First published on Patreon on 23rd January. Find the original here
I think I fell in love with poetry before prose. We had a small handful of children’s poetry collections when I was growing up and I remember reading aloud from them with my siblings before I ever picked up the Famous Five. I could recite Macavity the Mystery Cat and Bed by Day and The Jabberwocky from memory back when secondary school was some vague future-place and staying up past 7.30 was a rare treat. I imitated those favourites in the first little scraps for verse I scribbled down on the backs of used printer paper and in cheap WH Smith notebooks.
A couple years later, I was introduced to fantasy novels and they became a minor obsession. Dragons and witches and girls wielding swords captured my imagination like nothing else. I immediately started trying to write my own fantasy epics. In secondary school I worked on a fantasy novel for close to two years – it was called The Power of Fatera and it was a wonderfully shallow and immature amalgamation of The Song of the Lionness by Tamora Pierce and The Cry of the Icemark by Stuart Hill. I tried again with an equally half baked version of the anime Shaman King but with fairies. And again with an over-complex riff on The Children of the Red King by Jenny Nimmo meets X-Men that never got past the concept stage. Each time I tried with prose, I got bored or frustrated or hit a block and gave up. Novels and stories were hard and took a long time and never seemed to go anywhere. The closest I got was in rewriting fairy tales, but even those felt difficult and unnatural. The words never did what I wanted. They looked wrong and sounded worse.
Even poetry didn’t make sense in those days. I’d never stopped writing it but the words refused to behave themselves. Despite my best efforts – including an adorably naive feminist poetry blog I had in 6th form – my poems never seemed to dance on the page like they did for Robert Louis Stevenson or Alfred Lord Tennyson or Maya Angelou. Then, just before I went to university my sister introduced me to Angles, an album by Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius Pip and it was like a light bulb went off. Poetry could be spoken. In hindsight, this should have been obvious since I spent so many hours memorising and reciting poetry as a child, and song lyrics as a teenager. But it was a revelation; here was poetry, “real” poetry that never needed to be written down. (There’s something to be said for the fact that a white man validated spoken word for me when I grew up listening to rap music but that’s another post for another day)
In my first semester at university I immediately joined the Creative Writing Society and went to all the spoken word events I could find, from open mics to workshops to showcases. I devoured Button Poetry videos on YouTube like my life depended on it. I’d found my niche, the thing that made my poetry come alive. My poems didn’t leap off the page because they were never meant to be on it. I wouldn’t even begin to perform most I produced in those years, but they’re precious to me. They remind me that spoken word gave me – and is still giving me – a framework for expressing myself.
My goal now is to make my poems dance on the page. I want to learn how to make my rhythm and lyricism as meaningful enjoyed in silence. Rose Purpure was a big step on that journey, especially because there are a couple poems in there written specifically for the page. Celestial Bodies is another, along with attending writing workshops for the first time since I graduated in 2015. I’m nowhere near there and I’m having some serious trouble taking criticism without using at a stick to beat myself with, but I’m growing.
Thanks for coming with me on this journey.