] is a 24/7 job. When we’re not working we’re observing and being inspired,” said Pip.
“The best thing about being a poet is that nobody can prove you’re not working,” continued John.
“[poets, however] can become burdened by significance,” said John, leaping up from his seat in excitement for having found exactly the right words.
The purpose, or point, or meaning of my trip to this year’s Crossing Border was just this – that what you have to say can often be worth far more than how you write it. That the way you deliver, write or perform your words can make all the difference in the world and that if you are a writer you will find parallels and metaphors everywhere you look. After all, you are working 24/7.
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