Poet Sophia Thakur on publishing her first collection

Poet Sophia Thakur on publishing her first collection

Sophia Thakur discusses her first poetry collection, which explores identity, relationships and loss, drawing on her experiences as a young black woman.

What are the themes running through Somebody Give This Heart a Pen?

The book holds a microscope up to the silence that plays throughout our days. It seeks to understand how love can dance around our mouths, leaving its not so subtle subtlety on everything passing our lips. The poems look at how living and losing can both stick onto our behaviour in equal amounts, and how losing is often a painful disguise for glorious rediscovery. The book slows down today’s ever-increasing pace of re-understanding identity, pulling in age, race, gender and faith.

When did you write the poems, and how long did it take to assemble the collection?

Really they have been writing me for years. I just took the final four months of 2018 to wring my torso onto some paper. And that was the easy part. Living the poetry was the slow storm. These aren’t just my stories. They are conversations had with a first love at 14. They are ears to a wall during parents’ arguments. Writing these poems was simply [a way of] re-encountering moments forgotten by our tendency to possess instead of experience. This is method poetry.

Why did you spend a week not talking to anyone when putting the book together?

In silence, the world presents itself. And I talk too much. I’ve lived on the stage, and in the loudest parts of conversation. When it came to writing the collection, I hadn’t realised how empty I’d allowed myself to become. 

I knew this collection had to explore the more universal tendencies of the heart and, to tap into that, I had to listen—wait for the stories to mull and make sense before manifesting in me. In that silence, I heard how love translates into service on mothers’ lips. How rejection can shout to be heard some way, somehow. How obnoxious self-love can sound to an insecurity, and then how many tongues an insecurity must learn to speak. I learnt that my blackness enters any conversation before my lips part. I heard the story of homelessness and nostalgia. How the two have grown to hate memory. In all of the stories that I piped down to hear, a tunnel was being dug through me to create the most fluid feeling-to-writing experience imaginable.

You organised the poems into sections called Growth, Waiting, Breaking, and Growing Once Again. Why?

The restructuring process wasn’t as poetic as you may imagine. It was countless emails between editors and publishers. It was finding an order to mirror the natural process of the heart, to find that the path of a heart is highly subjective. Growing looks at the first stages of us. Becoming, before we knew any better. Waiting brings forth learning. Learning welcomes a lifetime of experiences that either break or build us. Hopefully both and in that order.

Poetry for young people is growing in popularity. Why do you think that is?

There is an ever-growing need to slow down on ourselves and understand what is feeding into our behaviour, our mental well-being and disarray. We feel obliged to understand and express ourselves because, honestly... somebody has to and it isn’t going to be any kind of traditional establishment that once housed our trust.

Can you talk about the differences between performing poetry and getting it ready for publication? 

Everything felt different. I had to learn how an arm gesture can be translated on a page. How a gasp can be read. It made me a far more delicate and intricate writer. When you’re on stage, you need the audience to understand something straight away. That’s the window you have. Suddenly, I could write with the knowledge that this one line could be sat with and dwelled on. It was like somebody sitting next to me, promising to be patient.

Somebody Give This Heart a Pen by Sophia Thakur is published in paperback format by Walker Books on 3rd October 2019, priced £7.99 (9781406388534).