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Vince Laws redefines poetry with a performance of his Silent Poem / 17 June 2010

The silver lining to a prolonged period of depression and inactivity last year was the time to think. I came out from under the duvet of darkness determined to pursue a career as a poet and artist.

More specifically I wanted to perform my poetry in front of live audiences because that’s when it’s at its most powerful. And I wanted to continue exploring visual poetry, taking poetry off the page in every sense.

I became increasingly dissatisfied with the definition of poetry – the idea that it had to be a literary expression of feelings and ideas – it felt restrictive and limiting. “Make it new,’ said Ezra Pound. I subscribe to the view that as an artist, I define what art is.

Therefore as a poet, surely I define what a poem is? If my art can be anything from a painting to a concept, then so can my poetry. The embodiment of my new way of thinking is the declaration: I am a poem.

I was asked to write a poem last October to read at a candlelit vigil against hate crime. I thought about it and decided I couldn’t write anything more powerful than 2 minutes of silence shared by like-minded people in different cities, all opposed to hate. So I recorded the silence and called it Silent Poem, and of course it’s anything but silent.

There’s the sound of the photographer from the local paper capturing the scene, an aircraft passes overhead, wind catches the microphone, someone coughs, you can hear the bleeps of a lorry reversing, a lone skateboarder trundles by, and finally the time-keeper says, “Thank you everyone.”

I ended up with a poem I could neither perform nor make visual. In fact I tried to enter it into the Café Writers annual poetry competition in Norwich, but their rules only allowed for poems printed on an A4 sheet of paper. If that’s not making it new, I don’t know what is. Result!

Keywords: hate crime,poetry