Poetry reading is the new rock'n'roll

Britain's poets enjoy the limelight as their strongly ethical works attract the rock festival crowds
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The Independent Culture

The mention of poetry readings has often been enough to clear a room before the reader has even had chance to clear his or her throat. Now, the Myspace generation is taking its poetry to stages at rock festivals that would normally be the preserve of seasoned performers such as John Cooper Clarke or John Hegley.

One of the rising stars is 22-year-old Laura Dockrill, a former Brit School protégée. She has Glastonbury, Latitude and Summer Sundae festivals under her belt already and has supported Adele, Kate Nash and Martha Wainwright on tour. Her poems posted on the Myspace website have been listened to over 300,000 times. This weekend Ms Dockrill will be performing in front of hundreds of people at the Reading Festival.

"I'm playing the Alternative Stage at Reading, which can be a bit worrying as it is known as having quite a notorious rock crowd," said Dockrill. "I have had hard times before – even with Kate Nash's audience. I've had people shout out: 'I didn't come here to hear rap!' I wrote my first poem at the age of six, but I never really thought I would turn out doing it as a full-time career."

The poet, who has signed a major publishing deal with HarperCollins for her first book Mistakes in the Background, believes that performance poetry or spoken word, as it is also called, is about to break into the mainstream.

"I definitely think it's going to take off in the next few years. There's so many good artists out there like Scroobius Pip and Aisle16. They are really exciting."

Last week the final of the third annual Summer Poetry Slam competition took place at the Roundhouse in London. Poets aged between 13 and 21 performed in front of hundreds of other teenagers and a panel of judges, competing to be crowned Summer Slam poetry champion 2008.

BBC Radio, which features Bespoken Word on Radio 4, has added another slot in its roster for poetry on Colin Murray's Radio 1 show.

Graham Frost, the creator of Bespoken Word, said that a new generation had developed: "There is a new type of entertainment which is packing people in to the performances. It's performance poetry with very strong ethics. There's an empowering nature where young people from all different backgrounds are addressing issues such as knife crime, media pressure, the credit crunch, suicides. We're now seeing young people using their brains in a very creative way."