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15 Jun 2011

Mark Niel

Mark Niel, is a comic poet and poetry organiser who has won poetry slams all over the UK and set up and hosts Milton Keynes' successful poetry night Tongue in Chic.

How old were you when you started writing poetry?

I can't remember exactly. I started writing songs and poems when I was in my teens and I have always turned to poetry from time to time. I guess I had to write poetry at school but I don't remember any single blinding moment of clarity.

When and where was your first poem published?

It was called 'Dawn' and it was published by Monkey Kettle, a local (mainly) poetry magazine that comes out in Milton Keynes twice a year. I appeared first in the Spring 2008 edition.

Which of your poems is your favourite and why?

Oh! That's a tough question! I think it is a poem called 'First Kiss'. It's personal and it's a true story which sums up my life. It entertains but I hope it also makes people think and that's exactly what I want to do as a poet.

What has been your greatest (poetry) success to date?

I won a written poetry competition and that meant a lot as I'm known more as a Performance Poet. I think my favourite Slam competition win was the Camden Crawl last year. I've never considered myself a “cool” person but it felt like it that day winning such a prestigious event.

Do you have a special place you write?

I don't really. I find activities like going for a walk can be very helpful. I've had ideas for poems lying on a bed or in a poetry event. The important thing is to always carry a notebook to write things down. You may think you'll remember ideas but they have a habit of slipping away.

Who is your favourite poet and why?

To narrow it down to one is too difficult. From the past I like Wordsworth, Shakespeare and Rupert Brookes. From the contemporary era I love Carol Ann Duffy, Niall O'Sullivan and Tim Wells. Of the modern Performance Poets, my favourites are AF Harrold (and not just because he's a fellow judge) Zena Edwards and David J, Vocal Pugilist.

You are relatively new to the world of performance poetry - what made you decide to give it a go?

After my first poem was published, the editor suggested I go to a local open mic night and read. It was about the most scared I've ever been in my life. I got such a great reception and one guy even shouted out 'You rock!' I never thought I'd hear those words expressed about me without irony. I was booked for a local festival and from there I looked for other opportunities to read and perform. I got a real appetite and I haven't stopped since.

As you are an actor as well as a poet, do you find your acting skills bring another level to your performances?

Definitely! Since I discovered there was such a thing as “Performance Poetry”, I have tried to do justice to both the Performance and the Poetry. There is such a thing as stage presence and if you can make the audience realise you know what you're doing, they relax and enjoy it more. Training about breathing, use of the voice and when to be physically dynamic or remain still has certainly helped me.

Do you ever perform your poetry to music you have composed for your acoustic guitar?

Yes! I have collaborated with other poets and played for them which I really enjoy as it adds another dimension to the experience. I have accompanied myself but it's hard because it feels like you're using both sides of your brain and you're thinking about both words and a tune. I hope as I practice, this will become easier.

Can you tell us more about 'Tongue in Chic'?

Tongue in Chic is a regular Open Mic Poetry event in Milton Keynes, which has professional poets as our special guests. I started Tongue in Chic in January 2009 as Milton Keynes did not have a regular poetry event and none that brought poets into perform. I'm pleased to say it's been a great success attracting good crowds and it has helped inspire local poets and give them a showcase.

Please visit www.tongueinchicpoets.com for further information.

In August 2010 you are running 'Putting the Performance into Poetry' workshop here in Peterborough - how do our poets book and what can they expect?

You can book by contacting Speakeasy through their website www.speakeasypoetry.com

This workshop is designed to help all poets who want to read or perform in public. So many great poems are thrown away in the reading and I hope to help poets gain confidence to deliver their work. We'll be doing exercises and rehearsing pieces as well as learning some tips and hints.

What is the greatest accolade you have received for your writing?

It was from a bloke in a pub when I did a feature spot in an Open Mic in King's Cross. He was just there to have a drink rather than watch the open mic night. He said he'd never thought about poetry before but really enjoyed my set and he was going to read more poetry in the future. I see myself as a starter poet for people who don't like poetry. If I can be entertaining and get more people willing to give poetry a go, then I'm happy.

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

I'm taking a Tongue in Chic Poetry Showcase to the Buxton Fringe this year from 16th to 18th July. It will have a different line up every day. We're sharing a venue with “ The Bright and Shiny Radio Show” over the same dates and I'm also starring in that comedy show.

As part of my mission to try and make poetry more accessible and mainstream, I'm entering some comedy competitions as a Stand-Up Poet. I don't know if this is brave or foolish but even if I crash and burn, I hope to learn some lessons about taking poetry outside it's “normal” audience.

The best way to keep up with all my activities is my website, “A Kick in the Arts”.

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