Spoken Word Column: Self-care in the roaring ‘20s

Entering a brand-new decade should feel exciting. We should be buoyed by the possibilities and the unknown. Giddy with plans and ambition. Eager to grab it by the scruff of the neck and make history. But for a lot of us, the dawn of the 2020s feels bleak at best. And to be completely frank with you, in many ways, it’s terrifying. Trump’s tempting WWIII. Johnson’s been emboldened as his bigoted lapdog. Australia’s in flames…

I shouldn’t make sweeping assumptions, but I’m guessing that for the vast majority of folk reading this column, the General Election result came as a huge blow. And the timing of it has no doubt contributed to the tone of my writing. At first, I was shell-shocked. I then drank through the devastation with barrel-loads of booze over Christmas. And now, in terms of the wider world, I’m left to contemplate another ten years of fuck knows what.

You’re probably wondering what this has to do with spoken word poetry.

Well, I used November’s column to recommend the political poets to take us through these dark days. So, in January’s column, I’ll recommend some poets to do the complete opposite. If you’re anything like me, it’s now almost impossible to escape politics on a daily basis. My Twitter feed is consumed by knee-jerk reactions, rows, trolls and grand statements, and the need to be more active in the real world is chipping away at my subconscious. And much as I can’t allow myself to disengage entirely, I do feel like I need to seek out deeper escapism in order to look after my mental wellbeing.

There’ve been several columns linking poetry to mental health over the years, but rather than come at it from a scientific or medical perspective, I’m just going to choose a handful of poets who I reckon you might enjoy. Now, before I start with my list: I’m aware that all poetry is political to some extent. Even more-so if it’s not by an able-bodied, straight, white, CIS male. But the poets in my November column specifically and directly speak about UK politics, whereas the six poems that I’ve chosen in this column don’t; so there’s the distinction. OK? We’ll need plenty of this in the roaring ‘20s, so strap in…


Buddy Wakefield ‘Convenience Stores’

I don’t think I’ll ever grow even slightly bored of watching this video. Buddy is one of those poets who can conjure up a gallery’s worth of images within a single stanza, and whilst I realise it’s an obvious choice, this is my favourite of his. The piano backing and the fast-motion video lift it onto another level. He’s over in the UK this spring, so make sure you see him if you can.


Kirsty Taylor ‘Sunday Nights’

If you’re a follower of Nymphs & Thugs or Skint & Demoralised events, you won’t be a stranger to Kirsty’s work. She’s one of my favourite poets on the UK scene at the moment and these poem-films of hers are a stroke of genius. ‘Sunday Nights’ is one of my favourites, and it really defines her unique style; blending her kitchen-sink realism heritage with contemporary hip-hop influence. Top class.


Vanessa Kisuule ‘A Personal Malleable Manifesto’

This is quite possibly the ultimate self-care anthem for modern times. I could’ve picked a huge number of poems by Vanessa, but given the nature of the column, this felt like the most relevant. We spend so much time advising others and more often than not we forget to apply the same advice to ourselves. So, do yourself a massive favour and follow Vanessa’s manifesto!


Daniel Cockrill ‘I Sit Them On The Wall’

This is such a beautiful and powerful poem, and as with a lot of the best stuff, its main strength lies in its simplicity. Sometimes, we need kids to remind us how easy it is to be kind to each other when we’re otherwise engaged in our hectic adult lives. If more people approached the world like Daniel’s twin boys in this poem then it’d be an infinitely better place.


Stephen Lightbown ‘The First Kiss’

Nostalgic, romantic, short and sweet. Everybody remembers a first kiss of some sort, and Stephen captures this one perfectly. I first had the pleasure of seeing him perform at Shambala Festival in the summer; waxing lyrical about Alan Shearer and Ewood Park. But this poem in particular stuck out for me so I was dead chuffed to find a video online for you to enjoy.


Nadine Aisha Jassat ‘Jacaranda’

This is technically a short story as opposed to a poem, but let’s not get bogged down in the details. Nadine is an outstanding poet, and ‘Jacaranda’ is a great example of how she can whisk you away in an instant. I first had the pleasure of seeing her perform at Cheltenham Lit Fest in the autumn. Her poem ‘Hopscotch’ absolutely blew me away but is too political for this particular column.

I know this sounds naff, but there’s an awful lot of beauty in the world, and no matter which bastards are in power, there always will be. Sometimes it takes a poem to remind us of that. I’m getting married in September. My fiancée makes me happier than I ever thought I could be. I love and am loved by both of our families. I’m incredibly lucky. A whilst part of me wants to argue about the Labour leadership election (which hasn’t even bloody started yet), I also need to take a step back; take stock of all that I’m grateful for; and allow poetry to remind me of how much we still have to smile about.

As we roll into the roaring ‘20s, we’re overwhelmed with content. News cycles are 24/7. Algorithms see nuanced debate drowned out by polarised extremes. It’s tough on the old noggin. So, whilst poetry won’t cure all the world’s ills, it can go a long way to soothing your brain.


Matt Abbott is a poet, educator and activist from Wakefield. He fronts indie band Skint & Demoralised and runs the Nymphs & Thugs spoken word record label. He’s published collections for children and grown-ups, and recent commissions include Cancer Research UK, Leeds United FC, Jeremy Corbyn and Nationwide Building Society.