Arts Editor Sophie Maxwell talks to Matt Abbott, a working class poet, a passionate Remainer and a Labour party campaigner, about his recent show Two Little Ducks as part of the festival.

What is the story behind the name of the show ‘Two Little Ducks’?

“There are two main strands of the show. Firstly, the core reasons behind the working class [Brexit] leave vote and secondly, the Calais jungle. I’m from Wakefield, a city that voted 66% leave. I’m from a working class, coal mining family. I can associate with a lot of people who voted leave. I was volunteering in the Calais jungle whilst the Brexit referendum was ongoing. Calais is twenty two miles from Dover. ‘Two little ducks’ is the bingo call for the number twenty two. Bingo, being something that epitomises working class culture, is a part of one of the threads in the story. It’s a bingo call in a Brexit town, plus it is twenty two miles to Dover.”

Why are you using poetry as a medium to express these topics?

“I was never into poetry at school but have always been into music and word play, especially by the likes of Paul Weller, Bob Dylan, The Streets, and Arctic Monkeys. I came to poetry through music. I’ve been doing poetry since I was 17. I’ve been a political activist since I was 16. So the two just fell in together.

It’s such an accessible art form and there is no barrier. You could listen to Bob Dylan and, because you don’t like the sound of his voice, not listen to his lyrics. Whereas with poetry, to an extent, there is nothing between you and the audience. It’s the most intimate form of expression. In the past, political storytelling and social commentary used to be communicated through poets stood on street corners selling the latest news stories. Another reason is I can’t sing or play guitar.”

What is your sole purpose of the show?

“I suppose there is two things, due to the nature of the two strands of the show. One is to challenge people’s preconceptions of leave voters. Obviously I’m not defending Nigel Farage lovers. But the seventeen and a half million people who voted leave I sympathise with. They feel disenfranchised, austerity, neoliberalism. It shits on them for thirty years. I fully appreciate that. I’m trying to challenge the ‘ignorant northerner’ preconception. At the same time, whilst I’m defending these people, unfortunately there is a lot of anti-refugee sentiment in a lot of these communities. So I’m also challenging this within the show. I’ve got a foot in each camp, basically.”

What are your thoughts on a soft Brexit?

“The softer the better really. I don’t think a hard Brexit is actually possible. We are so deeply ingrained in it with trade laws and human rights- I just can’t see how it can possibly happen. The fact it was put up to a vote is absolutely ludicrous.”

What would you encourage someone who was anti-refugee and/or who voted leave to attend your show?

“Yes absolutely. The show is for Brexiteers and Remainers. I’m trying to present a balanced opinion. I’m attacking the media in the show for its betrayal of refugees more than I am attacking those who are anti-refugee, because ultimately they’re responsible. With the leave voters, I’m attacking the governments that made Brexit happen rather than the voters themselves. I think we’re pointing fingers at the wrong people. Ultimately, it’s the elite that are the problem. Instead of pointing downwards we need to point up.”

How do you find the motivation to constantly discuss such depressing topics in your poetry?

“It needs to be spoken about, ultimately. I’m a social and political activist, it’s just what I do. There are not many working class poets on a national level, so the fact that I’m from this community and I’m performing at the Edinburgh Fringe and theatres is quite a unique thing. Also, happy poetry is terrible.”

You’ve been described as one of the ‘UK’s rising stars’. What do you plan to do after this show?

“I’ve got a 22 date tour of this show in the autumn that will include a book release. After that, I will look at writing another show. I’ve got ideas for it but don’t want to spill the beans yet. I’ll continue being a political and social activist.”

Check out Abbott’s listed gigs for more information about the upcoming Festival of Debate show and autumn tour: https://mattabbottpoet.com/gigs/

Main feature image by Matthew Thomas Photo and design by Mark Coverdale. 

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