Harry Baker interview with Blacklisted Magazine

Harry Baker CPH English Poetry Slam

I got a chance to verbally spar with the Hampshire slam poet, that's taking the TED talk world by storm, about his rise to success as a wordsmith and his forthcoming performance at the CPH English poetry slam.

Published: April 5, 2017Words: J.Scott Stratton

Tell me a little bit about your background as a poet and getting involved in Slam?

I always loved reading fun silly rhyming kids poetry as a child and had a fascination with language growing up. Through my early teens this would take the form of writing and performing various rap lyrics wherever they could be heard, but this brought me to the world of live poetry performance. From here I was hooked as I saw the various styles and ways that people performed, and it wasn’t long before I was encouraged to go to my first slam event.

How did you develop your style?

When I began I definitely look back and can hear a mix of influences from my favorite poets to listen to, particularly in the UK the likes of Kate Tempest, Polarbear, David J, Scroobius Pip, but I think with practice you get a lot more used to hearing and developing your own voice. Now I like to play a lot more with humor and also stepping away from rhyme and rhythm occasionally.

Since your win of the world championships and popular TED talk, how has your life changed?

It’s been great exposure! I’ve always loved performing and writing and when there are more people willing to listen to your that’s always a good thing. The TED talk is useful because it is often quite hard to explain to people what I do so now I feel like it’s easier to just send them this link rather than having to try and describe it instead.

What is your opinion on the differences between written and spoken poetry?

I loved my first experience of spoken poetry because it gave me goosebumps and I hadn’t experienced that from a poem I read at the time. Since then I have gotten more into written poetry too and there are poets who I love in both forms. For me the main difference is in spoken poetry you are also thinking about how you want your words to be heard by people, whereas in written poetry you don’t have that control—so, I guess there is possibly more up to the reader’s interpretation.

Harry Baker interview with Blacklisted Magazine

Do you also practice the more traditional written form of poetry—with the intent that the “written” form to be it’s finished form?

I definitely practice it, but often I’m not comfortable sharing it! For me performing and being on stage is still the most comfortable way of sharing my work, partly through my experience with music as well. But I like to try and push myself so recently I submitted a poem for a written anthology and competition to see if it can stand up on its own merits so we’ll see how that goes.

Do you approach your style differently when writing the words to be spoken?

I think my natural style is words—to be spoken so perhaps it’s more a case of writing differently if it’s not. If I’m not going to be performing the words I think I have to be a lot more careful thinking about the various ways it can be read, whereas if I’m performing it myself I’m happy for it to just be scribbling in a notebook because I trust myself to know what I meant when I later come back to it.

Since the rise of mainstream popularity of Slam since the 1990’s, do you feel that it is a natural evolution of the “written” poetry form—which has seen steady mainstream decline since the 1960’s?

I don’t think it is an evolution in the at it will replace the written form as there is definitely enough space for both to survive and thrive, but it is an evolution in the sense that it was born out of this mutation that has become popular and taken on its own life. It’s hard to know how it will look in another 20 years timeout right north slam and performance seem to be accessible to a lot of people which is brilliant to see, but I think at the heart they are both about communicating the best way that you can, and that may well ‘evolve’ into something else in the years to come.

Do you feel that you have reached a kind of pinnacle in your career? Is Slam poetry the pursuit that you will continue to develop, or will your writing take you in other directions?

I’m always looking to push myself and develop. For me, because it is a relatively untrodden path there isn’t the same career trajectory that you might be able to envisage in other walks of life. Having a TED talk was a definite peak but I’m hoping when I look back there will be new things I’ve not yet discovered that I can also look back on as other peaks. I’m currently working on some music projects and still writing poems so am keen to not just rely on things that have already gone because part of the fun of it is trying to create new things!