AF Harrold calls in to Poets' CafeBy Vicky Wong
February 15, 2012
"I’m fully aware that being a poet in today’s society isn’t necessarily the coolest of vocations.”
This was what Reading-based writer, poet, performer and legend AF Harrold wrote on his website.
Does he think this will change?
“I don’t see why it should,” he says.
The thought of celebrity sends shivers down his spine and he is clearly happy not being famous.
“I don’t need to sell millions to be able to pay the rent,” he says. “Nobody needs a poet in the 21st Century but we insist on keeping it going anyway, so why not? We’re not doing any harm.”
Although AF refuses to choose between writing for children or adults, he does admit that writing for children can be rewarding.
“When I go into a primary school, I’m treated like a pop star because they don’t know I’m not actually famous,” he says.
“All they know is here’s a weird bloke being really funny and jumping around like a loon, so I get that little bit of Beatle-mania at break-time.”
Recognisable for his impressive ginger beard, Ashley Francis Harrold left his small market-town home in Horsham, West Sussex, to study at The University of Reading, where he became “another mediocre philosophy graduate”, and he was first exposed to the poetry scene.
He stayed in Reading after graduating, getting a job at Blackwell’s bookshop in town, where he just about managed to pay the rent.
With the ability to turn the most mundane of overheard conversations into something funny, writing is now his full-time job.
His work is regularly published by the local Two Rivers Press, he runs an open mic poetry night at South Street Arts Centre, which meets this Friday, and he also runs poetry workshops for children (“it helps pay the bills”).
He also appeared on BBC Radio Four, and has performed at a range of festivals including the Cheltenham Literature Festival.
AF’s early ventures into poetry began as “a vague effort to attract girls and, of course, it didn’t work”.
When he was 15, he says: “I wanted to do something creative to express myself, and poetry and writing is the cheapest thing you could do, because all you need is a biro and a bit of paper.”
He began handing out his poems in stapled booklets to friends at school. After writing a series of deeply serious and meaningful poems, it wasn’t until a funny “scrib of nonsense” made its way into one of the pamphlets that AF found his niche.
AF continued to write light-hearted material and began doing open mic nights, and competing in and winning poetry slams (competitive contests).
While AF has mastered the trade as a comedic writer, he continued to write more serious material, and encourages any aspiring writer to keep practising.
“When you begin, you’re going to be crap, because you’ve never done it before,” he says. “It’s only through doing it for years, through actually writing and reading will you ever get better.”
AF was part of last October’s Reading Comedy Festival, forming one half of a double act which included shouty, political, Scottish comedian Elvis McGonagall.
The pair first met at the 2005 Cheltenham Literature Festival where AF won the festival’s poetry slam, a title Elvis had won the year before.
The guests for Friday’s Poets’ Cafe are Jane Draycott and Bernard O’Donoghue. The evening starts at 8pm and includes an open mic slot. Entry costs £5 or £4 for readers, plus a booking fee.
For more details call (0118) 960 6060 or log on to www.readingarts.com