VIDEO: 'Men Of Straw' By Performance Poet Chris Parkinson

Poet Pokes Fun At Newspapers

Chris Parkinson is the author of two books of poetry, and a prominent member of Brighton's vibrant performance poetry scene.

Here he delivers his acerbic - and very funny - verdict on the state of the British press, and tells us more about the poem, his love for Larkin and why he once set up a poetry event inspired by brothels...

What's your background in poetry?

I've been writing and performing poetry since about 2004. During the 2007 Brighton Fringe Festival, myself and fellow poet Jimmy McGee set up the world's first Poetry Brothel in which a 'punter' would select a poet from the range on offer and then be led off upstairs for some one-on-one poetry. It turned into the surprise smash hit of Brighton Fringe, there were outraged letters to the local paper, and we won a couple of awards. Subsequently there have been poetry brothels set up as far afield as Barcelona, Chicago, New York and Leicester.

How do you feel about the poetry slam scene?

I've got mixed feelings about performance poetry. I grew up reading a lot of non-performance-poetry (or poetry, as it's otherwise known). I think there's a lot of prejudice against performance poets by written poets - that it's a bit lazy, really, and in some ways they're right. If you're good at performing you can get away with murder sometimes and slip in some dodgy lines that would look horribly clunky if you looked at the poem on the page. On the other hand, poetry has always been an oral tradition, and as a (fairly) minority genre, it opens it up to new audiences. The idea that there are poetry events in Brighton which sell out a 400 capacity venue would have been inconceivable without performance poetry.

What's your poem about?

Men of Straw is about newspapers, but it's also about didacticism. I don't think there should be any place in poetry for didacticism. You can suggest radical new ideas and you can describe terrible (or beautiful) things, but it's important not to tell people what to think.

Which other writers do you most admire?

My favourite 20th century poets have to be T. S. Eliot and Philip Larkin. Eliot pretty much revolutionised poetry to me. Larkin is very different. He's incredibly dry, and can be hilarious in one line, and hauntingly sad in others. I envy his precision - lines like "Hatless, I take off / My cycle-clips in awkward reverence." (from Church Going). His reputation has gone down a bit after his death, with Andrew Motion digging up all those creepy letters to Kingsley Amis about how hot they both were for Margaret Thatcher and all that. But as a poet, he's pretty much untouchable.

What do you have planned for the future?

In the immediate future, I'm about to release my second collection of poetry - Fashion Tips for the Last Days. I'm launching it with an event on Wednesday 9 May at Brighton Fringe, which I'm fairly excited about. I'd quite like to start a regular night again at some point, but I'm not sure I've got the time to do that on my own. Ideally, I'd like to be a poet full time, but that doesn't seem likely at any time soon. Still, no-one gets into poetry to make money, do they?

Find out more about Chris Parkinson's work and events on his blogand Twitter account.


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