INTERVIEW: FIRE & DUST MEETS DWANE READS
THE ANNOYING MEGAPHONE PIGEON BY DWANE READS
Based in Derby, Dwane Reads has been kicking around in different artistic guises since 1985. A member of the DIY Poets in Nottingham, and the 2017 winner of the Derby Poetry Festival competition, Dwane is educated in Fine Art, has trained as a teacher, and plans to keep writing and performing his work. He has published several books, including ‘The Annoying Megaphone Pigeon’ (2013) and ‘Slogans Soundbites & Poetry’ (2017).
In June 2018, Dwane headlined at Fire & Dust, HCE’s regular poetry night. We’ve caught up with him since, to find out more…
When did you first start writing and performing poetry?
Writing has always been in my psyche. I started writing at secondary school. Late-seventies, during lessons where the teacher had no control of the class, you could pretty much do as you wanted. (Sad, but a reality.) 1985/6: Performing at odd venues (a motor mechanics garage inside a railway arch, various unpopular Old Men’s pubs, gigs in laundrettes, abandoned shops as a pop-up poet, and house parties). A few venues in the centre of town (Danny’s Bar & Jelly Rolls) took a chance on poetry events with a mime artist, performance art – just to get punters in. When bands were playing, I would organise the running order as compere and do a few poems in-between as they set up, keeping the flow of the event. I would sometimes just gatecrash a gig. Community Arts always encouraged your development; they contacted The National Poetry Secretariat who would allow grants for poets to get paid for performing, transport etc. Poets in the pub events would be one-offs (so the back rooms of venues would be packed). These events would bring established poetry acts: Attila the Stockbroker, Martin Wiley etc.
How would you describe your style, i.e. what can audiences expect if they come to see a Dwane Reads live performance?
An audience will hopefully see my passion for spoken word. I write about people, things we experience, some odd observational stuff; I believe I have a social conscience, with a twist of the surreal. It’s no good trying to write about stuff you know nothing about. Poetry can deliver a message, and for me connects with people, but it needs to be honest.
What would you say are the recurring themes in your poetry?
There has always been a tilt towards the ordinary, the everyday observation, whilst challenging people to think outside the box, with a take on social injustice. It is also good to have a twist of nonsense to lighten the mood. A strong cross-section of different themes, delivered not just to please an audience in performing, but to try and engage those who read my poetry with something thought-provoking and of interest.
Has your writing changed much between your first book, For One Lost Poet, and upcoming collaboration The Reprobate Poets?
I hope so. Early on, I would get on stage and rant from the notebook. Very quick, without stopping for introductions as poets would be subjected to unmerciful heckling. Once I had it written down, that could be it. With little or no edits. The subject matter for poems came from an assortment of ideas, crap relationships, football teams, with some attempts at being funny. This would be fine for the time. I think experience of life and what it throws at you have developed me as a writer and performer. I changed my mind about the Reprobate project. I decided it wasn’t for me. I’d rather not rush to find an anthology with these new poems. I will approach some publishers, develop further some ideas and release a new book of my own poetry in the future.
How often do you create a poem, and do you have a writing routine?
I write on the go. I carry a red Silvine notebook, which has become a comfort blanket over the years. Sometimes poems just happen, in the moment, and you’re trying to remember a line or frantically scribbling. I try to discipline my writing, especially the re-editing routine of sitting at the laptop working on a theme or intended idea. I now keep all re-edit drafts. To allow me to monitor how my writing is developing.
Some of your poetry puts us in mind of punk lyrics – direct and rousing, with no time for bullshit. Who/what are the biggest influences on your work?
Firstly, when I was younger I noticed market traders. Born performers, who just knew how to work the crowd. Enticing them in with never to be repeated offers. Towels, plates, whatever they had for sale. Next up: horse racing commentary, with a rapid delivery in the final straight. Finally, the influence of Punk with a platform from Community Arts, gave myself and others the belief to attempt things, make mistakes and learn.
Likeminded people encouraged painting, printing, photography plus writing, allowing you to share your work, and grow in confidence. Making you get out and do, seek out wall space, contribute to fanzines and perform.
From this I went onto art college. Influences: Mark E. Smith (The Fall), John Cooper Clarke, Frank Sidebottom, Ivor Cutler, Pip Southwell & Aaron Williamson (Derby poets I performed with in the eighties), Seema Gill, and DIY Poets based in Nottingham.
Do you read/listen to much contemporary poetry? Which poets have recently made an impression on you?
It’s always great to discover a fresh voice and read new work. There is so much out there. Miggy Angel, Ash Dickinson, Jonny Fluffypunk, Matt McAteer, Chris McLoughlin, Helen Mort, Matt Nicholson, Antony Owen, Steve Pottinger, Emma Purshouse, Sophie Sparham, Mike Watts, Ifika Youika. Spoken Worlds poets in Burton-on-Trent, run by Gary Carr. Plus everyone at Nottingham’s DIY poets.
Any good anecdotes from when you used to tour and gig with bands, and renowned poets like Henry Normal and John Cooper Clarke?
Approx. 1985/6, I did a gig with Henry Normal in Derby at what was called the Arch. The venue was in fact a car maintenance garage during the day that doubled as a band rehearsal place and gig venue for those in the know, after hours.
Illegal music and poetry gigs, in one of the railway arches off Derby’s famous Friargate Bridge.
Discharge gig during the mid-eighties, Mardi Gras, Nottingham. Chairs being thrown due to the band changing musical direction, informing the crowd they wouldn’t play Decontrol. Shall we put the poet back on? No way!
1990: States of Unrest (political band from Huddersfield/Hull). Summer Tour (North East, Yorkshire, Midlands, London). I was the support for the tour. We had little money and had to sleep in a mini bus. We had some gigs where local bands hadn’t put up flyers. Amps or guitars not working. We therefore, some nights, lacked an audience. We busked during the afternoon in Scarborough for fish and chips. Some of the band, being veggies, couldn’t eat the chips as they were cooked in lard.
Some time in 2017: Dwane Reads and Eagle Spits* on the road to promote the album Empires Fall. We were booked to perform at the Traitors’ Gate in Greys (Essex). Setting up a merch stall, pre-performance people came up and chatted to us both with interest. Some punks we knew popped in to show support, the landlady (her brother is a punk comic) offering us complementary drinks. So, I go on, a few poems in: “What’s this then? What’s that about?” from a few in the audience. Five, six poems in, the guy who put us on gestures to me. I thank the audience, come off stage. On goes Eagle, which goes from bad to worst. Three poems in, he is getting heckled. By now the promoter is kacking himself. Rather than stop, Eagle gives them a new poem about Theresa May. “That’s our Theresa, he’s slagging Mrs May.” Are we in a Conservative Club? A small crowd of young men and women, loaded on beer, testosterone and arms like Popeye, observe. I’ve put our merch stall in the suitcase. I hurriedly guide Eagle by the arm off-stage, avoiding the microphone leads, white stick in his hand. I request, “Door, please.” We manage to get outside the pub and I guide him across the road. “Hundred yards max, just keep walking ‘til I tell you.” We jump in the car. I notice a small crowd now outside the pub. We are on the road and away, very lucky to escape a hiding.
(* Eagle spits is a partially-sighted Punk Poet)
We enjoyed your Fire & Dust set. It’s clear from how you express yourself that you’re genuinely passionate about each poem’s subject. Any tips for beginners on how to be more confident and engaging at gigs?
Try not to shake with your handwritten paper or phone in hand. Look around, read your poem and enjoy reading it. You might find someone in the audience who likes what you’re reading; focus on them. As you gain confidence, look for others. Remember, your performance will be over in no time. So, try to relax. If you need to hold the mic and stand, do so. If it doesn’t work for any reason, try not to get flustered. Someone will readjust the mic stand for you. Most importantly, you have written this, you have something to say. Get on with it and enjoy it no matter how many are there, be it one person or one hundred in attendance. If, at the end of an evening, you liked someone’s work, please let them know. Ask if they have a book or more info about themselves.
Which regular poetry events in Derby do you recommend for
a) nervous newbies?
Derby Performance Poets. Deda bar & café. First Thursday of the month. 7;30-9;30. Twisted Tongues. Arranged by Dan Webber at the Bell Hotel on Sadlergate. Poetry events at the Queens Head in Belper. A short distance outside of Derby. A great Poetry supporting venue. Gigs are held upstairs with a stage, lights and a PA. Well worth a visit.
b) open mic veterans?
Word Wise. (There are workshops before some gigs.) A must-visit event! Run by Jamie Thrasivoulou. Held at the Brunswick Tavern on Railway Terrace.
Tell us more about the Alzheimer’s Society fundraising that you do?
My Ma passed away 2016. She had Dementia for six years. She loved the idea of getting on with the creative process, her passion was textiles and dressmaking.
I produced the Slogans book for the Melbourne Festival as a limited edition. All proceeds of the sales have been passed onto the Alzheimer’s Society. A small way to help those with the illness.
What publications/projects/performances have you got coming up next?
Currently, I hope to get some work published in some lit mags. Look back through some older ideas and rework them. Try out some workshops, to exercise the writing muscle, this might spring the odd surprise. Also: I will be seeking out various places to perform. I visit Eire in June with gigs in Dublin and, I hope, Cork. Mid-August, I’ll be travelling with The DIY poets to Edinburgh.
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