Remember when Dizzee Rascal’s Boy in da Corner album came out? Debris Stevenson sure does. In fact the record had such a big impact on the poet and writer that she wrote a play, Poet in da Corner, about it. The show is finishing up a sell out run at the Royal Court so we asked Debris what grime means to her.
Where do you live in London and what do you like about the area?
I am from Ilford but I have lived in Stepney Green for a year now. In Ilford I love Valentines Park – this huge park amidst a barrage of terraced houses. We used to jump the fence as teenagers and just lie in the middle of one of the fields and listen to the ripples of thousands of people. In Stepney it’s living in Tower Hamlets – I cycle everywhere; Bow, Canary Wharf, Stratford, Limehouse – the landscapes that birthed grime.
Grime has had a big influence on you – what first attracted you to the genre and why?
First and foremost, at 12, 13 – it just made sense. Have you ever had that moment where you just hear something and it makes sense to your body, your heart, your head? The show really unpacks that question – I felt alone in the Mormon house I grew up in, alone in the school I was bullied in, struggling with dyslexia – I was angry and repressed and the rage/love/trauma/comedy that came together in grime was the toolbox I needed to find a new home, to find salvation. And if grime was the toolbox, Boy in da Corner was the tools – to tell stories about my life, my experience and the world around me. Mormonism, grime, bashment, dyslexia, East London, Essex, pansexuality, adolescence…it was a lot of desperate things in one place, and my parents tried their best but I still needed something else for success to feel accessible to me. Dizzee in particular, if you listen to BIDC the influences are so broad and surprising musically, I think that sense of being someone caught between worlds and identities connected in his sound. I realised that being all these different things didn’t have to be a disadvantage, being in a corner can give you an overview, an insight.
Your new show Poet in da Corner is showing at the Royal Court Theatre, give us some background on what it’s about.
Grime was the gateway to everything I have done in my life. It was the first thing to say you can do something, you can be someone, success is something you create yourself as apposed to passing an exam to be told you are. I wouldn’t say I am a Grime MC (though I like grime-poet), though it influences my work and it is part of who I am. After grime opened the gate, I went and explored the world with its energy you know – it’s the fuel. Grime is the fuel for so many of my peers. I think the way the media has painted grime is reductive, grime inspired a whole generation to dedicate their life to words. The starting point for this show wasn’t just my personal struggle and story and how grime saved me, it was out of frustration of so many people associating grime with violence and other negative things when I know how dynamic it and for how many people it has been a saviour and a route to success. The whole team feel the weight of this responsibility – that this show is an opportunity to demonstrate to many people that grime is an essential cornerstone of the artistic fabric of this country.
What advice or tips do you have for people who are trying to make it in the creative industries?
Learn how you learn. See disruption as opportunity and build a picture of how YOU define success not just buying in to what the world or social media tells you success is. And more than anything – build a community, a map of people because you cannot do it all on your own (and even if you could, I am not sure you would want to – trust me).
Describe your perfect day in London.
I wake up at 5am and write and watch Tower Hamlets wake up. Cycle to the Royal Court (I literally take the same route along the river as the open top buses but it’s free!) Coffee / poems / laughter. Then a good dancehall rave at the end of the day (ideally with The Heatwave). Cycle home – stretch – sleep for 8 hours.