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In Conversation with Performing Poet, Murray Lachlan Young

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For the first time, Singapore will witness the barnstorming live acts of one of Britain's top performing voices in poetry, Murray Lachlan Young, at LASALLE College of the Arts. With a career that includes being poet-in-residence on several BBC Radio programmes, and an unbroken streak of performing at every major British Festival in the last 10 years, Murray is in high demand. 

Undoubtedly, this is thanks to his delivery style. Through witty commentary on current affairs and unabashed use of satire, all executed in his customary booming baritone with a touch of ridiculous comedy (for good measure), Murray demonstrates that poetry can be enjoyable and accessible for just about anybody.

Where the literary form used to elicit a scoff for existing either in the realm of greeting cards or elite literature, such polarising categorisation has since given way to a wide middle ground. 

Poetry is a big tent with lots of room inside. It is a great vehicle of self-expression and by nature of its easy entry level, it is open to all. If people are enjoying what they are doing with poetry, it is already contributing to the greater good.

Murray Lachlan Young

Touché. This year, Poetry Festival Singapore returned for its third edition and more than 1,000 individuals, regardless of ethnicity or age, participated in workshops, reading sessions, performances and book launches. 

Such a turn-out is not surprising though given how many of us have, as children, been exposed to rhyming verse - be it in the form of time-honoured nursery songs, or the classic titles by Dr Seuss. Perhaps there is a thing to be said then, about introducing the young early to the wonders of poetry.

After all, this was what Murray's mother did and look what that has achieved - when then Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom, Sir Andrew Motion, was about to retire, Murray was nominated by the public as one of the main contenders to take over the position.

Taking a leaf from his mother's book, Murray now actively engages kids through his larger-than-life character in his poetry show, Modern Cautionary Tales for Children. Beyond this, platforms like LASALLE's Public Lecture Series is also another means for Murray to interact with the younger generation. When queried as to why he felt it is important to do so, Murray noted that "To share cross-generational experiences can make such a difference to the way that young people feel about themselves. It is a great gift to be able to approach the world with confidence, and the feeling that one is not alone. If I can contribute to that then I am grateful and happy for the opportunity."

Murray performing Annie McClue

But how does one develop material for children or youths, especially when there exists a generation gap? While being a father himself does help, Murray lets us in onto his technique which, apparently, can be applied to any poetry writing situation.

Step One: Pick a subject and write without writing by allowing your thoughts to flow freely. 
Step Two: Group the thoughts until they stand together. 
Step Three: Ask the thoughts what they mean. 
Step Four: Edit the thoughts until they can speak for themselves.
Step Five: Let the poem rest for a day, then edit it again until the poem is finished.

Budding poets are wont to cry out at this juncture, "But how do I know if the poem is finished?" To this, Murray quips, "Experience," which is why his advice to those interested in the form is to just take the plunge and begin writing because only then can experience be accumulated. 

His other crucial word of wisdom is to simply have fun, and this is very telling from his works. View any of his performances that populate around the Internet, and one definitely gets the sense that there is all around merriment in the air - from the audience, to the man himself. 

Of course, there are times when one encounters a particularly reserved crowd, and it is during such instances that Murray is reminded of his original intention in delving into performance poetry - to connect with people. "Someone told me long ago that just because an audience is quiet, it does not mean they are not listening to every word you say - attention is what one should wish for first."

How Freakin' Zeitgeist are You

Well, Murray certainly has ours, not least because he has just recently collated all of his poems into a single book. From old-time favourites like Is it wrong to wear the thong, to new pieces like How freakin zeitgeist are you?, which is the titular name of the publication, this number one on Amazon's bestseller list is certainly reading material to enjoy.

When we threw the question right back at him though, he reflected, "It's always difficult to know as the zeitgeist is so fleeting. I think being on the zeitgeist is not necessarily a good thing because when one is on it, one can then easily fall off it. If one is observing the zeitgeist, surely that is the best place to be?"

We leave that question up to you to ponder. 

In the meantime if you want a teaser of what is to come on 9 November, 7.30 at LASALLE's campus, excerpts of Murray's poems may be perused here.