Inventive, irreverent and comic, Ross Sutherland (b. 1979) is a force of nature on the UK spoken word scene. Alongside Luke Wright, he was one of the founding members of Aisle 16, a stand-up collective and irony-soaked ‘poetry boyband’ which, back in the early Noughties, proved that a new wave of young performance poets had the substance to match their shoulder-shrugging cool. Since then, Sutherland has gone on to combine his own gift for lyrical parody and sass to impressively prolific effect, producing commissions for the likes of Adidas and the London Science Museum, laugh-a-minute podcasts, live literature events, and one-man theatre shows as a regular face at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. His poems are as likely to crop up in the little magazines as in the New Musical Express, and his collections of poetry – including 2009’s Things To Do Before You Leave Town, and the more recent Emergency Window (2012) – are testament to the ludic excesses of his performance style, but also pack, as the Independent has noted, “lucid observations, smart conceits and insight into the contemporary world as a fragmented, self-constructed thing”.

A typical Sutherland poem – if there is such a thing in his anarchically imaginative, freeform approach – collides the mundanity of everyday life with the futurist and wryly absurd, casting new light on both. ‘The End of Our Marriage’, included in the online selection from Sutherland’s Archive recording, is a prime example. Squeezing in off-the-wall one-liners and an uncanny ear for modern speech both conversational and official, it tells the freewheeling tale of a couple undergoing bizarre sessions with a counsellor who “from certain angles, looks like a placard / with the word COUNSELLOR written on it”, gesturing with the “serious end of his fountain pen: ‘You sir, contain no details to love’”. But beneath Sutherland’s antics – the throwing of a “glow-in-the-dark frisbee / off the highest point in town” in one poem about giving yourself the slip, or an Oulipo-constrained retelling of Little Red Riding Hood as ‘Liverish Red-Blooded Riffraff Hoo-ha’ – his abiding concern is with the ways in which the artificial, simulated, high-octane aspects of the modern metropolis come to shape and dictate our personal lives. As such, Sutherland’s presiding influence is surely Kenneth Koch, the American avant-gardist who was once described as “the funniest serious poet we have”. In the disturbing technological maze of Sutherland’s ‘Poem Looked Up on Google Streetview’, for example, we find that “London / has never felt more lonely”, while in ‘Poem Heard on Heart 105’, radio jingles give way to “news of a bombing in Athens, / pine trees moshing in my rear view mirror. / It’s raining in the capital. Money for Nothing”.

Listening to this Archive recording, which draws on the full stretch of his writing to date, Sutherland’s simpatico delivery and performative flair are everywhere in evidence. Deadpan, deftly timed and strangely captivating, it echoes Time Out’s verdict that Sutherland’s work often boasts “the verbal urgency of rap, the wry self-mockery of stand-up, and a linguistic inquisitiveness all of its own”.

Ross Sutherland’s Favourite Poetry Sayings:
“Poetry is the character in a horror film that runs up to the monster and is immediately
killed by it, just so the audience can learn what the monster’s special skill is.”

Ross Sutherland’s recording was made on 27th November 2014 at The Soundhouse, London and was produced by Anne Rosenfeld.

Poems by Ross Sutherland

The End of Our Marriage - Ross Sutherland
The Prison Librarian - Ross Sutherland
Ross Sutherland in the Poetry Store

The free tracks you can enjoy in the Poetry Archive are a selection of a poet’s work. Our catalogue store includes many more recordings which you can download to your device.

Books by Ross Sutherland