Some poets are not born but made, overnight. By his own admission, Michael Groce (right) bspent much of his youth in trouble with the police, going from detention centre to detention centre. It was the shooting of his mother, Cherry, by officers attempting his arrest that sparked the Brixton riots in 1981; she was left paralysed, he was left with a legacy of anger and bitterness.
Then, 18 months ago, while doing community work in schools, he sat down and, "to relieve the tension", wrote a poem entitled "A Child in Prayer", about the trials of cocaine addiction. Someone suggested he recite it at the Brix theatre, and it was so well received he was immediately propelled into a heady writing and performing lifestyle that culminated in winning the poetry slam at this year's Cheltenham Literature Festival. Considering that the 75 other contestants included some of the most experienced rhymsters on the circuit - and that the judges included journalists from the Independent - the 34-year-old is clearly justified in thinking he has landed himself a new career. "I always liked the arts and respected performers," he says, "but poetry never fitted in with the world I moved in. Your whole reputation was based on strength. There was a culture of animosity and no way of channelling your feelings except through violence. When I first started calling myself a poet, no one believed me - they'd say, `Yeah, sure, but what else are you doing?'"
Though the flurry of offers to hear his street-hardened words up and down the country might just pay the bills, Groce isn't bothered by the prospect of a paper-thin salary. "It's not how many people come, it's about who's in the crowd. The important thing is to create a platform for kids to come forward and shake off some of their negativity." To this end, he has set up a new south London club, New Whirled Poets, with his partner Jayzik. The latter has a similar tale of a turbulent upbringing: foster homes, care homes, thieving. Her conversion to the spoken word after a stint as a backing singer was about as sudden, and belated, as her first meeting with her father, the first president of Nigeria, Nnamdi Azikiwe when he was 92: she's been on the scene for a mere four weeks. The line-up for the first event includes mostly complete unknowns but then, judging by where Groce and Jayzik are coming from, that should be an incentive.
New Whirled Poets, Imperial Gardens, Camberwell New Road, SE5. Wed 26 Nov, 8pm pounds 4/pounds 3Reuse content