Cheltenham Review

This Cotswold town is a hip Cotswold town

The poets of Wychwood– James Bunting

The strength of Stroud Slam champion, James Bunting, is his speech-like performances. This guy was designed for the stage– he delivers his lines with such a natural clarity and certainty that you’ll refuse to believe he wasn’t a world leader in a past life. James explains how a poetry slam works and that a poet is not just a lazy musician.

You used to be a singer, have you found the transition to poetry natural?

No, I would have thought it would have gone the other way, cus that’s how I started. But then I actually just stopped enjoying the music and I got more of a kick out of poetry, so I carried on writing, I just stopped putting music to it. So it wasn’t necessarily a natural transition. I kind of became lazier with what I was doing creatively. But I took the time I put into writing music into writing better words so it’s paid off that way. 

So, for those who don’t know, what is a poetry slam?

A poetry slam is effectively objectifying the subjective and giving a score to a piece of art. You have sixteen odd poets, they’ll have three minutes to do a poem, and then they get scored by quality of writing, standard of performance and warmth of the audience’s response. So they get a mark out of 100 for each of those three criteria, and then you get a score out of 300 that’s whittled down through the rounds until you have an overall winner.

So, you’re a Stroud Slam winner, how much work went into the performance?

Not a lot if I’m honest. It’s really tough to answer cus that was a themed slam, so the first poem had to be on the theme of Beauty And The Beast, so I wrote something for it but I hated it. Then a week before I wrote something else that I was really happy with. So I got through on it and then I could go back to doing what I wanted to do. I did a poem that I tend to rely on in slams, and then in the final I took a bit of a gamble and went unplugged, stepped away from the mic and just did it. So it wasn’t like there was no preparation, it’s more of an off-the-cuff kind of thing. There’s no point in planning out three poems when you get to a slam. You gotta take it a round at a time. Because I didn’t like that first round I didn’t prepare, and then after that it was just whatever I had in the tank. 

You’re known for your narrative pieces, how long does it take you to create a piece and what are the first stages?

Creating a piece can take anything from a couple of hours to months/years. I know that’s a really nondescript answer to give…

It’s a bit of a tricky question.

Yeah it just varies. Sometimes you’ll write something really quickly and hate it. Sometimes you’ll write something over a long period of time and hate it. And then equally I’ve got poems on my repertoire that I like and I’m pleased with, that I managed to knock out really quickly. And there are others that I’ve laboured over. So, in terms of how I start, I start with a phrase– every single one of my poems has a line in it that the poem began from, and then I built the poem around the line. Sometimes it’s the first line. Sometimes it’s the last line. Sometimes it’s a refrain. Sometimes it’s just a chance phrase in there, but I’ll come up with a nice line and then I start to write and build and that’s how it comes about.

That’s a great little exercise. Do you use any others?

I try not to force anything in any way. There’ll be long periods of time where I won’t write anything at all, and others where I’ll write a lot cus it’s coming naturally. It’s not so much I sit down and say right I’m going to write a poem. If at any moment a line comes up then I’ll just write that down. Sometimes I’ll come back to it later and sometimes in the process of doing that, other stuff will come out. So I very much trust my instincts and don’t force anything. 

Would you say your poetry has a particular aim?

Yeah, I guess. I know what it feels like to see an incredible poem and be…not necessarily moved, but to empathise, to understand, yeah, sometimes to be moved, to just solicit a response where you go away and you think ‘yeah, I like that.’ I know what it’s like to experience that, and I want to solicit the same experience from audiences. 

Thanks James.

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