Tuesday, 17 May 2011

INTERVIEW: Raymond Antrobus


Name: Raymond Antrobus
Repping: Chill Pill / Keats House Forum / PIP (A Poem inbetween People)
Birthplace: Hackney, London
Lives: Hackney, London
Poetry Debut: 2007 Farrago National Slam Finals

Awards/Accomplishments: 2008 International Farrago Slam Champion, 2010 “London Performance Poet of the Year”, Farrago Zoo Awards and 2010 Berlin Slam Champion.

ONiT! is excited to see that you're hosting Jawdance on Wednesday 18 May, and we’d love to hear your answers on the following:


Can you tell us how you got involved in this event?
I'm an Associate Poet with Apples & Snakes and work for them occasionally, they know about me and know my work so they asked me if I would guest host this month’s Jawdance.

What do you enjoy about the event, Jawdance?

I enjoy the fact that it’s free and open to everyone that wants to come and try to perform. I also enjoy the fact that you feel like you can take risks there and experiment, which is important for poets who are serious writers as well as performance artists.

How did you first get into performance poetry?
When I was 20 I went travelling across North America and stopped in Columbus, Ohio and walked into a Slam, where I didn’t know what was going on! At the time, I carried a travel journal and someone looked at what I had written and said that what I wrote was basically unspoken poetry. So feeling inspired, I got up and read something, not really knowing what I was doing and it seemed to resonate with some people, so I thought that when I got back to London, I would check out the spoken word scene and take it from there.

Describe your style…

“Classic mind struggling with the modern world” [laughs] (according to Mr Gee who Raymond is currently sitting with, who is also a poet, and a member of Chill Pill). I would also describe myself as a confessional poet.

What do you most enjoy about poetry?

The ability, or the attempt, to encapsulate what can’t be said or is difficult to say. I love the way that poetry
is so condensed - you can say so much in just two lines. I’ve realised that all of my favourite writers, are actually poets and I admire their ability to pack so many ideas, emotions etc, into just one paragraph. I’m also a fan of minimalism, so I think it comes from that as well – saying as much as you can in as little words as possible and as a result, I’m a rigid editor of my work.

What has been your personal, favourite gig so far?

The first one to come to mind was a tour in Chicago that I did recently. I was the headline poet at The Green Mill, which is significant because it’s the same venue where the first ever Slam took place – it was hosted by Mark Smith who has been credited as the inventor of Slam and it was an amazing experience, mainly because it wasn’t just a crowd full of poets, this was a place where open micers were ordinary people, who just wrote on their lunch break or on the way to work, etc, so the atmosphere was just so real and that’s what I loved the most about that gig.

Any nightmare gigs that you can share with us?

Yes! I did a gig last week at a comedy club, I was advised to do it to toughen up my skin a bit, yo
u know. Performing poetry to a comedy audience is always a challenge, but once the initial banter was over, it felt really awkward, like the audience just wanted me to hurry up and get off the stage, which obviously wasn’t an enjoyable experience!

Another terrible experience was actually at my second ever gig, where a drunken guy from the audience wouldn’t shut up and actually got onto the stage, picked up a mic and started to literally scream and shout in the middle of my performance. No-one said anything about it or removed the guy from the stage, so I left. It honestly took me about a week to get over that one! I won’t drop the names of these events in case they’re still taking place!

Who are your greatest influences?

Performance poetry wise there’s a poet called Jon Sands in New York who I love and think is incredible. In terms of performers, Richard Pryor has been a big influence for me personally, simply because.. Erm.. his balls are so big he’ll just say anything! [laughs] I know anyone can get on stage and just say anything but to have substance and weight behind it, not everyone can do that. Francesca Beard is one of my favourite performers in the country – I love her work- she’s brilliant and also Aoife Mannix – I’ve read her poetry collections and have done a poetry workshop with her, she’s great. There’s so many names I can mention but they’re the ones that come of the top of my head.

If you could work with any other performing artist(s), dead or alive, who would you choose?

I’m gonna say Orson welles; he’s a hero of mine because I identify a lot with him in terms of his restlessness as a creative thinker. He was at least 100 years ahead of his time and he recognised that, acknowledged that and put that into his work which I think gave his work real integrity. He was heavily misunderstood, but never tried to conform. He’s someone that invariably had to suffer lack of appreciation but it didn’t hinder him from creating. He understood the power of saying something through art which made him an amazing actor, writer and thinker and I think he would be the most amazing mentor and friend in person, which is why I’ve chosen him.

What can an audience expect when they come to see you perform?

Expect to see a young guy talking about his inner torments; expect very confessional and open interpretations of my life. Expect honesty, expect someone on stage who is enjoying themselves and hopes that you are too.

Do you have any forthcoming projects in the pipeline?

Yep! Chill Pill at the Soho Theatre and also Chill Pill at the Albany. I’m doing a tour of Germany in October and I’ve just released my first album called Speed Camera Shy, which is a dub-step and me not-quite-rapping-not-quite-performing-poetry, but trying to do something in between that. I wrote most of the album 4 years ago when I was 20 and recorded it when I was 21, so I’m a bit ambivalent about it as I feel I’ve come quite a long way from there. The voice of the album doesn’t represent me today, but the record label really liked it and believe in it, so great! I’m also doing the Keats House Festival at the end of the month. Myself and Simon Mole run Keats House Forum, which is a young writers forum where we facilitate workshops and talk to emerging younger writers about their work, then, once a month we showcase the poetry that they’ve been writing. We also have an open mic session at Keats House, on the last Saturday of every month, the next one is on 28th of May.

You’ve recently relocated to the Soho Theatre for Chill Pill, How has that made a difference to the event as a whole?

Well, Chill Pill started out as a very small, intimate, low key kind of night in a basement bar in Bethnal Green, with a capacity of around 50 people. Even though there was no room to move or breathe [laughs] people still attended. Each week, the venue was full which we thought was a sign that we needed to expand – we went shopping around for a bigger venue, to match the demand, and Soho Theatre came forward so now, we’ve got an even bigger venue with more people coming. It was difficult to try and translate the intimate feel into a bigger space, but the last one did really well and it sold out, so I think we achieved that.

Our main objective had always been to showcase the cutting edge of underground poetry, we look for quite obscure but very credible acts and that’s still what we live by. Our next show is on the 1st of June at Soho Theatre and it’s now a bi-monthly event. The Chill Pill following that, will take place at The Albany (headquarters for Apples & Snakes) on the 9th of July, before returning to Soho Theatre for the August show.

Chill Pill used to have an open mic segment, but we’ve not done it since the move, but we’ll be bringing it back for the Albany show like BAM! The first six people to sign up will get to perform.

Outside of the stage, where can we find you?

You can Tweet me @RaymondAntrobus I have a blogsite: and a podcast: 'Head Job' which you can search for and find on iTunes; it features spoken word and poetry recorded in outdoor locations in and around London. Also, you can find the Raymond Antrobus 'fan page' on Facebook, where you’ll find all the above information too.

You can see and hear Raymond hosting and performing at Jawdance on Wednesday 18 May, at the Rich Mix, 32-45 Bethnal Green Road, LONDON E1 6LA | Tickets/Entry: Free | Info: / 020 7613 7498

Interview by Shorntay Allen


  1. nice interview - slight amendment, next keats house event is saturday may 28th! 2-5 :-)

  2. Thanks for that Simon - amended :)