This isn’t a poem

This isn’t a poem, it just looks like it.
It’s simply dressing up as ‘English Lit’,
It’s trying to lull you to a sense of security,
out of trust or intelligence or curiosity.

You’re sucked in, thanks to stanzas (and perhaps a rhyme),
Now it’ll pose as some greater question, or the meaning of life.
It’ll trick you into thinking that this cluster of words
Isn’t just letters on a screen,
But eloquent verse.

You’re scrabbling around for emotional meaning,
Just ignore the panic you’re no doubt feeling,
There’s got to be significance somewhere on the screen, and
Stop, you’ve sussed it, now you can breathe again.

This isn’t a poem, it’s just pretending to be. These are just tarted up words on a computer screen.

Today is World Poetry Day! Enjoy (and please don’t laugh).


Interview: Mark Grist

Mark Grist is one of my favourite poets, so when the chance to interview him came up, once I’d stopped leaping around with excitement, I picked up the phone and gave him a ring. He’s performing at the TakeOver Festival in York on Friday 22nd, get yourself tickets because it’s going to be a great show. Thanks to The Yorker + Katharine Wootton for arranging the interview

Mark Grist is the teacher-poet-rap battler who shot to Reddit-induced fame last year when he out-lyriced cocky youngster Bradley “Blizzard” Green. In his spare time, as well as leading projects in schools, teaching, being half of the double act Dead Poets, spitting lyrics, making TV and radio appearances, Mark manges to find time for a spot of touring. He’ll be at the TakeOver Festival in York next week, so Farrah Kelly rang him up for a chat.

His show, “Rogue Teacher” will be part of the annual theatre festival spread over three weeks in March, June and October in York. Performing on Friday 22nd March, “it’s the story- the tragic tale- of a secondary school teacher who quits to become a rap-battler. Then he shoots to fame after going viral on the internet, and we find out about all the chaos and fun that comes with that”

Sound familiar? Grist’s rap battle with rising rap star Blizzard has rocketed to well over 3 million views- not bad for one of the scenes most unlikely stars. “It’s quite a distinct art form, separate from page poetry. With page poets, they seem distant, like they’re hiding away. Rap battling is high-stress, you get a great nervous energy.

“I enjoy the restricting elements rap battling enforces on you, creativity comes from being restricted.”

Amongst these restrictions, Grist is a big fan of making things that little bit harder for himself. He’s written poems and spat bars only using one vowel, and has also vowed not to use sexist or homophobic language in his battles.

“It’s surprisingly difficult, it’s so widespread in battling that you have to analyse everything. Everyone else asks me ‘”why are you worried?”, but on my journey as a teacher, I punished people for using the same language. I can’t then use it myself, because I don’t want to be a hypocrite.”

Since the video, things have cooled down considerably for Grist; “it’s all less intense now. I’ve got a more regular working week.” Is he still recognised? “Yeah, I find it funny, I’ll be chatting to someone and tell them I do rap battles. They’ll then tell me about this YouTube video they saw with a teacher and a student…Then they go ‘that was you, wasn’t it?’”.

Teaching clearly still has it’s hold. He runs workshops in schools with the other half of the Dead Poets duo, Mixy, showing pupils how to tap into their poetic creativity through rap.

“I’m worried about the direction education is going in. It’s looking bleak, they’re stifling these kid’s creativity”. Grist is unimpressed with Gove’s changes, commenting that the EBacc makes it easier for middle class suburban youngsters, but much harder for others.

“I do miss teaching, I might go back in a few years. It’s really amazing that I’ve got to do these things, it’s nice to mix it up a bit.”

Grist’s softer side resides in his more “standard” poetry. Away from the buzz and aggression of battles, some of his best work is starting to gain appreciation. His “feminist anthem”, Girls Who Read also shared a little of the internet fame, making the front page of Reddit.

“There’s lots of reasons a rap battle will become big, but that was just a poem being recorded on a mobile phone.” Hopefully, this is a sign of things to come. Grist’s poetry deserves real recognition- this isn’t just your average “down-with-the-kids” teacher.

Grist seems to agree: “I’ll do rap battling for another year, but I’d like to produce another piece of work to be remembered by. I won’t always be ‘that guy from the YouTube video’”. Though to be fair, the battle isn’t a bad piece of work to be remembered by.


Originally published: TheYorker March 17th 2013. Read my orignial blog post on the viral video here: Rapping Lyrical


Library Assholes

It’s Year Three, Term Two, Week Ten. Or, as I like to think of it: “Oh God Oh God Oh God.” Or as my lecturers like to call it: “Let’s give you ALL the assignments“. Long story short, I spend a lot of time in the library these days.

Once upon a fresherdom, the library was that building full of books I didn’t read. I kept it at arms length, well aware that the second and third years with real work to do could spot a fresher hogging a desk from a mile off. Fast forward to second year, where the good people at AP Housing thought we’d be able to write all of our essays on a desk the size of an ironing board, and the library quickly became my second home. This is when I met the Library Assholes.

Library Asshole [lai-brar-ee | ass-hoal] n. sg: A person whose presence and or activities in a library setting are irritating to other library goers. Diet: Key Texts and Facebook. Most active during exam season.

By not conforming to Library Etiquette, these people cement themselves as the worst people ever. There’s the obvious Library Assholes, the ones who confuse ‘Quiet Zones’ for a bloody canteen. Oh, you got your pizza delivered to the Silent Zone? Aren’t you just the quirkiest. You’d better Instagram that shit immediately.

As well as the obvious Library Assholes, a species so unforgivable we can only really pity them, there’s the subtle ones. The ones that are accidental. The empty desk being scowled at- when the piles of notes on top of it are in use, but the fella has just nipped to the loo. The girl so lost in her research that she doesn’t notice her phone frantically buzzing on the corner of the desk. Yesterday, my laptop loudly started playing “No Diggity”, and the mute button wouldn’t kick in until after the chorus. The shame.

So, this blog isn’t simply another passive aggressive release of frustration. It’s a plea, really. The world is full of Library Assholes. That’s because everyone is one, even you, even me. Sometimes it’s an accident, and you can feel the people around you stopping what they’re doing to write a Facebook status about you. So, let’s all judge less harshly. People make mistakes, sometimes they don’t realise they’ve been singing Taylor Swift out loud. Sometimes they really needed to play that level of Candy Crush.

Let’s all just live and let live. Unless you’re being one of those ostentatious sods, loudly having your lunch and treating the surrounding students to a rendition of “what happened to me last night”. If you’re one of them, well, you can just fuck off.


The problem with porn

Admit it, you watch porn. I know it. Your housemates know it. Your internet history thinks it knows it, but I guess the memory got deleted right around 1am that Tuesday night no one was in last week.

The point is, people watch porn. And yet the only times people admit this truth hands-on is either on the internet, in anonymous capacities, or when they’re purposefully being self-deprecating. Oh, and when they’re men.

No, I don’t think I know a single woman who’d openly and casually talk about porn in a way that wasn’t politically fuelled. “Oh, did you see RedTube’s newest video? The one with the sailor on leave? Yeah, that really rocked my boat.” Yeah right. We’re more likely to hand back the vote, as far as I can see. I think there’s two reasons for this, and I’m going to solve these problems for you.

  1. Porn is embarrassing.
  2. We should be embarrassed of porn.
1. It’s embarrassing because you don’t want people to know that you’re sexually active on your own, you don’t want people to assume they think you’re pathetic or weird or a pervert. You don’t want to get caught out and you don’t want to admit that watching a video of two (or more) people going at it turns you on because ew

Solution: They’re totally watching it too, they’re just better hypocrites than you are. Also buy some Porn Headphones.
2. We should be embarrassed of porn, because despite it simply being a visual depiction of a natural (mostly, there’s some weird stuff out there) sexual act, it’s awful
At risk of inciting feminist hatred, I’m going to quote my favourite feminist on this matter.

In a world where you can get a spare kidney, a black-market Picasso, or a ticket to a ride into space, why can’t I see some actual sex? Some actual fucking from people who want to fuck each other? – Caitlin Moran How To Be A Woman

Porn sucks. The music, the heavy eyeliner and fake tan, the creepy set ups. I would ask who actually gets off on that stuff, but it appears to be working well enough to spawn a mutli-billion dollar industry, and hey, who am I to judge your tastes. 
On the darker side, we should be embarrassed because it’s intrinsically unethical. Not all of it, and not the act of watching it. But you’d be surprised how much child porn [edit: link to BBC news article on increase of child porn allegations] there is, how damaging “revenge” porn is, and how many people are involved non-consensually- from “upskirt” shots to rape. Links are SFW.

Solution: Buying some special porn headphones isn’t going to solve this one. People aren’t, unfortunately, going to stop downloading unethical porn just because I’ve written a blog about it. But a conversation I had on campus with some friends about Lad Mags got me thinking.

What if Lad Mags were able to go the extra mile, and were allowed to publish free porn videos on their website? That way, there’d be editorial control over who was involved and how ethical the scenes are. They could be as explicit as ever- I wouldn’t suggest all explicit porn be banned- and would make money the same way other free porn sites do, through advertising and “pro” membership.

Editorial control would ensure consenting partners earned a fair wage and were over eighteen, and could even be in charge of quality control- no unnatural orange tans here thank you. This kind of “healthy” porn would be less embarrassing (sort of) to admit to watching, and would tip the balance of what is ethically acceptable online in our favour. As a consumer of porn, you’d feel slightly less guilty because the site you’re watching doesn’t link to, or involve any unethical videos/images. Sure, the bad stuff would still exist, but if there were less of an audience for it, there’d be less production of it.

I don’t think we should go the full mile and ban violent porn like Iceland, simply because people will want to watch it anyway, and they’ll find a way. But if it was regulated- in terms of people involved, not in how explicit it is- then we could potentially be one step closer to a porn industry we wouldn’t be ashamed of.