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A Magazine for Sheffield

Matt Black: Poet Laureate of Derbyshire

Matt Black is a bit of legend in these parts. An award-winning poet and flag waver for literature in South Yorkshire for over two decades, he's turned his hand at residencies, commissions, school work, events, publications, slams and is currently the poet laureate of Derbyshire. He is the founder of Signposts, South Yorkshire's leading literature development agency. A lot of people owe this man favours. I owe him at least 11 and a few pints to boot. We caught up with Matt ahead of his events as part of Off The Shelf and talked about his laureateship, spoken word and Sheffield's art scene. Could you tell us a little about the Poet Laureateship work you've been doing recently? All kinds of different projects. I've been writing 11 short poems to go on 11 milestones which are now installed in 11 places around the route of the Olympic torch relay. At the other end of the spectrum, I've been working in children's homes in Derbyshire, which has been a real rich ride. Some really interesting work has come out of it. On arrival the first sentence one of them said was "I don't mean to be rude, but I really, really, really don't want to do any poetry this afternoon." So then I got them to come up with lots of "I don't mean to be rude, but..." phrases. What events have you got coming up as part of Off The Shelf? We're running a Young Writers' Festival afternoon at Bank Street Arts, so we're hoping to get lots of young writers from across Yorkshire down to that. There's also the Nonsense event for Edward Lear's 200th birthday, which has been overshadowed by Dickens, so it's an evening of Edward Lear, Spike Milligan, Ogden Nash, clerihews, all sorts of weird and wonderful nonsense poems. There's also going to be a large drawing of Edward Lear wearing the Quangle Wangle hat. Can you tell us a little bit more about Signposts and how it came about? I founded Signposts in 1997 on the invitation of the Arts Council literature officer as at that time there wasn't a lot going on. It started with live events above the Red Deer. I remember Carol Ann Duffy and Jackie Kay coming to read for £30 each. They wouldn't do that anymore! Geraldine Monk fell down the stairs a few times and Peter and Ann Sansom gave some good readings. You've done a lot of work with Sheffield's live literature scene in recent years. Where do you see that expanding to? Spoken word as a label and an artform is developing. It's triggering a huge release of work and it's a different kind of voice that's associated with poetry. That voice is now growing its own set of limitations, but I still think under a broad banner of poetry in performance it's a massively unexplored form. There's still things with costumes, microphone technique, circular breathing and minimal movement that aren't being done. People used to tar performance poetry with a certain brush - that it's just people performing less good poems and waving their arms about - but I think that's complete rubbish. I think the best case for performance poetry being amazing are Benjamin Zephaniah and Shakespeare. Do you think spoken word is in a better place than 20 years ago? My current theory about the scene is at times of recession and naff government people need to say more. So although spoken word was on the rise anyway, since the last election it's been rising more strongly than before. It's the same as the way comedians are always relieved when the Conservatives are back in power. In South Yorkshire over the last 18 months, there's been a swell. It's really taken off. That's true. There are new nights cropping up all the time. It's been spontaneous, it's been led by people and not funders, which gives you flexibility to do what you want, but to develop more as an artform it needs to create more opportunities for these people to get paid professionally. What you've described is a microcosm of how Sheffield's always developed its art scene. Because it's lots of villages it's always been under resourced centrally, so that elevating local people to a national or international platform gets neglected. It means we've got some great work locally, but it doesn't create the resources for people to take it to the next stage. Matt Black will host the following shows as part of Off The Shelf: Live Words and Dead Poets Open Mic - 13th October at Winter Gardens Stuff and Nonsense - 20th October at St Aidan's Church An Evening Of Nonsense - 21st October at Dada )

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