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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.’

Jamie Thrasivoulou

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.” 

Gender politics is not the only issue that he is addressing head on with his poetic work. Though much of his work is based at home in Derby, his involvement in community outreach programmes have meant that he has spent time working away in educational and reform institutions across the country. 

He has worked with people at educational institutions like Sheffield Hallam and within community projects like Wordwise Education; working in schools with “supposedly hard to reach kids.” 

He says “if you’re honest and open with them, and give a part of yourself, the kids express a lot back.”

He sees poetry as a powerful tool to for people from the ‘lower’ rungs of society to find their voice. 

I’m keen to push literacy for those who most need it” says Jamie, and he has led workshops to help direct the minds of young aspiring footballers in Derby Community FC and Leicester City Football Club to combat what Jamie refers to as “damaging macho culture.” 

“The concept of masculinity is a problem. Boys are taught to use their fists; at school growth in the gym is emphasised as a priority instead of growth in the brain, and this contributes to the culture of young boys joining gangs. In working class communities, with the young boys there’s an egotistical culture where everything is a competition, but in the wrong way. I call this the xfactorisation of culture; this strive towards the physical and the material; of wearing fat watches, of aesthetics – the wrong way of living.” 

Jamie’s poetry aims to “emphasise the deeper qualities of a human being” and he is first and foremost a proudly passionate voice of “the humane opinion, and equality above all.” 

He now openly admits that his own egotistical outlook as a boy has been, in the past, a huge obstacle to any kind of growth in his life. His work in outreach programmes intends to prevent the kind of downward spiral of pent up frustration he faced before learning to articulate himself through performance poetry, which resurrected his sense of purpose and belonging in a world often hostile to the young working class man. 

Jamie encourages others to take up poetry, even if – especially if – they don’t think they have a voice. “We still need to hear a lot more working class voices!”

This poetry draws parallels with the hip hop culture that Jamie notes the young people who he works with are particularly influenced by, and he makes a distinction between helpful and unhelpful language in the construction of musical lyricism. Again with his young daughter in mind, he is keen to promote gender equality, saying: “I’m a fan of hip hop but I’m not a fan of hiphop which brags about money, hoes, cars, and the like. I’ve recommended the band Immortal Technique who are more careful with their language, more respectful of women, and they’ve been a winner with the kids a few times.” 

He also works in HM Foston Hall Prison’s psychiatry department helping women with personality disorders, leading poetry classes where he presents his own work and helps them to create their own writing as a means of therapy. 

His latest piece, however, has been set back home in Derby and is also his first dub-poetry piece. ‘Anywhere Street’, produced in collaboration with the electronic producer Bloque Capitals, is his return to the ‘music’ world. 

“Anywhere Street is an observational piece about a street corner in Derby where the ‘down and outs’, if you know what I mean, would hang out watching the world go by with their spliffs and cider, doing what they do. There’s something a bit beautiful about that – I find beauty in obscure and ghastly things, in the way that although they have their issues, in that moment they don’t have a care in the world – do you know what I mean?” 

“The council have gentrified this area now – they put a posh fence around it to cut off life. I see this work as preserving little pieces of local history – which also acts as a beautiful but sad snapshot of what is going on all around the country.” 

Fighting for what he believes in Jamie Thrasivoulou is a leading force in the working class spoken word movement which is rapidly gathering pace in outlets across the UK; he continues to touch lives with his raw honesty and forceful, positive messages.

Follow Jamie:

Twitter: @JMThras

Facebook: Jamie Thrasivoulou Poet (@JMThras)

Instagram: @thrasivoulou.jamie   

Website: jthras.com




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