Wonderful opportunity to enjoy the light and dark of poet Harry Baker in Say Owt gig

“I am more fascinated and amazed by the world around me than ever before,” says poet Harry Baker

ONCE the youngest World Poetry Slam champion, Harry Baker has a new poetry collection to spin on his Wonderful tour.

Tonight his 30-date itinerary brings the Bath-born poet, mathematician, stand-up comic and writer to The Crescent, in York, to reflect on “important stuff”, whether hope, dinosaurs or German falafel spoons, as found in Wonderful, published in paperback by Burning Eye Books on May 7.

The “maths-loving, TED-talking, German-speaking, battle-rapping, happy-crying, self-bio-writing unashamed human” releases his signature playfulness and poignancy in new poems about wellies, postcodes, sunflowers, sticky toffee pudding and his favourite German wheat beer.

“After the mental health struggles I shared in my last show, this time around the plan was to have a fun time touring a fun show full of fun poems to celebrate coming out of the other side. But it hasn’t quite worked out like that,” says Harry, who will be a completing a hattrick of appearances at The Crescent.

“For the first time ever, I have been to more funerals than weddings in the last year. I have hit the age where everyone around me is either having babies or talking about having babies or definitely not having babies and found out first-hand how complicated and painful that can be. And yet I am more fascinated and amazed by the world around me than ever before.”

Harry continues: “From the transformational power of documenting moments of everyday joy to the undeniable raw energy of performing a garage song about Greta Thunberg, I am learning more than ever that life can indeed be incredibly hard sometimes, but that doesn’t make it any less incredible.

“If anything, it is the darkness that helps us to appreciate the light, just as it is the puddles that help us to appreciate the wellies.”

As with his Unashamed show in February 2023, Harry is being brought to The Crescent by Say Owt, the York collective of “gobby northern poets” that plays host regularly to slams, workshops, scratches, open-mic nights and stellar spoken-word guests.

“I loved The Crescent so much that I’m coming back,” he says. “Working out where to go on this tour, I knew there was a readymade audience there from the Say Owt shows – they’re a brilliant organisation.”

He thrives on performing in such settings as a Say Owt gig. “Some like to call it ‘slam poetry’ because it sounds more exciting, or ‘spoken word’ because it takes in something more theatrical, but we’ve been sharing words for centuries, whatever you call it. 

“So, bringing words alive in front of an audience has always been important for me. When you see poetry performed, what’s amazing is it can make you laugh, it can make you cry.

“Reading poetry on the page is a very personal experience but hearing poetry being performed feels a very collective experience.”

The Wonderful show will combine joy with sadness. “Poetry is not frightened to be vulnerable, so rather than focusing only on fun things, I’m acknowledging that we have deeper moments and I share these in the poems,” says Harry, who has sought to find silver linings from the pandemic. “There are people I know who died from Covid, so it makes you treasure relationships.”

He continues: “I will always have fun in my shows, highlighting funny things, but I’ve found that people are responding to the things that are more serious and cathartic. Even my favourite stand-up comedians have those moments of rawness.”

Harry writes his poems to be performed out loud. “The first two books came out after tours, so they felt like a transcription of the shows, but this time I’ve written the book first, and the stuff in between the poems will evolve as I perform,” he says. “The new book is like the studio version of an album; the live album will follow on the road!”

Harry is as much a mathematician as a poet, but can he see a connection between the two disciplines? “I used to be massively in denial about this, seeing them as opposite,” he says.

“I loved the definite answers in Maths, that were either right or wrong, and the ambiguity in poems, but actually they’re both trying to work the world out.

“There’s something about the rhythm and rhyme of poetry, slotting the words into the right place, that does feel like mathematics. You can be light and playful but seek to push the form to the limits.”

In the wake of publishing his third volume, Harry reflects: “I think I’ve learned that my poems are snapshots of moments in time that don’t have to solve the world’s problems, but you hopefully make some points within them,” he says.

Those points strike a balance between light and darkness. “One of my all-time favourite lyrics is by Leonard Cohen, where he says, ‘there is a crack, a crack in everything/That’s how the light gets in’,” says Harry.

“My first book was called The Sunshine Kid, but when you write with acknowledgement that there is darkness too, it has greater weight. When we share laughter with other people just after crying, it’s about embracing the murkiness, and then we get to appreciate the full richness of joy.”

Say Owt presents Harry Baker: Wonderful, The Crescent, York, May 20, 7.30pm. Box office: thecrescentyork.com

In the words of Harry Baker:

“One thing that I know that I will always find amazing

Is what a thing it is to live a life.

P.S. Let’s also do this loads before we die.”

Harry Baker: back story

Harry Baker: Poet, mathematician, comedian, slam champ and writer

Born: March 19 1992.

Occupation: Poet, mathematician, stand-up comedian, writer and word warrior on UK rap battle scene.

Poetry style: Honest. Heartfelt. Hopeful.

Record breaker: Became youngest ever World Poetry Slam Champion when winning in 2012.

Global impact: Poetry translated into 21 languages.

Social media impact: Reached ten million people on Instagram and TikTok.

Festivals: Played Glastonbury, Latitude and his spiritual home, Greenbelt.

Did you know? Performed on Dubai Opera House bill with poet laureates Carol Ann Duffy and Simon Armitage.

Did you know too? His last gig before Covid lockdown was at The Crescent, York, on March 15 2020,

Talk the talk: On TED.com

Favourite place: On stage.

Regular contributor: BBC Radio 2’s Pause For Thought.

Appeared on: The Russell Howard Hour, as part of comedy-rap-jazz duo Harry and Chris.

Books: The Sunshine Kid, 2014; Unashamed, 2022; Wonderful (Burning Eye Books, May 7  2024).