His love poem for lonely prime numbers reached over one million people around the world. “People who have just seen that think that I just write poems about maths the whole time”, Harry Baker says amusingly. Since then, performance poet and mathematician Harry Baker has travelled around the world enriching people with his original poems and linguistic jokes. Read about where Harry gets his inspiration from, why he thinks poetry can change things for the better and why he is still nervous on stage.
What do you write about?
Harry Baker: I started writing when I was 15, at a time when I was going through the sort of things teenagers go through. So a lot of the stuff I wrote alongside growing up is about standing out from the crowd and being different but trying to kind of own that a little bit. It was through the journey of studying maths and being a bit of a “nerd” that I actually learned to embrace that and love all these kind of nerdy things about myself. So a lot of my poems are about self-acceptance, developing more self-confidence while coming of age and realizing it’s okay to be a bit different.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
Harry Baker: From my life experiences. I always loved poems about things that have happened to somebody and the person managed to take something out of that experience and turn it into a poem. That is often quite beautiful. However, sometimes it can be quite painful or traumatic, too. When I first started I felt like I hadn’t had a “crazy” enough life to talk about. Because I was quite of a “normal, happy” teenager. Why would people listen to that?, I thought. But that’s so stupid. What I always try to do is telling stories through imagery and metaphors. Through that I manage to tell something personal in a way that other people can relate to it too, eventhough they didn’t experience the same things. Through sharing own life experiences you often stumble upon certain universal human truths that are true for everbody.
What do you like about performing most?
Harry Baker: I love performing because you get an immediate feedback. It’s kind of a rush for me to experience that. Also it is so much more personal than reading a poem because you see the artist presenting his work. When I was in school, we used to read poems from people we knew nothing about and we were told what they meant and how we were supposed to feel about them. For me seeing people perform their own work adds another level to it, because you can picture certain things immediately. Whenever we had a visiting author in school, I found that fascinating because it was more of a human connection.
Are you nervous on stage or is it something you get used to?
Harry Baker: Most of the times I had spent so much time trying to make my poems as perfect as I could before I perform them. It’s actually something I spend weeks and months to create. So the first time I share my poems I am always quite nervous because I think “I hope you all like this as much as I do.” Because I was writing alongside growing up, I developed a lot of confidence in myself through being on stage. Still, when I introduce a new poem I’m always nervous, even today.
Did you change the way you perform your poems in all these years?
Harry Baker: Yes, of course. What I noticed is that I changed the way I deal with breaks between poems. After performing one poem, people would clap and then there would be a pause. I used to get as quickly as I could to the next poem because that was the place where I felt safe. Now I am trying to hold that space in between poems as well, because it creates a different kind of listening experience.
You published a book as well. How did that happen?
Harry Baker: Putting a book together took me quite a while because I didn’t know how my poems would look on a page. All of the pauses you set while performing are not there in a book but that really effects how people take in the poem. Through performing a lot and meeting a lot of other writers I have, in a weird way, started to appreciate written poetry a lot more. Usually, when you have a book, people take that away with them and you never fully see the effects that it has. However, I am very fortunate because I have the possibility to make my stuff accessible online and people can contact me. A lot of them get in touch with me and tell me about ways my poems have helped them and that’s a wonderful thing.
Do you think that poetry can change things for the better?
Harry Baker: Oh, yes. Definitely. I wouldn’t do what I’m doing if I wouldn’t think that. Poetry has had a big effect on me, too. I often visit schools and I try very hard to motivate students to write, explaining to them that it doesn’t have to be a masterpiece. In schools creative work is always being judged by the endproduct. But art is not about that. It’s about the art of creating for the sake of creating. Art is a way of processing what is going on in your head and trying to express it in the best way possible. Writing poetry for yourself is a very beautiful and helpful thing.
There are a lot of people out there that are very creative and talented but so afraid to get started. What would you tell them?
Harry Baker: There were a couple of things that helped me in my creative process. First of all, my family and friends were really supportive. Even when it was just a hobby on the side, they would come up and encourage me. If you want to try out something new, it’s very important to have a supportive network around you. If people understand you as a person, they are more likely to understand your passions. So be careful about the people you are listening to. Creating is a very vulnerable thing. Being vulnerable infront of people is good and beautiful only when they are well-meaning towards you. Otherwise you will get shut down straight away. Another thing is: The purpose of doing it should be enough. If you want to write or to draw, that’s enough reason to do it. If you come up with a book and it doesn’t get published, that doesn’t mean it’s a failure. As long as you were enjoying to write that book, that’s enough! I am very grateful that I do what I do fulltime. But I also know that even if it wouldn’t be possible to do this fulltime, I would still write. Because I have always done that along all the other things I did in my life. I just love it.
Harry Baker: full of potential.
The world needs…
Harry Baker: more listening.
I believe in…
Harry Baker: people.
Harry Baker: being happy being you.
The person I most want to be proud of me is…
Harry Baker: me.