This month, we catch up with Dominic Berry who talks about his new poetry collection and his shows.
Tell me about you, as an artist. How do you define art? What art do you make?
I am a slam poet. I am slightly misquoting someone far wiser than me here, but I believe an artist should bring comfort to people whose lives are challenged by the society in which we live, and also a challenge to the people whose lives are made comfortable by the society in which we live. I also like rhyming jokes about vegetables. I am into archaic poetic structure. As a slam poet existing in a forum where free verse rules, I enjoy applying villanelle, sonnet or triolet structures to contemporary subjects, mostly cos not many folks seem to do that and its a way to sound a bit different from everyone else. As ace as she is, no one needs another poet trying to sound like Kate Tempest. We have one Kate Tempest. That’s enough.
You’ve recently been touring your new poetry collection, No Tigers across the UK and Australia. What inspired your collection? How has the Australian reception differed from home ground? What has been your highlight of the tour thus far?
Last year I had the great fortune to tour India, which I did with a foolishly naive attitude, so the book is largely influenced by my experiences there. Amazing experiences. Life changing. I love touring – it’s a great privilege to have my words be heard. So many people on our planet are not listened to, so if some folks are up for listening to me for a little bit then the least I can do is try and say something interesting and helpful. A humbling highlight is when people on the opposite side of Earth already are aware of my poetry and come up before the show with requests – that’s awesome. I was also in New Zealand on this most recent tour – every place I went I was treated so wonderfully. Poetry bookers worldwide seem to know well how to make us slammer feel welcome. It’s another old cliche about travelling broadening the mind, and not everyone has access to the means to go abroad but, if an artist does have work with which they think they might be able to make links to other cultures, I recommend the experiencing of using art as a way to travel. The Indian influence on this new book makes it dramatically different from what I have created before.
Back in 2009, you won Superheroes of Slam and this May, it was announced that you are the 2017 Saboteur Awards Best Spoken Word Artist. Congratulations! How did you feel upon hearing this news? How do you feel both you and the slam scene has grown during these eight years?
It’s fab. You don’t have to apologize before promoting your show anymore. “This is poetry, but it won’t be rubbish’ seemed to use to be the only way to tell people you were performing. Now, thanks largely to the likes of Kate Tempest, Benjamin Zepahaniah, Tony Walsh, Scroobius Pip, Bang Said the Gun, I would say the Nationwide ads too, poetry is more prevalent in many peoples lives and minds and this is a good thing. Good for self expression, good for combating mental illness, good for people feeling more empowered in a time politically where there are many powerful people fighting against progressive policy.
You are this year’s Poet in Residence at Glastonbury Festival. How did this come about and what excites you the most about this opportunity?
They asked, for which I am very thankful. The only way to get ahead in the art is make good art and tell people you’ve made it – there are no short cuts – make art that people connect to and give people the means with which to connect, and there you go. That is what excites me. Feeling that energy when an audience has really connected, really feel pumped up -laughter, thrill, anger, empathy – sharing people caring.
Earlier this year, you toured your children’s poetry theatre show, The Boy Who Cried Wolf. What advice would you give to artists interested in making work for children?
Test it with children. Loads of people make work for children and only care about the opinions of adults who book work for children. What about the children? Children know what children like. Ask them. Not relatives. Relatives are biased. Relatives of friends – kids who haven’t yet met you – that’s the way to test if a joke or story really lands. Even the most polite child is a harsh critic – it’s difficult work but massively rewarding.
If you could offer one piece of advice to your younger self about being in the poetry industry, what would it be?
When people who have money to give to poets do not give you their money Dominic maybe it’s because you’re not yet good enough. Definition of good = making the strongest connection in the most succinct and clear way. Keep trying to get better. You will never stop trying to be better. That is not a bad thing, that eternal quest for an ultimately unachievable state is what keeps interest sustained. Enjoy learning. Do not be impatient. Never be late. Be true to your word. Play more ‘Tekken’.
Where can we find your work?
At Edinburgh fringe for all of August – Dommy B Presents is for families at Hispaniola every day at 1.25pm except Mondays and my adult verse ‘No Tigers’ is on at Banshee Labyrinth on Niddry Street. Also check my site dominicberry.net
What does the future hold for you in your writing career?
Try to always be better than I was the day before. Fewer words said with greater impact and clarity. Write a multi-lingual ‘Tekken’ rock opera where I play all the characters including the kangaroo and bear.
Sum up your experience thus far in one word