Poetry, Politics and Imposters

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Sunday 16 June 2019

When you picture a cool night out on the town in Edinburgh I’m almost certain that poetry comes into the equation. However, spoken word and slam poetry have gained a significant degree of popularity over the past few years, with queues forming outside of pubs, cafes and bookshops as people crowd towards their nearest open-mic night for a pint and a poem.

This summer I am researching the connection between sociopolitical issues and spoken word poetry in Edinburgh. To do this I am going to be interviewing poets about their poetry as well as how they think that the scene more generally is concerned with politics. My main questions are on why people use this forum to express such issues, to what extent it is a natural by-product of the personal nature of performance poetry, and whether spoken word events can become a bit of an echo-chamber for young, generally left-leaning artists?

Spoken word/slam poetry was one of the main things which made me want to study English at university. I don’t think I would be as fascinated by poetry if it weren’t for hearing it aloud and performed more than I read it in school. In my opinion, poetry comes alive when it is performed in a way that it is hard to convey in print. There is a massive variety of styles within performance poetry, from rhythmic performances which border on rap, to dramatic monologues which would rival Shakespeare. But despite these differences, poems often share themes of social and political issues and how they affect the writer/performer.

At the time of writing this, I have been researching for two weeks and am starting to form a clearer idea of the route which I am going to take. I am starting to interview next week and a lot of my time has been spent tailoring my interview questions to the individual poets and making sure that I know their material and central concerns. I think that the project is going well and I’m pleased with the progress I’ve made.

However, I’ve also spent much of my research dealing with imposter syndrome; feeling like I have accidentally conned my way into this research and that I am not as qualified as those around me. This has become more and more apparent as I near the stage of interviewing poets. While it is probably entirely irrational, my brain insists that my interviewees will be instantly aware of my complete lack of experience and storm out dramatically!

A few of the poetry collections from poets active in Edinburgh

I am getting better at dealing with these feelings as the weeks go on. Talking to my fellow Laidlaw scholars has been enormously helpful in this matter. We are all experiencing research for the first or second time together and figuring it out as we go. Meeting with my supervisor to plan out what my project will look like at completion has also been invaluable, and made the project look less daunting as it was broken down into smaller parts.

Another thing which has helped me greatly was remembering why I wanted to be a part of Laidlaw in the first place. My project is something that I am excited about, rather than I should look at as something which I am bound to fail in. I am so lucky to have this opportunity to grow my confidence in research and so many other areas of my life.

I would like to sincerely thank Lord Laidlaw for the opportunity to develop these skills and Capod for all of their support. I would also like to thank Dr Peter Mackay for his guidance as a supervisor. I would finally like to thank my fellow Laidlaw scholars, without whom this project would seem insurmountable and terribly lonely!

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