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Poetry Competitions UK
15 Jun 2011

Ben Mellor

Ben Mellor is the founder and artistic director of Moksha, and a founder of Pen-ultimate. He is an award-winning slam poet, as well as a writer, performer and workshop facilitator.

He won the BBC Radio 4 National Poetry Slam in 2009 and the Dike Omeje Slam Poetry Award 2008. Ben has performed his work at theatres and festivals both nationally and internationally, and has had poems and short stories published by Corporate Watch and Route.

How old were you when you started writing poetry?

I was about 14. Our school took us on a creative writing course in Ty Newydd run by Gerard Benson who is a great character and a fantastic poet. I'd always thought poetry was a bit rubbish up to that point and preferred writing stories and acting, but it made me realise you could tell stories and create characters through poetry as well.
I wrote my first proper 'performance poem' when I was about 17. My English teacher made me write a poem in response to one by Carol Ann Duffy for A Level Coursework and I ended up performing it at the Poetry Café in London for the launch of the youth section of the Poetry Society. It went on to win a runner-up prize in the first young people's national poetry competition.

When and where was your first poem published?

I think the Poetry Society published the poem mentioned above in a booklet, though I may be making that up! If not it was much later in the CorporateWatch 10th anniversary anthology, 'This Poem Is Sponsored By …' in about 2007.

What experience had you had with spoken word performances before you went on to win BBC Radio 4's National Poetry Slam in 2009?

I started performing spoken word regularly towards the end of studying for my degree at Manchester University, when I was beginning to get involved in projects run by organisations like Contact, Apples & Snakes and the RSC. In more recent years I've been involved in spoken word theatre productions, working with bands and performing in poetry tents at festivals, as well as winning other slams such as the one you mentioned in my intro. I think it's helped having a diversity of experience performing before different types of audience in different venues.

What was the poem you won with called and what was the inspiration behind it?

I performed two poems in the final, one is called 'Love Drug' and is a comic piece about a painful yet addictive love affair, and the other is called 'Faster Than A Speeding Poem' and is a slightly more serious piece about what would happen if we replaced bullets with poetry.

Tell us more about Moksha Arts and Changing Cycles …

Moksha Arts is a brand I created in order to produce performing arts and education projects with socio-ecological edge. Changing Cycles is Moksha's major ongoing project exploring the links between art and activism, and was inspired by a three-month bicycle journey around the UK visiting ecological centres and sites of protest. The first production under the Changing Cycles banner was my solo spoken word/theatre show, 'Voices of Dissent'. I am currently developing some new solo and collaborative work around similar themes.

Tell us more about Pen-Ultimate …

Pen-ultimate is a collective made of rappers, actors, poets, beatboxers and writers - Frisko Dan, Martin Visceral, Niven Ganner, Lucidity and of course, me! We perform sets together at spoken word events and festivals, and also create original spoken word/hip hop/theatre productions. Our current show is called 'A Night On The Tiles' and is a journey into the seedy underworld of high stakes gangster scrabble. It's on at Contact, Manchester from 2-13th Nov and The Albany, London 23-27th Nov, and then touring nationally (and hopefully internationally!) Spring 2011.

How did the Manchester slam with Anna Freeman come about?

Well, it hasn't yet! But we're hopefully going ahead with it in Feb 2011. I met Anna at one of John G Hall's book launches and instantly developed a poetry crush. We became mates and started talking about putting on a regular slam, as there hasn't been one in Manchester since Segun's Seconds Out slam produced by Apples & Snakes. We were hoping to have the support of Now Then magazine but unfortunately they couldn't stretch to it in the harsh financial times, so now we're talking to Steve Larkin about opening a Manchester branch of Hammer & Tongue.

How does your recent jazz project, Current Affairs, compare to writing poetry?

I've actually stopped working with Current Affairs since the two guys who were writing for the band moved to London. It's difficult to maintain a long distance relationship in music. But I've since been involved in a couple of other bands - Myke Wilson's Speech Pherapy which is a jazzy hip hop sort of affair fronted by me and Frisko with guest singers and MCs, and a new project with beatboxer/percussionist Jason Singh and bassist Joe Harrison. This last one is particularly interesting as we've set ourselves the challenge of never using 4/4, but I think irregular time signatures suit my writing style better.

What is your greatest (poetry) success to date?

I was going to say winning the R4 slam, but actually publishing my first collection and spoken word CD is shaping up to feel like more of an achievement. Probably because it lasts longer - a slam you win and then it's done whereas it makes you feel just as good every time someone wants to buy one of your books.

Though I have to say that creating the script for 'A Night On The Tiles', which is an hour long play written entirely in verse by five writers is also an accomplishment I feel massively proud of, and all the more so for it being a collaborative effort.

What other literary ambitions do you have left to fulfil?

Well I've taken a break from entering slams for a bit but I'll probably do more in the future. I'd like to try and enter some international ones eventually, if only to go and perform in some different countries!

I'm definitely going to carry on putting out collections, CDs and performing at more events and festivals and making more theatre productions using poetry and spoken word.  I performed in my first group show at Edinburgh this year (Three Slam Champs with Steve Larkin and Pete the Temp) which I loved, so I'd definitely like to get back up there with Pen-ultimate and take some solo work too.

Other than that my main ambitions are to write scripts for the stage and for the radio that subtly incorporate poetry, and maybe also branch into TV and film. I'd also like to publish more fiction, maybe even have a crack at a novel. So not much really!

Do you have any projects in the pipeline you'd like to share with us?

As already mentioned, I'm developing a couple of projects that are climate-related at the moment. One is a solo piece based on modern interpretations of myths that relate to climate change/sustainability. I'm sharing a work in progress of that at Dartington Arts in December, aiming to develop it fully next year with a chapbook and CD to accompany it. The other is a collaborative project performance/education project with Beaford Arts in response to the North Devon Biosphere Reserve.

Pen-ultimate are also going to be showcasing some fresh spoken word/ hip hop material in An Evening With Pen-ultimate type affair at Contact next year. You can sign up to the mailing list for more details about any of this!

To find out further information on any of Ben's projects or for workshops details* contact Ben at www.benmellor.net. Also check out the Pen-ultimate site at www.pen-ultimate.net.

*Ben is an accomplished and experienced workshop facilitator, project coordinator and director who has worked for Contact, Apples & Snakes, Creative Partnerships, Phoenix Youth Theatre, and a host of other schools and young people's organisations. His areas of interest include performance poetry, drama (with a focus on forum, physical and hip hop theatre), environmental arts, creative writing and human beatbox.

Ben has experience of working with infants, children, young people and young adults from a wide range of backgrounds and abilities, including young offenders, NEETs, gifted and talented and mental health survivors.

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