Meet Peter Dyreborg, the godfather of modern Danish slam

I sat down with Denmark’s defender of the spoken word, Peter Dyreborg, to speak about his career as a slam poet, and heralding in a new era of modern poetry in Denmark

April 4, 2017

J. Scott Stratton & Peter Dyreborg

Artist Links:

You have been an active proponent in the Danish Poetry scene for quite a long time, but can you give a little background into how you got into poetry?

When I was a teenager, I was very much involved in the skateboarding and rap community, but in high school, I started performing funny speeches and poetry at school assemblies. After finishing high school I decided to write a collection of poetry, and when my first book came out two years after, one thing led to another. But basically, I wasn’t very good at rap, but I had much more success with poetry and poetry performances. And when poetry slam first came to Denmark in September 1998, I was hooked.

There is a big difference between writing and reciting poetry, so how did you make the move to the spoken word, or “slam”?

Actually, there’s a big difference between writing and reciting and performing. In short, I don’t recite, I perform. For many years I was both a page poet and a stage poet, but today I write mainly for the stage and not the page. When I write, I’m always aware that my texts are not texts, but performances to be seen on stage, and for this, I use a lot of writing techniques that are different from the craft of page writing. For many years my focus was on both writing books and performing, but because I was more successful as a performer than with my books. There was a point when I decided mainly focus on my stage work in order to do this full time, especially when I got engaged by The Royal Danish Theater.

I know that amongst the Danish community it is old news, but I am quite fascinated by the book you are best known for, ‘Bestseller’. Can you tell me how you came up with the idea to run adverts in it to fund it?

I wanted to publish a book that was read by a lot of people, and my first two books had done ok, but not great, so I needed a new approach. And the easiest way to get a lot of readers was to just give them my book for free, and so I just did the same as many free magazines at the time in 2003: Advertising.

The book got a lot of press coverage and was a huge success for me, even though I was criticized for being too commercial for poetry. I didn’t become famous because of Bestseller, but it did get my name out there, and for many years I got booked for a lot of readings and festivals because of that. And even though the book is now 14 years old, to this day people still come up to me asking about it.

You have kind of become the poster-boy for Danish slam poetry, partly because of your advocacy and organization of events in the genre. What your opinion of the people’s modern viewpoint of poetry and slam?

I think there’s a huge interest in poetry, both page, and stage poetry, and there’s a lot of interesting things going on, both in Denmark and the world in general. A lot of people talk about their lack of interest in poetry, but books sell and people show up for events, so…

Slam poetry is huge in Germany, for example (where I also perform), but I’m quite satisfied with the level in Denmark. In Copenhagen, I have an average of two shows a month as an organizer, and at my biggest shows 400-500-600 people turn up, which is a lot. And given the fact that somebody like me is actually able to make a living of poetry and poetry slam, and I’m performing several times a week and all over Denmark, shows to me that the interest is there, even though I and other slammers are not household names. There’s always people who don’t like what you do, but I have my main focus on the people who love what I do and the spoken word and poetry slam community.

Last year, you began organizing the city’s first English Poetry Slam. Can you tell me how that came about?

Besides being a poetry slam and spoken word performer myself, I’ve always loved organizing events as well, and I’ve founded or been involved in most of the slam venues that exists in Denmark today. I started my series of English events, because I wanted a steady going international venue, both for the growing number of international citizens in Copenhagen and because of my many collaboration projects with organizers and poets from other countries. There’s been a lot of international events in Copenhagen earlier, but the difference is that now the events are on a regular basis and that local English speaking poets can perform as well—it’s not just events hosting performers from other countries. Besides performing in Denmark, I perform a lot myself in other countries, for example, Sweden, Norway, and Germany, and because poetry slam is an international community, it’s nice to also have a bigger international fan base in Copenhagen.

Do you write and perform in English as well?

Yes, I write and perform in both Danish and English, and I can also do some stuff in Norwegian, Swedish and German.

If you had your way, how would the viewpoint of poetry change?

I’m actually quite satisfied, because I believe there’s a steady and genuine interest in poetry, also among younger people. Some people, young as well as older, might be a little bit afraid of poetry, because they think is difficult or irrelevant, but then it’s just our job, the poets, to show them otherwise. I perform a lot at schools, and it’s my experience that many students change their view when exposed to artists that live and breath poetry and literature, and I think it’s very important that poets and others inspire especially younger people to discover the relevance of poetry. And for this purpose poetry slam is a great tool.

related articles