As we conclude our fourth month in the series, I just wanted to look back and celebrate all of the successes and wonderful poets over the last few months. We've talked to poets ranging in age from early twenties to fully "mature," from 3 countries, across the United States, from spoken word poets to page poets, from people who run literary magazines to people who create movements, from the brand new poets to the veteran poets. This series has created access for people across the globe to witness and get a glimpse into the lives of 38 poets thus far. I, for one, count myself lucky to have such an incredible experience working with these poets and to call many of them friends.
This week, I sat down with Billy Tuggle, Chicago poet and overall superstar with a heart of gold, and Stefan Gambrell, the Neanderthal Bard from Kent who isn't afraid to go hard and call out his competition. I spoke with them about their poetry, their fictional characters, their favorite thing about their poetry scene, and more. Keep reading to find out what they had to say!
Q: When did you first start writing poetry and what inspired you?
Billy Tuggle: When the bands of my teens and early 20s failed and I began to attend poetry open mics and, after the poetry tent of Lollapalooza '94, poetry slams. I knew a little of form poetry through school but was blown away by the prospect of narrative and free-verse poetry; I was intrigued by the possibilities of being able to express Hip Hop in a non-tradional style.
Stefan Gambrell: I started writing poetry by accident two and a half years ago. I was diagnosed with BPD after a break down and was struggling with living. It was like starting all over again. One of my support workers (James Selsby) suggested I try writing down how I felt in a letter or statement for my friends and family. The first two sentences rhymed and my first poem BPD & Mepopped out and I haven’t look back since.
Q: What three fictional characters best represent you and why?
Billy Tuggle: Franklin of 'Peanuts' reminds me of young suburban exile me; Caesar from the comic strip 'Boondocks' is similar with a political lean (and the hair!); Jedi Master Kit Fisto- versatile warrior-phillosopher shows the balance and battle to keep that balance of your soul while trying to create or teach or learn.
Stefan Gambrell: Sheldon Cooper for his eccentricities, I also have my own spot on the couch that is like my control center and I'm far too clever for my own good. Forrest Gump because he did everything he did for the right reason—LOVE. He didn’t care how stupid he looked doing whatever he did. He did it to be loved. Johnny Castle because nobody puts Baby in a corner.
Q: Who inspires you?
Billy Tuggle:I am greatly inspired by youth poets and artists. I was them and did not have the same broad avenues of expression and want them to all grow up and destroy those who came before them. Metaphorically of course, with love and humor like we did!
I am regularly blown away by the faces of the slam scene that I have known since they were kids and how they are kicking everybody's a**. Raych Jackson, Black Rose, Toaster, Siarra Freeman, Steven Willis, Melanie "George" Decelles, Wesley Frazier-Keys, Blythe Baird- among other stellar talents- are justifying my remaining existence in this.
On a more personal side, I am inspired by the progression of brown people and the growth of my kid. I mean, if parenthood doesn't inspire, you are parenting AND arting wrong.
Stefan Gambrell: Without a doubt it’s Kate Tempest. I had got so far with writing and reading poetry and I was ready to call it a day. I didn’t know Performance Poetry even existed at this point and I was feeling all the passion during writing but reading it out really wasn’t doing it for me. Once again James showed me Kate Tempest doing "Renegade" and I cried. I cried because she looked so vulnerable I cried because I knew I wanted to that. For over a year I couldn’t watch anything else she did. I was scared I would have absorbed her and copied everything she did. So I watched "Renegade" again and again. Now anything can set me off writing.
Q: Who is your favorite poet in the universe, alive or dead?
Billy Tuggle: Patricia Smith. Unapologetically. Undisputed. For all of the aesthetic, professional and personal reasons.
Q: What do you most enjoy about the poetry scene you are a part of?
Billy Tuggle: That it keeps regenerating itself, through youth and migration. 20 years in, for me, Chicago remains fresh. We may have our issues like anyone else, but nobody can tell me that Chicago does not speak directly from its history of the stage, as well as its literary legacy.
Stefan Gambrell: In the last few months I have been trying to get up to London as often as possible because there is such a rich vein of talent to be found. I have started to promote my own Neanderthal Bard Open Mic nights here in Margate. Bringing down fresh talent and features we wouldn’t usually get to see.
Q: What makes poetry special or important? Why should people listen?
Billy Tuggle: It is the only creative voice that virtually everyone has, if they choose to use it. Everybody has at least 2 little poems: one kinda good, one not so good.
Stefan Gambrell: I have learned one lesson well. The general population have no idea how poetry varies. Spoken word performances are everywhere. On a few occasions, I have been lucky enough to turn a crowd around from no interest in poetry at all to a standing ovation. It’s easy to impress poetry lovers with poetry, but to break it down and make it about the Performance and not just the Words, that’s what makes me glow.
Q: What poem are you most proud of?
Billy Tuggle: "Concrete Lion"... culture and identity through my hair.
Stefan Gambrell: I have recently been working on my Perception Collection. After writing predominantly about my poor mental health and topics that surround it I wanted to extend my tendrils so I started writing down my opinions of topics like War, Politics, Racism, Religion, and so on. After all that, my first poem BPD & Mehas changed my life so dramatically it will always be my most treasured and favorite poem.
Q: What are your plans for the next year?
Billy Tuggle: I am touring with Wil Gibson, finishing a third collection of poems, more direct mentoring, trying to finish a third collection of poems, possibly slammming my way to Denver for NPS, some solo touring and PLEASE, GAWD, THIS THIRD COLLECTION...
Stefan Gambrell: I’m concentrating of event promotion this year. I still love writing and performing so much but I am going to spend a bit of time meeting a wider range poets. By organising my own Open Mic events I get to choose (and pay for) which poets I want to perform with and see do well from proper promotional work.
With Neanderthal Bard, we are sharing everything spoken word, from a single poem to international events. If you want it out there then we want to help you do that.
Q: Anything else (poems, links, comments, videos, etc)?
Billy Tuggle: The best thing that happened with the previously mentioned "Concrete Lion" was performing it at NPS in a soon-to-be legendary bout and my almost-4-year-old daughter standing on a chair in the back; the second best was that it was captured by Dalin Costello's mad video skills! In a hot, tiny library conference room, it was probably one of my best performances of that old piece.
Stefan Gambrell: Please friend request Neanderthal Bard on Facebook. We get bigger together.
My Youtube channel is Stefan Gambrell and there are poems on there from before I picked up a microphone and stayed at home to professional videos of poems.