Introducing... Dominic Berry

Posted on: 14th June 2017 at 00:00
Posted by: PANDA
Discipline: Performance Poetry

  • Recommended Event (click!)

A poet who needs no introduction, Dominic Berry, took the time to talk to us about what he's up to and what it means to be a slam poet. Dominic is poet in residence for Glastonbury Festival this year, so if you're heading that way be sure to catch him at the Poetry & Words tent.

Who are you and what do you do?

I am Dominic Berry, a slam poet. 

Slam is a word that means different things to different people. I was always taught it was a competition. Like Britains Got Talent, but with talent, and where the space is not to ridicule those with mental health struggles, as BGT seems to be, but to celebrate diversity and judge crafting of art over physical appearance and empty sensation.

To some, slam isn't necessarily competitive, they merely mean a kind of poem which is performed. I like the name Performance Poet. It's more flamboyant sounding than the prosaic title 'spoken word'.

I have been a full time freelance performance poet for coming on ten years now, I tour the UK up and down pretty constantly, and sometimes get bookings overseas. I've just come back from two months touring New Zealand and Australia, and am now heading off to be Glastonbury Festival Poet in Residence. 

How did you get here?

I went to a tiny, rural school. All the poets we learned about were long dead. I never thought I would be a professional poet.

When I moved to Manchester, for the first time I saw people on stage, performing their own poetry, words they had written, for money. Political, funny, personal, emotive, intellectual art for which they got money. 

I was crap at everything else. I wanted to do poems for money. These first poets I saw - Gerry Potter, Lemn Sissay, Rosie Garland - they changed my life. Never had I been more certain this is what I wanted to do, to write and perform my own material. 

So, I entered a load of slams, didn't win any, kept trying, went on to win some, now I've won stuff all over the world and every day I am grateful to have a job that means so much to me.

This job has, at its best, a profoundly uplifting effect on the mental health, confidence and connection with self-expression with people around the globe. I don't just mean workshops where people learn how to write their own stuff, that's ace, but now how I got into this. What I think is ace is attending a gig and feeling the buzz and learning and growing and being a part of a crowd in a wash of words which heal and empower. With magnificence flamboyancy! 

What have you been up to?

I've been touring a kids’ verse show, a modern retelling of The Boy Who Cried Wolf, and also my adult show, No Tigers. I'll be taking both to this summer’s PBH Edinburgh Free Fringe.

What’s next?

I am troubled by the constant pressure for artists who are generally lefty and socialist to value their art and themselves by capitalist standards of how busy they are and how much money they make. I'm not driven by getting 'better' gigs, whatever better means. I am receiving all I want to receive right now - a space to make work which people are connecting with. My only goal is to keep writing and keep making art which makes a stronger, deeper, more powerful connection to that which I have made before. 

Why do you do what you do?

I am proud of No Tigers, my latest work. It is, in my opinion, my most effective poetry book and poetry show. No Tigers is the book and show which has got me the most bookings of my career to date, though as I say, I believe that is a bench mark of which I am careful to use as a measurement. When a person performs on stage and sees the faces of their audience - that's the real benchmark - seeing who has turned up, how they look when they connect to the work. I hope the next set of poetry I create will affect people in an even greater way. That's my only goal.

When we see the power of the right wing destroying public services and having such a disastrous effect on our nation’s most vulnerable, slam poetry can be an accessible, life changing form from which people can get real energy to feel better, feel understood, and feel able to fight back. Tony Walsh's recent work following the Manchester bombing has shown that. So important. 

I want my art to contribute to a fairer society. I am proud to be a part of a scene where so many amazing artists are doing their best to do just that. I cannot think of anything more important.

You can find out more about Dominic and keep up to date with him on his website.