Our Arts and Culture editor Sofi interviews poet Michael Kabasele ahead of her performance at the Clitbait Cabaret next month!
I meet Michael on the first day of Spring.
Extremely excited to play interviewer, after months of arduously doing them myself, I take the chance to wear my off duty comfies to our rendez-vous. Michael’s somewhat off-grid, and so it’s via email correspondence rather than WhatsApp that I learn we are both conveniently based in East London. As I’m leaving the house my dad yells out “ ¡Ay, nena! you won’t get the job dressed like that,” (it’s fine, he’s just reacting to an outfit normally reserved for self-prescribed wellness activities, and has clearly got the wrong end of the stick).
“It’s called art, dad, look it up,” also, “I’m the one holding the interview!”
Despite being only nineteen, Michael, unlike me, seems devoid of any teen angst whatsoever. Instead she has the gift of being instantly charming and easy to talk to. No sooner than us sitting down for our coffee in the early spring sunshine, I am made aware of her talent with words and, by extension, the passion she has for her craft. Over the course of the morning, we talk poetry, performing in the city, creative communities, and shared artistic scheming. Naturally, we also discuss our exciting upcoming collaboration: Michael will be performing some of her fave pieces at the Clitbait Cabaret on the 15th of March…!
You’ve been writing poems for as long as you remember, but only in the past year started reading them to the public. Would you say that performing has changed your approach to writing?
I’d been carrying around a notebook absolutely everywhere I went even before I started performing poetry in front of people. Once I started reading it out in front of an audience, though, it seemed like I just had more and more to write about— and now I write absolutely everywhere, and all of the time. I recently wrote the first draft of a poem partially on my hand and partially in my notebook while walking home from the train station. I didn’t stop walking. That’s a very long-winded way of saying that I write a lot more than I used to, by a lot.
My style has definitely evolved and changed as a direct result of reading in front of people, and also joining Gobjaw. I feel like it’s partially that I’ve absorbed parts of other people’s styles that I admire, and partially that having to look people in the face while reading out all of these poems makes me think a lot more about the poems, and about what I actually want to be doing with my art.
One of the things I find compelling about poetry is that nobody really actually fully knows what’s ‘me’ and what’s a character, or what’s pulled from my own life and what’s pulled from other people. It’s like being able to finetune myself into being a new person.
I also think that situating myself more with what’s currently going on than with poets of past eras (and not putting dead poets on a pedestal) has changed quite a lot about the way I write. A lot of things have changed in the past year. I do still have particular soft spots for my archaic literary eras and movements of choice, though.
I agree: Auto-fiction is so cheeky by nature, it’s like taking the audience hostage and letting them have some of the fun. Beyond stage antics though; you’ve also already written and published your first book ‘This Is My Goddamn Poem, And I Make The Rules: A Poet’s Manifesto,’ !! Can you tell us about any other achievements you are proud of?
I’m still proud of getting to Cambridge in one piece! Besides the ritual blood sacrifice and the ordeal of selling my soul to the actual devil… All jokes aside— the academic experience of studying for an English degree there has been very valuable to me as a poet and as a general reader of books, even though I’m taking some time out.
Also, making an appearance as the butch lesbian poster girl as well as a poet for Thumbsuck Girl Magazine ranks pretty highly with proud moments too! I remember when Medb originally put out a casting call for a man, and I messaged her something to the effect of ‘imagine this, but make it dyke-y as hell’. I had a lot of fun with her and Eva, doing the photoshoot and everything.
(laughing, almost spitting coffee over the table) To what extent would you say that humour plays a part in your art?
I think that humour plays quite a big role in my writing and also how people recognise and remember me. Sometimes I mean for things to be funny but other times I don’t realise how weird or ironic or straight up insane something I’ve written is until I’m trying to read it in front of people with a straight face.
Humour has had more of an influence since I wrote Beanz Meanz Heinz, I guess. Everything always comes back to Larry Smith and his body-length Heinz Baked Beans tin. I wrote it in June at an event that me and a few other Gobs performed at, and it has a weird mix of influences that I don’t think I’ll fully explain to anyone, ever. The most I’ll say is that Larry Smith is a hybrid of myself and other people’s poetry.
Before I wrote that poem, I wrote a lot of poetry about nature (among other subjects). I have quite a few poems about the Moon, and about trees. I used to go to the botanic gardens in Cambridge and sit in there for at least 6 hours a day, just looking at trees and writing. I used to watch the sunrise every morning. I still write nature poems every so often, but I don’t think of myself as a nature poet like I did roughly a year ago.
Beautiful stuff, and what can we expect to look forward to from Michael Kabesele in the future?
I have some more poetic projects planned for 2023 😉
I’m also the bassist of Freddy Merkky for now, so a few gigs on the horizon in the summer.
Caption: extract from ‘Beanz Meanz Heinz’
Catch Michael performing at the Clitbait Cabaret in Stoke Newington on Wednesday 15th of March, early bird tickets out now
Photo credit for featured image: @/sickacidpuppies