Harry Baker is a previous UK Poetry Slam Champion and is now well recognised for his performances ranging from poetry to rap battles. As part of his adventures so far, Harry Baker has gone covered a wide range of subjects, with wicked wordplay and rhymes often interspersed with awful puns. Although Harry Baker was at one point a member of the Roundhouse Poetry Collective run by Polarbear, he has also performed solo all around the UK and worldwide; including Chicago, New York, Munich, Warsaw and the summer festival Circuit including Bestival, Latitude and Secret Garden Party. My personal favourite work of Harry Baker is his attempt to blow up the rap battle scene with his unorthodox rap style, enjoy that here (warning: explicit language). You can also find Harry Baker on Ted Talks, with his brilliant poem about prime numbers. His work has been described as ‘spectacularly witty’ and ‘ferociously intelligent’, and right now Harry Baker is currently on a UK tour with his musical comedy act Harry & Chris, for further tour information please visit their website for more info. Please enjoy my interview with the brilliant Harry Baker.
How do you describe your occupation?
These days I just say, poet. I used to chuck in words like slam poet or spoken word artists depending on who I was talking to and because I had my own hangups of what poetry was presented as at school but I’ve learnt to own it a bit more.
Part of the fun is that every day is different. As I write this it is national poetry day so this week has been a lot of getting up early to go into schools an give assemblies and workshops, then I’ll often have a gig in the evening either solo or as the comedy duo I’m part of Harry and Chris, and on trains in-between I’ll either be working on writing my own stuff or any commissions I have in the pipeline. In reality, there’s a lot more admin than I expected when I went full time.
What are you reading at the moment and what made you want to read it?
I’ve just started The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney which my fiancé Grace gave to me and said was one of her favourites. She’s brought so many brilliant books into my life I’ve learnt to trust her recommendations without asking too many questions. I’ve also just finished The Power by Naomi Alderman which was a recommendation by my Mum!
Can you remember the first book you read by yourself?
I can’t remember the first book I read by myself but I remember the last book my Dad read to me which was The Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin – I remember we had to take a book into school to read but I had already started it with him so I ended up chasing him down the road after he’d left for work to ask what I should to. To date, the Earthsea Quartet are still some of my favourite books.
Are you a page folder or a bookmarker?
I’m a chapter-ender/vague-rememberer. I don’t trust my page folding abilities or want to ruin the book so I always check if I have long enough to finish a chapter before starting it, I find it a bit stressful if I have to finish halfway through. I genuinely didn’t enjoy reading The Circle by Dave Eggers for that reason. If a book has especially long chapters I’ll try and at least end on a page with a round number.
When did you fall in love with reading?
I used to love reading all sorts of playful and nonsense poems at a young age, but it was teenage years reading things like Alex Rider and Artemis Fowl that completely captured me and took me into their worlds.
Age 16 it would be Perfect by Rachel Joyce. For a while, I struggled to move from teenage fiction to ‘grown-up books’ so to know that there were books out there that still had young protagonists and could be as beautiful as that would have sped up that transition! I’m currently 25 so the second part feels hard to answer – I’m just about to get married and moved to a new place so on a practical level I’d maybe gift myself a few recipe books?
What are perfect reading conditions for you?
Either outdoors in the sunshine, preferably with long enough for a couple of snooze breaks in-between, or tucked up somewhere warm with Grace close enough to hold hands in-between chapters.
For someone starting out in your career, which three books would you make required reading and why?
Nobody Told Me by Hollie McNish, to show the huge scope of emotions and humour that poetry can encapsulate, while still retaining so much personality and heart. Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon was the first time I realised you could also read around creativity and it wasn’t just an entirely abstract concept, and The Prophetic Imagination by Walter Bruggeman – my Dad gave it to me and it changed how I viewed the role of a poet in the world.
If you could invite 5 authors (dead or alive) to a dinner party – who would they be and why?
I feel grateful that I know some fantastic authors who I also love as people so the first two would be Hollie McNish and Vanessa Kisuule as they would be the life and soul of any party. I’d then love to invite Dr Seuss as on more than one occasion I’ve scribbled something and later found out he had written something similar so I feel like we are kindred spirits, and CS Lewis because I would just love to ask him everything. To finish it off would probably be JK Rowling because she’s a bit of a hero on twitter as well as seeming to be all-around brilliant.
What was the last book you purchased, and why did you buy it?
Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge – I saw her speak at a 5×15 event and she was awesome. I feel blessed to know many intelligent and articulate people when it comes to issues of both gender and race but the more I try and educate myself the more ignorant I realise I am so I’m aware there’s a long way to go.
What is your favourite thing about reading?
I love that no matter where you were when you stopped reading and where you are when you pick it up again, you can transport instantly back into the world of the book and get lost in it. There’s something especially powerful about books that can make you cry with nothing but the power of words and story.
Hold Tight by Jeffrey Boakye – It’s a passionate and hilarious history of Grime laid out with chapters as essays on specific tracks chronologically so it feels as much like a mixtape as a book. I’ve recommended it to die-hard fans of the genre and those with no experience of it and they’ve both loved it equally.
If you could insert yourself into any book, which would you pick and why?
The Subtle Knife by Phillip Pullman. I’d love to be in any of the northern lights trilogy as reading it was so vivid and I fantasised about what my daemon would be, but I’ve never read anything that has felt as tangible as describing the way you can catch a snag between universes and carve a doorway through.
Name a book that you feel everyone would benefit from reading and explain why.
It might seem like a weird one but The Jesuit Guide To Almost Everything by James Martin. My advice is to not be put off by the title which I would pass on, but it is one of the most thoughtfully written things I’ve ever come across. It goes out of its way to cater to everyone, regardless of their personal journey with faith or God.
What is the book that you feel has had the single biggest impact on your life? What impact did it have?
Don’t Put Mustard In The Custard by Michael Rosen – It genuinely made me fall in love with language in a way I’ve never fully recovered from. I have an old picture of my Grandpa reading to me and my brother when we were younger and had snuck down after we were supposed to be in bed. I’ve still got a well-worn copy of The Works by Paul Cookson that was equally enjoyable coming back to again and again growing up.
Are there any books you haven’t mentioned that you feel would make your reading list?
Anything by Roald Dahl, specifically Danny: Champion of the World,
Which book sat on your shelf are you most excited about reading next and why?
Take Hair by Rob Auton – Rob is one of my favourite poets and performers and manages to perfectly blend the poignant and tender and surreal – I bought his book after seeing his show at The Edinburgh Fringe Festival this year and I’ve been saving it as a treat for when I need a lift as I think he is absolutely wonderful and his previous two collections brought me a lot of joy.