National Poetry Day Preview with Ben Norris

Ahead of A Quite Enormous Poetry Event at Nottingham Playhouse, Lauren caught up with the evening’s host, Ben Norris, to find out more about the event and poets involved.

Lauren: 2019 has been a big year for poetry in Nottingham, from the success of Nottingham Poetry Festival to this celebration of National Poetry Day. Why did you decide to organise this event and what do you think it will bring to Nottingham?

Ben: I wanted to do an event of national scale and importance, with a line-up of poets from all over the UK, all at the top of their game, and for it not to be in London, where almost all events of this scope tend to be but have it in my hometown.

I hope it will introduce Nottingham audiences to a bunch of brilliant writers and performers they might not have had the chance to see before, at least not on the same bill, as well as celebrating the extraordinary local talent we have. I wanted to grab the contemporary UK poetry scene, mush it up in my hands and say look, isn’t this tasty.

‘I think poetry serves as a vital linchpin right now, interrogating the world we live in.’

L: A Quite Enormous Poetry Event has a huge line up of poets at the forefront of the contemporary poetry scene. Can you tell Impact more about what to expect on the night from these acts? Are there any particular poets you’re excited to have in Nottingham?

B: The great joy of curating a night like this is that you can book people you personally love. So there is no one on this line-up who I don’t think is genuinely amazing. But particular highlights will doubtless include Dizraeli, who is honestly one of my favourite rappers in the world. Of all time. (Huge claims, I know).

Liz Berry and Caroline Bird are two of the best writers working today without a doubt, winning page poetry’s most enormous prizes without breaking a sweat. They’re very different writers but both are embodiments of that wonderful Emily Dickinson quote ‘If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry’.

Bohdan Piasecki is an amazing Polish poet; English is his 3rd language and he’s better than most English poets I know. He’s also basically responsible for launching my own career, so I always love seeing him and remembering the spark he lit for me all those years ago.

And Georgina Wilding and Debris Stevenson are two of Nottingham’s finest. I realise I’ve essentially listed most of the bill there, but I could go on. I could wax lyrical about each and every one of these artists for days!

L: This year’s theme for National Poetry Day is ‘truth’. Do you think truth is an important quality in poetry, and if so, why? How will the theme of ‘truth’ be explored during A Quite Enormous Poetry Event?

B: These are strange and dark times for the world, and in particular for truth. Fake news proliferates, lies go unchallenged, and reality is distorted to suit various agendas. I think poetry serves as a vital linchpin right now, interrogating the world we live in, helping us find beauty and solace in it, while asking searching questions of the ways that things are.

‘It [poetry] can show us what it means to be alive

It can be escapism and activism all at once. It can show us what it means to be alive, and how else we might live our lives, when so many of us are feeling lost. It also helps us slow down sometimes.

I don’t think it’s an accident that poetry is becoming increasingly popular in a social media age, particularly on Instagram; when everything is so fast and instant, poetry demands patience, and reflection, and I think it’s really good for our mental health.

Poetry is inherently truthful, if not always factual, and every artist I’ve booked writes work that is in some way confessional, exploring this, and themselves, unflinchingly.

(The following video contains profanity and references to homophobia)

Dizraeli’s new album, as with most of his work, has been released outside of the confines of a major record label and shines an unapologetic light on the murkier bits of the world right now, but in a way that feels gloriously hopeful too.

His work is an extension of his activism, and vice versa, and I know audiences will feel like they have experienced something very real, very truthful, and very vital on the night.

L: It’s also the twenty-fifth anniversary of National Poetry Day this year. What does poetry mean to you and what do you enjoy most about National Poetry Day?

B: Poetry means all of the above things to me. It has helped me ponder big questions about my life, and figure tricky things out. It has helped me work through feelings, or make peace with feeling them forever, and also to feel less alone.

‘Poetry has taken me all over the country, […] and the people I’ve met and the places I’ve been as a result have shaped me irrefutably.’

It has also been hugely entertaining and given me many amazing nights out, and many big belly laughs. Poetry as satire can be extremely effective.

Above all, though, I think it’s the community element. Poetry has taken me all over the country, and increasingly further afield, and the people I’ve met and the places I’ve been as a result have shaped me irrefutably; it’s impossible to overstate how big an impact it’s had on my life. I discovered it at university when a love of acting and writing combined, and I haven’t looked back.

I think that’s what I love about National Poetry Day. It brings poets together from all sorts of different disciplines and backgrounds to celebrate the art form at its most diverse and glorious.

It also tends to be the only day poets can consistently expect to be employed, which is always nice!

Lauren Winson

A Quite Enormous Poetry Event takes place at Nottingham Playhouse on Thursday 3rd October from 8 -10:30pm. Tickets can be purchased here.

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