I have a confession to make: growing up poetry always alluded me. I thought there was a magic formula to analysing poetry that I just didn’t get. I enjoyed reading it, but explaining why, particularly in a way the teachers wanted, was always difficult. Poetry was this entity that was superior to all other literature and only the most intelligent could understand. However, if there’s one man to change that attitude, it’s Mark Grist.
Mark Grist is an English teacher, turned poet. He shot to what he calls ‘pseudo-fame’ when he entered a rap-battle against a seventeen year old boy and the video went viral. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you have to watch it.
Mark Grist is a brilliantly funny poet. His poems, much like his rapping, contain a lot of rhyme and clever puns. On Thursday night I went and saw him perform at the Soul Cellar in Southampton, who put on a lot of poetry readings and spoken word tours. That night Mark explained that his style of poetry was unconventional and his MA tutor had dubbed him a ‘bad poet’ because he did not fit into the convention of the lofty poet. I hasten to disagree. Yes, his poetry isn’t lofty and superior, but that is a good thing – it makes it accessible, universal and interesting to those without a PhD, but most importantly his poetry is intelligent, moving, and full of social commentary. The only thing lacking is the pompous attitude.
Mark’s performance was a healthy mix of hilarious anecdotes from his time as a teacher and performances of his poetry. It’s clear he’s gone through some challenging stages in his life and his poetry reflects, in one way or another, his life journey. He accounts up until the overnight success of the Don’t Flop battle (it went viral on Reddit and got 200,000 views in one day; it’s now over 3 million) and if there’s one thing to be said about Mark Grist it’s his humility; he does not give himself the credit he is due. He is a fantastic writer and his outlook on ‘today’s youth’ is inspiring. My personal favourite is his ‘feminist anthem’:
If you have the chance to see Mark Grist perform – jump on it. He’s also touring schools to encourage kids to read poetry, so if your kids, nephews, neices, whoever, get a chance to see him, make sure they do. I wish he had been there to explain to my 14 year old self that poetry is fun; you can analyse it any way you want, and more importantly, you don’t have to be a genius to appreciate it. If he had maybe it wouldn’t have taken me so long to pick up a poetry book and read it for pleasure.