Slam performance poet Harry Baker can find both humour and emotion in the unlikeliest of subjects, whether he’s comparing his love to a T-Rex in Dinosaur Love or dropping puns in the German-inspired Falafellöffel. The British poet’s unique spoken word creations helped him win the 2012 Poetry Slam World Cup; even Ed Sheeran has called him “a champion”.
It’s no wonder Baker proved a hit with his most recent audience: Year Eight to 11 students at Sha Tin College. As well as performing five poems, Baker shared some of his writing inspiration with both the students and Young Post.
Having battled it out in many poetry slams, 25-year-old Baker playfully called his World Cup win a result of his poem, Paper People, winning the hearts of “five random French people in the audience” [the judges]. He believes that ultimately, slam poetry is about somehow managing to connect with strangers.
“There’s an emphasis on the people you’re performing to that encourages people to try and connect with the audience, whether that’s by making them laugh, cry or think, or giving them goose bumps,” Baker told Young Post.
His poems certainly had an impact on 12-year-old student Mary-anne Ko, who was moved by 59, Baker’s love poem about prime numbers.
“He just knew what to say, it just came out of him, and he didn’t need to look at a script or anything,” said the Year Eight student. “I think that’s really a talent.”
Another Year Eight student, Ethan Chang, meanwhile, liked Paper People and Falafellöffel the most.
“It’s very creative how he combines two languages [in Falafellöffel, which is written in both English and German ], but I also like all those alliterating words; they’re very rhythmic and creative at the same time,” said Ethan.
He added that after meeting Baker, he realised that slam poetry is less formally “restricted” than he’d imagined.
A lot of people probably have those same notions about poetry – that’s its stuffy and old fashioned.
But Baker argued that there should be no restrictions on slam poems’ form, style, or voice; the only thing it needs to adhere to is a time limit.
While we can let written poetry speak for itself, a lot of spoken poetry’s essence is in its delivery – something which Baker admitted took a lot of practice.
“When I first started performing, I would have my poem in my hands, they’d be shaking, and I just read it as quickly as possible, avoiding eye contact with everyone, just wanting it to be over,” he said.
But he knew his stage fright meant he wasn’t doing his work justice, so he went to different live gigs to build up his courage because he was “really proud” of his poems.
“I spent ages on them and wrote them as [well] as I possibly could, and I wanted to share that with other people,” he said.
And while Baker admitted that the process of writing “can feel a bit random”, and “hard to measure”, his own experience has taught him that poetry writing is a trainable skill.
“The more time I put into it, the more it feels like it can be worked on and proved upon,” he said.
Baker himself studied maths and German at university, and while the leap to poetry may seem like a big one, Baker explained that he applied a similar approach to each field. He believes there is always an answer in poetry just as in maths, and that in both, it’s important to present your work in the “cleanest and neatest way”.
Yet he also pointed out that’s it’s important “to be playful” when writing; he “loves to use humour” in his work and appreciates how language can be “fluid and fun” even when dealing with serious subjects.
For any students interested in poetry slam, Baker advised performing in “spaces where they are encouraged to start”. Aside from your school campus, live poetry gigs tend to be welcoming to newcomers as the audience is made up of people “who love the art form”.
The internet, however, Baker remarked, “is not always as nice as people are face-to-face”.
Presenting your work to “strangers of no accountability” is “hard”, he explained, especially when it’s something that “you’ve put part of yourself in”, and “been vulnerable with”.
What’s most important, though, he said, is getting fulfilment from your own work and not other people’s opinions of it.
“You don’t have to make everyone love everything you did, you just have to be the best representation of yourself, and then let them make their mind up.”
Edited by Charlotte Ames-Ettridge