Just the second wordsmith to be named London Book Fair's Poet of the Fair, Raymond Antrobus reveals how adversity has shaped his craft.
How do you feel about being named Poet of the Fair?
I feel honoured and humbled, particularly because it’s only the second ever one. [Inaugural Poet of the Fair] Imtiaz Dharker is a hard act to follow, but I’m glad the role has been created. In fact, I’m surprised that it hasn’t been a thing before.
What are your expectations of the fair?
I haven’t been to the fair before, but I hope that I'll get to meet and engage with people who are genuinely interested in the wellbeing of poetry.
Could you tell me about your début collection The Perseverance (Penned in the Margins)?
The Perseverance is the name of a pub in Hackney that my dad used to drink at, so I have all these memories of being left outside the pub as a kid. The book journeys through different ways that I have persevered. I’m also deaf, so there is a whole heap of stuff in the [collection] about going to a deaf school and persevering through education, through growing up in London, through growing up working-class... just figuring out what and who I could be.
How does being deaf work into your poetry, if at all?
It means that every conversation I have has to be a conscious one. I can’t do that thing of just being able to let sound appear in the room: it’s a very active thing for me. It has given me a certain radar, particularly when listening to poets, performers and people reading their work. I'm able to pick up when something doesn’t feel true, or doesn’t feel right. It makes me think, "you might be more thoughtful with your words if you also had to expend more effort to speak and to be heard and to be understood".
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m writing a lot about people, connections, celebration, things that are important. I've started writing love poems; I’ve never done that before but I’m getting married in a couple of months, so I’ve really been contemplating and thinking about what it means to be a husband, what it is to be a son, what it is to be a brother. So I’m in that space of family, connection, relationships. I’ve been mentoring and teaching young people, primarily in east London, for about seven years. So that always comes into my work as well.