Interview with poet Lewis Buxton
Lewis Buxton is a writer, workshop leader & events producer. He co-founded the wonderful TOAST Poetry, which supports new and emerging poets through workshops, discussions and events. We’ve been lucky enough to work with Lewis this year: he ran a spoken word session with our Hackney group, encouraging them to write and perform pieces about what is important to them and their own sense of identity.
Sure, #BlackFriday is supposedly about amazing offers and discounts from shops but how about amazing offers of creative wisdom from Lewis instead?!
Can you tell us about your journey into poetry?
It started with an audio book. I’ve always been an avid but slow reader; when I was very young, before I could read, I was read to by my parents and listened to a lot of audio tapes. The one that sticks with me is Michael Rosen’s ‘Hairy Tales and Nursery Crimes’; the way Rosen retold classic stories with a dark twist or told the stories of his own life. They had rhythm, they had humour, they had a music that gripped me.
But the journey into poetry, like poems themselves, rarely happens in an unbroken line. I always remember liking poetry at school: it was short and quick to read, you could pull it apart and put it back together again and it still worked. And then came THAT teacher. The teacher who for some reason makes you think about things differently. Her name was Ms Baldwin and she had a massive crush on the poet, Simon Armitage. Her unembarrassed excitement for the poetry (and the man) made me see that poetry could be enjoyed on the most base, simple level. You can like the look and the sound of a poem and that is enough.
After that I always wrote poetry but didn’t always read poetry. Halfway through my degree studying English I went to a tutor, almost in tears, because I was really struggling to read the two novels and a play a week (plus criticism) that we were expected to get through on my course. The tutor asked me what I enjoyed reading so I talked about poetry. ‘Just choose modules that are poetry then’ he told me. ‘Poetry’, he said, ‘is often written to be read slowly.’ I loved this idea and still do.
Honestly though, poetry has really blossomed for me since leaving university. Since having the freedom to just go to a library a pluck a book – any book – off the shelf and read it. Seek stuff out: find the poems, the stories, the art that you enjoy and keep hunting for more of it.
What does an average day look like for you?
Part of why I stopped working a 9-5 job was that I didn’t want any two days to look the same. Which is an immense privilege and I know I’m very lucky to be able to do that. I suppose I could tell you about my favourite days? My favourite days start early, going out to teach in a library or a school, meeting a group of people whose brains work differently to mine; people who are going to see poems or stories in a different light to me; people who might take some convincing. And then in the evenings I love doing gigs. I’m a consummate show off so performing to a group of people is my ideal end to a day. It’s nerve racking and exhausting and involves long journeys home but it exercises all of my physical and mental muscles. I get a massive rush off performing and it’s my favourite thing to do: it is where I feel happy, safe and successful.
What or who has been your biggest inspiration for the work that you do?
My mum and dad are inspiring for their weirdness alone. My mum is endlessly supportive. She will come to gigs, pick me up from train stations, when I lived with her she used to stay up late just so she could say hi when I got home. She listened to the first draft of poems and always assured me I was doing the right thing with my life. My dad has been just as supportive, always recommending books or projects I’d be interested in, but also my dad is the subject of a lot of my poems. He is such a strange paradox of a person: I’m often very confused by him and so a lot of my poems are about the weird and wonderful things that he does: swimming in unheated ponds in the winter; falling sleep before a film has even started; managing to stay so quiet in conversations when I am so loud. Both of my parents confuse, amuse and inspire me and the work that I do.
What cool new artist have you recently discovered?
I just read Kayo Chingonyi’s first full collection of poetry. It’s a beautiful account of growing up as a young man in London, the rites of passage you have to go through, the searing pain of losing your parents at a young age, the importance of music, art and language in a boy’s life and how he comes to terms with the world. The book is called Kumukanda and I’d heavily recommend it to anyone. Also I’ve recently listened to a new podcast called ‘Mogul’ which is a great story telling podcast and piece of journalism; I love The Tallest Man on Earth’s most recent album and am reading a book by E. Annie Proux called ‘Accordian Crimes’ which is a fantastic tale of the different waves of immigration that have built in America, the complicated, sometimes horrific, but constantly engaging stories of people who came to the U.S from 1890 onward and how the country accepted or rejected them. I love finding new stuff that I enjoy, a new artist who comes from an entirely different world to me, perhaps someone who is long dead, and if they connect with me it is, as Alan Bennett says, like someone is reaching out a hand.