Meet: Megan Beech, student slam poet extraordinaire. 20 year old from Bridgwater, Somerset. Second year English Literature student at King's College London.
When did you first start slamming?
I did my first slam when I was 17, I'd always been keen on writing but as a pretty shy, introverted school girl it wasn't ever the kind of thing I wanted to stand up in front of my peers and share. My secondary school English teacher, to whom I am still thoroughly indebted, first mentioned the word 'slam' to me when I was about 16 and before then I hadn't even heard of it really.
Tell us about your first performance.
My first proper performance was in a slightly dim, dark fairy lit basement in Stoke's Croft, Bristol taking part in a slam. I was 17, gawky, awkward and supremely nervous. I went up and performed my piece about how much I love Glastonbury and ending up winning the slam. The DJ at the gig also coordinated a small stage at Glastonbury festival and so the third gig I ever did was on that festival stage, which was incredibly exciting and nerve-wracking too.
Who has inspired you the most with your poetry?
I have always loved literature and Percy Shelley is probably my all-time favourite poet, but I am also inspired by so many people in the contemporary poetry scene. People like Kate Tempest who is incredibly talented and has become immensely popular starting off from spoken word and hip-hop roots. I really love the music and poetry of Dizraeli and I really wouldn't be where I was without Joelle Taylor, an amazing poet who coordinates the SLAMbassadors competition at The Poetry Society, which I was fortunate enough to win.
What is your biggest achievement to date?
Winning the Poetry Society's national youth slam, SLAMbassadors gave me such a platform to share my work with a lot more people and just generally opened so many doors for me. I would say I am most proud of having my book of poems When I Grow Up I Want to be Mary Beard published because I still can't believe that it is a real thing that people can actually read or buy.
One of your poems, 99 Problems, tackles the issue of misogynistic language in songs and how it contributes to illustrate gender inequality in society today. How do you think we can tackle young people being influenced by the lyrics to songs like Blurred Lines?
I think what is most important is challenging the rhetoric of these songs and preventing it from becoming normalised. If you look at the Blurred Lines campaigns to prevent the song being played on university campuses, it was incredibly successful and instituted real change and all of that is because people are challenging what they are listening to. I don't want to live in a world where it is acceptable to call women 'bitches' or condone sexual assault as long as its done with a funky bass line underneath. It's also really important to note this isn't a problem only endemic in the music industry, these representations of women are everywhere in wider culture and we need to combat that kind of sexist rhetoric wherever we find it.
Megan, about your book of poems, When I Grow Up I Want to Be Mary Beard. How do you think performance poetry can be transferred into written word?
I never thought I'd ever have a book out and I've been really excited and genuinely surprised at the response to it. I was initially apprehensive about having the poems in print, as when you are performing you put pretty insistent rhythms into the way you read it and it was a bit scary to leave that up to the reader and have to relinquish that control. I think the main thing to note though is that performance poetry is poetry and is as a legitimate form of poetical expression as standard page poetry and so why not transfer those pieces to written word. This is something that really underlines the message of my publisher Burning Eye Books and I think that kind of risk-taking is needed in the poetry scene.
So Mary Beard is your idol?
Apart from my flatmate Kate ,who is the most insanely patient and brilliant human being, Mary Beard is absolutely my idol! Mary Beard just embodies all the ideals I hold dear. She is an incredibly intelligent woman, unabashed about expressing her opinion and had such a measured response in the face of ludicrous and deeply misogynist online abuse. She's also been thoroughly supportive with the book and was incredibly lovely when I recently met her in person. I want to be an academic when I am older and so I am also incomparably inspired by all the incredible female academics in my department; particularly the lovely lefty Victorianists!
What does the rest of 2014 have in store for you?
Apart from finishing up my studies for the year, I've got more performances coming up across the country and hopefully a bit of relaxing time in store too as I'm off to Glastonbury. I'd love to start writing towards a new collection for the next year or two but I will probably most likely be found with my head in a Dickens novel studying for my dissertation.