Bristol poet Shaun Clarke chats to fellow local writers about the creative process, and the challenge of making your name as an artist.
Photo: Trinity Centre
I spoke to three eclectic wordsmiths making waves on Bristol’s poetry scene. Why do they express themselves through poetry, where do they perform, and what advice do they have for people who have something to say, but don’t know how to say it?
Nationally acclaimed writer and performer Rebecca Tantony started listening to hip-hop at 14.
“Slick Rick, Gangstar, Sage Francis, Buck 65 … I was inspired by the honesty their words represented.”
At university she ran a poetry night, taught spoken word – and kept being inspired.
“I noticed the impact that expression had. The gift of telling your personal story, be it silly, confessional, political, is really unifying.”
Years later, she’s reached a point where she can “just about” make her living through her words.
Last year she published Talk You Round Till Dusk, a collection of short stories and poems, and hosts slam competition Hammer & Tongue.
Her writing reflects on what it means to be human … “all the weird and wonderful aspects of us all”.
She explores ideas of home, travel, immigration and belonging, in ‘All the Journeys I Never Took’, her new collection. She’ll be performing it at the Wardrobe Theatre this October.
Does she prefer her audience to read her words or watch her perform them?
“They both have their unique offerings. With poetry on a page you have time to dissect, get lost in and peel back the layers of a piece of work. Page poetry is intimate. With live performance you do not have the chance to do this, but you have an injection of intensity… You have the collective – an audience alongside you sharing the experience.”
She told me what she wants to achieve with her words:
“To celebrate and illuminate the human experience. To blow apart conventional rules of poetry … to swear less. To love more.”
She advises others,
“There are so many words that haven’t been said yet. In any way that you can find to say them, speak.”
Passionate performer Vanessa Kisuule was first inspired by poetry through YouTube videos – and that initial spark has led her to win multiple slam competitions and publish two collections, including Joyriding the Storm.
She lives in Bristol, but has performed across the country, from Glastonbury to Shambala, supporting artists like Kate Tempest.
Recently she’s been slamming out hip-hop at the Harbour Festival, and writing on Brexit.
She told me the page vs stage debate is a tired red herring – her work is for both.
“… the two things intersect all the time… I don’t know how useful or important it is to insist that they are somehow two warring factions.”
She urges budding poets to keep pushing themselves.
“Share your work in whatever capacity works for you. Just keep plugging away.”
“Write loads, Read more. Live a full life and be observant of the little details.”
Writer and historian Dr Edson Burton is deeply entwined with Bristol. He works on community development at the Trinity Centre, has contributed to the city’s LGBT History Month and worked with Bristol Radical History Group. He said,
“I belong, and there’s a sense of community.”
He had a smash hit with Curried Goat and Fishfingers, a Bristol Old Vic collaboration with fellow local poet Miles Chambers, exploring the experience of being black, British and more besides.
He’ll also be performing pieces on the history of slavery for Bristol’s Literary Archaeology project this October.
“I’m a grass roots artist – I try a make a poem relevant,” he said, adding, “We’re in a network. Through trust we build relationships.”
For Edson, poetry is “a search for one’s unique voice… [it’s] about being an individual.”
He advises others,
“Have confidence in your way of seeing. While being inspired by others, prioritise your own voice.”
“Write down observations that are lyrical. Set time aside. Whatever makes you write.”
“Write, struggle, but don’t lose hope.”
Watch Edson performing his piece How Our Love Survives:
Credit: Firstborn Studios