James Massiah

James Massiah

The focus today is on James Massiah, this impulsive and very talented Poet has already had more influence on the poetry London scene than you can image - been mandated to represent a series of fashion brands, featuring in multiple campaigns. Hosting poetry sessions and radio shows, music events including the opening of LFW and commissioned to produce work for BBC & The Guardian. He has recently released his first book – ‘Euthanasia Party, Twenty Seven’ and he is now working on a stylised video sequel to accompany it. Once again Massiah is about to blow our mind. Just be prepared.

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I invited James to come around and he arrived at 8:30pm. It was meant to be 8pm but not when you are a determinist. It is in a very relaxed frame of mind that we got this interview started. I felt like I’ve known James forever, guilt-free and with veracity, he describes his nihilist/aeist ideas, what matters to him, what he is aiming for and how performing poetry is another way to spread his philosophy and connects with people in the present moment. All of which was said in a very elegant way, obviously.

Can you please introduce yourself?
James Massiah. 28yo Poet, Producer and DJ from South London.

Do you always speak about yourself in your poetry?
Not always. I have written about things that are external to me like trees, flowers, mountains. I have written about other subjects as well and lots of them I have been commissioned for. Sometimes I like to challenge myself and write about something outside of my own experience but it will always in some way relate to me because it is my writing and it is my interest and passion. So I can write about these things but there is always going to be some level of nihilism or a nihilistic approach to it. So it is not always about me and my life, it can also be about someone else’s life.

In what environment and state of mind do you need to be to write poetry? 
I really enjoy what I am creating when I am moving - when I am on my bike or in the shower. Some of the best stuff that I have made, didn’t happen while sitting with my pen. Sometimes I write quickly on my phone when I am at a party, very high. When I have some ideas, it has to come out.

You can see that in my poetry, you can see the connection between one line and the next line, in a very clear and obvious way, like ‘The ground is blue and the sky is too’. If it is not the rhyme, it is the concept that has a direct connection to it. It has to be quick and kind of impulsive.

 

What is your opinion on the poetry scene and what would you like to bring to it?

There is still a very strict way of performing and subjects to discuss in the liberal politics which I think are nice. However, I want to get more ugly, more brutal, more nihilistic and weirder. Bring something completely different. I think if you were to put me on a line up with other poets, like the London scene, there would be a very clear difference.

 

What is so specific to yourself?
The subject, even the words I would choose to use, a lot of people wouldn’t use them or the decision to invent a word for a purpose of a poem because it feels good in it. “Stick please around, I like the voice of your sound and the way your moves body gets down if you appear-dis joy will part-de and sorrow will sit in your seat", it is not written in a linear way and it doesn’t make sense but it is intended to prove a point.

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So you don’t ever use the code of poetry?
I do but to me, there is something important about knowing the rules and subverting them to make a point about life and what it is that anything should or shouldn’t be. I find this important because it is about expressing a philosophy or idea beyond the words themselves. It is about nihilism and creating your own rules within the knowledge of the rules that govern you.

For instance, I’ve invented ae for aeism- which means amoral and egoism. If you were to say that something it is like ae, it would be an ‘aeist way’. It is not a real word but it will become one, eventually. I also call it party poetry or funk poetry or pop poetry because it is about funk. The funk is you, the funk is me, the funk is us, the funk is him. So to me, the funk is everyone, everyone is funky and everyone is selfish, everyone is disgusting and nasty and everyone is evil. So if everyone is evil there is nothing to compare it to, so everyone is good and so it cancels each other out. I used to say when I was writing that ae was for - all equal. I was trying to figure how we are all equal and I think that we are equal on a very basic level, so far as we are all in pursuit of our own interest. That is it. It doesn’t matter when it comes to you wanting to reach this thing here or if I am taller than you or if you are faster than me. That is why I deleted this and it became ae for amoral and egoism. All equal was the bullshit everyone was still caught up on. We were just saying that because it sounded nice – it would have been nice to say that you and I are equal but that is not true. According to me, it is about trying to find something that was true everywhere and this is it. The truth of everything is amoral and egoism, as whoever you are, whatever you do, it is always true.  A poem!

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Is poetry for you only an artistic way to express yourself or are you also using it for a specific purpose - to defend any causes or make some change, for instance? 
No, I am not an activist, you got me wrong or not in the way you would think. People think I am an activist because I am a poet and I must care about humanity, environment and politic issues but it is wrong. I am a determinist, hedonist, egoist, nihilist, and aeist.

I want my friends to have a good time because when they are around me I want them to be in good form, I want all of my friends to live well. Some of my friends are black, gay, woman, trans but if you are asking me, do I care about every single gay or trans person or black or woman, the answer is no. For me, it’s not because you are a woman that I care but because you are smart, funny, engaging -  that is what for me is more important.

It is unexpected to see people performing poetry as it could also just be a written art on its own – why this choice? Do you feel the need to interact and share a moment with your audience and see how people react to your poetry or is it, perhaps, just a nice excuse to bring people together and party?
The last bit is very true. In many ways, it is an excuse. If you come on the Monday poetry show, it is very short, it’s half an hour, maybe forty minutes but before it starts it is an hour and a half, and after it stops sometimes it is six or seven hours long. The poetry covers the evening and it offers a purpose. People who are here now, they are here now. They might not take a book home and they might not look for it on the internet but they are here right now. The words you hear, you might take them differently than if you read them but these are the words that are on the page. If I give you a poem on a paper, I can’t make sure you are going to read it but when you listen, the words are going straight to your head and I can still connect with you and engage in the present moment.

I feel that poetry, in general, has a very restricted audience - Is performing also a way for you to reach a wider audience and people who wouldn’t necessarily be interested in poetry in the first place? 
That is true def.

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As a Poet and Producer, who are your main influences?
A lot of my inspirations are stand up comedians - George Carlin, for his rhythm. Albert Camus, Kate Bush, George Orwell, Dave Chapelle, Eddie Murphy, Bernie Mac, Lenny Bruce, for the subject matters. Rap, singers, and songwriters are also a massive influence on me. Morrissey and more recently  Playboi Carti, Travis Scott, Kayne West, Prince, James Brown, Michael Jackson. That is why my kind of approach really related to the funk 27. Grime as well, I like the violence in that kind of writing.

Given the chance to meet with them, what would you ask?
‘Do you believe in right and wrong?’

 

Do you have any exciting projects coming up that you would like to share with us? 
I am now working on a sequel to go with the book I’ve recently released, which is a project that I am really excited to share. It is coming very soon!

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The project of making a stylised poetry video is something completely different from what you are used to – alone facing the camera, no audience to support or interact with, it isn’t spontaneous anymore, not allowed to make any mistakes, it has to be sharp. I guess it is a new challenge for you - what are you expecting from that? 
It is like a sequence in my head, for me, it is the next step.
Yeah but I don’t mind about making mistakes – there is one video, I uploaded it and it was up for maybe 2-3 hours after I realised that I didn’t like it. I took it down, re-edited it and uploaded it again and that was it.  There is this thing with Instagram of views and stats - it matters to some people but I don’t care. I even look at that one thinking that it was special for that reason. The mistake was a part of the overall story and the learning process.
I do a video sequel because it is not possible for everyone to have the book but I can spread my philosophy and it will travel in a different way and will reach more people. There are more views on Instagram than youtube because this is where people are. Not for now.

It sounds like you had a busy year or just a busy life in general - can you just go through everything you do, as well as the projects you’ve been working on this year?
I worked on different projects for Nike, Adidas, Reebok, Ellesse, Vice, and BBC. I also organise events for the Boiler Room, Monday's poetry show at The Haggerston Poetry during all summer and I host monthly poetry shows on NTS radio.

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What is the highest level you would like to reach so you could die in peace? 
There is this phrase - God is the measure of genius -

It isn’t completely true of course, there are lots of people who are very intelligent, very creative and who aren’t famous and will probably never be rich. It is just interesting the way in which value, is not inherent, it does not exist but each person can ascribe value to something. The majority of people on this planet ascribe value to money and so because people believe in it, it has value. So I think in that sense I buy into it and I buy in the value of money and what it indicates. So if you ask for the highest level I would like to reach, obviously I could never make another pound and still get on with life but in terms of having something to aim for and what I want to achieve – well, I want to meet new people, I want to have some more fun experiences, hear some new music, hear some poetry that pleases my mind and I want to make more money because that is just something you can measure, process and grow.

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talent/poet JAMES MASSIAH

 

art direction ARIELLE GRASSER & LEA FEDERMANN
photography SARAH TAHON
set and editing ARIELLE GRASSER
styling and interview LEA FEDERMANN

 

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