Four years ago, Mark Grist was a 28-year-old English teacher and head of year at a secondary school in Peterborough, working with teenagers who were struggling to engage with his subject. Little did his students then know that their teacher was heading off to nightclubs to take part in rap battles with young rappers and grime artists of their own age.

It was only when one such ‘lyrical boxing match’ that Mark took part in, against the very young looking MC Blizzard, went viral on YouTube, clocking up more than four million views, that they realised just how cool their be-suited teacher actually was.

Four years later and Mark is now a full-time poet – he became the Poet Laureate of Peterborough in 2008, Chief Bard of the Fens in 2009 and Edinburgh Fringe Slam Champion in 2010, and has been on two national tours – and on a one-man mission to show people just how relevant, and cool, poetry actually is.

“I spent five years working with teenagers who expected poetry to be boring,“ explains the now 32-year-old, “and who thought it was something that was totally at odds with their own life and interests. And I think most adults feel the same way.

“I think it’s because in education we focus so much on analysing poetry instead of creating it and because we worry so much about getting poetry ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, so there’s a disconnect, people feel that it’s an academic pursuit that is very removed from them. I think we as poets need to think about ways to connect with our audience and let them see how relevant it is.“

It was with this in mind that Mark gave up the teaching job – “I made this absurd decision to become a full-time poet in the middle of a recession!“ – to capitalise on what he calls his YouTube ‘pseudo-fame’, and next week he’s coming to North Finchley with his Rogue Teacher, a spoken-word show that combines storytelling, poetry and comedy to tell his remarkable tale.

“It tells this unbelievable story of an English teacher who somehow becomes the most-watched rap battler in the world!“

  • Mark Grist: Rogue Teacher is at artsdepot, Tally Ho Corner, Nether Street, North Finchley on Saturday, May 10 at 8pm. Details: 020 8369 5454,