Harry Baker: A love poem for lonely prime numbers
February 11, 2014
Performance poet (and math student) Harry Baker spins a love poem about his favorite kind of numbers -- the lonely, love-lorn prime. Stay on for two more lively, inspiring poems from this charming performer.Harry Baker
From primes to proper pop-up purple paper people, Harry Baker performs his pun-tastic and poignant poetry. Full bio
Double-click the English subtitles below to play the video.
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.
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 -- (Laughter) --
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. (Laughter)
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.
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
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
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’d 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.
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 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 sound check 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
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.
From primes to proper pop-up purple paper people, Harry Baker performs his pun-tastic and poignant poetry.Why you should listen
Harry Baker has always loved words. He’s been blessed enough to travel round the world with them, winning the Poetry Slam World Cup in 2012 and currently using a maths degree as an excuse to live in Germany and find heaps more new words to play with. With two 5-star Edinburgh Fringe festival shows under his belt, his latest milestone is his 2014 book, The Sunshine Kid.
The original video is available on TED.com