Mark Grist at The Vaults Devizes Festival

Review published in Wiltshire Gazette and Herald today (unedited version)

Devizes Festival has embraced poetry this year. We’ve had John Hegley, Arthur Smith, Professor Elemental and the Poetry Slam and last Monday at The Vaults, Mark Grist; Rogue Teacher, spoken word artist and battle rapper. Over a pie before the show Mark was happy to chat about poetic rivalry and revenge, Peterborough and whether poetry should be more art than therapy. He is a cheerful, accessible, energetic man with a twinkle in his eye and a plan to pay off his mortgage with his craft.

His act is comprised of anecdote, flowing prose, blank verse and rhyme. His work is insightful, angry, touching and respectful in turns. His story weaves through his set; he has been the Poet Laureate of Peterborough and has gone by the name of the Count of Monty Gristo; he taught difficult children who liked to set fire to things and were easily distracted by seagulls; he inspired his pupils and was in turn inspired; he took up a challenge from one of the kids to enter a rap battle and creamed a lad called Blizzard with Mum jokes, the video of which went viral, and he has skirmished with and worked with people with names like Omen and Mixy.

He engages his enthusiastic audience with tales of visiting dead poets’ graves, of nutmegging in Keynsham in his teenage years, and of the day when one of his pupils shot another in the head. He chooses Maisie from the audience to serenade with his deliberately bad poem about “gingers”, for bad poetry is in itself an art and some words just don’t have a rhyme. He answers a request for “Girls That Read”, his homage to women of intelligence, another internet sensation. He berates the habit that some poets have of deriding and criticising each other’s work and recites a tale of tomatoes thrown at a competition where the last poet standing bashes his own brains out with a tin. He wants us to “cheer on the Keiths” for every poem has a place.

The Vaults was the perfect venue for this Fringe event, which attracted a younger, well informed audience, who loved Mark and his exciting work. Who says that poetry is a niche interest? Not Devizes Festival. We’ve brought it out of the closet. We rock.

by Gail

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