When did you start writing poetry and what drew you into it?
I started writing in Scots for my high school magazine, The Porty Blethers — the beautiful quirks of the language offered up masks and obfuscations to keep the emotional beat of what I was writing hidden away from prying eyes. As I got braver, and increasingly resilient to a good slagging, the poems became more earnest and angsty — as ever teenager rightly should be.
It was the discovery that poems could be profane and political, as well as supremely soppy and sincere, that really got me hooked — I guess it’s akin to kittens having sharp claws.
The time-travelling abilities buried within a poem sealed the deal, and that was me henceforth / forever more / head over heels for this gorgeous art form.
Please talk about your development as a writer of poems. Tell us when you first felt you were a poet and how it went from there.
It was reading first, always reading, feasting on poems aplenty — Liz Lochhead, Tom Buchan, Ted Hughes, Diane di Prima all ensorcelled me early and fast. This was the language I wanted to speak. Within their collective works (and the hundreds that followed) was the realization that my own writing had to be better thought through, more fully formed, to be authentic and of value.
Alongside that came first publications: e-zines, magazines, journals, anthologies, chapbooks, and then the sacred full-length collection. How to best represent those poems — those physical manifestations of these word casseroles — with an audience in the thrall was the next spell I began gushing over. And there began the vital study of stage-presence, canny event curation, theatrical cadence — the full thespianic megillah. By study I mean rogue, passionate observation on my own steam.
For me, there’s not been an unquestionable moment of sanction, of sureness, of ‘now one is a poet-ness’. There’s no amount of accolades or endorsement that can grant you permanent access to the gift of creating poems that resonate with other sentient beings. But the thrill in chasing it, the joy in sculpting poems that immediately feel meaningful, pertinent and emotionally exuberant, is a dreamy form of living. A cream-cracker of a thing. Besides, I’m a big believer in celebrating the ephemeral, however long they stick around.
What does being shortlisted for the Forward Prizes mean for you?
Oh shucks, I’m chuffed to the cherries — truly rapturous with it. The live incarnation of the poem, how it bounds beyond the page and connects to an audience is something I relish, adore and labour over. To have this element of my craft recognized, in what will no doubt be stunning company, is an outright thrill.
Every year I swoon over the Forward Prizes’ shortlists, collect the cache of books they highlight and wonder whip through them. This year will be no different, only it will, because I’ll be giddy to be amongst these stellar word slingers.
Please tell us about the genesis of your shortlisted poem. Is it part of a collection or sequence? Where can a reader find more by you?
It’s the title poem / the sail on the ship of my new collection, The Cat Prince & Other Poems. My first poetry collection in near six years (phew), and the most personal and (hopefully) accomplished band of poems I’ve ever corralled together. This poem is my favourite to perform, it’s a sigil for what’s inside the book.
The poem shines a light on a form of masculinity brimful of tenderness, playfulness and curiousness about the world around us. It arrives gooey, unguarded and shame-free. It’s also a tribute to the brilliance of mums who celebrate their kids’ kooky bits. So, yes, The Cat Prince is a paean of parental gratitude as much as anything.
Aye, if the poem whets the appetite, then lassoing a copy of the collection is where to head next. It’s out in glitzy hardback with Corsair/Little Brown from the 6th of July and features glittery gold foil on the cover — namely on the crown and the cat’s bum-hole. To say that’s a unique feature in the poetry world is, I think, an understatement.
Which poets do you admire most and what do you value in their work?
There are too many sublime lexical butter churners out there to be unrestricted in this question, so I’ll impose some qualifications on myself. Those being: to keep it to five writers; and only humans I’ve had the extreme pleasure of performing alongside.
So, voila, I give thee: Jackie Kay, Ocean Vuong, Hera Lindsay Bird, Hollie McNish, Daljit Nagra. Paying homage to their collective quiddities are beyond the reach (and word count) of this question, but suffice to say they each conjure something truly unique and personal that exudes candour, compassion, cleverness and charm. They offer a deeply personal glimpse into a world that at once says: hello, welcome and what next?
What is next for you as a poet?
I’m touring The Cat Prince & Other Poems all over the UK (and beyond) this summer — festivals, bookshops, breweries, even a gig at a sea pool in Helsinki. I’ll be trumpeting out poems alongside some of the best in the business and confabbing with a couple of favourite artists and singers along the way (lucky so-and-so that I am).
What advice would you give to anyone starting out in poetry today?
Read poetry, listen to poetry, talk about poetry, then write it. Pick a subject and inhabit it, throw yourself at it and into it — if you’re enthralled, chances are the reader will be to. And thanks.