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Poetry

Mark Grist:

‘People stop me in the street and ask me to insult them’ ᔡ Mark Grist: Rogue Teacher, Cambridge Junction, Thursday, May 22 at 8pm. Tickets £13 from (01223) 511511 / junction.co.uk

The poet, rap battler and all round nice guy goes rogue and returns to Cambridge Junction for a show that’ll make your mind work. ELLA WALKER has a chat with him

M

ark Grist is ridiculously inventive. A former Peterborough teacher turned poet and ethically sound rapper (you won’t find him spouting anything homophobic, misogynistic or racist), Grist has a serious knack for wordplay. Oh, and he ticks all the boxes for charisma, enthusiasm and lyrical speed. First breaking out in 2012 after teaching teenage grime artist MC Blizzard a thing or two in a rap battle that went viral (it’s clocked more than 4million YouTube views) he spends his time challenging the stereotypes of poetry and hiphop, visiting poets’ graves and is now bringing his latest show, Rogue Teacher, to Cambridge Junction. The show, which got rave reviews at the 2013 Edinburgh Festival, revolves around Grist’s life, going from loving so much about being an English teacher, to becoming increasingly frustrated with government policy and the red-taped bureaucracy being lashed across classrooms. “Eventually, after a lot of telling young people to follow their hearts and use their skills and do everything they ever wanted to do with their

Editor: Paul Kirkley Writer: Ella Walker Email: ella.walker@cambridge-news.co.uk

lives, I decided I should do the same,” explains Grist, who initially left his teaching post for a year. “The show is this story of leaving the classroom, realising it was actually quite a safe environment and going out into the wide world to try to exist as a poet, facing the kind of gruelling poverty and bizarre series of hoops you have to jump through in order to make a living as an artist.” The “gruelling poverty” bit is obviously said with a laugh, because Mark Grist is funny. Very funny, and very self-aware, quick to note what makes him and this new, strange existence weird, interesting and appealing. Because the weirdest thing is, he really did go from teaching GCSE English to rap battling on YouTube. “I accidentally became kind of pseudo famous,” he says in bemusement. That Blizzard rap, which saw him slam the 17-year-old with lines like “don’t start clicking, I know this might look like some kind of extreme babysitting” and “you’d still give yourself a hernia trying to assemble flatpack furniture” while wearing a suit, mind, transformed everything. “All of a sudden people know me as a rap battler

instead of as a poet,” says Grist. “No one’s really that interested in my poetry as such, but people are stopping me in the street and asking me to insult them.” Rogue Teacher grapples with how that sits with him being a teacher and “whether that contradicts some of the values you originally had.” Not that he really fits the generic idea of a rap battler. He’s barely sweary, and peppers his vocals with feminism, realism and total sense. Take one of his most popular pieces, Girls Who Read, a takedown of guys who see girls as a collection of body parts to be drooled over: “I want a girl who reads. . . and the info she gets from what she reads, makes her a total fox”. Grist explains that he wants to inspire people and make them realise “we don’t really need to do anything that we don’t want to do; it’s quite possible to create our own jobs.” Not that that isn’t a scary prospect. “It was terrifying,” he admits, on quitting teaching. “It made me realise how much lots of the little things about your job, and often the

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FA

these families aren’t alone, there’s lots of behaviour that’s stopping children from fully engaging and I think some young people just get written off and we think that can’t be resolved. I hope we show there are ways we can fix aspects of this behaviour.” From standing in front of kids to taking on MCs, does he ever get POEM tongue tied? E T I “Loads, actually,” he laughs. “It’s UR quite easy when you’re reading a O I love poem, you’re just in a routine, V Roald Dahl’s and you’re quite safe, it’s Revolting when you’ve finished a poem Rhymes. His and making your way to the retelling of Little next one, that is where you Red Riding Hood is can get quite tongue tied.” still one of my favourite He adds: “I think now poems. I loved it as on stage I’m hopefully a kid, I thought it was pretty slick!” brilliant and for me, as a Rogue Teacher won’t be child, that was one of the the Peterborough poet first moments I realised laureate’s first starring poetry could be fun and role at Cambridge poetry could be for me; Junction. Last October it wasn’t something he wowed in the Hollie that was reserved for McNish curated Poets vs somebody else that I Rappers night as part of the had to rise to a certain Festival of Ideas (McNish is level for, but actually the Cambridge doyenne of it was there for spoken word, dontchaknow). me, and I could At the time, he finished the enjoy it. night in belly wobbling style talking about what life was like teaching and why poets need more confidence. He was a-mazing.

K GRIST O NH MAR IS

things that annoy you, hold you together as a person in a lot of ways.” Adjusting to the fact he was penning verse rather than marking papers and pointing out uniform misdemeanours, was actually quite a shock. “Routine and the people you encounter day to day at work help shape who you are and help you to feel you are doing something relevant. I suddenly realised I could spend three days in bed, no one would really care. That is quite a different existence and one where I have to try and find ways to feel like it has value.” Over the last year he’s come to the conclusion he needs to continue working with young people: “I still need to have some kind of educational role because that’s really the way I feeling I’m doing something worthwhile and fulfilling.” That means working with English departments to help them tackle poetry in different ways and sharing his poetry directly with kids (“I quite like that because if you’re rubbish, then they’ll just tell you you’re rubbish”). “I definitely find it more nerve-wracking being a poet than being a teacher,” he muses. “My first year of teacher training was pretty much a baptism of fire; I had an awful lot of lessons go horribly wrong. After five years though, he was ready for a change: “It kind of felt like I was just going through the motions a bit, it was getting quite straight forward and easy. I was part of the furniture, the students didn’t really behave badly for me, there wasn’t a huge amount of challenge left in it.” Starring in a new Channel 4 documentary series with the fantastic Mr Drew from Educating Essex has definitely given him a challenging element to teaching again. Mr Drew’s School for Boys takes 11 of the most excluded boys in the country and aims to show that no young person should be given up on, and that there are always ways to break the cycle of poor behaviour. “It’s really challenging, but it’s really exciting as well and it’s probably one of the toughest things I’ve ever done in my life,” explains Grist. “Hopefully it will make people realise

. . .continued on page 27


Cambridge News | cambridge-news.co.uk | May 8, 2014 | 27

‘Poetry is as much yours as anyone else’s...’

ᔢ Broken Solider + Q and A. May 9, 7.30pm, tickets £4 friends/£5 non. Pre book: 01223 355159/ events@museumofcambridge. org.uk NEWNHAM OLD LABS, NEWNHAM COLLEGE, CAMBRIDGE ᔢ Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme May 7-May 8, 7.30pm, tickets £5/£6. Tel: 01223 300085 OTHER VARIOUS, CAMBRIDGESHIRE ᔢ National Mills Weekend May 10-May 11, times/prices vary. www. millsofeastanglia.org.uk HUNT AND DARTON, 36 BRIDGE STREET, CAMBRIDGE ᔢ Hunt & Darton Cafe Social and artistic hub. May 3-May 31, (10am-5pm, closed Mons/Tues VILLAGE HALL, STEEPLE BUMPSTEAD, HAVERHILL ᔢ Farmers Charity Market Every fourth Sat of the month. Stall holder’s £8 table/visitors free. Tel: 01440 730326 SHEEP MARKET, ST IVES ᔢ St Ives Farmer’s Market First/third Saturday of the month, 8am2pm, free. cfcmuseum@gmail.com WITCHFORD VILLAGE HALL, BEDWELLHAY LANE, WITCHFORD ᔢ Indoor Market (in aid of EACH) May 11, 9am, free. Stallholders £15 per 6ft table. www.eventbrite. co.uk/e/indoor-market-in-aid-of-eachtickets-10592246695 BARKWAY VILLAGE HALL, BARKWAY, NR ROYSTON, HERTS ᔢ Barkway Antiques & Vintage Fair First Sunday of the month, 10am-4pm, Adults £1, children free. Tel: 01763 849249/ info@flapperfortunes.co.uk UGLEY VILLAGE HALL, CAMBRIDGE ROAD, UGLEY ᔢ Tabletop Sale (for RSPCA Danaher) First Wed of the month, 7pm-9pm, £10 pitch sellers/ Buyers 50p. Tel: 0784 0705368/ emmcee1011@hotmail.com ORCHARD HOUSE RESIDENTIAL CARE HOME , HIGH STREET, SAWSTON ᔢ Craft Fayre May 11, 10am and 2pm, free MUSEUM OF CAMBRIDGE , CASTLE STREET, CAMBRIDGE ᔢ Chinese Tea Ceremony May 11, 2.30pm-3.30pm, tickets £6.50 friends/£7.50 non. Pre book: 01223 355159/ events@museumofcambridge. org.uk JUNCTION 30 OFF THE A14 ᔢ Oakington Saturday Car Boot Sale Sats. Gates open for buyers and sellers 7am. New butcher ABC Quality Butchers. Tel: 01733 222182 SKYLARK SHOWGROUND, A141 MARCH BYPASS ᔢ Indoor & Outdoor Sunday Car Boot Sales Booters £6 car. Arrive 8.30am, public 10am-2pm. Every Sun. no need to book, just turn up. Tel Paul: 01354 740873 RECREATION GROUND, CHAPEL LANE, WICKEN ᔢ Wicken Beer Festival BBQ, live music, family fun. May 10, 4pm-late, free entry. wickenbeerfest@ gmail.com STARTS FROM: PARKER’S PIECE, CAMBRIDGE ᔢ Curious About Cambridge? Two self-guided heritage walks with an optional treasure hunt. Details/prices: www.curiousabout.co.uk/cambridge/ index.php SACRIST’S GATE (CATHEDRAL), ELY ᔢ Curious About Ely? Family friendly walk around Ely, see venue for times, entry £3.50. www. curiousabout.co.uk/ely/index.php BURWASH MANOR, NEW ROAD, BARTON ᔢ Asparagus Feast Demos, field trips, tastings, family fun, fair. May 10, 10am-4pm, free COW LANE, GODMANCHESTER, HUNTS ᔢ Tiny Tots Explore May 14, 10:30am-12:30pm, free. www. wildlifebcn.org FELSTED MEMORIAL HALL , FELSTED ᔢ Tour de France in Felsteadget involved Come and have a chat, May 9, 7.30pm. Tel: 01371 822612 THE MICHAELHOUSE CENTRE

ᔡ from page 19

This time around he’ll once again have the support of Hollie, who’ll be performing too. “I’m very lucky as a poet to be friends with people who are also some of my heroes and I’d class Hollie McNish as one of those people,” Grist enthuses. “I think she’s incredible.” Other names he recommends for those new to spoken word and page poetry are Luke Kennard, Tim Clare, Luke Wright and new guy Harry Baker (“People will read that list and think they’re just names, but you don’t understand! They’re amazing, search them online, watch them do a thing and you’ll love ‘em!”). The effect these writers and performers have on him is what Grist aims to emulate for his own audiences. “I want people to understand that poetry is as much yours as it as anyone else’s,” he buzzes. “I often find that interesting in relation to teenagers because I think teenagers are told what they should be interested in, rather than have a communication about something. He adds: “It’s a to-ing and fro-ing between me and the audience but it’s one where they know I’m really interested in trying to engage with them.” Grist’s next project involves even more to-ing and fro-ing, with a whole lot of improvisation thrown in. Dead Poets Death Match is a show he’s developing for this year’s Fringe with long-time collaborator MC Mixy. The idea is audiences will get to pick from a selection of famous dead poets, learn about them and see them “brought back from the dead” and put up against each other in rap battles “so you can see Sylvia Plath versus Ted Hughes, you can see Larkin versus Sir Walter Raleigh.” How awesome will that be? We told you Grist was inventive.

A POET AND – OH GO ON THEN – HE KNOWS IT: Mark Grist

ᔢ Sanskrit Classes Fridays, May 9-July 11, 1pm-3.30pm, details: stephen@sanskritcourses.co.uk THE CAMBRIDGE MOTEL, A10 AT SHEPRETH ᔢ Nightlights Singles 39+ Second/Friday of the month, 8pm, tickets £6, dress code: smart/ casual. www.nightlights.org.uk/about.htm WESLEY METHODIST CHURCH, CHRIST’S PIECES, CAMBRIDGE ᔢ Christianity and Medical Ethics Lecture series. May 12, 7.15pm, free. www.wesleycam.org BUCHAN STREET NEIGHBOURHOOD CENTRE, BUCHAN STREET, CAMBRIDGE ᔢ Breathe Easy Support group for anyone affected by a lung condition. Every third Tues of the month, 2pm-4pm, Tel: 01954 260204 BERKLEY STREET METHODIST HALL, EYNESBURY, ST NEOTS ᔢ Confidence / Personal Development Course Weds, 9.30am-3.30pm, free, 19+. Tel: 07841 187285/ info@illuminatecharity. org.uk CB2 , NORFOLK STREET, CAMBRIDGE ᔢ Spanish Conversation Club Third Thurs of every month (until Dec 18), 7pm, £ see venue spanish@ cambridge-lessons.co.uk LA TASCA, 14-16 BRIDGE STREET, CAMBRIDGE ᔢ Paella (and Spanish) Night All levels. May 8, 7pm, tickets £10 (inc food). spanish@cambridge-lessons. co.uk SHEEP SHOP, BECHE ROAD, CAMBRIDGE ᔢ Beginner knitting May 8, 7pm-9pm, tickets £19. See venue for materials to bring THE PORTLAND ARMS ᔢ Cambridge Lindy Hoppers Provisional

May 9, 8pm, tickets: Members £5/Non £6 HIAM SPORTS AND SOCIAL CLUB ᔢ Ballroom & Sequence with Chris Booth Plus a demo by the Cambridge University Dance team. May 10, 8pm. Admission £4.50 members/£6.50 non TURNER HALL, CHURCH LANE, NEWMARKET ᔢ Ballroom Dancing Ages 18+, partner reqd. Tues and Thurs, Jan 07 - July 31, hourly classes between 7pm - 9.30pm, £tbc. Tel: 01954 202095/ c.i.george@ntlworld.com BOTTISHAM SPORTS CENTRE, LODE ROAD, BOTTISHAM ᔢ Dance Fitness Classes Explosion Arts Company . Thursdays, 7pm-8pm, tickets £5.50 BROOKLAND CENTRE, THE BROOK, SUTTON ᔢ East Cambridgeshire Dancing for Fun (over 50’s) No partner reqd. Every Tues, 2pm-4pm, £3 session. Tel: 01254 693218 COLOURS OF DANCE STUDIO, HISTON ROAD, CAMBRIDGE ᔢ Burlesque Dance Classes Tuesdays, Jan 14 - May 26, 7.45pm - 8.45pm, £30 for 6 classes. Tel: 07894222921/ www. cambridgeburlesque.co.uk YMCA/ ST PAULS, GONVILLE PLACE/ HILLS ROAD, CAMBRIDGE ᔢ Learn to Belly Dance! Beginners/ Improvers. Weds: YMCA, , from 7pm/ Thursdays, 6.15pm9.30pm, St Pauls. £see website: www. fusionbellydance.co.uk CHESTERTON SPORTS HALL, GILBERT ROAD, CAMBRIDGE ᔢ Belly Dance for the over 50’s Every Friday, 12noon-1pm, Cost £3.50 FREE CHURCH, SAWSTON ᔢ Street Dance Weds, 4.30pm. Details: frances.wyse@

btinternet.com USC ( UNIVERSITY SOCIAL CLUB ) , MILL LANE, CAMBRIDGE ᔢ Salsa Classes Social dancing afterwards, (Mons at St Pauls Centre, Hills Road, Cambridge)/ Weds and Fri’s, 7.30pm, 1 hr class- £6, 2 hrs class- £ 8. Students (both) -£6. Tel:07782 218745/ clubsalsaevent@ gmail.com WOLFSON COLLEGE, BARTON ROAD, CAMBRIDGE ᔢ Salsa and Bachata Lessons and Party Every Thurs. Lesson 8pm-9pm/Party 9pm-11pm, entry £3nus/£4. Free to Wolfson students THE RUTLAND ARMS HOTEL, HIGH STREET, NEWMARKET ᔢ Weekly Salsa Dance Class Every Thursday evening from 7.45pm. All abilities welcome, no partner required. Tickets £5, more info: newmarketsalsa@yahoo.co.uk HAVERHILL ARTS CENTRE, SAFFRON ROAD, HISTON ᔢ Silverliners Line Dancing May 13, 2pm, tickets £3 MEMORIAL HALL, HIGH STREET, SWAVESEY ᔢ Line Dance Classes Weds: Beginners-Improvers: 9.30am 11.30am/ Fri’s: Beginners-intermediate: 7.15pm - 9.15pm £4 per class. Tel: 0195 4231382 METHODIST CHURCH HALL , BERRYCROFT, SOHAM ᔢ Line Dance classes Weds, 10am -12pm beginners to intermediate info’ Ros 07505 545 216 HISTON BRITISH LEGION ᔢ Line Dancing classes Mons 7pm, £3 tbc. Tel: 07947 062124, ᔢ Lesley Higgins Bingo Club Every Thurs, 7pm, free SIX BELLS ᔢ Quiz Night Mons, 9pm - 11pm, entry £1.

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Mark Grist  

Spoken word artist and rap battler Mark Grist

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