Christy Ku met up with the lovely Heads of the new Dead Poets Society (coming this September) to discuss poetry slams, traditional academia and pancakes with bacon.
Anna Romanska: President
Iona Bepey: Social Secretary
Abi Setchfield: General Secretary
Tell me about yourselves – who you are, what you like, who you’d like to see take the iron throne…
Anna: Well, we’re all studying English at the uni here. I live in Bahrain, but I’m from Poland, and I love all things literature, poetry, and fandom (like these two). And I have recently decided I want there to be no Iron Throne, so as to keep everyone happy. (But am secretly rooting for Sansa).
Iona: I’m sadly obsessed with Keats and wartime fiction, as well as appalling American reality TV. And Tyrion clearly has the edge.
Abi: I’ve been doing performance poetry since Yr 7 when I started speech and drama lesson., I love Percy Bysshe, Simon Armitage, Joelle Taylor, and bacon with maple syrup and pancakes. (And I don’t really care who gets the iron throne because the White Walkers are KINDA providing a sticky situation right now).
Pancakes and bacon with maple syrup? I am yet to try this culinary arrangement.
Abi: You want to make sure the bacon’s really crispy, and American pancakes work best. And thick maple syrup.
Anna: We all like cooking, we have arranged various evenings where we just eat and talk about Supernatural.
So how do you guys know each other?
Anna: Iona knew Abi and myself separately. I met Iona at a birthday, whilst we were both extremely drunk and bonding over Supernatural.
And how did Iona meet Abi?
Iona: Oh lord. This is really not going to reflect well on me…
Abi: It’s such a good story.
Iona: You get to tell the story.
Abi: It was quite early on in the term, and upon seeing someone staggering her way to the top of cardiac hill, I did the decent human being thing and asked if she wanted any help. She says yes, and somehow she’s in her own mind enough to list off all these various TV shows she likes and that she has a Tumblr. With similar interests, and URLs exchanged, I deposit her with her far less drunk friends, safely at the bottom of the hill. Et voila! Friendship!
Friends in drunken need are friends indeed. Anyhow – back to the society, what made you want to set it up?
Anna: Chinese food and sherry, is a very short answer. We’d all kind of noticed that there wasn’t a spoken word society, even though we ourselves, along with a whole bunch of random people, actually loved watching performances like it. So I brought it up and these two agreed we should do something about it.
Iona: I would say a shared adoration of poetry, performance and Robin Williams.
Why the name ‘Dead Poets’?
Abi: It’s based on the movie – the concept of a club outside the rules, going a bit nuts but feeling liberated through poetry – I guess we all thought that was something we wanted to experience and create for ourselves.
Anna: We didn’t really want it to be ‘University of Exeter Spoken Word Performance Society.’ It had to have a little character, and it had to be all about people being able to say whatever they wanted to say, which is what the movie’s message feels like.
Iona: For those who have seen it, we also plan to meet in caves.
What do you hope this society will bring?
Abi: We wanted everyone to feel like they could have a hand. No need to be student savants, we want all kinds of performance. Slam poetry is generally scoffed at in academia, but we think it’s a fantastic emerging type of poetry. If you can’t rhyme, can’t create a rhythm but want people to appreciate your cat on a mat wearing a hat, that’s cool! That’s awesome! You should be able to do whatever the fuck you want, regardless of what’s prioritised by academia. And that’s kinda what we’ve set out to do. And also ranting, we want to give people a place to rant.
Iona: I myself am a hopeless performer. I’m probably here to represent those who want to watch and enjoy rather than actively compose and perform poetry. But the whole idea of this, as you guys said, is that there’s something for everyone!
So a rebellion against academia?
Anna: Well, to a reasonable extent – if people do love the conventional methods of writing and reading poetry, then why shouldn’t they be allowed to express that? We’re open to absolutely anyone who appreciates the art form.
Abi: I know we all have a love for how poetry can be used to incite people. In the Romantic era, poetry was written by people who were the ultimate rebels of society – look at Percy Bysshe, Byron, Coleridge – all completely off their heads and having dates in graveyards and being kicked out of England. They created a whole new way of writing poetry because they were bored of the old stuff and wanted to spice it up a bit. It’s seen as rebellion because it’s against what’s decreed as ‘right’.
Iona: I’ve always liked the idea of appreciating poetry just for the way it sounds. Rather than all this ‘analysing rhyme and meter’ stuff. We’re open to a range of stuff – ‘high brow’ imitations to filthy limericks.
What about those who just want to observe and don’t really want to perform? Or those who are nervous about sharing their work in a public space?
Iona: We have one in our committee. *raises hand*
Abi: They have an appreciation, that’s all they need. We’re not going to make people do anything that would make them uncomfortable – if they want to come, if they’re going to enjoy it, then they’re totally welcome.
Anna: There are two sides to the poetry coin – audience and performer. And as for people who are nervous about their own work, that’s another great reason to start this society. We’re planning on helping people develop their writing and confidence in speaking – there’s no pressure at all to perform if they really decide not to, but maybe with some encouragement, you can bring out the best artist in someone.
You said this was an emerging type of poetry – do you feel there’s a demand for this society?
Anna: We have over 70 people on the group, and we’ll get random people coming up to us or sending us messages telling us that they’ve been waiting for a society like this for ages. We’re planning on advertising ourselves more in the coming months, and personally, considering how many people I’ve seen enjoying spoken word, I’m hoping there’ll be a lot more people interested.
Abi: Perhaps there’s also a need for it in the sense that we need to get people aware that there’s more to poetry than what’s read in the classroom. There’s gonna be people out there who’d LOVE and would SHINE with spoken word and slam poetry, but are stuck behind textbooks.
Iona: Exactly. So many people are quick to jump on the ‘I hate poetry’ bandwagon because they’ve had to study it their whole academic lives. All we’re saying is there’s more than one way to appreciate it.
Can you tell me more about the sort of things will your society be doing?
Anna: Well, the main focus is, of course, poetry, so we’d help people develop their writing skills and their own poetry, look at modern spoken word poets (watching it is incredibly valuable). Also, we’ll help with performing. We’d love performances from anyone who’s comfortable with that. And speaking for myself, I’d personally be thrilled to get any kind of feedback on anything I’ve ever written.
That’s the more formal side of it, but we will be trying to work with Exeter Phoenix, and perhaps some other societies such as Drama and Creative Writing. Abi also has some friends in Footlights, so maybe we’d be able to work with Northcott Theatre. And we’ve recently discovered that Islamic Society hosts poetry nights, so we’d love to be involved with that, and then maybe organise events in collaboration with them. We’re all about teamwork!
Iona: Well, from a social point of view, I’d love to keep everything incredibly chilled out – interspersing official socials with actual meetings and performances. Even if it’s just a meet and greet round someone’s house, for films, food and general romanticised merriment…
I’m imagining poetry slams in dimly lit pubs with drinks and cheering.
Anna: Nailed it, right on the head.
I’m there. Thanks guys!
Christy Ku, Online Books Editorbookmark me