We need to talk about Kevin McLean.
I first saw Kevin performing his pheromone-inducing poem, “I want to be…” at the Pleasance’s cramped Cabaret Bar in Edinburgh. He was the sacrificial poet of that night’s poetry slam. As soon as he began speaking, the formally loud crowd felt silent. With lines like, “I want to be the East Coast of America so you can be the West, and when separation puts our love to the test, a nation will build railroads for us”, he was hard to ignore.
For someone with so much to say, Kevin at first seems quite unassuming. He was already sitting in a quiet corner of the Beehive Inn, baggy t-shirt donned, pint of Carling in hand, when I arrived to meet him. I’m not sure what a poet is supposed to look like, but he definitely didn’t look like one.
Kevin and his poetry collective, Loud Poets, formed by friends Miko and Callum, has been rapidly gathering a solid reputation in Edinburgh’s poetry scene. Long before they had hosted their first night, a strong social media campaign with bold images of the Loud Poets mid-performance was already popping up across newsfeeds the city over. They just wouldn’t shut up.
Founded only months ago, Loud Poets have already found themselves a producer, and will be performing from two venues during this year’s Fringe Festival. It seems ridiculous then that a year ago, Kevin hadn’t ever performed a single poem of his own. He says that he got up on stage to perform one simply because Miko was going to, and he thought he’d join in. A year later, he’s moved to central Edinburgh and lives with three fellow Loud Poets. “It gets pretty competitive”, he says. He mentions that his flatmate, Agnes, whose first language is Swedish, writes a new poem every day. Kevin’s theory is that when one of them has written a great poem, the rest get jealous, and feel the need to better it. They write together, discuss their work together, critique and improve each other.
I want to know what Kevin’s process is – does he write down his words carefully, agonising over every syllable? “I don’t have one” he says, shrugging and grinning as though mocking himself. “I just get a line in my head and then say it over and over again to myself until I remember.” It seems a shock even to Kevin that he has come so far so quickly. Though he speaks of Loud Poets brazenly and unapologetically, he hesitates to call himself a poet. I was surprised by that – Loud Poet marketed themselves as unashamed poets; yet Kevin says that he and his friends will often feel like they’re just pretending when they talk to “real” poets, who self-analyse their work and discussing their themes, and the symbolism behind certain words. As Kevin puts, “If I said the curtains were blue, it’s because the curtains were blue!” Add this to the fact that a lot of his obscure references are actually in-jokes, and a “symbolic” reading of his work becomes a little questionable.
Yet there’s no denying that Kevin, and indeed most of the Loud Poets’ work captures something that the written word doesn’t necessarily. “You’re not supposed to be able to read my poetry”, Kevin says. And it’s true; although beautiful when written down, somehow the frustrated and almost tragic nature of “I want to be” doesn’t translate onto the written page.
That’s what makes Loud Poets so exciting. You have to go and see it; you have to physically go and have that shared experience to appreciate the poetry, something that we usually consider so intensely personal.
Another poem that Kevin often performs with his friend Doug is “Big Love”, which talks about the advantages of being with a… “big boned” man. It’s stand-up in poetry form. On the abundance of hills that Edinburgh offers, my favourite line from the poem is, “Accidental exercise is the leading cause of thinness in Edinburgh alone.” So does being a poet help with the ladies? Apparently not… Kevin describes himself as “painfully single”.
I have a feeling that with a show at the Fringe, and slot in this year’s BBC Poetry Slam, and the fact that HE’S A POET, GIRLS, that’s set to change.
If there are any takers, feel free to let him know on the Loud Poets Facebook page: here.
You can catch the Loud Poets at the Scottish Storytelling Centre from the 1st-6th, 10th-13th, 20th and 24th of August at 9pm-10pm and at St Johns Church on the 15th and 22nd of August, 10pm-11pm.
Beci Moss is a second year student at Edinburgh University. She studies French and Philosophy. She is also the LITERATURE Editor of Prancing Through LIFE. In her spare time, she likes to cook, bake and blog about it: www.herbsandstitches.com. One day she hopes to become Mary Berry, and can assure everyone that she never has a soggy bottom.
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