A Poet's Work
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I run a free email newsletter breaking down the taboos about poetry and work and demystifying what "being a poet" means.

For the newsletter, I interview diverse poets working today about their writing, their poetry jobs and their other jobs. We explore the big questions - making money, finding time, writing whilst living with mental or physical illness and disability, connecting with audiences, staying true to our creative integrity, and more.

There's no one way to be a poet but how can we each find ours unless we learn from each other? If you're curious, subscribe and recommend to a friend so you can discuss! Scroll down for the back catalogue.
A Poet's Work - The Back Catalogue
Read on to learn from poets about how to....
Facilitate poetry workshops
I share how I got into running poetry workshops
Run a poetry open mic
Rakaya Esime Fetuga shares how she runs Rumi's Cave open mic
Start your own poetry publishing house
Scarlett Ward shares how she founded Fawn Press
Be a poet and a multi-disciplinary freelance creative
Christy Ku shares how she got into being a multi-disciplinary freelance creative - poetry is one of her disciplines!
Grow an audience whilst working a 9 - 5 job
Aiz Hussain shares his journey into poetry, explaining how he found his voice and how working in an unrelated job has helped him find his audience
Be a poet and an academic
Julie Irigaray shares how she combines writing poetry with life as a PhD researcher
Work in poetry and creative copywriting
Rishi Dastidar shares how he has made it work across a career in two fields
Get your first poetry pamphlet published
Elspeth Wilson shares her journey to publication of her first pamphlet 'Too Hot to Sleep'
Join the poets at work - subscribe today!
Rachel Lewis on poetry

workshop facilitation
I am a freelance poetry workshop facilitator. I thought I'd share the story of how I got into it, in case you find it helpful or are interested in trying out running workshops yourself.

Before starting to run poetry workshops, I had built up general experience in facilitation through my other, unrelated jobs. I'd definitely recommend thinking about ways you could get some experience in facilitation before striking out as a facilitator. This could be as simple as getting a couple of writing friends together and facilitating a group session for them, either in person or over Zoom. I also attend writing workshops regularly which helps me think about how to run my own (there are many free and low-cost workshops available online).

In 2020 I was lucky enough to find a collaborator who also wanted to get into facilitation. Together we developed a clear workshop "offer" that was unique to us and reached out to offer it for free to a couple of organisations we wanted to work with in order to gain experience.

Once we'd got one or two free sessions under our belts, we asked for testimonials from these happy "customers", which helped us pitch ourselves successfully for paid work with literary festivals and writing organisations. We also put on workshops ourselves from time to time, advertising the places over social media and through our newsletters.

We now run workshops regularly and we also used our experience to bid for Arts Council funding to run a full workshop course in 2021. For this pitch, the feedback we'd gathered from participants of our previous workshops was essential so I definitely recommend creating a quick feedback survey for the end of your sessions.

Having a co-facilitator at the start was really helpful for building up each others' confidence and giving each other feedback. We still work together and we also now run workshops on our own as well.

To speak far too briefly (there is so much more to say!) about access and facilitation, I'd just flag that it's really important to consider your own access needs as a facilitator, as well as the access needs of the participants, and come to a sensible middle ground. If you are a disabled facilitator, take time to get your support in place and plan ahead to avoid over-compromising on what you need, so you can then work to meet the needs of your participants.

My absolute top tip for facilitation is to remember that a facilitator is not the expert on the subject matter being discussed. A good facilitator recognises the contribution and experience each participant brings and makes space for self-reflection and peer learning. You're holding space, not teaching. Realising this gave me a lot of confidence for facilitating writing workshops. I never worry about whether I'm the most "experienced" writer in the room. In fact, I hope I'm not!

Running poetry workshops is an absolute joy. I'd encourage anyone interested to give it a go. If you'd like to chat more about it, get in touch!

Rakaya Esime Fetuga on poetry

open mics
Rakaya tells stories through poetry, theatre and fiction. Her work joins conversations on overlapping identities, faith and culture as self-affirmation. She has written poetry commissions for the United Nations and the BBC among others, and was previously a Roundhouse artist in residence. She's an absolute powerhouse, and a generous and gracious open mic host at Rumi's Cave. I sat down to ask her what the work of running an open mic really is.

Rachel: How did you get into poetry?

Rakaya: I was always interested in creativity and had various dreams. I was interested in music, songwriting, fiction and theatre, and poetry came along with that. I started sharing poetry when teachers and friends sent me competitions. I started performing while I was at uni but I got more into it after graduating.

Rachel: And how did you get into hosting open mics?

Rakaya: My open mic was handed down to me by my dad! As a family we're very close to this community space called Rumi's Cave. My dad used to host the open mic for them and I would sometimes come along. It was a space for me to build confidence and get used to performing. Then it was given to me to take over. I got a team of poets together and now we run the open mics for Rumi's Cave. It's been really nice to get involved again as someone who is making space for other artists to come and try out new things and find their voice.

Rachel: I've been to Rumi's Cave but not everyone who reads this will have. Can you describe it for our readers? What's the vibe?

Rakaya: The vibe at Rumi's Cave is supportive energy. The whole space is focused on making a community space for Muslims and non-Muslims to come in and chill. It's kind of like how in a free house you might be able to just go up and speak to someone new. They wanted to have that energy but alcohol-free - a place where you can just come and have tea and speak to a stranger and realise that you're a lot closer than you might have thought.

Rumi's Cave has a soup kitchen which is their main funded project. The open mic has always run alongside the other projects as a way to support artists and create space for exploration.

Rachel: How do you think running an open mic has influenced your practice as a performer?

Rakaya: I think the other way round more so. Going to other open mics as a performer has influenced how I host. I think there is a responsibility to honour the work people have put out there. And also with carrying the energy from one performance to the next because people might come up with very contrasting vibes and content. So it's about being able to honour everything that's been shared and clearing the way for something new as well.

Rachel: And is there anything about running your own event that is tricky to balance with your own writing? Or does it help your writing?

Rakaya: I think it helps because I get inspired by the people who come up and open mic, by the featured artists, and by the other people in my team. Through organising the open mic, we've cultivated a poetry friendship. We send each other links and poets for inspiration. I do think they go hand in hand.

Rachel: What do you think are the most important skills that you need to run an open mic?

Rakaya: Time management! That's definitely something we've got better at. At the start we were just like, "Everybody sign up and let's stay here for five hours!" You need to be OK with being strict.

I also think it's really nice if you can acknowledge and thank people for what they've brought into the space by giving specific feedback or points of celebration for each person. That makes everyone feel valued and celebrated.

And then there is a lot of admin so if you can get that done, that's good. Also I do know people who lead open mics on their own but they always have people helping them. Having a team definitely helps - you can do more together.

Rachel: Is there one piece of advice you'd give to someone who wants to start their own open mic?

Rakaya: Getting people there is the most important thing. Work on your advertising and marketing! When we first took over, some of our events would have only five people there. It's been great to see it grow along with our online presence. Word of mouth has helped a lot. So has consistency - have your events regularly, advertise regularly, and consistently remind people you're there.

Rachel: What is one thing you hope for the future for the open mic?

Rakaya: I'd like to do something outside! That's a plan for the future - a park event.

Rachel: Thank you so much for sharing all of this. As a poet going to open mics, they sort of just magically appear in the world and I never really knew what goes into them, so this was really interesting for me. Is there anything else you'd like to share?

Rakaya: Because your newsletter is about poetry and work, I think it's important to say that the Rumi's Cave open mic is totally volunteer-led. We don't make any money from it. At the start we thought we could, and maybe some open mics do, but it's not turned out like that for us.

Also, we're a charity open mic. Half of our proceeds go back into Rumi's Cave and kitchen project so we have less money to work with. We've found some really supportive venues but it has still been difficult finding spaces that work with the budget. Another hope for the future is to get funding to cover our costs so that all the money we make can go to Rumi's Cave.

Rachel: Although the newsletter is about poetry and work, I wouldn't suggest for a minute that only activity paid for by an organisation counts as work. I think poets do lots of things that are work, like the admin side of open mics. It's not formal paid work but it's part of how you want to be a poet in the world and it's clear from this conversation it's important to you. I don't use the word 'work' to be limiting, or to imply we're only interested in how to make money from poetry because that would be crazy and we should all just go home! There's so much that poets do for the love of it and I think that's really amazing. It's very cool you can support the organisation that supported you.

Rakaya: It is really nice, knowing how much Rumi's Cave have done for me and how much they've built my confidence, to be able to give back a little bit.

Rachel: And finally, what's one thing that someone reading this can do to support you and Rumi's Cave Open Mic?

Rakaya: You can follow the Rumi's Cave instagram or the Cave open mic instagram to stay up to date with our events.

Scarlett Ward on starting a

poetry publishing house
Photo credit: Isaac Qureshi
Scarlett is both a fantastic poet and a hugely kind and committed editor, dedicated to producing genuinely beautiful new poetry publications. I am delighted to bring you her story of founding Fawn Press.

Rachel: How did you get Fawn Press started?

Scarlett: I've always lived and breathed poetry, reading greedily and writing voraciously. I published my own book in 2019 with Verve Press, and it triggered a fascination with the publishing process. During lockdown I think many people turned to the arts, and just as restrictions were being lifted I was writing for an arts festival in Kensington, being exposed to amazing independent artists and strong women in the arts. As that job came to an end, I found myself with some savings for the first time in my life and I was at a crossroads. Do I get a 9 - 5 job working for someone else, or do I invest in starting up my own company?

So I took the leap. It just felt like the right time to invest in the community that had given me so much. I'd wanted to do it for years so I just did it. I also had a background in design and marketing which really helped me build a brand, social media and a website. Every day I'm learning, but I have icons such as Jane Commane, Emma Wright, Isabelle Kenyon and other fantastic women in publishing inspiring me along the way.

Rachel: What have you enjoyed most about it so far?

Scarlett: I have really enjoyed the opportunity to read lots of work. During our first submission window for our anthology I got to read so many poems and it was interesting to see how submitters interpreted the theme 'the elements'. It's a real honour and privilege to be trusted with someone's work, and Lexia (Fawn Press editor) and I really put a lot of time into reading each one. I am so looking forward to reading the pamphlets coming in for our current submission window.

Rachel: What if anything have you learned from Fawn Press to inform your own work as a writer?

Scarlett: I have found that my belief in the importance of the relationship between writer and reader has been confirmed. I read a lot of poems that feel self-indulgent, almost as though the poet is soliloquising and forgetting about the reader's experience. I'm not just reading as myself, I am trying to imagine how a wider audience will receive the poems Fawn Press brings out, so it's as though I have to simultaneously possess multiple ears. I think this is a responsibility of a publisher. Being able to think "How would this be perceived by the world?" is a practice that has enabled me to think "Am I just venting onto a page here, or am I crafting something that will be enjoyed by the reader?" Otherwise it's just written masturbation.

Rachel: How have you found balancing working for yourself, with living with long-term illness?

Scarlett: This has been so difficult. I am a bit of a workaholic, and it's only because I'm so passionate about what I do and about what I want Fawn Press to be. Before my diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis, I was suffering from the fatigue that the disease causes, but I just thought I was being lazy, so I pushed through it. Then when my first major attack happened, I lost my ability to read and write, so I was literally forced to rest for three weeks whilst my treatment slowly took effect.

Since then, my body has been disabled by the attack, but I thankfully have recovered my ability to write and to walk again and now I'm just learning the limits of this new body and my progressive disease. It's such a delicate balancing act, having big aspirations and a body that sometimes can't keep up, but I think the biggest challenges are the ones I impose on myself to get stuff done and not come across as 'lazy'. I literally have a disease where my own body is eating its own brain, and yet I find it hard to admit I sometimes need support. However, the more I learn to lean on people, the more I'm learning to trust that I can ask for help.

Rachel: And finally, what's one thing someone reading this newsletter can do to support your work?

Scarlett: You can buy books from our shop, and you can follow our Instagram, Facebook and Twitter!

Rachel: P.S. One additional plug from me - if you don't have Scarlett's book 'Ache', go buy it, especially if you have experiences of living through an eating disorder, it's a light in the dark.

Christy Ku on being a multi-

disciplinary freelance creative
Photo credit: Beth Baker
Christy Ku is a powerhouse of creativity, kindness and wisdom. She brings this to her freelance work in poetry, acting, photography, workshop facilitation, prose writing and more. I don't know how she does it all so I sat down to ask her.

Rachel: So how did you get into poetry?

Christy: Ah, my origin story! At university I studied creative writing and as part of my course I had to do a poetry module. At the same time, my friend Amani Saeed set up a spoken word society. It was a quiet and intimate space to learn and hear other people. Those two things combined got me interested. And then I just carried on! I moved to London after graduating and did a lot of open mics and got involved in the community. I also entered competitions and programmes. It all built up, and here I am!

Rachel: And now you do poetry, photography, acting, prose writing and workshop facilitation. How did you get into being a multi-disciplinary creative? How did you learn all those skills?!

Christy: I've always been interested in many disciplines. I didn't have much opportunity to explore them when I was young because I had very strict parents. My university rebellion was learning how to edit videos, do drama and use Adobe Suite. I tried to take everything I could from having that space to pursue interests outside of my degree through societies. As you get good at something and build a portfolio, people will ask, "Can I hire you?"

With photography, I moved through a few cameras until I got a decent one and I took a lot of photos! Like with poetry, I just kept carrying on, finding and making opportunities. London is a great place to be - there are so many people, resources, opportunities and programmes.

With acting, it is challenging and I do feel new to it. I've also aged out of a lot of development opportunities and the acting world feels more closed off. But my poetry experience has been a huge help. I've been doing a lot of work lately as an extra for film and TV so I've been meeting more actors. I've found these actors are not all that mystical about the craft. They treat it like it's not that deep, and they actually get the jobs!

With workshop facilitation, I'd always been interested because I attend a lot of workshops. I did a leadership programme called Sour Lemons (sadly now dissolved) where we had opportunities to facilitate workshops for each other. It was great practice. If you have friends who are interested in writing, ask if you can run a writing workshop for them. Then you can say on your CV - "I've facilitated workshops for small collectives!". I also found that because I had some big names on my CV from my poetry work (the BBC, Sky Arts) that's opened workshop facilitation doors too.

With prose writing, once you can write, you can write in other mediums. Ultimately the foundation is there. I did a few years of journalism for a YouTube and internet culture publication (also sadly now dissolved) which was great practice. I took a break to focus on poetry but I'm wanting to get back into it so I've been pitching for personal essays lately - we'll see how it goes!

Rachel: What prompted you to go fully freelance?

Christy: I dreamed of a nice office job where I sat at my laptop, chatted with my colleagues, and did poetry on the side. Although that dream didn't feel that big, it didn't happen. The work environments were toxic in so many of the places I found myself. Even in places that claim to have a "flat hierarchy" or be "like a family", colleagues would pull rank and shut down the smallest suggestions. I went to the doctor at one point because I'd skipped a period from stress. I moved through about four start-ups and then I just felt I had to go freelance. Now I can be my own work culture.

Rachel: How do you find that your multi-disciplines influence your poetry?

Christy: Something I love about portrait photography is that the person can finally see themselves how you see them. You can capture their inner personality. I do this in my poetry too. I'll write little bits inspired by something someone has said or done, or inspired by something about them.

For workshop facilitation, I work with different age groups. Seeing how young kids approach creativity is really interesting. In one workshop, I said "Let's write about the moon". One participant wrote about Chinese mythology, one wrote about the moon as cheese, one wrote about werewolves. Same prompt, very different directions and styles. I love seeing that.

Rachel: Is there anything about being a multi-disciplinary person that doesn't support your poetry?

Christy: It's just time. Sometimes I wonder if I should strike a skill off my list if I haven't done it in ages. Or I wonder, what's my main thing? For example, I finished writing my poetry pamphlet in late 2020 and then I didn't write a poem for two years. That makes me question what my "main thing" is. But I'm thinking about it like a fallow period, where you leave the ground alone again to become rich again. And having many disciplines is nice because I can always move on to something else when I can't do one of them.

Rachel: I've found that most poets, when you actually talk to them, have had periods of their lives when they don't write. Some I really want to pick at in these conversations is the idea that one specific thing, one way of being or working or one experience, can validate or invalidate you as a writer.

Christy: I remember in my early days I wondered at what point I would get to call myself a "poet"? There is no governing body. No one will knight you or give you a certificate. It's fine to give it to yourself. But then you worry, of course, what if I'm one of those people who has given themselves a title they don't deserve? For me it was when I first got a commission, or maybe when I first got booked as a headliner, that I decided to call myself a poet. But then again, there are poets I hugely admire who haven't yet published collections, for example, and I consider them poets. It's really not that deep. We need to get over ourselves about it.

Rachel: I completely agree. For me, I called myself a poet only when I had my pamphlet accepted for publication. But then I'd rather be a bad poet, labouring under delusions of grandeur, than no poet at all if those are my options! So, thinking about the future, what are your goals for your work? What are you excited about?

Christy: I'd like to get my poetry pamphlet published and work up to a full collection. The pamphlet has been shortlisted a lot recently which is exciting but I'd like to get it accepted! With acting, I'd like to take on bigger roles… in general I want to continue to build on what I'm doing.

In terms of very big goals… I grew up listening to Gorillaz and the band members do experimental tracks sometimes where they bring on poets and writers. I'd love to be on a Gorillaz album one day. I'm also obsessed with BTS…

Rachel: I'm obsessed with Blackpink! I would love to be a poet on one of their songs.

Christy: Each BTS member does mixtape projects that are more experimental. RM is the member most interested in lyrics and books and art galleries, so maybe one day he will come across my work. If RM ever wants me on a mixtape, hello! Make me your Warsan Shire.

Rachel: What is one piece of advice you would give to someone interested in becoming a multi-disciplinary creative?

Christy: Accept you will be bad at new skills at first. Approach learning as if you're a child, starting from zero years old, and remember there's a lot of gift in being a beginner.

Rachel: And finally, what is one thing that someone reading this newsletter can do to support you?

Christy: Join me in my internet world so you can keep up to date with my work. You can follow me on instagram or TikTok, or sign up to my newsletter.

Rachel: P.S. Christy is a great follow! I love following her social media, her internet world is a great place to be

Aiz Hussain on his journey into

When I first met Aizaz 'Aiz' Hussain, his fire for poetry stood out a mile so I invited him to share his journey into poetry. Aiz is never anything but honest in his writing. For years he has been committed to raising awareness on issues that matter, including mental health at its most raw and difficult. In addition to this important work, something I love about his story so far is how he has navigated work outside of poetry in a way that has only fired up his craft. I don't use the word 'inspiring' lightly, but I'll use it about Aiz. I hope you enjoy reading his story.

Trigger warning: this story references suicide and death.

Poetry saved my life and yet I actually hated poetry growing up. There was nothing I could relate to or see myself in during those long English lessons that would only highlight old-age-straight-white-male page poets commenting on nature in the countryside. Why would I want to annotate the connotations of something that has no interest or appeal to me? I suppose that dislike trickled into the English side of my undergrad degree too, whereby I chose all the modules that had nothing to do with poetry… so who knew that soon after it would be the very thing that stopped me from ending it all?

Being born South Asian where the culture has a mental health taboo, growing up in South London among gangs who don't really know what mental health is, brought up as a boy where men don't understand how to express our feelings until it is too late - all 3 of these aspects of life meant I'd bottled it in from a young age. Going through the trials and tribulations of life and thinking everyone else around the world had it a lot harder than me meant I never validated my emotions and put others before myself. I've been to more funerals than both my parents combined, having lost loved ones to murder, suicide, rape, stabbings and unfortunate deaths. So when it got to a boiling point on my 21st birthday in 2017, I decided to turn a suicide note into a poem called 'Death' that I could recite and share online with my loved ones as I fell asleep into the abyss. I had no idea I was going to wake up, let alone to the video going viral across the country. Receiving inspiring messages from friends, family and strangers who'd been through similar issues and actually said that my words stopped them from ending their lives and instead encouraged them to speak up, was a feeling I'd never felt before and gave me a new lease on life.

Then all of a sudden my life changed, with this random Asia House UK platform inviting me to perform 'Death' on their London stage and a BBC correspondent being present requested me to share my poem/story on the BBC World News in 2018. I was shocked they reached over 125,000 people who witnessed my story on the BBC front page, as well as it being broadcast worldwide on the BBC World News TV channel, which reaches around 99 million viewers per week! For the first time I realized my voice meant something, so I started speaking up for the voiceless through performing spoken word poems at open mic events across London.

My audience both in real life and on social media grew so quickly from @AizPoetry to @AizzzOfficial that in 2019 I actually quit my well-paying corporate London grad job in Life Science recruitment consultancy to tour around London and the wider UK performing poetry exploring issues that affect me and people who look / sound like me. I barely had any confidence to publicly speak, but there was that constant urge inside of me to speak up and build a legacy for people to look up to. If I failed, then I failed. But if I kept going at something, then the risk would've been worth it and I'd be able to look back on my years with no regrets whatsoever. I performed at the prestigious Roundhouse Poetry Slam semi-finals, I've been interviewed by BBC Asian Network, BBC Leicester and BBC London radio several times and I've been booked to headline events to perform my spoken word on societal issues that the mainstream media never want to talk about, ranging from colourism, racism, knife crime, sexual violence, gentrification, Islamophobia, cancel culture, colonialism to hidden British Asian history even. I got invited to be a creative workshop facilitator at schools - a fond surreal memory being this one in East London where I turned 25 teenage students into phenomenal spoken word performers in 4 hours by providing them with a safe space to share their truths since nearly all of them had never written about themselves, let alone performed in front of others. While giving back to the community, I also found love in our national and international poetry community, connected with some insanely talented human beings who've since become lifelong friends, and was even successful in Apples & Snakes X Team London Bridge collaboration project scheme, where after several months of workshops I became a 'Platform Poets' alumni.

But as we know, the pandemic hit in 2020 and the creative scene went bust. No more venues, booking fees and live audiences - meaning no more income while my family lost their livelihoods too. I had to think fast and pay the bills somehow, so I accepted a role in Amazon to launch a delivery station in my local community and manage the delivery operations from Croydon across South London. Meanwhile, poetry went virtual to instagram open mic events and livestreams and it opened up a whole new world of creatives wanting/needing to express themselves. For me, I saw an opportunity to elevate this artform in the corporate world using the biggest company in the world that I've been working for. Over the past 2 years, I've worked with Amazon to showcase my journey through poetry and help inspire others to find their creative outlet. I've performed for the 2021 Amazon Box Star Award they presented me with. I donated £1,000 to the Samaritans Charity, which means a lot to me and my friends personally, and Amazon plastered my story internationally all over the Amazon app and website. Through raising awareness of mental health advocacy and poetry, Amazon UK invited me to create and perform a secret poetry film that will soon be shared with over 20,000 people worldwide this year! It will no doubt be a special moment for me to represent our extremely talented community to the corporate world in 2022, and while I have no idea what the future brings in terms of how we can diversify out and bring this art to the forefront it deserves, I just know deep down that this is only just the beginning for our journey.

Support the artist! Follow Aiz on social media to stay up to date with his work:

Rishi Dastidar on being a poet and a creative copywriter
Rishi's poetry has been published by the Financial Times, New Scientist and the BBC amongst many others. His debut collection Ticker-tape is published by Nine Arches Press, and a poem from it was included in The Forward Book of Poetry 2018. A member of Malika's Poetry Kitchen, he is also a former chair of the London writer development organisation Spread The Word. In addition to his poetry, Rishi also works four days a week at an agency writing creative copy for brands. We sat down to discuss how he has made a life in poetry work alongside working with words in an office environment and what he's learned from doing both.

Rachel: How did you get into poetry?

Rishi: I started when I was 27, and I had a Damascene moment, The office I worked in at the time was off Oxford Street. At lunchtime I would pop to the bookshop. Going up the escalator one day I saw this book of poetry, Ashes for Breakfast by Durs Grünbein. The title grabbed me. I picked it up and flicked through and felt, 'Woah, no one told me you could write like this.' It blew my mind. I wanted to know how to do it. By the end of the week I'd booked onto the 'Introduction to poetry' course with Clare Pollard at City Lit.

I had been looking around for something to write. I had thought I would be a journalist but that hadn't worked out. It turned out poetry is a thing I can write, that I'm excited to write, although it takes a long while to get good. Those first five years after finding Ashes for Breakfast were about developing.

Rachel: And how did you get into creative copywriting?

Rishi: I started in journalism. I did a lot of student journalism at university and then got a job sub-editing newsletters at a far-flung bit of the Financial Times. Then they sold that bit I was working on so I had to leave or retrain. I left. I did a Masters, not in creative writing I should add, and it was while I was doing that that I got a job at a branding agency. I started to learn about the world of branding and its power in business.

All of that has been really useful and helped my career no end. But I still felt that what I really wanted to do was more on the copywriting side of things. So while I was working in branding, I was putting together a portfolio, doing sample ads and looking for ways to break into creative copywriting. Whenever we had a brief for writing in my office, I would stick my hand up to have a go at it, as well as the freelance writer we'd commission. I was doing all that in the evenings and weekends until I had enough to go into the porfolio. A friend of mine was working at an ad agency and let me know they were looking for another writer so I applied. That was my break into a creative agency in Adland.

Rachel: How does your copywriting influence your poetry? And vice versa?

Rishi: Learning the craft of poetry – rhythm, rhyme, assonance – all feeds into copywriting. It gives me a bigger toolbox to make my writing for brands attention-grabbing and memorable. Learning poetry has made me a better writer.

There is also overlap between the skill of a good ad and the skill of a poem. The conceit behind the poem is analogous to the idea behind an ad. What is the thing you are trying to express or explore? An ad and a poem are two forms of really compressed and concise communication that are trying to do something. The ad is trying to sell or persuade or get you to act. Poems are less obvious but they are trying to get you to 'do' something. They might be trying to get you to think about something you'd not considered, or to see something familiar in a new way, or to look at this object in a new way. A good ad will often reframe the world in service of selling something. A good poem will reframe the world in service of something else.

Both poems and ads are trying to get you in and out quickly but they also want you to linger with them. I'm usually trying to explore one thing in a poem. The language might be baroque but at the core I'm trying to get from point A to point B. There's a lot of thinking about expansion and compression going on, which good ads do as well. How do we bring you in, make an argument quickly and close it down? Which is not to say that poets are in the business of simplification. We should be more sophisticated than that. We should know what we want to do with language and then do it. If complexity is your aim, then that's fine.

Rachel: So a poem and an ad are both forms of communication that want to act on the reader?

Rishi: Yes. And the other influence is that I'm exposed to a lot of interesting language through working with clients. A lot of the poems in Ticker Tape revolve on thinking about that language of capitalism, taking it for a walk and trying to reveal the contradictions in it. If I'm spending 50 hours a week in that world, that provides a palette for what I'm writing now.

Rachel: And how do you find doing both jobs in terms of time?

Rishi: For the first five years of poetry, it wasn't a problem. Then I changed jobs and tried to work four days a week in a start-up. That didn't work out so well, so I moved on to another creative agency and asked to work four days a week there. That moment felt like the right time to commit to seeing what would happen with poetry by giving it a day a week. Around the same time I was chosen to be part of The Complete Works. It felt like if the panel had seen something in me worth investing time and public money in, I should take it seriously too. Fortunately, it was possible for me to take a pay cut at that time.

Ad agencies are good places to work in the sense that you're surrounded by other creative people. There is a tacit understanding that most people will have creative projects on the side. Also agency work fluctuates. You have very busy periods and quieter periods, and poetry is something you can do in quick moments and unexpected bursts.

Candidly, though, I work a six-day week. On Fridays I do admin, which includes charity and mentoring work, and I write on Sundays. That's how I make it work.

Fair to say I spend most of my time thinking about writing. I don't see my commercial work for clients to be inferior to the other life I have as a poet. I think it's worthwhile to try and make brand communications better, to try and make them as beautiful and interesting as possible.

Rachel: I've definitely encountered a lot of unhelpful value judgments about poetry and work, but I also really value my non-poetry work too!

Rishi: I made a documentary for Radio 4 a few years ago about the links between poetry and advertising. A few of the contributors to that were sceptical about what happens to both the poets, and the poetry, when they are enmeshed in that world, as one-off contributors, or over the course of a career so far, like me. But then poets have always had to find somewhere else to make money. Poets will be academics, or they'll do gigs and teach and educate, or they'll do something different, or a combination.

I think it's an interesting challenge to retain artistic integrity and credibility while working in another world. I feel I have retained some credibility to an extent, because I don't hide my work for brands and because I think it's in some way useful. And I'll always champion a poet being commissioned to write a poem for an advert wherever possible. Of course I don't want to imply that other careers can't be made conducive to a poetic life. I'd say we need to hear more from poet civil servants, poet teachers, poet plumbers, poet electricians. It's a question of how you spend your time when you're not working.

Rachel: This is something I am so interested in! When I was 21, the only thing I knew I wanted to do for sure was poetry. But I didn't see how that was a job, so I just went out and did other stuff. I think it's really important to have and share conversations like this so that people can think about what it means to be a poet and how to work it into a life.

Rishi: When you decide to be a poet, you take on a cast of mind and an approach to engaging with the world. You also need to think about what the vocation is for you. Everyone makes their own hodgepodge of a living. There will be one person in a generation who is Poet Laureate, another who becomes Professor of Poetry at Oxford, but the rest of us are just patching things together in ways unique to us. One person's way of being a poet might be community-driven, another's might be very academic. There is no value judgment from me on which is the better way to be a poet. Structurally and economically we've valued the latter more, and historically the names we valorise quite often had private incomes, but that says more about the systemic biases of our cultural industries of production than anything else. It's up to you as a poet to find a way to be.

Rachel: What are you excited about next and how can readers support you?

Rishi: Book three is coming out in late April. It's apocalyptic poetics – we're past eco-poetics.
Elspeth Wilson on getting her first pamphlet published
Elspeth is a writer and poet who is interested in exploring the limitations and possibilities of the body through writing, as well as writing about joy and happiness from a marginalised perspective. Her debut poetry pamphlet is published by Bent Key Publishing. She can usually be found in or near the sea.

Rachel: Tell us about your pamphlet, 'Too hot to sleep'.

Elspeth: My pamphlet is about the process of growing up and the trauma that can entail, particularly for people who are queer, neurodivergent or marginalised in any way. I'm looking at this through the vector of pop culture as a way to get into topics that can be hard to explore. A lot of the poems are quite confessional.

It's also really important to me to write about these topics through lenses of joy and finding hope in the gaps. The main themes are finding a way not only to survive but to live, and finding pleasure in a traumatic world.

Rachel: And how did you decide you want to put a pamphlet together?

Elspeth: Over a few months, I found myself writing a lot of poems that had threads tying them together. It was clear to me at the time that I was working on a body of poems which fitted together.

I wrote a lot more poems in this period than are in the pamphlet. Some poems came out really quickly and some needed a lot more editing but they all felt like they were a family. To create the pamphlet, it was a case of finding which bits of the family fit together most for readers, not just myself.

When you're writing a pamphlet, it can feel like a puzzle that can fit together in a lot of different ways. I am sure there are other possible pamphlets in the poems than the one I chose.

Rachel: And how did you get into poetry overall?

Elspeth: I got into it like many people (though I hope not everyone!) at a difficult time in my life. I was living abroad and feeling lonely and poetry greeted me as a friend. Once I started, there were things that had been difficult in my past which I wanted to write about. It felt cathartic, which was important at the time. As I got more into writing, however, I took a step back from solely exploring my own traumatic experiences. I started to think about writing joy, persona poetry, and exploring a bit more. I do touch on topics that are traumatic in this pamphlet but I treat them differently compared to when I first started writing. There's more of a lightness of touch now. When I first got into poetry, I needed that space to be really personal and intimate. Now I hope my poetry can be more externally-facing too. I hope it can start and create conversations with other people.

Rachel: Had you written much before you got into poetry?

Elspeth: I wrote so much during my university degree! And I read so much too, but always in service to what I was studying. So I hadn't written creatively since I was a child or early teenager. It was almost like re-learning or re-exercising those creative muscles again. That was something that was really joyful to come back to.

Rachel: So you had a body of work you felt you wanted to share, and you'd brought together the threads. How did you go about getting it into the world and getting it published?

Elspeth: Editing was key. I think of it as part of the writing process. For me, that meant leaving the poems to have time to exist on their own and then coming back to them, and then editing them.

After that, the next step was to share them with other people whose opinions and thoughts I value. There's no point asking someone whose feedback you won't value. I'd also worked on some of the poems in workshops. After having that input from other people, I felt I'd given the pamphlet its best shot in terms of taking it into the world.

Then I researched publishers and thought about what I was looking for. For me, it was important to work with a UK publisher so I could see my books in bookshops here. But I know British poets who've had pamphlets published abroad and that seems to have gone really well for them. Then I had to be methodical about looking at the dates publishers were open for submissions, following publishers on twitter and submitting from there.

Rachel: So your pamphlet was accepted by your publisher, Bent Key, through an open submission?

Elspeth: Yes! It's important to be honest though and say there was rejection along the way. I'm really happy that I ended up with Bent Key and I only submitted to places I actually wanted to be published by. That might sound silly but I think it is easy to get caught up in thinking, "Oh, they've got an open submission!" But just because an opportunity is open, doesn't mean you have to submit to it. It's your work and it's precious to you so you want to give it the best possible entrance to the world.

I was extremely excited to work with Bent Key because they have an ethos I really like in terms of how they communicate with authors, transparency around the model they use to pay authors, and transparency in their support for marginalised artists. They've made their stance on supporting trans rights and artists from different backgrounds really clear. Wanting to work with a queer, neurodivergent-led press was also important to me.

We all want our work to be out there in the world but, for me, it would always be better to keep my work close to me rather than have it out in the world in a way that I didn't want. It's really important to make sure editors are aligned to your values.

Rachel: And what has the work been since having that first conversation with Bent Key?

Elspeth: It will be just over a year between my acceptance and the launch in April 2023. Firstly I had to prepare the manuscript. I looked at it again and thought, on my own, is there anything else I want to change or add? I did add a couple of poems in and then I sent it back to Rebecca Kenny, the editor and founder at Bent Key. She went through and made some editorial suggestions and also proof-read. Rebecca was already happy with the manuscript so it was just a few small changes to make the poems shine or make the message clearer. Bent Key has an ethos of trying to not alter the original voice of their poets.

Once we were both happy with the manuscript, there were things I hadn't even thought about like the dedication for the book so I sent that through. Then everything gets typeset and the cover art is created. The next steps are planning the launch and thinking about the best way to introduce it to the world and to readers who will connect with it.

Rachel: Can you tell us about the launch?

Elspeth: The launch will be a really chilled and inclusive event. It will have poetry readings from myself and a bit of chat about the book, and then poetry readings from poets I admire and whose work has inspired me. There will be a pop culture thread running through. Then there will be an opportunity to ask questions about the pamphlet process or the process of writing the pamphlet. Hopefully it will be a really nice night! It'll be on Zoom, it'll be BSL-interpreted and there will be breaks. I'm really conscious of that, knowing that people have been shut out of the poetry world as online events have become less frequent.

Rachel: What are you most excited about about having your pamphlet in the world?

Elspeth: I'm excited to hear readers' reactions! If anyone does read it and wants to share with me or on instagram, I would love to see it. For me, the most important thing is having those authentic and genuine connections. So even if my book were only to touch a few readers, if there's a poem I wrote that really connects with someone I would love to hear about that.

I'm also excited about being able to do readings in a similar vein. The kind of reading I like to do is quite intimate and I often have very light elements of audience participation. In the past, I've asked people to write their thoughts on post-it notes or hold something in their head as a prompt to think about whilst I'm reading a poem. I'm excited to connect with other people who love poetry and other poets.

Rachel: Is there anything you wish you'd known before you started the process of putting a pamphlet together that you know now?

Elspeth: It takes a long time! For me it was a year from acceptance to publication, which is probably quite a quick timescale. And at some stage the work on the pamphlet will move from a creative space to a more logistical one as you'll be thinking about planning, getting your work in bookshops and so on.

Having something else to work on has really helped me with that. I've been working on a different collection throughout the process and I started that collection even before the pamphlet was accepted. It's really nice to have something new in the works, or even just going to lots of workshops, to continue nourishing the creative part of your poetry practice.

The other thing to say is that rejection is something all writers face and it can be really disheartening but if you get positive rejections do listen to them and keep going! Editors are very busy people and it's generous of them to give you a personalised, positive rejection. With this pamphlet, I got a few positive rejections and then an acceptance from a publisher I'm delighted to be working with.

Rachel: What's next for you with poetry?

Elspeth: It's probably developing myself and working towards a collection, but also not being too precious about that. If it turns out I've written 200 poems but only 30 of them fit well together, that's fine. I'm trying to develop my craft without too much ego, so I'm not saying that now I've got a pamphlet, I have to have a collection. Poetry is more organic and flexible than that.

The areas I'm feeling drawn to at the moment are nature and how we connect to it, and folklore as well. And just keeping going I guess! Keeping going to as many workshops as possible, being curious, doing courses, reading as many poets as I can. I'd love to have a collection published, absolutely, but it doesn't need to happen on any particular timeframe. I'm trying to give myself all the opportunity to be as relaxed about poetry as I can be.

Rachel: And finally, what's one way that someone reading this newsletter can support your work?

Elspeth: Buy the pamphlet, if you can! It's available for pre-order here: https://www.waterstones.com/book/too-hot-to-sleep/....

I also recently made a Tiktok about ways to support writers you like when you have no money, which is something I've faced. One key thing you can do is borrow their book from the library or request that your library buys the book. If you borrow the book from the library, the writer still gets paid through public lending rights. If the library buys the book, they get paid too! And if you read it and you like it, tell someone. That's what I try and do with books I've loved reading, whether that's goodreads or word of mouth or my instagram stories.
Julie Irigaray on being a poet and an academic
Julie's work explores languages, identity, migration, and much more. Her début poetry pamphlet 'Whalers, Witches and Gauchos' was published by Nine Pens in 2021, and she is also an English Literature PhD student at The University of Huddersfield. Her academic research focuses on Sylvia Plath's complex relationship with England and her transnational identity as an American writer with strong European connections. I asked Julie how she got into poetry and academia, and what it's like to do both!

Rachel: How did you get into poetry?

Julie: Let's start with poetry in French. I hated poetry as a young child because in France the way they teach poetry is to force children to learn a poem and then go up on stage and recite it. I started appreciating poetry at the age of 13 when I studied the French poet Arthur Rimbaud. It was two years after that I started writing it, as a fan of Rimbaud!

In France there isn't a poetry scene as dynamic as in the UK and Ireland and I was living in the middle of nowhere so I was just writing for myself. It was only when I started living in the UK and Ireland that I saw from contemporary magazines in bookshops that there was a scene I could join. I started writing poetry in English at the age of 21 or 22, so seven years ago

Rachel: What are your writing interests?

Julie: My pamphlet Whalers, Witches and Gauchos deals with my Basque heritage. It explores how Basque people migrated to America in the 19th century to find a better life. My family went to Argentina and worked as gauchos in the pampas among other things. And the witchcraft heritage - there were several major trials in the Basque country. There are also a few poems in the pamphlet that deal with my life in Italy. I've moved between the UK, France, Ireland and Italy several times so there's also my own history of migrating.

Rachel: And how did you get into academic work?

Julie: It's not cheerful! It was when I had a nervous breakdown. After my Masters degree I thought I needed to find a job as soon as possible. I think I just wanted to be like everyone else, have a stable 9 - 5 job. But I started a 9 - 5 job and it didn't satisfy me whatsoever. I started having regrets and resigned. Then I was unemployed and I thought it was time to really go for what I want.

I had wanted to apply to a PhD for years but I'd had lots of people telling me, 'Ah, it's really difficult to find a job in academia, you're not going to manage.' But I thought I would try because I had nothing to lose and otherwise I would have regrets all my life. It was really a bad time, in the middle of a depression, but paradoxically that gave me the push to do it. It had a happy ending!

Rachel: When you went back into academia, did you know what you wanted your specialism to be?

Julie: I was already interested in Sylvia Plath. In the middle of my nervous breakdown I went to a Sylvia Plath event at the British Library and I met a visiting scholar who became my future supervisor. Plath's collected letters had just been published and the event really triggered something. I decided I wanted to work on Plath now that there is all this new material to work on.

In my thesis I'm talking about Plath's transnational identity. My philosophy teacher used to say people do theses and dissertations linked to their lives. I didn't understand that at the time but it's true in my case.

Rachel: So I am pretty ignorant as to how academia works. Where are you at now? Are you mid-PhD, are you towards the close, are you just starting?

Julie: I could have finished the PhD in 2022 but because of Covid I couldn't do research trips, there were no conferences, and some difficult things happened on a personal level. So I am doing it in four years now rather than rushing to finish in three years. I'll finish it next year if all goes well.

I think we all need to be indulgent with ourselves given everything that has happened over the last two years with the pandemic. With my poetry as well, I have a writer friend who tried to encourage me last December to get my collection published at all costs in 2022. It's true I have it ready, it just needs a bit of polishing. But I just didn't have the time this year, I needed to focus on my PhD. We need to learn our limits!

Rachel: Do you feel that your work as an academic influences your poetry?

Julie: More the other way around. Because I'm a poet, I don't take it for granted that everything Plath wrote is autobiographical or true. I think a lot of people are tempted to do that.

Also poetry has made me more patient. I'm very slow at editing my poems so I don't mind editing the thesis.

And also rejections! As a poet we get so many rejections that I don't take academic corrections or criticisms badly at all.

If I could just mention creative writing teaching, my teaching does influence my poetry. When I create a brand new course with a theme, I have to read as many poets as I can. Sometimes there are authors I don't really like but I force myself to read them when I create the course. Even if I'm not fond of some poems, if they can teach something to my students I include them. I have a broader perspective as a result. And I learn things from my students all the time. And teaching forces me to make things simple. The point of being a teacher is to pass on knowledge and I take that into my poetry. I'm trying not to make my poetry too complicated unnecessarily. That's a teaching habit as well.

Rachel: And how did you get into teaching creative writing?

Julie: It was also when I was unemployed and depressed. I just saw a job ad with City Lit and applied. I had been a student with them on short courses before and I'd loved the atmosphere - friendly, diverse, open to people who are older or coming to poetry after difficulties in their lives.

At the time I only had a teaching degree and a couple of poems published in magazines. I didn't have any experience directly teaching creative writing so they really gave me a chance. Miracles can happen!

Especially since the pandemic I've noticed more people are doing creative writing courses to feel better, in particular students with disabilities or with difficult life experiences. Through teaching I feel I'm helping some people at least to feel better or evacuate things in their writing.

Rachel: What is your aspiration for your poetry in the future?

Julie: I'd love to get my next collection published in 2023. I feel done with the poems. For myself I want to turn the page. And this might sound idealistic or naive but I hope people are going to connect with the poems. There are poems in the collection about misogyny, toxic masculinity, gender. In the poems about migration and cultural identity, there's xenophobia and Brexit. I just want people to connect with the collection, either because those things happened to them or because the poems could make them change their mind.

Rachel: I don't think that's naive! I think that's what all poets hope for.

Julie: Well for some poets it's more about evacuating things, or maybe not in poetry but some people write to become famous or make money.

Rachel: If anyone is reading these newsletters looking for how to become famous or make lots of money, I hope I can persuade them to do something else! What is one piece of advice you would give someone considering academia and poetry? Either an academic who wants to get into poetry or a poet who is considering going down the academic route?

Julie: Keep the two because the two nurture each other. Keep your options open, don't shut any doors. Having a published pamphlet might help me secure academic jobs because I could teach creative writing alongside English Literature. Organising and performing at poetry events shows I can speak in public, which strengthens my academic CV. Also I couldn't earn a living through my poetry and creative writing teaching alone. Several poets manage to earn a living by mixing things and not focusing on one career.

Rachel: And finally, what's one thing that people reading this newsletter can do to support you and your work?

Julie: Write me a message! What pleases me the most is when people on Twitter or email send me personal messages about why they connected with my book. That's meant more to me than being shortlisted for prizes or anything like that. I've started doing it myself for poets I like, even if I feel shy!

Once a teacher who was teaching kids about World War One reached out to tell me she had taught my poem in her class. They talked about toxic masculinity and the boys in her class had really engaged with it. One of the boys even chose to read it out on Armistice Day. That made my day! It makes me feel like I'm useful, like I've got a purpose on this earth.

P.S. You can reach out to Julie through her website or on twitter or instagram.

I am particularly interested in poetry events, workshops and commissions related to mental health, recovery, family, friendship and community. I am always happy to talk about potential collaborations and projects - do get in touch!
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