Rhythm Assisted Poetry

An Insight into poetry and rap from Zoka

I was recently surprised, and subsequently not surprised, to discover a theory concerning the etymology of the word “rap” from my recent collaborator on Words with Friends 3, Piers Harrison-Reid. He heard the theory from a Poet called Anthony Anaxogorou, who claimed that “rap” actually stands for “Rhythm And Poetry” or “Rhythm Assisted Poetry”. This seemed fitting to me, as my attempts to inject more rhythm into my poetry is what unwittingly transformed me into a rapper roughly a year ago.

Since then, I have been fascinated by the relationship between the two art forms, at times indistinguishable, at others starkly contrasting. After all, calling Lil’ Pump a poet is just as hard to swallow as calling Carol Anne Duffy a rapper. Yet, as the fusion of hip-hop and poetry within every ‘Words with Friends’ project clearly demonstrates, both genres are married in their exploration of the musicality of language.


This is something that Piers, a poet by preference, also realised during his collaboration with me on the song ‘Flo’, on Words with Friends 3. ‘It’s definitely a different way of using words and takes me back to when I used to write poems more to classical forms in school,’ he said, when asked about how he found the writing process of rap compared to poetry. Yet he never let the constraints of the form ‘come at the expense of telling a story or sticking to a theme.’

For Piers, rap was more “rhythm constrained poetry” than “rhythm assisted poetry”. However, this constraint functions similarly to those in any other poetic form, providing a framework for poetic expression. What differentiates rap from these forms, excluding the way in which it is consumed, is its capacity for flexibility and reinvention. More traditional poetic forms often grow stagnant over time, yet rap seems to continually find ways to radically reinvent itself, as clearly evidenced by its innumerable styles ranging from boom bap to grime to trap. The stylistic range of this poetic form stretches the very parameters of poetry, justifying the creation of another word to define itself against it. Yet “Rhythm And Poetry” still subtly holds on to its identity as poetry the same way a child retains the traits of its parent, running towards and away from them simultaneously.


As for my own practice, you will see by clicking the following link: Growing Pains – Zoka that in my debut EP entitled ‘Growing Pains’ I treat each song as a poem. This means that each word I use, each image I evoke, is not wasted in the expression of the emotion or theme or story I am trying to explore. Where many rappers ignore thematic cohesiveness in favour of satisfying punchlines, and many poets ignore rhythmic and oratory intonations in favour of intricate images, I am committed to creating a hybrid between the two mediums. This is a process I believe to be happening already within rap, pioneered by artists such as Kojey Radical and Samsa. I believe Words with Friends 3 to be another step in this direction, with the Heartsease Kid’s production enforcing a musical delivery from the poets that makes it almost indistinguishable from “Rhythm Assisted Poetry”.

To hear what I’m talking about, click these links YouTubeApple MusicSpotify

Words w/ Friends volume 3 – What to Expect

To give you a well needed rest from the words of Billy Pilgrim, we have enlisted the help of Words w/ Friends poet Tamar Moshkovitz to tell you all about what we’ve got coming up. So here she is –

It was only a few months ago that Words w/ Friends vol. 2 wrapped up with a beautiful release gig in the Owl Sanctuary, but Billy Pilgrim and the Heartsease Kid are already raring to go on volume 3 – and I can guarantee this one will be even more diverse, challenging and wide-reaching than the last, because Words w/ Friends is going on tour!

The project will sweep its way across the country, opening with Glasgow on the 10th of July and stopping off at Leeds, Bristol and Brighton among other places before wrapping up with a homecoming gig in Norwich on the 22nd of July. Tour dates will be released soon so keep an eye out and don’t miss your nearest gig.

If BPTHK’s latest releases – Synthetic Strawberry featuring Minty Taylor, and I Love You Dennis Bergkamp – are anything to go by, this volume will bring us some more of the seamless fusion between their mellow, flawless lo-fi beats and rhythmic, dynamic lyricism. And there’s some old friends joining them back for this one. Minty Taylor is coming back for the third time with more of his achingly gritty poetry and evocative performance style; Imogen Stirling will be bringing the irresistible combination of a beautiful Scottish lilt and an unapologetic lyrical honesty; and Zoka will throw in some more of his unique and utterly sweeping rapping skills.

Also coming back are Piers Harrison-Reid and his effortless, fluid sincerity; the bewildering but wise Sven Stears and his poignant, melodic storytelling; Rob Carnie, man of mystery and alluringly vibrant poetic imagery; and me, Tamar Moshkovitz, hoping to push my own limits this time and to let my voice come through loud and clear on stage.

Thanks to some amazing submissions, we’re also going to have some new poets on this volume who will be announced soon – you don’t want to miss their names so keep a keen eye out.

I reckon Words w/ Friends volume 3 is shaping up to be unmissable – bigger, better, and more collaborative than ever – so save the date: the 12th of June, which is when Volume 3 will be released to Youtube, Soundcloud and Bandcamp. No release gig this time, but plenty of gigs to catch over the summer! If you still haven’t heard Vol 2 check it here – Words w/ Friends Vol 2

Make sure to stay updated, see you soon and stay excellent.



What Was it like: Words w/ Friends Launch – Sven Stears

It’s Sunday 5am and I’m awake and actually moving. Ahead of me sits half a day of travel from Bristol to Norwich and back again. Over the next 48 hours I will spend 14 of them on a coach. And probably another 6 wondering around lost. But, between the outbound journey and the return leg is one of the best experiences I’ve had since I started performing poetry 4 years ago. When you see open submission calls on Facebook part of you never expects them to go anywhere. There are a lot of time wasters out there in the poetry world, but between Billy Pilgrim and his cousin, the Heartsease Kid, rarely will you see so much ambition. Not to mention kindness. BPTHK and their family and friends are some of the most open and welcoming people I’ve ever met. From their first hello to their final goodbyes there were smiles on their faces, warmth in their hearts, and drive in their eyes.

Billy Pilgrim and The Heartsease Kid love what they do and they are going to show you. They aligned the resources, got the studio time, found some knockout poets, produced the music, edited the tracks, printed the CDs, had the artwork made, booked the venue, and gathered us all here.


Sunday night. Norwich. Packed venue. 9 nervous artists. There’s a trepidant air. Few of us have done this before, But then bang. We’re off. No turning back. The open mic’ers are warming the crowd. One by one to whoops and cheers. I’ve not seen Norwich’s poetry before but these guys could give London a run for their money.

Before we know it. It’s our turn. Billy is on stage announcing Tamar is to open the preceedings. She does this with the form and grace you rarely see in someone so young and new to the scene. Minty is second with a weird trip of a poem about hostages and sausages that stabs you with hidden meaning.
Billy P.JPG
Billy himself is third with a love poem that matches the track in the background so fluidly is clear this isn’t his first rodeo. Now it’s me. I have to be honest I was bricking it. More than when I performed at the Albert hall. This requires perfect timing. But before I even realise it’s over. I’m jumping the stage wishing I could go again as strangers and new friends clap my back.
Imogen’s Scottish accent rings out behind me and I turn around to her piece marrying beautifully more traditional slam style poetry to the rhythmic lowfi beats. Zoka takes next and rocks a proper lo-fi hip hop poem/rap that has the whole room bopping to his natural rhythm. Piers performs a poem about life between cigarettes that vibrates your heartstrings through the feeling of his words and his deep amazing voice.
A few of us jump up to do second pieces before Ella gets up to do an all-too relatable poem about relationships feeling like scabs. Piers is last to wrap things up with a final piece and a big thank you to the whole room, and an ad-libbed lot of love to Billy, and of course, the Heartsease kid, whose beats the entire night were nothing other than godlike. Lo-fi with kick and retro vibe. Flawless.
All too soon it’s over. I’m being whisked away from the after party to stay the night with Billy and the Kid’s family, Who are lovely and woke me up with coffee and absynthe. A few short hours later. I’m on the coach home. To soon. Sometimes. When you see open submission calls on Facebook it’s a waste of time. Sometimes 14 hours of travel is nothing but miles you could have missed. But this? This was perfect.
Thank you so much to everyone. To Billy and the kid. To the words with friends artist’s. To Paul and Sharon. To the open Mic’ers. And to everyone who came.
Sven Stears
P.s you can listen to the album (and buy it) from BPTHK’s Bandcamp or you can buy a physical copy of the CD from the Merchandise page.

Spoken Word Introducing: Imogen Stirling

Well I bet y’all thought we only had spoken word poets from Norwich, WRONG. (obnoxious voice) Thats right, “Words w/ Friends Vol II” has spread its wings. During the submission process we received applications from spoken word poets in loads of different places, and it just so happens the next poet isn’t from Norwich or even somewhere really close by like lowestoft, but, she is instead from a different whole country to ours. A strange place, with place names that are difficult to pronounce, food you’ve never tasted and it’s very own flag. She’s from Scotland alright. (reading this back, this whole paragraph should be read in an obnoxious voice.)

Anyway, we are proud to be introducing the spoken word poet and all round badass…

Imogen Stirling

Imogen Stirling is a spoken word poet, theatre maker, musician, and general noise-maker from Glasgow.

As a Theatre and English Literature graduate, performance poetry was a natural fusion for Imogen. Her work has been described as a pairing of unrelenting honesty with lyrical dexterity, and explores ideas surrounding the intricacies of modern relationships, the treatment of mental wellbeing in an increasingly desensitised society, and the ever-evolving understanding of how gender exists today. Her writing draws on personal experience, and often reflects on the people of Glasgow.

Her poem below ‘Judgement Is A Drag’ is a commentary on the futility of categorising and analysing gender, which Stirling considers a shallow definition of who an individual truly is.

Coming from a musical theatre background and performing long-term as one half of duo, Wonderful Exile, Imogen writes with an inherent musicality. She has performed in a 5 star production of ‘Les Miserables’ at the Edinburgh Fringe; is director and playwright for political music theatre piece, ‘BodiesUponTheGears’ for which she was awarded the Alasdair Cameron Scholarship; and has worked alongside Sir Tim Rice.

A self-confessed nomad, Imogen has spent the past two years on a European tour of poetry gigs and music shows, performing in venues ranging from The Brittania Panoptican Music Hall to Amsterdam’s Red Light District.

Her work has been featured in Tell-Tale Magazine, Fused Magazine, easyJet Traveller Magazine, and The Skinny.

And if that isn’t enough to woo you, In her spare time, Imogen works as a translator and editor for French films. She is currently writing her debut piece of spoken word theatre for the Edinburgh Fringe 2018.

We are delighted to have Imogen working with us on the project, and of course, you can see her in the flesh, when she performs with us at the Words w/ Friends Vol II release event. The evening itself will showcase the album in its entirety and also feature an open mic, its a chance show what rising talent the Spoken word scene has to offer. If your gasping for more of Imogen right now then head over to Imogen Stirling Poetry Facebook or if you want videos, check out Imogen Stirling Poetry’s YouTube channel.

More profiles coming soon, and Words w/ Friends Vol II will be released live in Norwich on the 26th of November 2017, with copies of the album being sold at the event, and then it will be made available for digital download on the 27th of November. You’re gonna wanna get your hands on a copy, because I know you haven’t seen spoken word poetry like this before.

Stay safe out there,

Billy P