Poet Dominic Berry: “Writing doesn’t have to be lonesome”
I chatted to Manchester poetry maestro Dominic Berry about touring, his upcoming collections, and Kevin Costner’s bottom.
Hello Dom, No Tigers is your first adult poetry publication in six years. What prompted this new collection?
It so nearly came out several times before now, but we chose to delay the release. I had poems I was so proud of, and I was champing at the bit to see them in print. But [the problem was] getting the order right – getting them in a sequence that worked. The poems just weren’t gelling together. It was quite a few months later that we decided to make two separate collections. No Tigers is very now. It’s full of contemporary verse on contemporary subjects, where I’m at in the world as it currently is – and what a world it currently is, right? There are silly and serious bits [in the collection], but all of it is modern. The other poems – the ones with a more retro feel, describing childhood and 90s pop culture – are being printed by Stirred Press the week after No Tigers comes out. They will be in their own little zine entitled Kevin Costner’s Bottom. I’m mega proud of both collections, how different they are from each other, and how well they each hold up within their respective covers.
You’re taking the book on tour afterwards around the UK, New Zealand and Australia. How do these audiences differ? Is there a difference in their reactions to your work?
I’ve never been down under before! Last year I did a month-long poetry tour of cities round the south of Canada, and then performed in North India for four weeks. I’ve gigged several times in the USA. For sure, the humour varies greatly in those different regions. I personally love how vocal US audiences are in their appreciation of spoken word. In the UK, we generally don’t love the finger clicking thing, do we? When I first experienced a whole room of people doing that in New York… Wow, I found it really powerful. Canada was super vocal too, whereas in India the crowds silently listened, taking it all in. So I don’t know what this next tour will offer in terms of audience response, but I always test my sets before I go anywhere near a stage. That’s useful for finding out if people don’t know some of the slang or brand names used in specific poems – US audiences hadn’t heard of ‘biros’, [and they don’t] know what a ‘big girls blouse’ is!
I also hear whispers of an exciting EP of poems put to music by Martin Visceral that you’re releasing with Stirred Press. What can we expect from that?
Yeah! Martin won the first ever slam I entered when I was nineteen. He came first, I came second. There’s a lesson there about good attitude. I reckon it’s ace to come second in a slam – I’ve certainly come way lower than that in enough competitions – but I’ve seen many a spoken word artist quite publicly kick off when they’ve got silver. No one’s gonna thank you for being a diva. If I’d have had problems with Martin quite rightly winning that slam way, way back in the late 90s, we may not have become the good friends we are now. Martin’s also gonna be acting with me in the new family poetry show I’m writing, The Boy Who Cried Wolf.
I just asked him one day if he would put my poems ‘Don’t Come Back, Noob’ to music, and it grew from there. It ended up being an EP’s worth! Inspired by Mr B, the Gentleman Rhymer and Epic Rap Battles of History, we wanted to make music which was comedic, but not throwaway and daft. As ridiculous as some of the jokes are, we took the tune writing very seriously
I know some of the work in No Tigers has been featured in your current touring show Playing Mortal Kombat Guarantees Your Inner Calm. How has working and touring that show been for you?
Some poets who love writing can sometimes come across to me a bit defensive about reciting their work. In my view, if you’re going to ever say your words aloud, that makes you a spoken word artist – and therefore you’ll do well to try to develop your spoken word skills.
I had Matt Panesh as dramaturg and then Kevin Dyer as director working with me to ensure my delivery was the best I could get it, just like I had Paul Neads (aka Brink) editing and supporting me on the crafting of the language. Writing and performing does not have to be lonesome. I prefer it when it is not. Getting the right people on board to help you achieve your vision is fantastic fun and gives that much-needed outside perspective to hopefully stop the work from being too introspective to connect.
The Playing Mortal Kombat Guarantees You Inner Calm show went through at least three very different versions before I took it to Canada. When you care about what you’re doing, though, it’s a labour of love, isn’t it? The more time you’re able to put in, the better it’s going to be. Same as the publishing. I’m glad I took time rehearsing, revising, and getting it to the right point before asking folks to pay to see it: not just rushing right out there the moment I felt I had something I was excited by.
Can you tell us a little more about the guest poet for the night, Jack Nicholls?
Jack is a generous and charismatic master of ceremonies. His comic timing as part of FLIM night and the sketch group Beach Hunks is spot on; he understands the mechanics of humour and has developed a distinctive, playful, kind, and confident voice. His debut collection as a solo poet is magnificent and mature. It is dark, delightful and dynamic in its boldness, exploring stuff that is often as scary as it is inspired. Jack’s written the foreword for No Tigers. We have shared so many stages in the last few years. It’s ace to now be sharing pages together too.
And where else can we catch the launch if we’re not in Manchester?
After the book launch on Monday 20th February, I’m guesting for Studio Salford on the night of Wednesday 22nd. On Thursday 23rd, I will be in what was Cornerhouse, featuring for Andrew Lawson at the gig he runs there, having run over from speaking on the radio show run by Evidently’s Ella Gainsborough and Kieren King. In all of these events I’ll be sharing work from No Tigers. The Stirred Press zine Kevin Costner’s Bottom and the Martin Visceral-produced Don’t Come Back, Noob EP are launched at 3MT’s Stirred on Monday 27th February. So, you know, don’t sit at home watching telly – come out and support some live art! Every time a person watches a show in any way connected with Simon Cowell, a small effeminate homosexual kitten begins to cry.
No Tigers by Dominic Berry will be launched by Flapjack Press as part of LGBT History Month in Manchester Central Library on the 20th February at 6pm, with free entry. You can check out more info and RSVP here.