Will Stevenson has an inimitable talent. Blending rap and spoken word to effortlessly deliver a full-frontal assault on the senses, his work tears up rule books and challenges societal paradigms. He is sarcastic, yet serious; witty, yet a wally - and as one half of the incredible Switchblade Society alongside Michaela Violet, he is an up-and-coming Big Deal in the Manchester spoken word scene.
Will's work in five words:
Switchblade Society is a unique space that offers poets the opportunity to hear their work read aloud by another artist. It is one of the city's most welcoming spoken word nights - an absolute riot - and it takes place monthly at The Peer Hat in the Northern Quarter.
We sat down with Will for a chat about his upcoming work:
You run Switchblade Society with your partner Michaela - how did the idea for it come about?
On a night time stroll through Fallowfield. I read out a poem one of Michaela’s friends put on Instagram, and she noted how differently I read it compared to how he would have done. We thought it was a fascinating idea, and I’d been wanting to start up an inclusive new poetry night for a while, so the idea fell into place.
Switchblade is a unique night in that poets read other poets’ work as well as their own. What’s your favourite poem that you wish you’d written?
You are a rapper as well as a poet – some would say they are one and the same. Do you think there is a difference between the two and, if so, what is it?
Absolutely! You get crossover acts like Kae Tempest, you get some really lyrical rappers like Black Thought or Talib Kweli, and you get some beautifully rhythmic poetry from the likes of Gil Scott Heron, but excelling at both requires a different skill set - for hip hop, you need to understand how to ride a beat, how to use your voice, how to write a hook. I didn’t used to think there was a difference; it took a while to call myself a poet, and it negatively affected both my poetry and my music. You have to sit down to do both and flex different parts of your brain. Hip hop should be allowed to just be fun sometimes, away from the complex imagery and multi-syllabic rhymes of the Kendrick’s and the Dave’s of the world - and I really love those artists, for the record. Hip hop is diverse and massive: Playboy Carti isn’t a poet, but he’s a great rapper. People like Biggie, Big L, Killer Mike, Jay Z though? They can write better double entendres than most poets in the world. It’s a different form that uses some similar techniques.
You, like our founder Rebecca, are also an English teacher. How do you think approaches to poetry could be developed in education to bring more young people into the spoken-word fold?
We recently had an extract booklet created, and the most recent poet studied was Simon Armitage. Now, I’ve got time for Armitage, but he isn’t setting children's brains alight. I’d look at introducing poetry through looking at assonance and sibilance, rhyme schemes and puns, double entendre and irony before analysing theme and structure. Shakespeare needs to be in the syllabus - witty, rich and ripe for interesting discussion once broken down well - but we should make space for Roger Robinson, Hollie Mcnish, Kano, Kae Tempest, Bukowski, Jenny Zhang, Walt Whitman and Polar Bear, too. Talking to kids in their own language would help put a foothold in that world. It’s the only area we really seem to do that with; you wouldn’t want the aim of someone’s first swimming lesson to swim the channel, but we do teach children to study The Prelude and Paradise Lost before they’re 16. Let’s build up to that. Decolonising the classroom is a big buzz term at the minute, but we’re still focusing on the same texts and providing different interpretations. Let’s look at de-middle-classing the curriculum next.
What’s your favourite Bolton scran?
Being vegan doesn’t make it easy in the land of pasties and pies, but The Chubby Northerner’s favourite shop Carrs have started a vegan range recently, which is absolutely wicked. Can’t beat a good chippy tea either; we’ve popped into Olympus just for a large plate of chips in a fancy setting a few times.
You are an epic performer and your spoken word is a joy to watch. What’s your favourite piece to perform?
I’ve retired it for the moment, but the call and response parts of Market Street are great fun. I always like to play around freestyling the end part to fit the event I’m at.
Who are your favourite artists on the scene at the moment, and aside from Switchblade, which spoken word nights would you recommend to budding wordsmiths?
Big question. Too many to name, really. The aforementioned Rory and Antony, Romina Ramos coming out of Bolton, Steph Lonsdale is a Salfordian joy whenever she’s about. Reece Ayres AKA The Fragile Poet astounds me everytime. Steve Brown, Tonkabell, Rebecca Phythian, Steve Mingle. Erin Bolens blew me away when I saw her at Verbose; I bought her book immediately. Verbose itself is a fantastic event put on by two wonderful poets, Amy King and Adam Evans, who are both doing incredible things. Griot Gabriel is one half of The Poetry Place, a relatively new night I highly recommend over in the ARMR store in Ardwick. Otherwise, Punk In Drublic and Speak Easy are two long running nights I’ve got to shout out. This list could be longer than the whole article. Manchester is on fire.
What would you like to achieve with your poetry, ultimately?
Honestly? I wanna be everywhere. I wanna be in big venues; I wanna be in school classrooms. I wanna be in bookshops; I wanna be in libraries. I wanna do workshops with kids and show them stuff I never saw. I definitely don’t want an MBE though.
Will's collection, Title TBC, arrives in Winter