I caught up with one of the UK’s finest spoken word poets, someone who’s always been a great inspiration to me. This is a man who, when asked to describe his style, said: “It sounds like me talking.” His CV boasts him winning the UK 2007 Slam competition, the 2007 Glastonbury Slam and the 2006 Backdrop Slam as well as appearing on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Bespoken Word’. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome to the stage Mr. John Berkavitch.
For those of you wondering how slam poetry differs from traditional poetry, Berkavitch explains: “Slam implies the competition. Performance poetry is maybe a better term. The main difference being the ‘performed’ aspect. It’s not just the writing it’s also how that writing is presented.”
It’s interesting to note how he realised he wanted to start in the first place. “I’d been rapping for a few years and the change came about when I watched the Saul Williams film ‘SLAM’. Before that I didn’t know such a thing existed.”
I was keen to know his tactics in the 2007 UK Slam – how he found the right balance of wanting to advance to the next round but also save that extra gear for when it mattered. He told me: “With any competition you need to have a strategy. The UK slams was a two-day event, so on the first day I was just trying to place in the top eight to get through to the next day.” He went on to say: “On the second day I had a much more defined set worked out. Starting with a funny one, followed by a serious one, followed by one that mixed in a bit of beatbox and physical stuff. It worked out OK for me but I think the order was definitely important. As was luck.”
With a CV as impressive as Berkavitch’s, I had to ask what advice he would give to any poet trying to make it on the scene. “It sounds cheesy but just keep working. Don’t start thinking you’re the best, listen to advice and practice more than you are already practicing. Oh, and watch other people.”
Finally I asked him what’s next after winning the biggest trophy of them all: “I might have a cup of coffee. I’m also looking to get more into directing other people. I’ve done quite a bit of hip-hop-theatre stuff and I’d like to do more of that.”
If you want to find out about upcoming shows you can contact John Berkavitch on Twitter @berkavitch or Berkavitch Berko on Facebook.