Raymond Antrobus: in Praise of Michael Rosen and the Truth

The ‘Poet of the Month’ position is a chance for Apples and Snakes to create a little extra attention for those talented poets and poetesses across the country whose work deserves to be circulated and celebrated.

This September our Poet of the Month is Raymond Antrobus, spoken word poet, photographer and educator, and co-curator of popular London poetry events Chill Pill and Keats House Poets. Here’s Ray’s Poet of the Month blogpost, in praise of Michael Rosen and the truth…

“Open the gate of your soul and get out and breathe.
With a sigh you can open the gate it took a hurricane to close.”Vicente Huidobro

MePSBefore I go on stage, I visualise how I think the gig is going to go, I see myself facing the audience, I don’t go through my poems, my mantra is “you know your lines, you know your lines”. I black out and lose myself in that meditative pre-show state.

This past summer I was booked to warm up for Scroobius Pip (you might have heard of him, he’s got a beard.) at Latitude Festival. Warming myself up for this was hard to visualise, I was due on stage at 10.45pm, it’s Sunday and The Black Keys are on the main stage at the same time. Isn’t everyone going to be drunk? Is anyone going to be there? Will the sound be too intense for my hearing aids? What is my exit strategy if they start booing?

Earlier in the day I’d watched Michael Rosen (you might have heard of him, he’s been on Bear Hunts and former UK’s Children’s Poet Laureate) perform a one-hour set to at least a thousand children and parents. His pantomime-esque crowd participation, his Yiddish family stories, his linguistic bi-lingual humor is an energetic embodiment of fun.

I was in awe watching Rosen; it was a masterclass in poetry performance. To say he’s just for children is to deny the part of us that is still a child, and for the sake of our souls we must listen to that little voice when it rises.

An hour before I was due on stage I went for a walk around the campsites where it was quieter. I saw Michael by his caravan and thought I’d let him know how much I enjoyed his set. The conversation went like this;

“Hey Michael, great set!”
“Thanks… you on later?”
“Yeah man, soon. Any pre-show tips?”
“Hmm.. yes, tell the truth, we’re poets, it’s our most powerful asset”

MichaelRosenWe went on to talk about working in schools (I’m a spoken word educator at a school in Hackney), “We think kids are hard to please” said Michael, “that poets can’t contend with all the technology and glossy stuff kids get from mainstream media, but so much of that is a distraction from truth. The poet walks in to the room and says something true, I’ve seen Lemn Sissay tell a hall of so-called disruptive teenagers that he’s adopted, that things have hurt him, that he thought he was harder to love because of his race… that’s truth, you don’t hear a pin drop… that’s our job, to find ways to give that”.

After this conversation I re-planned my entire set. I’ve recently lost my father and my grandmother, I’m grieving; I should speak from that.
When I got on stage, there were around one and a half thousand people; this was one of the biggest audiences I have ever had. All I was telling myself to do was breath, in fact, that’s the first thing I said into the microphone, “Hello, my name is Raymond Antrobus and I need to adjust my breath”. I took a few seconds to stare into the lights, making out only the people in the first few rows. I took my breath and put it in the air.

My set ended with a standing ovation. The feeling was incredible, and once I was speaking from that place, that hurt, that child, that joy, I knew my lines and they could only be true.

To here more about Raymond’s work and to see him in action, visit his poet’s bio page.