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Verbal Mugging

PAUL BEATTY, 'the premier bard of hip-hop', according to Newsweek magazine, will read his work at the Poetry International on Monday. 'Verbal Mugging' (below) appears in Joker, Joker, Deuce (Penguin USA, 1994, dollars 12.95), the second collection of his work. A former psychology student at Boston University, he joined a creative writing course at Brooklyn College, where he was taught by Allen Ginsberg - who described Beatty's poems as 'a bit like Miles Davis playing: short, melodic bursts'. (Beatty was less impressed with Ginberg's work: 'I wasn't into all that literary stuff'.) Bob Holman, whose Nuyorican Poets Cafe in Manhattan has been the focus of the new rap and hip-hop poetry, says that when Beatty reads 'it sounds like a rap record gone berserk, a rap record that's sampling itself as it goes along'.

Poetry International begins today on the South Bank (071-928 8800), with a reading by Tony Harrison in the Purcell Room at 7.30pm, and continues until 6 November. Paul Beatty appears with Merle Collins, Jayne Cortez and Joolz on Monday at 7.30pm (tickets pounds 6) this is a performance piece

a recitation of woe

that begins with my head bowed

and my eyes closed

either im asleep

or this poem must be deep

i start by speaking real slow and succinct

my diction sittin in a rocking chair

weaving narrated stage histrionics to the page

needle and tongue click

a crossover stitch

that knits the written

with the bullshit

told at quittin time

now i pretend to light a cornpipe

and from memory recite

a story of folklore that if it were true i would rather forget

during act II

my face goes solemn and sallow

it seems we've come to the part

where all hope is lost

heres when

i make the sign of the cross

give thanks to an extensive theatrical background

that allows me to pretentiously

drop to one knee

so that any fool could see

that whatever im talking about

involves some method acting pleas for freedom

performance poetry to go

biodegradable relatedness

you put your elbows on the table

rest your chin on your rodin brass hand

and you dont have to think

cause i illustrate my words

with some cheesy rip-off diana ross and four tops hand gestures

now dressed in mink and rhinestone leisure suit pink

my poem works an imaginary hoe

a slave to a rhythm so real

you can almost hear the refrains of

'please let my people go'

spin out the fields

with a basso so profundo

you can almos' feel

the pat of patronization

on top yo' head

maybe youve noticed

ive lapsed into a southern drawl

and when i say we that means yawl

the reader at one with the bleeder

isnt that how the gentiles learn to feel jesus

clenchin both my fists for emphasis

i clutch them to my chest

to show that you n me together and separate

feel the oppression of every person who's ever

been shot at spat on and shat upon

pigs christened

in a backwoods baptismal

together we are cleansed

wallowing in the muddled dirt wrongs

done to someone else

a pause and i lower my voice a couple of octaves

and project so that you can hear me way in the back

i do this in order to convey a poetic warmth

that crackles on the burning memories of fireside chats

with long since dead grandpop fred

aunt teddy

big daddy kane and miss jane pittman

gingerly my missive sits on the edge of the stage

dangles its feet and proceeds

to shove an earnest down-home tone right down your throat

as i regale you with cliche and tales of ancestors ive never even known

i end this oral tome

drenched in sweat

wiping away the crocodile tears

of happy endings

in a make believe world

where people speed listen and skim

the poet goes round

makin ends meet

by beatin muthafuckas over the head with sound

bangin tuning forks on minds

lookin for vibrations that dont stop with time(Photograph omitted)