The Monthly interviews Nation UK Slam Champion, Rick Dove – Part 1

What attracted you to slam poetry?

I started writing poetry as a teenager but then stopped writing for many years as, after university, I went into the world of work.

I’m pretty sure there wasn’t much slam poetry around when I first started writing in the 1990’s and at that point I was writing more formal poetry, sonnets and villanelles, things like that.

I came back to writing poetry when I was 37 and the most easily accessible poetry events in London at that time were slam poetry events. I got into the performance element of poetry partly I think because it is a little bit competitive and I played team sports when I was younger so I think I had a little bit of that competitive spirit still in me and there was also the idea of winning over a crowd in a short space of time, three minutes, that appealed to me as well.

I also thought it was a very exciting genre of poetry and you really have to develop a lot of skills. You have to write for performance, you have to work on the drama of the poem, the delivery, and you have to develop your performance skills as well. There are a lot of elements which have to work together in order to produce a good slam poem and I think the challenge of that is what won me over.

Were you drawn to writing as a child, before you wrote poetry as a teenager?

My Dad went to school in the UK in a period when they taught everything by rote learning, so my Dad, rather than read me bedtime stories, would recite things to me, like sections of Hamlet, material that was drummed in him at school.

My love of literature derives from those experiences with my Dad, and it was always my strongest subject at school. I went on to do an A level in English Literature and I have maintained my love of the written word from that point on.

Did you get support at school?

I went to an inner city comprehensive school, in Tooting, South London, and teachers at these schools are heroes who will go above and beyond the work they need to do if they think someone is worth nurturing.

I was pretty lucky with my teachers taking an interest in me, they were always trying to offer me new experiences. We had poets in residence come in like Abdul Malik, a West Indian poet. He came to our school and showed us his style of putting drumming and poetry together. Experiences like that were very inspiring.

Did you do literature at university?

I read Psychology at Durham University, with a view to going into marketing, and I now also have a day job in events which is not as glamorous as it sounds (as it is an industry where you work as many hours as are available and can still struggle to make a living). Eventually, event management took over and poetry was frozen out.

How did you get into event management?

I started at university. I was the events secretary and we would do all sort of things from producing pantomimes or plays in 48 hours to organising poetry and musical events.

I worked in the industry for 20 years and there came a point where the business was looking after itself and I didn’t have to put so much effort in; I had a bit of time to myself and so I came back to poetry.

That coincided with a tragic event; I had lost a cousin who died very young and as part of the coping mechanism, I started writing poetry.

It is, at some level, a young person’s genre. How did you go about finding your role in the scene?

It is true that the slam scene generally is populated by young people, but for me, as I said, I was attracted initially by the competitive element and also by the idea that you had to win people over in a short space of time.

You also have to think a lot about how you construct a piece of slam poetry; you can’t be too esoteric, you can’t use jargon, and the pacing of the poetry has to ensure that you don’t lose anyone in the audience.

In fact, and there is a democratic element to this, you really do need to write with the idea that everyone in the audience will be able to connect to the work you are putting forward.

Part two of this interview is here

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