This is the full transcript of Grand Slam Poetry Champion Harry Baker’s TED Talk titled ‘A love poem for lonely prime numbers’.
Listen to the MP3 Audio here: Grand Slam Poetry Champion by Harry Baker at TEDxExeter
Harry Baker – Poet
My name is Harry Baker Harry Baker is my name. If your name was Harry Baker, then our names would be the same. It’s a short introductory part.
Yeah, I’m Harry. I study maths. I write poetry. So I thought I’d start with a love poem about prime numbers. This is called “59.” I was going to call it “Prime Time Loving.” That reaction is why I didn’t. So, “59.”
59 wakes up on the wrong side of the bed.
Realizes all his hair is on one side of his head.
Takes just under a minute to work out that
It’s because of the way that he slept.
He finds some clothes and gets dressed.
He can’t help but look in the mirror and be subtly impressed
How he looks rough around the edges and yet casually messed.
And as he glances out the window, he sees the sight that he gets blessed
with of 60 from across the street. Now 60 was beautiful.
With perfectly trimmed cuticles, dressed in something suitable.
Never rude or crude at all.
Unimprovable, right on time as usual, more on cue than a snooker ball
But liked to play it super cool.
59 wanted to tell her that he knew her favorite flower.
He thought of her every second, every minute, every hour.
But he knew it wouldn’t work, he’d never get the girl.
Because although she lived across the street
they came from different worlds.
While 59 admired 60’s perfectly round figure,
60 thought 59 was odd.
One of his favorite films was “101 Dalmatians.”
She preferred the sequel.
He romanticized the idea they were star-crossed lovers.
They could overcome the odds and evens because they had each other.
While she maintained the strict views imposed on her by her mother
That separate could not be equal.
And though at the time he felt stupid and dumb
For trying to love a girl controlled by her stupid mum,
He should have been comforted by the simple sum.
Take 59 away from 60, and you’re left with the one.
Sure enough after two months of moping around,
61 days later, 61 was who he found,
He had lost his keys and his parents were out.
So one day after school he went into a house
As he noticed the slightly wonky numbers on the door,
He wondered why he’d never introduced himself before,
As she let him in, his jaw dropped in awe.
61 was like 60, but a little bit more.
She had prettier eyes, and an approachable smile,
And like him, rough around the edges, casual style,
And like him, everything was in disorganized piles,
And like him, her mum didn’t mind if friends stayed a while.
Because she was like him, and he liked her.
He reckoned she would like him if she knew he was like her,
And it was different this time. I mean, this girl was wicked,
So he plucked up the courage and asked for her digits.
She said, “I’m 61.” He grinned, said, “I’m 59.”
Today I’ve had a really nice time,
So tomorrow if you wanted you could come over to mine?
She said, “Sure.”
She loved talking to someone just as quirky,
She agreed to this unofficial first date.
In the end he was only ready one minute early,
But it didn’t matter because she arrived one minute late.
And from that moment on there was nonstop chatter,
How they loved “X Factor,” how they had two factors,
How that did not matter, distinctiveness made them better,
By the end of the night they knew they were meant together.
And one day she was talking about stuck-up 60,
She noticed that 59 looked a bit shifty.
He blushed, told her of his crush:
“The best thing that never happened because it led to us.”
61 was clever, see, not prone to jealousy,
She looked him in the eyes and told him quite tenderly,
You’re 59, I’m 61, together we combine to become twice what 60 could ever be.
At this point 59 had tears in his eyes,
Was so glad to have this one-of-a-kind girl in his life.
He told her the very definition of being prime
Was that with only one and himself could his heart divide,
And she was the one he wanted to give his heart to,
She said she felt the same and now she knew the films were half true.
Because that wasn’t real love, that love was just a sample,
When it came to real love, they were a prime example.
That was the first poem that I wrote and it was for a prime number-themed poetry night which turned out to be a prime number-themed poetry competition. And I became a prime number-themed poetry competition winner, or as I like to call it, a prime minister. And this is how I discovered these things called poetry slams, and if you don’t know what a poetry slam is, it was a format come up with in America 30 years ago as a way of tricking people into going to poetry events by putting an exciting word like “slam” on the end.
And each performer got three minutes to perform and then random audience members would hold up scorecards, and they would end up with a numerical score, and what this meant is, it kind of broke down the barrier between performer and audience and encouraged the kind of connection with the listener. And what it also means is you can win. And if you win a poetry slam, you can call yourself a slam champion and pretend you’re a wrestler, and if you lose a poetry slam you can say, “Oh, what? Poetry’s a subjective art form, you can’t put numbers on such things.”
But I loved it, and I got involved in these slams, and I became the U.K. slam champion and got invited to the Poetry World Cup in Paris, which was unbelievable. It was people from all around the world speaking in their native languages to be judged by five French strangers.
And somehow, I won, which was great, and I’ve been able to travel the world since doing it, but it also means that this next piece is technically the best poem in the world. So — according to five French strangers.
So this is “Paper People.”
I like people.
I’d like some paper people.
They’d be purple paper people.
Maybe pop-up purple paper people.
Proper pop-up purple paper people.
“How do you prop up pop-up purple paper people?”
I hear you cry. Well I…
I’d probably prop up proper pop-up purple paper people
With a proper pop-up purple people paperclip,
But I’d pre-prepare appropriate adhesives as alternatives,
A cheeky pack of Blu Tack just in case the paper slipped.
Because I could build a pop-up metropolis.
But I wouldn’t wanna deal with all the paper people politics.
Paper politicians with their paper-thin policies,
Broken promises without appropriate apologies.
There’d be a little paper me. And a little paper you.
And we could watch paper TV and it would all be pay-per-view.
We’d see the poppy paper rappers rap about their paper package
Or watch paper people carriers get stuck in paper traffic on the A4.
There’d be a paper princess Kate but we’d all stare at paper Pippa,
And then we’d all live in fear of killer Jack the Paper-Ripper,
Because the paper propaganda propagates the people’s prejudices,
Papers printing pictures of the photogenic terrorists.
A little paper me. And a little paper you.
And in a pop-up population people’s problems pop up too.
There’d be a pompous paper parliament who remained out of touch,
And who ignored the people’s protests about all the paper cuts,
Then the peaceful paper protests would get blown to paper pieces,
By the confetti cannons manned by pre-emptive police.
And yes there’s still be paper money, so there’d still be paper greed,
And the paper piggy bankers pocketing more than they need,
Purchasing the potpourri to pepper their paper properties,
Others live in poverty and ain’t acknowledged properly.
A proper poor economy where so many are proper poor,
But while their needs are ignored the money goes to big wars.
Origami armies unfold plans for paper planes
And we remain imprisoned in our own paper chains,
But the greater shame is that it always seems to stay the same,
What changes is who’s in power choosing how to lay the blame,
They’re naming names, forgetting these are names of people,
Because in the end it all comes down to people.
I like people.
‘Cause even when the situation’s dire,
It is only ever people who are able to inspire,
And on paper, it’s hard to see how we all cope.
But in the bottom of Pandora’s box there’s still hope,
And I still hope ’cause I believe in people.
People like my grandparents.
Who every single day since I was born,
Have taken time out of their morning to pray for me.
That’s 7892 days straight of someone checking I’m okay,
And that’s amazing.
People like my aunt who puts on plays with prisoners.
People who are capable of genuine forgiveness.
People like the persecuted Palestinians.
People who go out of their way to make your life better,
And expect nothing in return.
You see, people have potential to be powerful.
Just because the people in power tend to pretend to be victims
We don’t need to succumb to that system.
And a paper population is no different.
There’s a little paper me. And a little paper you.
And in a pop-up population people’s problems pop up too,
But even if the whole world fell apart then we’d still make it through.
Because we’re people.
Thank you. Thank you very much. I’ve just got time for one more.
For me, poetry has been the ultimate way of ideas without frontiers. When I first started, the people who inspired me were the ones with the amazing stories, and I thought, as an 18-year-old with a happy life, it was too normal, but I could create these worlds where I could talk about my experiences and dreams and beliefs. So it’s amazing to be here in front of you today. Thank you for being here. If you weren’t here, it would be pretty much like the soundcheck yesterday. And this is more fun.
So this last one is called “The Sunshine Kid.” Thank you very much for listening.
Old man sunshine was proud of his sun,
And it brightened his day to see his little boy run,
Not because of what he’d done, nor the problems overcome,
But that despite that his disposition remained a sunny one.
It hadn’t always been like this.
There’d been times when he’d tried to hide his brightness,
You see, every star hits periods of hardship,
It takes a brighter light to inspire them through the darkness.
If we go back to when he was born in a nebula,
We know that he never was thought of as regular,
Because he had a flair about him,
To say the Midas touch is wrong
But all he went near seemed to turn a little bronze,
Yes this sun was loved by some more than others,
It was a case of Joseph and his dreamcoat and his brothers
Because standing out from the crowd had its pros and its cons,
And jealousy created enemies in those he outshone
Such as the Shadow People.
Now the Shadow People didn’t like the Sunshine Kid,
Because he showed up the dark things the Shadow People did,
And when he shone he showed the places where the Shadow People hid,
So the Shadow People had an evil plan to get rid of him,
First up — they made fun of his sunspots,
Shooting his dreams from the sky, their words were gunshots,
Designed to remind him he wasn’t very cool
And he didn’t fit in with any popular kids at school.
They said his head was up in space and they would bring him down to Earth,
Essentially he came from nothing and that is what he was worth,
He’d never get to go to university to learn,
Only degrees he’d ever show would be the first degree burns
From those that came too close,
They told him he was too bright,
That’s why no one ever looked him in the eyes,
His judgment became clouded
So did the sky,
With evaporated tears as the sun started to cry.
Because the sunshine kid was bright, with a warm personality,
And inside he burned savagely
Hurt by the words and curses of the shadowy folk
Who spoke holes in his soul and left cavities,
And as his heart hardened, his spark darkened,
Every time they called him names it cooled his flames,
He thought they might like him if he kept his light dim
But they were busy telling lightning she had terrible aim,
He couldn’t quite get to grips with what they said,
So he let his light be eclipsed by what they said,
He fell into a Lone Star State like Texas,
And felt like he’d been punched in his solar plexus.
But that’s when Little Miss Sunshine came along
Singing her favorite song about how we’re made to be strong,
And you don’t have to be wrong to belong, just be true to who you are,
Because we are all stars at heart.
Little Miss Sunshine was hot stuff,
The kind of girl when you looked at her
You forgot stuff,
But for him, there was no forgetting her,
The minute he saw her her image burned in his retina,
She was out of this world, and she accepted him,
Something about this girl meant he knew whenever she was next to him,
Things weren’t as dark as they seemed, and he dared to dream,
Shadows were nowhere to be seen; when she was there he beamed,
His eyes would light up in ways that can’t be faked,
When she grinned her rays erased the razor-tipped words of hate,
They gave each other nicknames they were “cool star” and “fun sun,”
And gradually the shadowy damage became undone,
She was one in a septillion, and she was brilliant,
Could turn the coldest blooded reptilians vermillion,
Loved by billions, from Chileans to Brazilians,
And taught the Sunshine Kid the meaning of resilience.
She said: “All the darkness in the world
Cannot put out the light from a single candle
So how the hell can they handle your light?
Only you can choose to dim it, and the sky is the limit,
So silence the critics by burning.”
And if eyes are windows to the soul then she drew back the curtains
And let the sun shine through the hurting.
In a universe of adversity these stars stuck together,
And though days became nights the memories would last forever,
Whether the weatherman said it or not, it would be fine,
‘Cause even behind the clouds the kid could still shine.
Yes, the Sunshine Kid was bright, with a warm personality,
And inside he burned savagely,
Fueled by the fire inspired across galaxies
By the girl who showed him belief.
Thank you very much.