Wednesday 10 May 2023


Here's an interview with Totnes's own poetry diva. If you haven't seen her, then you need to, you can watch some videos here. But enough from me, let's hear from the legend!

Tell us about the new collection

I haven’t put out a book. Instead, I’ve collected a few spoken-word’n’beats’n’rhymes together in either an extended EP or a short album and called it Funkinism.

It covers a lot of ground: from comedy cannibalism to nature-funk, from forgotten black women to people (like myself) who aren’t that good at dancing.

I’m releasing pieces one by one via my Bandcamp and sharing snippets on Facebook and Instagram too. My Patreon supporters got the whole thing as a free download for backing me

Music, poetry or film? Which speaks the most to you?

Well, it’s definitely in that order. I was a player of instruments and then a singer long before I started writing songs and poems. Without music my life would crumble to nothingness!

Poetry came to the fore for me around 2008, when I fell into hosting the spoken word night Forked! In Plymouth’s B-Bar. I had a ringside seat watching top wordsmiths entertain and dazzle and poetry began to eclipse music for me, but now the pendulum’s swung back towards the centre: I’m enjoying the marriage of the two (especially in the hands of Langston Hughes and Kae Tempest).

Films? I prefer ones with spaceships in them, but I guess I watch a film about every 2 or 3 months. I just can’t fit cinema into my packed life! And I’m likely to drop off in a warm, dark room, not gonna lie.

What do you want your poetry to do?/what do you want to evoke in the reader/listener?

Well I like it funny. I tend to write humorous stuff – even if it’s about serious matter, because I think messages can get delivered via laughter.

That said, I also feel an urge to edify and educate. I come from a background as a local newspaper reporter, so telling people interesting, useful stuff is in my make-up.

Every day’s a school day with a Mama Tokus set!

What’s the typical career path of a poet?

You tell me!

I think Pam Ayres had a good run at it…

How has the poetry business/scene changed over your life time?

I think the arrival of the spoken word/performance poetry scene has given a big boost and a youth-injection to poetry, which is great. Actually, before that in the 1970s, the rap scene began with street poets battling it out verbally. Rap is poetry and hip hop is massive. So I guess I’ve witnessed rhyming words becoming super-popular and travelling right around the world.

In the 21st century, social/digital media invites poets to reach audiences they might not have (although we find ourselves shouting into the void unless we spend some advertising dollars). It also invites us to spend a lot of time learning how to use these digital tools. Time that could have been spent doing your do. I’ve definitely succumbed to too much tech, not enough artistry, which is why I wrote this piece, called Watchin’ It or Doing It.

I’ve seen festivals increasingly offering poetry tents (which are packed): a brilliant antidote to atomised creatives performing snippets of their work to a camera screen, only for that worked to be watched.

If you could become a character in fiction, or film who would you be and why?

Black Panther so that I could be at the apex of the acceptance by the mainstream of Afrofuturism. Wakanda!

Given the state of society at this point in time what is the role of the poet?

To have and share ideas, encourage community, to kick against the pricks – whilst bringing audiences with them on the ride.

How has your work changed over time?

I think it’s got more urgent and strident, actually. I started off being silly and absurdist and while I love that vibe, I feel a need to educate and get stuff across to people. I want to radicalise people!

How far does real life creep into your work?

Well, that’s where the funny is!

I said before that I was a local newspaper reporter in the past, and so I’ve got a lot of experience in picking out the jewels from daily life. Also I want to comment on today’s events and ideas.

Having said that, I think my work could also benefit from having some fantasy life creeping into it…!

Name something you love and why?

Birds. I’ve fallen in love with birds. They are the messengers of the gods, those little feathered friends. They sing, they fly, they do battle and they look outstanding in their liveries.

They need our love. What with prolific cats, cars, pollution, habitat loss, rising temperatures, industrial agriculture, ruined rivers and suchlike, they need love.

My musician pal Marcus Vergette recently wrote a piece about the horror of a world without birdsong, which only stoked up my bird-love further.

What would be your dream project?

Writing a highly-remunerated suite of works over several weeks and months about how brilliant birds are with a divorced George Clooney at his Lake Como holiday home.

How do you navigate the poetry world?

I don’t much at the moment. I haven’t been to any poetry gigs for ages, because I feel like writing – when I’m in that mood, I feel like I need to concentrate on what’s coming out of me, as opposed to receiving someone else’s stuff.

If you were not a poet what would you be?

A musician. Oh. I am.

Have you ever doubted your talent?

Good goddess, yes! Regularly! Not enough to stop writing though…

What next?

I’m working on performing my words’n’beats fluently via my Loopstation – it’s where I can make beats and sounds that back up my words. I’m a musician first, a poet after, so I’m interested in being able to play my ‘instrument’ in order to support the words. I’ve found that it’s quite tricky to, er, play an instrument…

Thanks Mama. If you like to buy Mama a cup of coffee you can here.

Until next time.

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