An Interview with Bob Hill

I first got in to the poetry of Bob Hill by accident. I was searching for a friend on Facebook, also named Bob Hill, when I noticed that there was a Bob Hill who had thirty-something mutual friends. Thinking that this Bob Hill was the other Bob Hill, I sent him a request. Bob Hill said yes.

The more I got into the world of performance poetry, the more I realized that this was a happy accident, for Bob is one of the finest names in the genre. Inventive, human and very funny, Bob’s oeuvre was right up my street.

I never did find the other Bob Hill.

Bob’s poetry is rich in wordplay and humour and a real concern for the way that we live our lives. Yet the emphasis is clearly on comedy. Bob is a ‘stand-up poet’, feeding off the reactions of the audience and making each performance a site-specific engagement.

Bob is also a significant figure in the poetry landscape, having supported such names as John Cooper Clarke and Porky the Poet. I urge everyone to seek him out on YouTube or at a poetry venue, or to sample his collection, ‘Jack Hughes is Dead’.

– Hello, Bob. How did you get in to performance poetry?
• Hi Robert, I started to perform poetry after searching for a poetry group in Bournemouth where I live. The only one I found on the internet was ‘Freeway Poets’, a monthly open-mic event. I went along, signed up and blasted out a political poem called ‘The Hatfield Anti-Nazi League’. I got a rather raucous and positive reception and really that convinced me that performing my poems was another option for me to get them out there. I consider myself a poet who performs and am just as happy at more low key readings as well as doing the ‘stand-up’ stuff.

– You have a brilliantly informed and cheerful performance style. How much of this is your actual personality, and how much is a persona that you adopt on stage?
• Wow, that’s a question I do ask myself as well. I think I’d have to say that my on stage persona is informed by and reflects my personality but so do my poems themselves when they are on the page. I hope that I am multi-faceted and I feel that my stage performances reflect the ‘me’ when I’m in the pub with my oldest and closest friends.

– You’ve supported some of the biggest names in performance poetry. Who are your heroes and influences in poetry?
• I don’t really have heroes as such, it’s a word that I’m not really that comfortable with. However, I do have influences but they change over time and with my reading of other poets and writers. The two poems which have influenced me in terms of kick starting my own attempts to write poetry in the first place were Browning’s ‘Porphyra’s Lover’ and Christina Rossetti’s ‘The Goblin Market’. Add to that the hip-hop lyrics of KRS1 and Public Enemy and the performance styles and lyrics and musicality of Esther Phillips, Jill Scott, Linton Kwesi Johnson and Gil Scott-Heron and there you have my direct influences regarding poetry. As I said though, the process of improving as a poet has ongoing and new influences with everything I read. This would also include prose writers too. Also, the old folk club comedians such as Billy Connolly, Mike Harding, Jasper Carrot and Jake Thackeray have been an influence in my writing and performance.

– Do any other art forms or media influence your work?
• Yes, I often use paintings, drawings and photographs as prompts to my writing. For example a recent poem of mine, ‘Reunion’, is based on a painting by John Atkinson Grimshaw entitled ‘An Autumn Idyll’. I also find that music has kickstarted some of my work as well.

– There’s a lot of wordplay in some of your poems. Is this influenced by a love of language?
• Broadly speaking, yes. However it is the wordplay that comes with really well told anecdotes and/or jokes that really influences any wordplay in my writing. A poem works like a well written or well told joke in that one has to trust the audience to understand it by its context and nuances rather than by signposting one’s own ‘meanings’. Jokes and poems work on shared experience and universal understandings and wordplay aids these understandings if the writer trusts the reader/listener.

– Poetry is just one of your interests and pursuits. What else do you do?
• I write short stories and flash fiction, I DJ and listen to a wide range of music, I read vociferously. I debate politics and social issues, I love facilitating others in their own writing. I visit Paris as often as I can. Just sitting and chatting over a drink of some kind or a meal happens a lot too. I have a road bike which I venture out on looking like a mis-shapen carrot in orange lycra. I also watch a lot of films of all genres.

– Do you have a set idea or theme for a poem when you write, or does the idea evolve along with the poem?
• It depends. For example, if it’s a commissioned piece then the theme is set by whoever is paying and what they want the poem to represent. The poem itself will evolve with every re-write and re-draft regardless of what the starting point was. I’ve just written a poem a day for #AdventPoems and I never really knew where those poems would go until I’d written them but the body of poems had the theme of ‘Christmas’ as a starting point.

– What would you say were your ‘greatest hits’?
• Two, in particular; ‘The Iron Lady: Rust in Peace’ which I wrote the day that the Chilean miners were pulled out of the ground and ‘Dividing Assets’ which is a bit of a morality and revenge tale involving a feckless man.

– Do you have any particular philosophy or message in your work?”
• I like to present the idea that all things can be seen from different perspectives; physical, philosophical, sociological, political whatever. Added to this I like to show the realities of ordinary lives but with the idea that all tragedy has comedy and vice versa and that the mundane has its own mysteries and fascinations.
https://bobhillpoetry.wordpress.com/

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An Interview with Saskia Tomlinson

Saskia Tomlinson is one of my favourite Devon-based performance poets. Such is the breadth of her subject matter, the beauty and virtuosity of her writing, the ease of her performance style and her engaging personality, she could well become one of the most accomplished performance poets in the country.

I have only known Saskia for a couple of years, having first seen her at the Exeter Poetry Slam, and then booking her to perform at Poetry Island which I used to host at the time. Since then she has gone on to win slams and appear at festivals, while her art and animations go from strength to strength.

At the same time I detect a certain eccentricity beneath the surface, which only endears me to her, and her to her audiences, even more. Who else would give away free organic vegetables at a poetry slam? Who else would walk all the way across Barnstaple to make sure that a restaurant had recycled a plastic bottle? And most touchingly of all, who else would give me a present of a pink zebra-patterned roll of gaffer tape? I treasure it to this day.

As a result, Saskia gives the impression of being a fully rounded individual with a sly sense of humour and a clear sense of who she is and her place in the world.

A couple of months ago I decided to try and interview some of the local performers who make the South Devon scene so exciting, and who better to start with than the performer who might well become one of the finest on the national circuit?

– Hello Saskia. You recently performed a poem that you’d written at an early age. When, and why did you start writing and performing poetry?

“Yes I have been writing from an early age. At school I always loved the creative writing we had to do, and would happily stand up in front of the class to speak them. It’s amazing how children have so much confidence. I started preforming in front of people by singing songs I had written. Then I realised that I couldn’t really sing or play the guitar so speaking my words came much easier to me.”

– Who or what are your influences as a poet / performer?

“I used to be obsessed with TS Elliott’s poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”, even thought I really had no idea what it was about. The imagery really stood out to me. I used to completely nick lines from the poem and put them into mine. But over the last few years I have been going to spoken word events and been inspired by so many performers, and started the find my own voice in that crowd I think.

-Do you rehearse? And if so, how long does it take to become familiar with a poem?
“No I don’t really rehearse, sometimes I don’t know what I’m going to do until I get to the venue. I find it terrifying to read a poem on stage. So I memories my poems by going over them before I fall asleep at night.”

– As well as performance poetry, you also excel in art, animation and film making. Which of these interests you the most? Which are you most proud of?
“I do want to be an animator. I have found that animation and poetry go perfectly well together because they both work with images that are constantly evolving, and this can be really interesting”.

– Do you get nervous before a performance?
“Yes I get very nervous, and sometimes waffle on a bit when I am introducing a poem.”

– Your performance style seems closely related to your personality. Do you adopt or exaggerate certain aspects of your personality in performance? Do you perform a ‘version’ of yourself?
“I think everybody does that when they preform. Don’t they? It is important to stay true to your personality. I think in South Devon we have such a range of personalities in the performance poetry world, and thats why its such a vibrent scene.

Thank you very much, Saskia Tomlinson!

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My Notebook has Finally Run Out of Pages

Since I started ‘performing’ poetry up and around and all over the place, I’ve used the same notebook. It has become a major part of my stage persona because it is the one thing that remains the same whenever I get behind a microphone. And as such, it has become an integral part of my image, and been prodded and cooed over by a wide variety of people from all over the country. Vanessa Kisuule got all unnecessary over it during an Apples and Snakes event in Exeter. Jack Dean held it, almost lovingly, while we shared a drink at a bar in Edinburgh. Other people have held it, stroked it, and even taken photos of it. Indeed, the damn thing has become more well-known and adored than its owner could ever be.

It started life as a weather diary, but I only bought it because I liked the fabric cover and the fact that I could glue poems on to the page. They seemed to stick really well, no matter what kind of glue stick I used. Oh, the hours I would spend cutting out poems and glueing them in! I stuck a label on the front with just the one word – ‘Poems’ – just in case I forgot which notebook they were in. As I advanced through my poetry career, this label became a source of amusement. Of course it’s got poems

The book is filled with corrections and amendments. When a poem was no longer seen as worthy enough to be performed, it would be carefully removed and a new poem placed on the page. Some of the pages were torn because of this. When I took part in a slam in Berlin, I had to write my name in phonetic letters ‘ GARNUM’ written in big letters on the inside cover. Then I had to make the poem German-friendly by removing elements that only English people would know about. Top Gear. Nick Clegg. That sort of thing.

There were stage directions, too, from various performances and productions. Scribbles, question marks and hasty revisions. The Swindon poem was mostly written during the interval while I waited to appear in the final of the Swindon Poetry Slam. (I lost to Tina Sederholm). There’s a funny smell to the cover, having put the book down in a closed shop doorway while doing outside street poetry. And it’s been battered by five years of travel up and down the country to various venues.

And then one day, a stern warning from a fellow performer at an event in Barnstaple. ‘Are there copies of the poems in there?’ ‘No’. ‘Then do you realise that if you lost that book, your career is doomed?’ Touchingly, he added, ‘I’m very worried about this happening’.

Saskia Tomlinson bought some pink zebra print gaffer tape for me and I covered some of the cover with it.

So yes, the book has become an integral part of me. But now it is full up!

I went out searching for a new book the other day and I found one. It’s smaller and more durable but it just isn’t the same. Nevertheless, I have already stuck some new poems in there, and it seems redolent with the promise of a new year, a new me.

The book will continued. It has a buddy now. Someone to share the workload.

To celebrate this fact, here’s one or two of these new poems.

Poem

Prevarication at the counter.

Putting it off and prevarication.

Damn its cold so cold and in here there are

Lazily thrown cushions

In the coffee shop where I now am

When I could have gone into work an hour early.

Its the coffee shop with the quote on the wall

From jack Kerouac

In the coffee shop where I now am

In the coffee shop where I am now.

Talk about the weather.

Talk about the cold.

Talk about attempts at fashion with scarves

For its probably the first truly cold day and

Scarves are still a novelty

In the coffee shop where I now am.

Slyly slyly slyly

They take serviettes from the dispenser

On noses which drip drip drip

And people cough like its a

Doctors waiting room

Which come to think of it

Could easily be the case as

The Doctor’s is just around the corner

Poem

I put my hopes and dreams

In the washing machine.

Whizzing round on the prewash spin,

A life of lost causes trundling within.

Contentment, opportunity, chance,

Caught in an endless dance.

Life so brilliant, a life of knocks,

Future hopes, and pants and socks,

Winners and duds amid the suds, and

There, tapping on the glass,

A dream that wants to get out

Before its cleansed of all that

Residual realistic grime on which

Our personalities are dependent

And define us as human.

Some dreams are too delicate,

And these have to be done by hand.

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