Everyone has a story to tell; each one of us a writer of poetry – some, without even realising. That stream of consciousness that runs in our veins? It’s poetry waiting to be written. We believe in the power of words, and that power is what urged us set up PoetsIN.
It’s because of those inner streams, that we bring you this regular interview feature, Writer Profiles. An interview with a writer. Some you’ll know, some you won’t.
This week it’s someone who has recently joined PoetsIN to head up some of the in-person workshops. His name is Will.
So, relax with a veggie burger and lavender gin and read on.
Who are you and what do you do?
I’m Will. I am a Hitchin, Hertfordshire-based English tutor, who graduated from their Creative Writing MA course last year. Currently, I’m trying my hardest to be a worder that gets paid. I also run an open-mic event called Shout or Whisper a monthly event, currently at the gorgeous Hitchin Lavender. Like all delusions, we are trying to cultivate something unique, something that sees all output on a level. We have 10 open slots for people to come and perform, basically whatever they want. So far, we have had poetry, rap, monologues, singer-songwriters, excerpts from novels and comedy rants.
(shameless plug, but we are always looking for more performers, you can find more information here: www.shoutorwhisper.co.uk. Our next two events 20th June and 18th July are actually in the fields themselves, so would love to have some new voices coming through.)
How would you label your writing and/or poetry if forced to label it?
I take a scattergun approach to writing. I cover lots of forms – rap, spoken word, as well as short stories, novels and sketch comedy – and I have to admit I don’t spend an awful lot of time thinking what it is that ties it all together. Levity is a word that comes to mind, so too does self-awareness, both circling around an underlying theme of empathy for marginalised individuals. So I suppose: a post-modern (lower cased p, lower cased m) caring, funny writing label would be great, if such a one exists.
What’s your relationship with words and how has that evolved over time?
To me words are annoying and fickle; they may as well be covered in grease, such is my difficulty to grasp them at times.
One of the most affirming moments during my ‘writing career’ (one day I hope to lose the inverted commas) was reading an excerpt from Franz Kafka’s diaries, in which he charts himself losing his mind whilst sat behind a desk willing himself to write. On one day, all he writes is “Again tried to write, virtually useless” and another “Complete standstill. Unending torments.” The fact that he goes through those ‘failures’ and he continues to be behind that desk, makes me feel better about my lowly inability to produce content. It also substantiates the notion that words are little rugrats: they run about in your head when you are away from the page (generally at night, when laying in bed) and sound asleep when you need them most.
Used to love them though. When words were all a bit more allusive and I didn’t know literally all of them – as I do now – I had such a strong urge to learn. Words that ended in tion/cion were the beginning of my love affair. Remember seeing words like ‘contradiction’ and ’suspicion’ in primary school and having such a desire to learn them, own them and repeat them, so that I could show off to anyone who would listen.
However, having said all of the above. Once they have been wrangled, once they have been tamed and organised and put on a page, once they say something that supersedes your original idea and are as close to the thoughts inside your head as they possible can be, then they are nothing short of liberating.
How long have you been writing/performing?
Not as long as I would have liked really. Performed at my first poetry evening in my final year of uni, so about two years ago now. I had been writing little scraps of bits and bobs during my secondary school years, but never anything serious. Again, it was only when I started my Creative Writing MA (have I mentioned about that yet?) that I began applying a more academic approach to writing.
Is mental health something you feel strongly about?
For too long has mental health been seen as a weakness or a trend or a buzzword among people. In my opinion, we live in a world that demands we compartmentalise deep-seated issues and focus on superficial acquirement, because, socially, our definition of success has a basis on the stuff we have, rather than the contentment we feel. Based on my perspective as a cisgender male, I also feel that Masculinity has a lot to answer for, especially in the realm of mental wellbeing. Too many times have I felt obliged to internalise the thoughts that plague my consciousness, because of the school of ‘Man-Up.’ I want to use my privilege to reach out to those who feel pressure from those perspectives.
But I also am here to learn. I will never be someone who has all the answers – how could I? – but I will always be someone who will listen and be present and care.
You are getting involved with us. Tell us about it.
I am really excited to announce that I am leading workshops with PoetsIN. After spending some time getting familiar with how they run, I will be leading people through the process of healing through words, written and spoken. Though words may be tricky at times – at least to me – they absolutely provide such great catharsis when you just let loose on the page. My role is to facilitate these processes and be a part of a community of writers.
From what I have already experienced, I know this is going to be one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life.
Please describe your writing process.
It’s very much not a fixed approach. The process is something that I keep looking to evolve and improve upon. When I first started writing, I was convinced that writing came in fits of passion or moments of inspiration, so I would wake up in the middle of the night and hurriedly write things in ornate notebooks, then never look at them again. That Beat movement sort of approach certainly has its merits, but after a conversation with a brilliant poet couple, they told me, in no uncertain terms, that discipline is the key to good writing. From that point on writing is something that I schedule and prioritise, rather than hope might happen. I give myself targets for each session and determine myself to write consistently. In terms of the actual things that I write, they are based on my experiences and impressions, rather than delving into other people’s. I’ve tried that and I’m not yet a good enough writer to retell the stories of others, without it seeming patronising and shallow.
However, writing has been something I’ve not been able to focus on, due to commitments to pay rent, as well as writing projects. So, this approach can only exist in month long periods. My goal is to give myself more time to be in that headspace over longer periods of time.
Some of us write our best stuff when in a rage, heartbroken or fighting depression. Are you affected in similar ways and do you use writing as a venting mechanism?
I have to be honest – I don’t use it in the midst of said emotions. Writing to me is an aid to think forensically about things that have happened and allow myself clarity in that way. I suppose it is a sort of venting, but after the fact, not whilst I am trying to deal with it. To me, writing exists as a freedom to consider what has just happened, rather than what is happening.
If you had the chance to perform one poem or read one excerpt to someone that sums you up, which is it?
The piece that I most proud of is the piece that I perform all the jeffing time. It’s a piece called Commitment and it is an analysis of myself during the act of performance, done through rappy-t-rap. I quite like subverting the expectations of rap, in as much as so much in the mainstream is about bravado and how many people fancy you and how you can whistle one tune whilst humming another and all the things that are impressive. Much of the rap I listen to cuts through this and speaks of truth, so I suppose it’s a culmination of those two ideas.
If you could collaborate with anyone out there (alive or dead), who would it be and why?
Here is my shortlist:
- Frank Turner
- Bruce Springsteen
- Shirley Jackson
- Scroobius Pip
- Kate Tempest
- Virginia Woolf
- Harold Pinter
- Little Simz
- Michael Waters
- Dan Harmon
Agh, I mean – let’s go for someone who is in the realm of poetry/lyrical musicianship. It has to be Kate Tempest. Listening to her album ‘Everybody Down’ and then ‘Let them Eat Chaos’ and then going back and listening to her work with Sound of Rum, was such an important moment for me, in terms of my writing.
The narrative that she can spin within the realm of rap and spoken word is extraordinary, but also her songs are bangers. I don’t think there are many people out there that is speaking a truth that I recognise with as much artistry and flare than she does.
So, Kate, if you’re reading if you need some overly privileged, bubble-wrap lyrics, then I’m your guy. Give me 10 years to improve and then I’ll be in my prime.
(If you don’t know much of her work, then listen to ‘Rumba’, ‘Marshall Law’, ‘Chicken’. Life-changing.)
Who are your writing influences, heroes and villains poetically, musically and/or lyrically?
Let’s start with the heroes. In terms of authors, rather than poets, my three loves are Virginia Woolf, Shirley Jackson and Harold Pinter, but I’m just going to focus in on the former.
Particularly in To the Lighthouse, Woolf captures what it is to be human and it is so heart-breaking to behold. The relationship in that book between Mrs Ramsay and Lily Briscoe is possibly the most effecting dynamic I have ever read. The psychological distance between the two, but their geographical intimacy is really at the heart of the human condition. Everything that is said is a shadow of what they are thinking and represents the notion that we go through life never being truly known, even by those closest to us. Woolf, magnificently represents that relationship between the uttered and the unutterable and I cannot think of anything that is more human that that.
Musically, Frank Turner. So much so that I’ve got a FTHC tattoo. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again – he is the Queer Eye of the music industry and the Bruce Springsteen of our generation. His music has such power. No other musician makes me as happy, no other musician makes me want to be better than I am right this second and no other musician has made me weep in public – twice.
Poetically, John Cooper Clarke, probably. Just for, if for nothing else, the way he performs. It’s like listening to a machine gun. A machine gun of truth… yikes.
I can honestly say that I don’t have many villains, if any – oh wait, hang on.
The only piece that really gets me worked up is – and I have to say this does pain me to say – ‘Vote for Me’ by The Specials. It’s just such a flat, swing-and-a-miss, dirge, to the extent that it feels to me like they’re not really ired by what’s happening in the world and that they just are half-arseing a piece because it feels like the popular thing to do.
Generally speaking, I do like The Specials, but in this tempestuous political and social climate, if the best you can do is rhyme ‘Ivory Tower’ with ‘positions of power,’ with a pedestrian, moribund, beat, with a plodding piano line, behind it, then you just have to work harder to be relevant.
(See Frank Turner’s ‘1933’ for a real fuck you to what’s happening globally.)
Other than that, I feel that I don’t get really worked up by ‘villainous’ creatives. Yes, someone like Rupi Kaur or Dan Brown or Ariane Grande (names basically taken at random) might be totally lacking in subtext or genius or just pandering to a populist market – a market with its basis in what is trendy, rather than what is real – but it’s not my jam, so I just don’t engage with it.
What I love about scenes happening now, is that there are amazing, unheard of performers and writers who are selling out huge venues, getting major book deals and creating significant art, yet don’t exist in mainstream culture. I’ll never fully understand those who victimise and villainise artists, when there is so much choice now. If you don’t like it, change the channel, don’t clog their Instagram with hate.
Unless you write a song like ‘Vote for Me.’ Then you’re fair game.
(I get the hypocrisy in the above, but I’m ok with being seen to be hypocritical. That’s how much I hate that song.)
What quote/song/poem inspires you the most and why?
‘Love, Ire and Song’ by Frank Turner.
First thing to say is that, I first heard this song at the perfect time. I was in my late teens and had just gotten into one person and their guitar sort of music. Laura Marling, Johnny Flynn, Peter Doherty were doing so much with so little and it was just such a clean, earnest approach to music. Then this song came along and that’s all I would ever listen to.
Because of this song, I learned to play the guitar and found a courage to want to stand up and be heard. It’s an anthem for the voiceless, it’s a man screaming into the void, it’s raw and powerful and beautiful and soft and dynamic and lilting and concrete and uncompromising and a cuddle and a punch in the stomach and a pat on the back. It demands we do better and understands when we fail. It is a parade and funeral march. I sing it in joy and loss and brings me back to centre.
“Oh, but surely, just for one day, we could fight and we could win.
And just for a little while, we could insist on the impossible.”
Writer’s block, is it real or a myth?
It’s a myth in real clothing. I think Writer’s Block is the nexus of the building pressure we force on ourselves to write the best we possibly can at all times. When I struggle to write, I will write the most inane, cliched, goofy, contradicting, hack piece of human garbage.
Then go back and find that kernel of quality and expand on that idea. For 100 words of rubbish you write, there will at least be 10 words worth exploring. We just gotta be disciplined with ourselves and it’s the lack of discipline which means we don’t write, rather than some immovable object.
Finish this sentence… Words are the epitomes of…
To paraphrase Matt Goss of Bros off of the Bros Documentary: The letters W – O – R – D are so important because they epitomise the word WORD.
Sorry, I love that documentary and was struggling to not be a silly.
Liberation. Words are the epitome of liberation.
What’s next for you?
I am currently working towards submitting a novel to publishers, as well as adding more pieces to my repertoire of rap tracks – which hopefully will exist as songs on an album in the not too distant future – as well as writing comedy script with my comedy wife.
But my priority, for the moment, is being with PoetsIN, being a part of a process that helps people, through the medium I love; this is all a wonderful dream.
Huge thanks and a big welcome to Will, who you’ll find in our Facebook Group if you’re a member. If not, search PoetsIN (all one word) and request to join.
If you would like to feature in a Writer profile, or indeed if you would like to submit your own blog piece on writing, mental health, wellbeing or anything relevant then get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org