Creative Writing Editor Chloe Scaling interviews poet Megan Beech about feminism, mental health and poetry, which collide in her collection ’You Sad Feminist’.
Do you have a process or routine for writing poetry? How do you manage creative writing alongside being a student?
I find that I don’t really have a straight-forward process for writing. I like to let things percolate, or perhaps I’m just a tad lacking in discipline when it comes to carving out time to sit and write down poetry. Often poems just come to me spontaneously, or I get enthused by an idea and it just comes in short, sharp bursts. The academic style of writing and the topic of my PhD thesis, nineteenth-century manuscripts of public readings given by Dickens, are so far removed from my practice as a poet that the two don’t really interfere with one another too much. Both are vacations from the other.
Who are your inspirations as a poet and a feminist and why?
I’m always trying to evolve my poetry (and my feminism) by reading from different perspectives, incorporating greater diversity than the traditional canon of literature permits. I think Claudia Rankine, particularly in her searing work, Citizen, is an absolute genius and I love her words. I’m an intersectional feminist and I have gained so much from writers like Audre Lorde, bell hooks, and Kimberlé Crenshaw. I love poets like Vanessa Kisuule, Hollie McNish, Anthony Anaxagorou and Sabrina Mahfouz. I’ve been lucky enough to share stages with all of them in my time as a poet. Recently, I read an amazing volume of British Muslim Women’s writing in all different genres edited by Sabrina called ‘The Things I Would Tell You: British Muslim Women Write’ and that was mind-expanding.
Why did you choose to write about feminism and mental health in You Sad Feminist?
I am pretty much of the ‘write about what you know’ school of thought. I have lived with depression and other mental illness diagnoses for the majority of my adolescent and adult life and it’s something I feel really passionately about normalising and discussing in open and honest ways. I think I have always cared about social issues and feminism is a cause I have invested a lot of time and words into. Yet, it sometimes feels at odds with the self-loathing and doubt that can be part of my illness. I really wanted to explore the tension between these things.
Do you have a favourite poem in the collection?
I think ultimately the audience is the best judge but I am proud of the poem, ‘Kintsugi’, inspired by the Japanese art of fixing broken pottery by keeping the cracks showing and gleaming with golden lacquer. When I read about Kintsugi it reminded me of the Leonard Cohen lyric: ‘There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in’. I wrote the poem just after he died, he was a big inspiration to me and the way in which he balances the pathos and beauty of life really struck me. It’s a lovely metaphor for the process of recovery and I tried to convince the reader (AND MYSELF) that our hurts and scars define what has been but perhaps not what will be in the future. Hope springs eternal!
Do you think poetry is a useful form to articulate feminism compared to e.g. essays and non-fiction books? Why?
For me, poetry is the style of writing which springs most naturally from [the] mind. I have quite an associative brain and the way in which one rhyme rushes forth from another when I’m writing is where the energy and excitement of my work come from, for me. I think what is great about articulating social issues through the medium of verse, particularly performance poetry, is that you are able to distil the essence of a very complex argument or issue into just a couple of minutes. It has an immediacy that some other mediums don’t have.
Do you have advice or words of wisdom for students and activists who struggle with their mental health?
It is hard. I sit with you in the dark, overwhelmed and often helpless. But I defer again to Leonard: ‘There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in’. Stick around, continue, and wait for that sun to rise.
Photograph: Quetzal Maucci