Culture, Interview

Poetic Unity: An Interview with Ragz CV

Afropean’s Tommy Evans converses with Ragz-CV, the visionary founder of non-profit organisation Poetic Unity and an accomplished spoken word artist, as well as a former ambassador for The Alzheimer’s Society. In 2016, Poetic Unity supplied alternative education and recreational projects for over 3000 young people, facilitating 60 events as well as hosting south London’s only weekly poetry night, ‘The Poets Corner’ at Brixton’s legendary Black Cultural Archives.

Ragz-CV on stage

TE: What’s the story behind the name Ragz-CV?

RCV: I was in a group called Cleverly Versatile around 2005. I wanted our name to say what we do and show who we are. At the time my group member could play guitar, he could DJ, he could rap and he could play keys; myself: I could DJ, play keys, produce and rap so we were clever with it but versatile as well. So I was like: ‘Cleverly Versatile’ – it rolls off the tongue. ‘Cos there’s so many people out there that could be known as ‘Ragz’, it’s kind of a bait name, so eastyl I added the CV to it so no-one could ever have that name. Also, if anyone ever asks what it means it’s incorporated in my name – it’s exactly what I am. To answer where Ragz came from: that’s from when I was a kid. When I was in secondary school, I think I was about 12, people started calling me Ragz ‘cause I was so blunt. I would say what was on my mind – you know how people say you’re so raggo!

TE: Yeah [laughs].

RCV: That’s me. I’ve always been that way. I think people appreciate how I am because they know they’re getting the truth. Some people can’t handle it because I might say something that’s not necessarily rude but it comes out a bit harsh. People will be like: calm down Ragz! I’m not on a hype, I just don’t mince my words – I go straight to the point.

TE: You’re forthright.

RCV: This is me since I’ve been 12. That’s why I’ve kept the name ‘cos I haven’t changed.

TE: Speaking of change, how did you make the transition from rapping to spoken word?

RCV: That was very natural, funny enough. It’s very interesting how it all transpired. It was never my-

TE: Intention?

RCV: Yeah, my intention to be a poet. Never.

TE: Same here actually!

RCV: You know what I’m saying. Even now I don’t go out listening to poetry. I love to watch poetry live but I’m not necessarily a guy who’s going to go looking for it. Some people might ask, have you seen that Def Poetry Jam from ten years ago and I’m like: nah, not that I have anything against it.

TE: Interesting.

RCV: I’m not going to lie to you: I didn’t even know what spoken word was. When I wrote ‘Digital Slaves’ (Ragz-CV’s 2014 single) I didn’t set out to write a poem – I just write how I write. It was me but on a different vibe. In my eyes, I didn’t call it anything: I didn’t say this is spoken word or this is rap. But the more I performed ‘Digital Slaves’ the more people called me a spoken word artist. I’d come off stage and people would say, “You’re sick! How long have you been a poet for?” I was like Huh? Did I just do poetry? I didn’t even know. Anyway, I performed the piece for six months in different places seeing what people thought of it. By the end of that time I knew it was spoken word and this was a lane I needed to go down because people listen to spoken word. I’ve always been an artist of substance with a message that needs to be said and the power of words allows me to do that.

TE: What was the origin of Poetic Unity?

RCV: I had this idea of bringing a group of poets together and to start doing videos about important issues. Now my coming from the music scene, I hardly knew any poets at this point so a presenter I knew at a radio station helped facilitate a meeting with 20 poets and that’s where I shared my vision. It was early 2015 when we had the meeting and subsequent writing sessions at the Royal Festival Hall. We ended up shooting two videos, one on domestic violence and one on social issues. Anyway, I wanted to take it further and being around all these poets sparked Poetic Unity – the unity between us.

TE: So that’s where the name came from.

RCV: Yeah, I had two names in my head: ‘Spoken Unity’ or ‘Poetic Unity’. Now I consider myself a spoken word artist and that approach is a bit different to traditional poetry – which is why I leant more towards Spoken Unity at first. When I thought about it more it didn’t make sense: the name could be misinterpreted and people might not have understood that it referred to poetry. You can’t say ‘Spoken Word Unity’ – it’s too much – so in the end I decided to go with Poetic Unity as it sounded better.

TE: So Poetic Unity and by extension The Poets Corner have literally only been in existence for the past couple of years?

RCV: It’s still very new but feels like so much longer ‘cos we’ve done so many things. A lot of people say that it feels like we’ve been doing this forever.

TE: Poetic Unity certainly carries an aura of being very well established – it doesn’t feel like a new project at all. A lot has been accomplished in a short space of time. I’m impressed.

RCV: Thank you man. If I’m going to do something I’m going to do it big.

TE: 100%.

RCV: You can’t do it half-hearted.

TE: I’m the same.

RCV: People that know me know that if I’m in something, I’m in it 100%. I’ll try my best to make sure it goes well. I’ll be honest with you – I didn’t want to do inflatable slide The Poets Corner as a weekly event – I felt like it would be too much work. I’m not going to lie; I thought I couldn’t do it. I was working a couple of jobs at the time when the opportunity arose through my friend Elijah, who manages the venue. Elijah wanted to add something new to the venue as my other friend Junior Booker hosted a weekly comedy night there and at first I turned them down but then I thought, let me try it. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work but let me see if I can fill the venue and fit the night around my schedule because I’ll have to be there to make sure it goes well. I didn’t want to host the event, as I didn’t want it to be about Ragz-CV, I wanted it to be about Poetic Unity. I knew I needed to get a young person as host to take away from myself and to embody that whole element of empowering young people – which is what Poetic Unity is all about. So I phoned Tevin (Tevin Vassell – one of the hosts at The Poets Corner). He hadn’t hosted an event before but he’s a positive guy and lived close to the venue, that way he’d be able to commit to a weekly event. I thought let me give him a chance and he was on it. Now I knew the first event would be good because people always come out for the first one, especially because it was free and it was evident I was trying to do something positive. The test was how the next few weeks would go… I can happily say from the time it first started, we never had an empty week and it’s always had that same great vibe ever since. The Poets Corner is the most important aspect of Poetic Unity as it’s the thing we’ve got going on all of the time. And since we have different people attending we build up our following, even if it’s just one new person a week attending or someone spreading the word. The consistency of The Poets Corner has been integral to the growth of Poetic Unity and helps us to push our other projects and events.

TE: I love how you have a slightly old school work ethic in that you don’t just rely on-

RCV: Social media?

TE: Yeah, you actually promote your projects in the real world as well as inside ‘The Matrix’.

RCV: Yeah, I’m 29 so I use to promote raves flyering in the middle of the night. When I started doing raves there was no such thing as social media. It was literally word of mouth back then. What I like about the old school thing is it’s personal; you build up relationships. With social media you might just message someone and say come to my show. Obviously, you’ve got to do it because you’re not going to see everybody, not everyone is going to come to your events all the time. I don’t mind who does or doesn’t come but I have to tell everybody that I know an event’s happening. Some promoters get mad when people don’t come to their events. Okay, they might not come to your first ten but they might come to your eleventh. You don’t know what people are going through in their lives, an event might be irrelevant to them so I don’t take it personal if people come or not. I want people to come because they want to come, not out of sympathy! Obviously we’re doing a good thing trying to help young people – support that, yes please but come because you’re going to enjoy yourself. I don’t like pity. What’s better than to go out and enjoy yourself and support a good cause.

TE: In relation to that, one thing I’ve noticed about The Poets Corner is how non-judgemental and supportive the space is. There’s a lot of good will that allows artists to develop their craft without fear or pressure.

RCV: That’s another thing I like. To be honest, it’s why I prefer the poetry scene to music and not just our event. In general, the poetry crowd are much more open to listening to performers, even if they’re not good they’ll still give them a chance. Whereas, I’ve been to music shows where people have had stuff thrown at them.

TE: Me too! I’m from a rap background so it’s taken me a few years to mentally adjust to the poetry scene – people are so much nicer.

RCV: It’s weird, isn’t it?

TE: I should have had some confrontations by now. I’m wondering why it hasn’t happened yet. [Laughs].

RCV: I feel the same way. I come from a rap background myself – a lot of us poets do – poetry and rap are very similar. Poetry is the godfather of rap. Rap’s evolved from poetry. But that’s what I love about it – it’s a supportive place where people can grow and not be scared to be themselves. That’s the important thing as an artist and in all aspects of life – just be yourself. Find the best you. You can’t compare yourself to everybody else – there’s always going to be someone better than you at something but be confident, believe in yourself and be happy with what you’re doing. That’s what I try to push out there with Poetic Unity.

TE: I think you’ve accomplished it.

RCV: Thank you.

TE: Any concluding thoughts? I was especially touched and inspired to learn how your grandparents played a pivotal role in your growth as an artist, promoter and most importantly, as a person.

RCV: I would never say I was a selfish person but before my Nan was sick with Alzheimer’s, I wasn’t selfless. I wasn’t that guy thinking about others all the time but that experience changed me. That’s why I raised over £10,000 for The Alzheimer’s Society through my music and events. My grandparents are the main reason why I am the man I am today. I’ll always say that. Obviously, my parents have been great; I’m lucky to have both of my parents in my life, I’m grateful for that. In particular, my grandparents have been a big influence on my career. There was a point when I was focused on just me and my music – which is not bad – but when I went through that situation I realised that helping people was going to help me grow as a person. I also want to leave a legacy. I want people to remember me for something that has substance, not just writing a good song. To me that’s nothing special. You might do a few inflatable water slide good songs here and there but what’s the point if you’re not adding something positive to the world as a person. It doesn’t make sense. Treat people how you want to be treated and you’ll be okay.

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