When did you start writing poetry and what drew you into it?
When I was a kid, nine or ten, I would write poems and read them at the local open mic night. But I don’t remember at all what those poems were about. I wanted to write them so I could read onstage. At twelve or thirteen, I listened to Fall Out Boy religiously and I used to write lyrics to imaginary songs in the style of Pete Wentz. I liked creating a feeling out of the accumulation of words and images.
Please talk about your development as a writer of poetry. Tell us when you first felt you were a poet and how it went from there.
Somewhere in my early twenties, when I was studying creative writing at university, I realised that I wanted to write and publish poetry. I might’ve called myself a poet but I felt like I was walking the walk. My ideas of what being a writer meant were entwined with what I perceived to be the economic motives of the publishing industry, which seemed like a very mysterious machine. Eventually, I had to decouple my writing from my ambition to get published. But when I was waitressing and working in a bookshop back home, I would read at the till and spend the time I wasn’t serving customers writing notes on blank receipt paper. When I felt that I was learning why the poems I admired were able to do what they did, I think then I started to feel like I was a poet.
What does being shortlisted for the Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection mean for you?
It means that I’m full of adrenaline. What it means for my work to receive this kind of recognition feels inexpressible right now, beyond that I’m very thankful.
Please tell us about the creation of your shortlisted collection, from first words to final book. Which poems in the collection are most important to you?
When I was restructuring Cowboy, it was strange to realise what ideas I kept returning to. I felt like it followed a sequence of thematic movements that charted my artistic influences and preoccupations from birth to right now. It’s very narrative. Some of the newer poems were written out of that realisation while other poems like ‘Myth of Old Age’, are six, seven years old.
The earliest-written line that appears in the collection is probably ‘My girls and I’, in ‘New Cross’. I was still in university when I wrote that poem. I knew that I wanted to keep it in the manuscript because it kind of marks the beginning of everything.
Which poets do you admire most and what do you value in their work?
There are so many poets whose work commands this spiritual, speculative quality that really guides me: Danez Smith, Malika Booker, Kayo Chingonyi, Charles Simic, Ocean Vuong, Jack Underwood.
What is next for you as a poet?
On my Google Drive, there is a document called Working Title with a lot of pages. While I’m not sure what it will be yet, I hope it’s something cool.
What advice would you give to anyone starting out in poetry today?
Writers always give advice to read widely. This is very good advice. I would also say that you should ask questions about what you read, and what you write.