When we think of poetry, its easy for the mind to skip back to the times of Shakespeare or those of Oscar Wilde. Either way, it is rare that poetry is presented as an accessible and refreshing art form in the mainstream. Yet London's poetry scene is full of emerging talent dedicated to making poetry accessible to all by modernising the medium.
One women at the forefront of this change is Sophie, most commonly known as The Nasty Poet. Sophie has performed at Boiler Room and Bussey Building, premiered in Vogue Italia and currently hosts the Lyricism Show on Foundation FM. She has also previously held her own residencies at the Hoxton Hotel Group and Boxpark. On top of this, she is now releasing her debut poetry book on October 30th, titled 'Blessings, Many Schoolings'.
We caught up with Sophie to learn more about her practice and catering for a contemporary audience as a poet.
Hey Sophie! I’m interested to find out about how you first got into writing poetry.
I used to write quite a lot when I was younger, I’ve always had a knack for storytelling and performing (massive attention seeker) but most importantly I loved and still love making people laugh, it’s an infectious and addictive feeling. My earlier work used to be really quite funny - I first performed at my friend and ‘older’ James Massiah’s poetry nights in Peckham years and years ago now - the A and the E at Bussey Building. I had this really naughty poem about a boy and I just got up and performed on the open mic, needless to say I got a few laughs and didn’t want to stop. There is a thrill with performing that you just don’t get from many things, I feel like I need it, it makes me feel alive.
How has it been navigating London’s poetry scene?
It's such a vibrant and inspiring place where creatives are really open to sharing work. I think perhaps because it's built largely on such a DIY culture, it lends itself to needing its poets to be active contributors to keeping it alive. I think for me - as a performer more specifically - it's been incredible, there are brilliant nights in which you can share work, perform and receive live feedback on pieces.
In order to navigate it at its best, you have to throw yourself into it. It can be hard when you first start to build respect amongst your peers, and truly be recognised, I think it helps to have 'olders', who can nurture you and bring you in too. Obviously the scene is based on raw talent, which is why I always encourage young writers to share work with me on Insta or email. This is a good tool, because it can be a hard beast to navigate on your own and it's important to share work with more established writers in order to grow - I still do it!
Who are your favourite London poets at the moment?
I have a lot of favourites, as an artist, you always want to be looking at the work of others in order to improve. They say if you want to be a better writer, you have to read more, well, it's the same with poetry.
For me the poets that I grew up with are some of the most important people in the world to me, James Massiah, for example was the first person that brought me on stage and was incredibly important to my growth as not only a writer but also as a performer. Caleb Femi, Belinda Zhawi, Sean Mahoney and Zia Ahmed are some of my absolute favourites as well as up and coming writers such as Lydia Henriettao. Pioneers that I am watching and working with at the moment are the Thot Thoughts duo, Eliza and Affly. These two women are creating spaces in which both established artists and those new to the scene can influence each other and perform alongside one another, which is incredible.
How do you make your work so accessible? As traditional (which is the most widely circulated through schools etc.) poetry is harder to grasp for a contemporary audience?
I think accessibility is one of the most crucial elements as a young writer, you want to be able to share work that has shared emotion, shared meaning and is relatable. For me, that has always been at the foundation of whatever I am creating and is so incredibly important for an artform that most people consider to be 'high-brow' or 'inaccessible'.
Poetry had taken on this inaccessibility and had almost been taken to be something that not everyone could be part of. We, as poets, were referred to as 'spoken word artists'. This was done in order to establish some sort of difference in hierarchy between poets and performers, as if we were not good enough somehow to be called 'poets'. I take this seriously, poetry is the oldest form of storytelling, and it should be used as its original use was; to tell and share stories. I think there's definitely been a switch (which I am proud to be part of) in recent years, that shows poetry should be as much a part of culture as music, art, etc. This is really important, I want everyone to be able to access my words, to be part of what I am doing and saying and to feel like poetry as an artform understands their emotions too. You can see a turning point too, the use of James Massiah's poetry in CP Company campaigns, or Caleb Femi's for Louis Vuitton or my work for Schuh. It opens up barriers and creates inclusivity.
How have you broken away from the traditional image of poetry through your work?
I think one of the best break away moments are through what I actually talk about. Talking about real life is the stuff that matters; whether that is a rubbish ex boyfriend, or being at a party or having been through something trivial to extreme. Being relatable and speaking to people without being condescending or telling them what to do can have incredible impact.
I think traditionally 'spoken word' or poetry that is performed can be seen as 'preachy' but I think breaking away from preaching and actually telling or interpreting stories through an authentic voice can be way more valuable in sharing a message. I think my work does that.
What are your hopes for the future?
I really want to reach as many people as possible with my writing, and I would love to start workshops in schools to share the importance of words and of poetry. I think sharing how the landscape of poetry has changed and showing young people how important it is becoming again, as a recognised art form, would be incredible. Calling next gen poets: I can't wait.
What advice would you give to those looking to start a career writing poetry?
To just do it. You never know if you don't try. Do it for yourself first, above anyone. Writing without any other purpose other than to create is one of the most incredible lessons that I learnt from watching a Lemn Sissay talk. Just create, because you can. Everything else will follow, trusting in yourself to just make, just do is powerful, your work will become an incredible and authentic vessel from which to launch your career.
Sophie will be giving an exclusive reading from her debut poetry book on the day of it's release on our Instagram. tune in on Friday October 30th, 6pm.
Interview by Isobel Gorman-Buckley