Dominic Berry Q&A: Glastonbury Festival 2024

Dominic Berry is no stranger to Glastonbury Festival, having been the festival’s poet-in-residence in 2017.

His poems in the role brought to mind the last true festival muddy festival the previous year (“In Glastonbury, we are all defined by / the mud”), 5am mosh-pits, and emotional Leftfield debates (“The homeless, sat on cracked up streets, are called a liability / and then they’re labelled lazy, so we’ll feel no culpability”).

He’s back this year, performing a solo set and hosting the festival’s annual Poetry Slam alongside Culain Wood. We caught up with him ahead of the festival to find out more about his plans for a career-spanning, retrospective set.

Q&A with Dominic Berry

Can you tell us a little about yourself and how you got into live performance?

I am Dominic Berry, a spoken word poet who first saw people performing their rhymes after leaving school and thought ‘Yes! I want to do that!’ I hadn’t done well at school and didn’t go to Uni, so I just hung out with poets for years getting drunk and writing awful poems which nobody liked. But I kept aiming to write better stuff which I hoped would make some kind of good connection with some crowd somewhere, and after years of trying out different styles, I started to win competitions. This has now been my full-time career for 16 years! Not a day goes by when I am not grateful for that, and glad I didn’t give up. In 2020, I won the Saboteur Award here in the UK for ‘Best Spoken Word Artist’, I have been a Glastonbury Festival Poet in Residence, and I’m delighted to be back this year!

What’s it like to be performing at this year’s Glastonbury Festival?

When so much of the world is in conflict and it is easy to become disillusioned or cynical, being at Glastonbury gives me the chance to be around excellent art from passionate political artists, and see how the world can be. The Poetry&Words stage is the best stage! I am so excited to be a part of this! It is wonderful.

What can you tell us about your plans for the show?

This Christmas, I am having a ’Selected Poems’ collection come out with Flapjack Press, my first ever ‘Greatest Hits’ (haha!) of my entire career. I believe it is going to be called ‘How Can I Be Now’.  So rather than do the usual thing of just reciting new stuff, I will be saying words from throughout my time as a poet – even stuff from when I was a teenager (I am 44 now, so we are talking some time back – as there are one or two poems from that era which do not make me cringe!). Having an anthology is a real benchmark of which I am super proud, and getting to perform a set here is super.

How do you approach performing at a festival like this?

I am a little bit nervous before every performance, because every one matters, and I care about each one going the best it can go. I mentioned getting drunk earlier – these days I am sober – I haven’t touched booze for over a decade! No disrespect or judgement to those who do like alcohol, I just know I am a better poet and more focused without that. But hanging out backstage with other artists is brilliant, and definitely gets me in a great headspace before speaking. My good friend Culain Wood is also on this year so I am very happy to be sharing a stage with him!

Will you be checking out any other acts across the weekend?

Culain Wood! Gecko. Sophia Blackwell. All the Poetry&Words poets! Elsewhere in Glastonbury, I am so happy Bob Vylan are on. Bob Dylan is contemporary punk poetry at its peak. I’m off to see them again when they come to my hometown Manchester this November. Everything they say is urgent, excellent and essential, and are absolute idols of mine – Glastonbury is lucky to have them!

Dominic Berry performs at Poetry&Words, Glastonbury Festival on Friday 28 June from 15:47 to 16:12. The Poetry Slam takes place on Sunday 30 June from 17:00 to 19:00