You’ve just been shortlisted for the Young Writer of the Year Award. How does it feel? What does being shortlisted mean to you?
Surreal. There are so many brilliant writers (particularly poets) that have published collections in the last year so making a shortlist like this knowing how high the bar has been risen is an honour.
When did you first start writing? What drew you into it?
My parents lived separately but poetry had a presence in both of their households. My mum had a poster of William Blake’s poem, ‘London’ on her wall and my Dad had ‘The Song Of The Banana Man’ by Evan Jones on his. My Dad also had tapes of poets like Linton Kwesi Johnson and Miss Lou, which he’d play me in his flat while my mum would read me Adrian Mitchell poems at her home. This meant poetry was never a mysterious thing to me. I had permission to engage with it without the baggage that many people in the UK have, where poetry is solely associated with some negative experiences in English lessons at school. I associate it with family and songs and solitude.
How did you come to write The Perseverance?
Tom Chivers from Penned In The Margins reached out to me a couple years back and asked me to send him poems. I sent him all the poems I was working on that I felt had some kind of connection. He liked them and gave me a deadline to get a book together. The Perseverance couldn’t have existed any other way. The poems I usually do at readings are Echo, Two Guns In The Sky For Daniel Harris, Happy Birthday Moon, The Perseverance and Dear Hearing World. Those poems, despite their immediacy, have other elements in them that require multiple readings / hearings. I think those poems are particularly important to me because I wrote them considering the dimensions of the air and the page. But I was also thinking about the eyes and the ears I cared most about, from D/deaf readers, teachers to those that grew up in London or in social housing. I feel blessed that The Perseverance, as a book has managed to connect with such a range of readers and listeners.
Tell us a bit more about the writing process: How long did it take you, what did it involve?
It took years, 4 years. I’d written ‘To Sweeten Bitter’ my short collection before this one really quickly and then realised I had a lot more I wanted to say and more connections I was trying to make. More than anything (and I know it’s obvious) but it really was perseverance.
Which writers do you look up to? What do you like in them?
I tend to reach for different poets at different times but something that connects all the poets I love is that they all lean into sound and history in ways I find fresh and compelling. Let me namecheck some of my peers who’ve recently been having lots of success with their poetry collections and I think everyone should be reading right now — Anthony Anaxagorou, Roger Robinson, Jay Bernard, Ilya Kaminsky, Will Harris, Inua Ellams, Rebecca Tamas, Rachel Allen, Shira Erlichman, Jon Sands…
What are you planning to do next?
I have a children’s picture book with Walkers Publishing coming out next year and will be published in the US and Canada. It’s called ‘Can Bears Ski?’. It was initially a poem I’d tried to write but it kept failing. It’s turned out to work really well as a poetic story for young readers. I’m still writing new poems but no idea what kind of book they’ll make. I’ve been inspired by prisons and schools I’ve been visiting this past year.
Raymond Antrobus was born in Hackney to an English mother and Jamaican father. He is the recipient of fellowships from Cave Canem, Complete Works III and Jerwood Compton Poetry. He is one of the world’s first recipients of an MA in Spoken Word Education from Goldsmiths, University of London. Raymond is a founding member of Chill Pill and Keats House Poets Forum. He has had multiple residencies in deaf and hearing schools around London, as well as Pupil Referral Units. In 2018 he was awarded the Geoffrey Dearmer Award by the Poetry Society (judged by Ocean Vuong). The Perseverance (Penned in the Margins, 2018), was a Poetry Book Society Choice, the winner of the Rathbones Folio Prize and the Ted Hughes Award, and was shortlisted for the Griffin Poetry Prize and Forward Prize for Best First Collection.