Q & A with poet, comedian and (sometimes) rap artist Mark Grist

Published March 27, 2014

Mark Grist’s show Rogue Teacher is at Exeter Phoenix this May.


In your own words, give us a short biog on yourself.

Crumbs…Well, I’m Mark. I’m an educator, poet, comedian and the probably the world’s most unlikely battle rapper. I like to make work that’s exciting, entertaining and that makes people laugh, or think, or just enjoy poetry a little bit more than they thought they would. I create a lot of work online, which has led to me being called a ‘YouTube sensation’ (The Sun) and an ‘unlikely heartthrob’ (The Guardian). That last one is the one that cracks my friends up the most.

What encouraged you to resign from teaching mid-recession and take on spoken word full time?

I’d been teaching for 5 years, and whilst I loved working with teenagers and doing stuff in the classroom, I was becoming more and more frustrated with other adults that I was with in the world of education. My annoyance was dominating my writing. It was pretty much all I was writing about, to be honest, and I knew I had to do something about it. I decided to take a year out, at first, to complete an MA in Creative Writing, and develop my writing. YouTube changed all of that, though. It turned into the craziest year of my life, to be honest, and it’s what my show ‘Rogue Teacher’ is all about – how a guy in a sensible, rewarding job made the dumbest (and somehow best) decision he ever made in his life.

What inspires your poetry?

I’m normally inspired by something I see, or hear that sticks with me – either because it makes me angry, or amused, or surprised or even just guilty in some way. I try to write about that moment in time in a way that other people could experience it for the first time. I use humour a lot in my work, and I also enjoy writing pieces sometimes just to make people laugh or smile- I think it’s great that poetry can do that.

What makes you stand out from other poets?

Good question – I think that I’m not really what people expect when they picture a poet, and that’s something I like. My work is really a mixture of comedy, poetry and storytelling, that’s meant to be engaging and entertaining and (hopefully) will make you rethink poetry in some way.

You’ve previously toured as part of Dead Poets with MC Mixy, how did that partnership form?

I first met Mixy at a poetry gig – he leaned back whilst watching the act on stage and set his hoodie on fire where it pressed against a candle. Someone ended up chucking coke over him – it was hilarious. I’d heard a lot about him, locally, and the whole thing with the candle made it pretty easy to go over and chat to him. That’s what got me started on the perilous road to hip hop and rap battling.

You’ve also defeated one of the Internet’s favourite MCs (Blizzard) in a rap battle and the video has now reached over 4m views. What impact has that had on your life?

It’s totally changed it, to be honest. Whether it’s people stopping me in pubs, shops or just at the bus stop, I get a lot of people asking if I’m ‘the rapping teacher’. I’ve had a fair few people want to get autographs, which is flattering, but I find it pretty weird, to be honest. There’s been some truly life changing changes, though. I’ve got agents now. I get to work on TV and film projects and I get to head off on this national tour – which has all really come about because people saw me in that video.

When you’re not touring, what else do you do in your spare time?

I spend a lot of my time freaking out about the inconsistency of my job – it’s very different to the (financial) routine of teaching. I’m normally hatching schemes to develop new projects and ideas over the coming six months. Aside from that, I have a puppy – a pug, called Boo, who I spend a lot of time with, and I love cooking. If I weren’t a poet, I’d definitely be happy as a chef. I find it really relaxing.

What would you like to change about the way poetry is perceived?

I think that poetry as an art form can struggle to find it’s audience and, in the most part, it’s down to us poets. A lot of poets write for their peers, for academic recognition or for appreciation from those who already buy poetry. That’s great and all, but I decided early on that I’d take the opposite route. My aim has always been to write poems for people who don’t like poetry. I guess that’s turning out to be successful because it’s a much larger demographic than those who do.

What does the future hold for Mark Grist?

You’ll be seeing me on TV in the coming months, as a teacher and educator (I still miss it so much). I’m also developing a new show – ‘Dead Poets Deathmatch’ with Mixy. We’re looking to head up to Edinburgh this summer to spend a month basting ourselves in cider and anxiety. Come and check us out if you’re up there. I promise you, you’ve never seen a show like it.

For more information on Mark’s show in May, or to buy tickets, click here >>