AN INTERVIEW WITH DOMINIC BERRY

Photo by Ian Wallis Photography
Photo by Ian Wallis Photography

You trained as an actor. How did you get into spoken word and how has your theatrical training shaped the way you write and perform spoken word?

I grew up in an extremely rural part of the world, on the West Wales Pembrokeshire coastline. It’s a beautiful area, but there’s not that much for a gay, vegan, poet to get up to in his teenage years. Pages and pages of poorly composed erotic poetry only goes so far for a young fellow.

I got into the National Youth Theatre of Wales in Swansea and had high hopes of getting into acting. When I finished school and moved to Manchester I saw performance poets for the first time. I’d never dreamed being a poet could be a job. This was what I wanted – more than anything! Lemn Sissay, Gerry Potter, Rosie Garland, James Quinn – these people made me want to write, perform, be part of the exciting, fun, political, powerful performance poetry world.

It took years of open mic and slamming before I did make it my job, but now I am there is nothing I can imagine me finding more satisfaction in doing. (Not that I am saying being a full time poet is necessarily a mark of quality. All that is is a mark of being able to get work. Many of my favourite poets choose not to make poeting their income, and there are many sensible reasons for that.)

I would argue any poet who speaks their words out loud is a performance poet. Or at least should be. It is not ok to say your poems to an audience and not put any thought into how you say them. If all you desire is your words on a page, awesome. If you want them to be spoken they must be spoken with an awareness of theatre, of silence, of pace, of varying volume and tone – or it will sound terrible, however good the words may be.

Can you tell us a bit about the Manchester poetry scene? In what ways is it different from London)?

Manchester has an amazing poetry spoken word scene. It is understandably smaller than London’s, but just as full of love, enthusiasm, passion and power.

Anna Percy and her gang present the incredible Stirred feminist poetry night. Kieren King and Ella Gainsborough’s Evidently in Salford is quite rightly becoming increasingly nationally recognised as excellent. Jack and Jasmines Flim at 3MT fuses spoken word, comedy, music and movement in a stunning celebration of modern movies every month. Martin Visceral Stannage hosts comedy hip hop night RAW at Contact every month. Also at Contact, Shirley May’s superb Young Identity. Wonderful.

There is so much going on. Manchester isn’t a massive city, but it’s massive reputation is well earned.

How did you get into writing and performing poetry for children? What kind of subjects to you cover and what are their responses usually like? Do you prefer writing / performing for children or adults?

I enjoy both equally. I write for children the kind of stuff I would have and did enjoy hearing at that age.

Children let you know if they are bored or don’t understand. They are blunt. Blunt is good! You know where you are with blunt. Adults are sometimes so careful with how they word things they end up saying nothing at all. We all need blunt if we have any interest in engaging with who we are creating art for.

If the only person you are creating art for is yourself, that’s one thing. If you want anyone else to engage you have to find a way to be sure that connection is being made. As I say, children let you know.

All my shows are about kindness. Unconditional kindness. I believe if ever you are in a situation where you are not sure what the correct thing to do is, being kind is a good place to start.

I am often silly, often surreal, often intense, often jokey, but always seeking a place where kindness is, is the start of communication.

What do you think about events such as Queer’Say? Do you think spoken word, as an art form, is more inclusive of minorities?

I think it is great to aspire and work towards a world where we are all kind to each other. I think groups open to all people are excellent.

I also think there is a need for both groups that highlight a particular group of people (such as Queer’Say, or the aforementioned Stirred feminist night in Manchester, an event run by women but open to all), and indeed events exclusively for those who feel ill-represented in other places.

I am not going to get angry at a group for, for example, women, existing as a space where I as a man am not invited. I would not rage and roar and demand I be let in. I would rather think about the spaces I have some power in controlling and how open, accessible and welcoming they are to different people. It’s one thing to think or say, ‘I’m cool with everyone,’ but if an event is put on and the only people who attend are white, cis gendered men then that is something to take seriously.

Poetry is the perfect platform to perform concise, well considered work that has the power to both entertain and enlighten. I am very happy to be part of such a supportive, inspiring and fantastic scene. Here’s to all moving onward and upward.

Are there any favourite spoken word artists of yours you think we should be keeping an eye on? Queer or otherwise.

Zach Roddis. Jackie Hagan. Keisha Thompson. Tina Sederholm. Mark Mace Smith. Paula Varjack. Dan Simpson. Avaes Mohammad. Rob Auton.

You can find out more about Dominic Berry by visiting his website and following him on Twitter. Dominic will be performing at Queer’Say on Saturday 12th September at 8pm. Find out more and book tickets here.

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