Martin Daws is the Young People’s Laureate for Wales. He spoke to Carl Griffin after a trip to New York, during which he tried to learn as much as he could from his poetry idols.
Carl Griffin: Had you been to New York before this visit? Had you performed there before, or watched any performances? What was your perception of poetry in New York and has that changed?
Martin Daws: This was my first time in NYC. Though, I felt like I knew the city pretty well already as a result of all the music and poetry and art I have absorbed from they place over the years. I actually got into poetry after being inspired by the Nuyorican Poets Cafe Tour to the UK in 1994. On our visit last month I got to perform at the Nuyorican. It was a dreamlike experience to return the inspiration they left me with 19 years later. What stood out to me over there was the unity of purpose of people on the spoken word scene. It is a very diverse and inclusive scene which has a strong focus on social justice. The political focus supports the inclusive ethos – it feels like a movement more than an art form.
You delivered a workshop at the Bronx Writer’s Centre, a residential facility for young women, with Bronx poet La Bruja. How was that experience and have you learned new ways to teach poetry (either through the centre or through the Preemptive conference, mentioned later)?
Going up to the Bronx was pretty deep. We worked in a residential unit for young women awaiting trial. La Bruja runs a regular writing group and we had the privilege of working with the young women and sharing our work with them. The standard of writing and social engagement was exceptional, and much credit is due to La Bruja, the workers from the unit, The Bronx Writer’s Centre and the Bronx Council on the Arts for that. Check my name checks for our people in the Bronx! They made us so welcome and honoured as poets – it was a very affirming experience to go to the home of hip hop and find that we really are all reading off the same hymn sheet when it comes to the value and power of oral tradition.
I picked up a few cool tricks for getting young people engaged in writing over there, and already, I’m finding that the quality of my delivery back here has improved. It was so cool to be in a room with three hundred industry leaders in spoken word education, and to feel that I have a valid voice among the many great practitioners there.
You competed in a Slam at The Nuyorican Poets Café. Were there any inspiring poets there (particularly anybody well-known on the scene readers can discover via the internet)?
Basically, everyone was dope! Mahogan L. Browne Queened the place with her own super live style of hosting. Tonya Ingram did a heavy feature slot. Aja Monet won the slam with some very classy poems, and there was some bloke from Wales called Martin Daws who rocked the sacrificial poet slot!
I know you are interested in the connection between poetry and hip-hop, or rap. Did your experience in New York heighten this interest or cause a change in your approach on the subject?
I am a life long, dues paid up, member of the universal hip hop nation – word! To me hip hop is a cultural device for keeping people and communities clean. In its many manifestations it is a beautiful creative and redemptive force that is one branch in a wider – intrinsically human – oral tradition: Trust yourself and your creativity – you can’t go wrong!
You represented Wales at Preemptive 2013, a conference of poetry and spoken word educators run by Urban Word NYC. Tell us about the lectures ran here, and any memorable connections between the conference and young people?
The seminar I found most useful was on how to run a writing workshop. I have a load of experience, but it’s good to get new ideas and reflections. It was great to sit with people of a similar skill set to myself and to participate in collective learning. The focus of the conference was very much on youth development. One highlight was the response by academic Dr David Stovall to young person Darren Williams poem about his illegal cable box. It was a powerful moment.
Poetry aside, what was the most memorable incident or sight-seeing trip from your week in New York ?
A busker on a subway platform playing a novice version of John Coltrane’s ‘My Favourite Things’ on Tenor sax. The acoustics were cathedral like. It was a beautiful moment.