Interview: Jamie Thrasivoulou
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After a rocky relationship with alcohol, drugs and scrapings with the law, Jamie Thrasivoulou found a sense of purpose in an unexpected place: poetry. Melting the stereotypes of the working class man and the elite poet into one with his ‘honest, not high brow’ verse, the Midlands wordsmith vents his frustration at the world whilst also trying to change it - one verse at a time. His verse expresses raw truths about his views on British politics, education, and working-class culture in his hometown of Derby acting as a snapshot of working-class areas nationwide. His work, performed anywhere from the local pub to the upcoming Derby Poetry Festival, serves as elegy to pieces of passing culture which he aims to preserve in the wake of what he calls ‘rising xenophobia, gentrification and class divides in post-Brexit Britain.’ This work comes from a more real place, with a definitive message, as he explains, “I like to express the humane opinion, which is now seen as the left opinion. I started performance poetry to verbalise left politics in a more direct way, with one simple message: equality in every way.” Before breaking into the world of poetry, Thrasivoulou had been part of the post-hardcore band In Flight Program before their split in 2013. “I was a lyricist already from the band, and when it split up I felt completely lost. I didn’t have a focus and I went off the rails, including a few brushes with the law.” “My poetry started as a collection of druggy memoirs which I kept to myself until I had an epiphany – that I have a voice and a right to be heard. It started as a form of therapy, when I was struggling with mental health, and writing was an outlet. I was easily depressed with the world, and performance poetry is a way of channelling anger in a useful way: a means of starting a conversation.” It’s not difficult to deduce from Thrasivoulou’s powerful performances that much of this anger stems from frustrations with British politics, and that he is no fan of the current Tory government. When asked how he would describe the state of British politics right now, he says, “the term ‘joke’ springs to mind – politics is a mess, and the current government are strengthening harmful class disaffections and divides – the absolute disparity between the people at the bottom and the people at the top, and we can see poverty and crime rise side by side. Having no money can lead to all sorts of trouble. I can see the current government collapsing and I hope they do.” Thrasivoulou's direct, opinionated style which, laughing, he suggests is very often described as ‘unapologetically honest’ isn’t always met with a positive response and conversation. “My Brexit poem has had a lot of criticism – I’ve had one guy jump on the stage and try to fight me… I didn’t let that happen though”. Thrasivoulou jokes, “I’m reformed, but I’m not that reformed.” As a proud Corbynist, Jamie identifies with the left of politics, but he also has frustrations with the ‘ultra-left’ and the lack of direction in the current Labour party due to inter-party divides. Regarding this year’s election he enthuses, "There’s no way I couldn’t get behind him. The media present this absolutely ridiculous view of him as a Communist, and subject this narrative on the public.” Through his politically charged poetry, he exerts an alternative narrative. A self-defined pragmatist, his poetry gets to the root of current social problems. It voices uncomfortable truths which politicians gloss over and lose within their personal power struggles – Thrasivoulou focuses instead on the big issues which affect the people. This is a theme which has inspired many other rising stars within the nascent world of working class performance and dub poetry. Thrasivoulou’s poetry is a leading torrent within this rising tide of new literature, which he passionately terms “the working class renaissance”. When asked who his poetic influences are, he explains: “There’s loads: Toria Garbutt from the Leeds area, and Matt Abbott from Wakefield to name a few. Linton Kwesi Johnson has also always been a massive influence on my lyrics – songwriters are as big an influence for me as other poets.” Alongside politics, when speaking to Thrasivoulou another factor which crops up again and again as paramount motivation when considering the construction of his lyrics, is the desire to improve the world for his daughter. “I massively support female artists. I’m helping set up Derby’s first ever poetry festival and it’s going to have a 50/50 gender split.”
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