Poetry Rivals 2016

Taking poetry from the page to the stage!

Mark Grist


Mark Grist 

Mark Grist’s utter refusal to be pinned down to just one talent is almost anarchic. A professional English teacher, Grist bowed out of the formal education institution to pursue a career in performance poetry. Little did anyone know that Grist was about to embark on a journey inspiring writing, language skills and poetry in an entire generation. From the classroom to the festival stage, exam halls to Rude Tube, Grist rapidly took the world by storm with his sharp wit, on-stage energy and unconventional teaching methods. He was crowned Poet Laureate of Peterborough in 2008, Chief Bard of the Fens in 2009 and Edinburgh Fringe Slam Champion in 2010. 

He has played some unusual gigs (including performing with Patrick Stewart in The House of Commons) and has become a worldwide internet sensation following the viral success of his Don’t Flop rap battle with MC Blizzard. In 2008, he joined forces with MC Mixy to create performance duo Dead Poets, seamlessly infusing hip hop and poetry on two national tours and over 250 gigs.  

Despite the rapid rise to success, Grist has stayed true to his roots, dedicating a lot of his time to educational workshops in order to teach young people that poetry can be innovative, contemporary and, most importantly, fun. These unique workshops have been praised by teachers and students alike for pushing the boundaries of conventional teaching and motivating young people to pick up their pens, take to the stage and get their voices heard. The spoken word scene has never been more exciting.

Due to the nature of the event, Grist’s rap battle with MC Blizzard contained explicit content and he has since vowed to win all future battles without using derogatory material (quite a valiant undertaking in the rap battle world!)



English teacher's rap battles

Dead Poets’ performance piece ‘A Girl Who Reads’ was hailed a ‘feminist anthem’ in The Scotsman’s four-star review of the Dead Poets tour. Watch ‘A Girl Who Reads’ here:

Watch Mark Grist’s poem ‘Come To Peterborough’, written as part of his role as Poet Laureate:

Watch the trailer for ‘How To Change The World - Free Speech (BBC Three’) featuring Mark Grist and MC Mixy:

Visit his website: http://markgrist.com/

Learn more about his double act, Dead Poets: http://www.deadpoetry.co.uk/


Poems by Mark Grist

All Apologies
By Mark Grist

In the departure lounge
Looking for our gate
We hear a man
A slick,
Well dressed
losing it

‘For goodness sake!’

He booms,
His business suit
Against waving arms.
He yells
He howls
At his

‘Stop apologising!’

The words slap
from his lips
And his face,
This well-manicured face
At the
Under-performing child,
He swats his suitcase
To the ground
Yanks the child’s hand
Off his trouser leg,
Stomps away.

His wife, made up
In her red patterned dress
Kneels down to the
Agonised face of the boy
‘Daddy is angry
Because you only
Need to say sorry once’

The man turns, snaps

‘You don’t need to say sorry at all!’

There are tears
From the child
As his mother
Holds tangerine cheeks
Checks over her shoulder,

Applies tender criticism
Too quiet to hear.
He bawls.
Tugs at his fluffy
Blond hair
In gulped desperation
For the right thing
To say.

We carry on walking but I’m
Aching, I think
To apologise to someone.
Anyone, really.

© Mark Grist

By Numbers 
By Mark Grist

You’ll make the grade, alright; A
Vaccination. Your mother bought you
The revision guide. Well done. Now just hide
Your mind as you slide towards the exam in June.
It’s easy for you, laugh from the back of the room.
Feed on metaphors that have lain brown around the poem for years
Because the world can be a science and don’t you think you’re worth it? Let’s skate the surface. Get sick with boredom together. Borderline fear. Enjambment. Personify. Onomatopoeia.
Your prediction says so, so never shake that tree. Eat the sour stuff. Don't think to question me.

Soon you'll stagger off to the right University.
Divide yourself further from the quiet giants you mocked
In the corridor. The herbivores you leapt over in class.
The Benchmarks of failure. Darwin’s lost hopes.
Who got poetry all wrong
Who wouldn't learn how to pass.

© Mark Grist

There’s a Fight, Sir
By Mark Grist

There’s a fight, Sir
By the lockers, Sir
And Aidan’s battered Paul
Daniel’s strangled Jordan
’Cos Jordan took his ball
Isaac’s ripped his shirt Sir
And Michael spat on Sue
She was only trying to stop them
And she’s got it on her shoe!
The lunchtime supervisor left Sir
She said she couldn’t stay
Jane’s crying in the toilets
And the gerbil got away
Saqib knocked the cage Sir
The door, it just flipped back
And it ran behind the cupboard
And it’s stuck inside a crack.
We poked it with a stick, Sir
But the powder paint got spilt
It’s all over the carpet
And that castle Connor built
I think you ought to come Sir
Mildred Miles was sick
And all the boys were yelling
And Martin threw a brick
It nearly hit John Bailey
and he stepped on Sama's thumb
So shall I say you’re coming?
She's wants to call her mum
And shall we get the cleaners?
And can I mop the paint?
The new boy’s torn his jacket
And he thinks he’s going to faint.
The other teachers said Sir
That I should come to you
Cos you’re the Head of Progress
So you’d know what to do.


Interview with Mark Grist

How old were you when you started writing poetry?

I was about 10. I used to spend a lot of time typing up fairly silly rhymes on my parents’ old computer, and then sharing them with my friends at school. I liked writing things that made people laugh.

When and where was your first poem published?

I think it must have been shortly afterwards at 11 or 12. I think it was a poem called ‘The Argly Woo’ about a friend of mine who killed this monster that was terrorising the country. I can still remember it word for word now!

Which of your poems is your favourite and why?

I’ve got a few poems that I like to share with people but my favourite changes a lot! Normally my favourite poem is the one I’m working on or have most recently finished.

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

I guess performing with Patrick Stewart in The House of Commons a year ago was pretty exciting – particularly for my girlfriend who is a bit of a closet Star Trek fan. I was really chuffed when my double act ‘Dead Poets’ got to go on tour with Murray Lachlan Young, Aoife Mannix and a Canadian band called Woodpigeon.

Do you have a special place you write?

I have this really strange habit of pacing whilst I write – or writing a lot of my material while cycling / walking. I like using rhythm in my pieces and don’t often like to sit still while writing. I’m sure I must have worn a trench into my bedroom carpet, I pace across it that much.

Who is your favourite poet and why?

That’s a tricky one. I was actually more interested in songwriters than poets when I started writing. I’d say that bands and lyricists have inspired me at least as much as poets. At the moment (and in no particular order) I particularly like Carol Anne Duffy, Beck, Murray Lachlan Young, Eels, Tim Clare, Cake, Simon Armitage, Harvey Danger, Luke Kennard, Chris Ware and Benjamin Zephaniah. 

2007/08 you were Peterborough’s Poet Laureate – what did this mean to you and what was your favourite laureate experience during this time?

This was a great role that I got really into. I used to have a local radio slot every week where I’d try to get people sending their poetry in. I seemed to spend a lot of time performing at formal dinners and events and stuff. I enjoyed working with people to get them writing and so I’d say that the school visits were probably the most enjoyable moments.

As a teacher, do you find that poetry still has a ‘boring and old-fashioned’ image with teens?

Hahaha! Yes, I think it still does with many teenagers. The students I teach seem to have got used to my interest in poetry. They’re pretty keen to hear what I’m writing. Some of them take the mick, but then swing by at the end of the week with a few lines they’ve written themselves. Some boys I’ve taught have even written love poems to get a girl’s attention. I think it’s safe to say that several lads I know have a lot to thank poetry for.

Do you prefer classical or contemporary poetry?

I prefer contemporary poetry, I’d say, but I’m also very interested in song lyrics.

What do you think makes a poem stand the test of time?

It needs to tackle universal themes – love, hate, death, life. Truly great poetry is always relevant, no matter where, when or how you lived. A piece about my X box 360 is not going to mean much to someone who lives in a society that has no access to electricity. That doesn’t mean that my 360 doesn’t deserve a poem, it just means that the poem has a fairly small and immediate audience.

Can you tell us more about the Dead Poets?

Sure. Dead Poets is a double act that I created with Peterborough hip hop artist MC Mixy. We have been performing around the country and recently gained Arts Council funding to develop a full length hour-long show. We’ll be showcasing the show at The Edinburgh Fringe this summer and are touring schools and arts venues throughout autumn. Our website can be found at www.deadpoetry.co.uk.

Do you have any advice for anyone thinking of poetry slamming for the first time?

Make sure that you’re well rehearsed. Read the material over. If you can, try to perform it without notes. If you can’t, make sure that the paper in your hand doesn’t get in front of your face. The delivery needs to be clear, confident and honest. Being able to connect with the performer and learn about them through the poem is very important.

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

I’m writing a show about growing up in the Shetland Islands – I lived on an Island called Unst until I was 11 years old, with very little to do except read books. I want to go back and visit the island sometime to see how it’s changed. Aside from that, I’m also working on a ‘Choose your own adventure’ poem, where an audience member will make decisions that affect the poem that is being told. It’s really complicated as I’ve got about 40 or so different potential endings and all the routes that lead to those endings to remember. I think I’ll be trying it out at the Latitude Festival this year.


Mark Grist is a Peterborough teacher, performance poet (who reached last year's UK SLAM! Championship finals) and poetry activist, and from March 2009 will also be his town's first slam master and host.

© Mark Grist