An Interview with Bob Hill

I first got in to the poetry of Bob Hill by accident. I was searching for a friend on Facebook, also named Bob Hill, when I noticed that there was a Bob Hill who had thirty-something mutual friends. Thinking that this Bob Hill was the other Bob Hill, I sent him a request. Bob Hill said yes.

The more I got into the world of performance poetry, the more I realized that this was a happy accident, for Bob is one of the finest names in the genre. Inventive, human and very funny, Bob’s oeuvre was right up my street.

I never did find the other Bob Hill.

Bob’s poetry is rich in wordplay and humour and a real concern for the way that we live our lives. Yet the emphasis is clearly on comedy. Bob is a ‘stand-up poet’, feeding off the reactions of the audience and making each performance a site-specific engagement.

Bob is also a significant figure in the poetry landscape, having supported such names as John Cooper Clarke and Porky the Poet. I urge everyone to seek him out on YouTube or at a poetry venue, or to sample his collection, ‘Jack Hughes is Dead’.

– Hello, Bob. How did you get in to performance poetry?
• Hi Robert, I started to perform poetry after searching for a poetry group in Bournemouth where I live. The only one I found on the internet was ‘Freeway Poets’, a monthly open-mic event. I went along, signed up and blasted out a political poem called ‘The Hatfield Anti-Nazi League’. I got a rather raucous and positive reception and really that convinced me that performing my poems was another option for me to get them out there. I consider myself a poet who performs and am just as happy at more low key readings as well as doing the ‘stand-up’ stuff.

– You have a brilliantly informed and cheerful performance style. How much of this is your actual personality, and how much is a persona that you adopt on stage?
• Wow, that’s a question I do ask myself as well. I think I’d have to say that my on stage persona is informed by and reflects my personality but so do my poems themselves when they are on the page. I hope that I am multi-faceted and I feel that my stage performances reflect the ‘me’ when I’m in the pub with my oldest and closest friends.

– You’ve supported some of the biggest names in performance poetry. Who are your heroes and influences in poetry?
• I don’t really have heroes as such, it’s a word that I’m not really that comfortable with. However, I do have influences but they change over time and with my reading of other poets and writers. The two poems which have influenced me in terms of kick starting my own attempts to write poetry in the first place were Browning’s ‘Porphyra’s Lover’ and Christina Rossetti’s ‘The Goblin Market’. Add to that the hip-hop lyrics of KRS1 and Public Enemy and the performance styles and lyrics and musicality of Esther Phillips, Jill Scott, Linton Kwesi Johnson and Gil Scott-Heron and there you have my direct influences regarding poetry. As I said though, the process of improving as a poet has ongoing and new influences with everything I read. This would also include prose writers too. Also, the old folk club comedians such as Billy Connolly, Mike Harding, Jasper Carrot and Jake Thackeray have been an influence in my writing and performance.

– Do any other art forms or media influence your work?
• Yes, I often use paintings, drawings and photographs as prompts to my writing. For example a recent poem of mine, ‘Reunion’, is based on a painting by John Atkinson Grimshaw entitled ‘An Autumn Idyll’. I also find that music has kickstarted some of my work as well.

– There’s a lot of wordplay in some of your poems. Is this influenced by a love of language?
• Broadly speaking, yes. However it is the wordplay that comes with really well told anecdotes and/or jokes that really influences any wordplay in my writing. A poem works like a well written or well told joke in that one has to trust the audience to understand it by its context and nuances rather than by signposting one’s own ‘meanings’. Jokes and poems work on shared experience and universal understandings and wordplay aids these understandings if the writer trusts the reader/listener.

– Poetry is just one of your interests and pursuits. What else do you do?
• I write short stories and flash fiction, I DJ and listen to a wide range of music, I read vociferously. I debate politics and social issues, I love facilitating others in their own writing. I visit Paris as often as I can. Just sitting and chatting over a drink of some kind or a meal happens a lot too. I have a road bike which I venture out on looking like a mis-shapen carrot in orange lycra. I also watch a lot of films of all genres.

– Do you have a set idea or theme for a poem when you write, or does the idea evolve along with the poem?
• It depends. For example, if it’s a commissioned piece then the theme is set by whoever is paying and what they want the poem to represent. The poem itself will evolve with every re-write and re-draft regardless of what the starting point was. I’ve just written a poem a day for #AdventPoems and I never really knew where those poems would go until I’d written them but the body of poems had the theme of ‘Christmas’ as a starting point.

– What would you say were your ‘greatest hits’?
• Two, in particular; ‘The Iron Lady: Rust in Peace’ which I wrote the day that the Chilean miners were pulled out of the ground and ‘Dividing Assets’ which is a bit of a morality and revenge tale involving a feckless man.

– Do you have any particular philosophy or message in your work?”
• I like to present the idea that all things can be seen from different perspectives; physical, philosophical, sociological, political whatever. Added to this I like to show the realities of ordinary lives but with the idea that all tragedy has comedy and vice versa and that the mundane has its own mysteries and fascinations.


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