In an exciting turn of events, we’ve managed to pin down not one but TWO of our amazing Verve Poetry Press poets, Charlotte Lunn and Sophie Sparham to chat to us about their newly published collections Metamorphosis and The Man Who Ate 50,000 Weetabix. Read below for their thoughts on pandemic publishing, getting personal and why they might be spontaneously breaking into dance somwhere near you…
First things first: congratulations to you both on the publication of your collections! How are you feeling?
C: It’s crazy. Bizarre. I’m still processing the fact that there’s an actual physical book that I created out in the world. I can’t get my head around it. How are you feeling, Soph?
S: Yeah, it’s alright innit? I’m pretty level-headed about these things but it’s wicked. Part of me is already saying okay, that’s done now.
You’ve already compartmentalised it?!
C: You’re just completely chill and I’m like an excited fangirl.
Is this because yours is a debut while Sophie’s is a second collection?
S: Oh, I feel like this is my first coherent collection, my first collection that makes sense. I was very young when I published my actual first collection. I was very angry… I feel like this collection is a lot more mature and just a lot more well thought-through compared to baby Sophie’s debut.
C: Aw, I loved your first one though! I thought it was ace!
S: It’s got its place, it’s got its place! But I’m a lot happier with this collection. Maybe it’s a time thing. It’s been a long while since that first book was published. Maybe in another year I’ll look at this on and think oh god! too
How long has it already been for this one? When did the two of you write the poems that went into these collections?
C: I’ve probably been writing these poems for a few years now. Some of them were even written back when I was at Uni from 2011 to 2014 so it’s been a long time coming for me.
S: All my poems for this have been written in the last two years. There are some very recent. The title poem, I think was written two weeks before it was due. I knew I wanted to write that poem and I wrote and deleted and rewrote it so many times because I couldn’t quite say what I wanted to say. It was actually the last poem I wrote of the collection, I think.
C: That’s so interesting you should say that! I really struggled with my title poem as well; it went through so many revisions, and even now I still don’t know if it’s where I want it to be, but I’ve just had to let it go.
S: I think you get to a point where you have to think: I could edit this forever. You either have it as is or remove it—but I guess that’s hard to do with a title poem…
What has it felt like publishing a book without all the accompanying live launch and gigs?
S: I think Lottie’s publication date was very different to mine. She actually made a thing about it whereas I just painted my ceiling.
C: I loved that, it was just so Sophie.
S: It was the ceiling in my library so I feel like it was sort of relevant.
Oh, absolutely. Whereas Charlotte, I think I spotted you in a party hat on Twitter…?
C: Oh, that was such a nice day, because I thought I was just going to casually sign books with people at work, but it turned out my Scarthin family had put together this little surprise celebration for me. They got fizz and cake and flowers and I was like, don’t make me cry! It was nice to do something normal-ish after a very long time of having none of that.
S: It is really odd releasing a book at this time because normally, you think I’m going to release it on that date, yep, then I’ll read at that night, and a feature at that one but this time… the book comes out and you think okay, what do I do? I keep forgetting that it’s real!
C: I know, I know! I’m the same!
Speaking of gigs: you’re both brilliant performers, and there is so much of that which comes across when you read the collections. Do you write differently for the page vs performance?
S: I personally think – and people might disagree with me – that a poem should work as well in performance as it does on the page. I mean, they are different mediums. When you’re writing for the page you know the person will have more time with the text plus all the added tools of shape and form which can add so much meaning but… I also just love watching people read and perform their poetry. There’s something so special about it.
C: Stuart actually brought this up in our last meeting; he asked me, do you consider yourself a page poet or a performance poet?
When I was back at uni I would have said hands down I was a page poet, and my lecturers were always telling me that my poetry was too obscure and I needed to consider my audience… it was only when I started performing my work in 2018 that it opened me up to a new way of seeing and writing my work. It sort of unconsciously influenced my work, and I think my rhythm got better from that point on and my work became more accessible. I’d probably say both are really important, and now when I write work I don’t set the aim to write a page poem or a performance poem it just flows as it is with a bit of both.
Helen Mort, in her forward for Sophie’s collection, writes that her poems ‘speak in their own accent’. I feel like that’s true for both of you.
C: Whenever I read Sophie’s poetry, I always read it in Sophie’s voice. I love it.
S: The book is very Derbyshire and that’s exactly what I wanted. The voices of the people I was writing, I wanted them to be Derbyshire. I actually went to go meet the guy who wrote the Derbyshire Dictionary, very early on in the writing process. We’d talked over email but I think he got a shock when he opened his door to see me. Probably thought who is this ragtag woman? Once we got chatting he was dead nice but I do remember him saying are you a poet? I’ve not heard of you.
C: Cheers, mate. 😂
S: Nothing like it to keep your ego in check.
There are a lot of things about your books that feel like they have some synergy – have you read each other’s collections yet?
C: Not yet!
S: We’re swapping books tomorrow! But we know each other’s work and I’d agree. I’ve seen Charlotte perform many times (every time wonderful, Charlotte) and I can say there’s definitely some crossover. We both discuss mental health issues and we both come under the beautiful LGBT+ spectrum. We’re both very people-focussed.
I read them back to back and spotted that there’s a poem in Metamorphosis called Upbringing and a poem in 50,000 Weetabix called Down Bringing, so there’s defnitely something going on there.
S: That’s so weird!
C: Really weird! That’s magic. Poetry magic.
One thought I had while reading was that the masks in Metamorphosis and the characters in 50,000 Weetabix worked in a similar way. Would you agree?
C: I had to have a long hard think about this one. My collection is so much about my own personal journey with mental health and abuse. I think when I was younger, I did have to almost wear a mask and supress a lot of who I was in order to survive but I think as the poetry collection progresses, the mask starts to lift. The true selves and the anger comes out and the voice gets stronger.
S: For me, a lot of what I wanted to look at was what’s expected of us as people in small towns and villages, what we’re meant to do and how we’re meant to live versus what our actual dreams and desires are. I wanted to talk about the expectations of masculinity – the expectations of anything – and that’s where the mask thing comes into it for me. People have their societal self and their true self and they show different aspects of themselves in different relationships; that’s something that really interests me.
Helen wrote in her forward for you that you ‘let people and places be themselves instead of using them in the service of art’.
S: Well, there are a lot of people I write about in the collection that I know. They’re people I’ve seen and interacted with. You want to write about people compassionately and with empathy. You don’t want to turn them into characitures. I really don’t want to say this person is good, this person is bad I just want to show what I’ve seen without putting prejudgments on anyone.
You’ve already touched on this a little, Charlotte, but can you tell us a little more about how you navigate the boundaries of personal and public when you put so much of yourself and your experiences into your work?
C: That’s a good question. My work has always been personal, just because I found it so cathartic to write about my own experiences. In terms of the boundary between he public and the private, I don’t think I share anything I don’t want to but at the same time I do try to push that boundary. I talk about things like abuse and mental health and I am really keen to break the stigma around those subjects, and I know the only way I can do that is by talking about my own experiences.
S: My response to that question is: some of it’s my truth, some it’s other people’s truth and you’ll never know which one’s which.
Do you ever have people get overfamiliar with you because they feel they know you through your work?
S: You get people crying and hugging you – my first collection especially connected with a lot of people – but that’s all part of the territory 😅
C: It’s your duty as a poet to give out those free hugs! If you devastate them, you have to make up for it. I’d say, I’ve definitely connected with a lot of people because of my work. I wouldn’t say anybody’s ever gotten too overly familiar but then I’m probably the one being weird and overly friendly, anyway.
That feels like a normal side effect of the atmosphere at poetry nights: Strangers one minute and sobbing in each other’s arms the next.
That brings us pretty nicely to our next question. Both of you thank your poetry community in the acknowledgments of your collections. Can you say a bit more about the role they’ve had in your work and your life?
S: I mean, poetry community is everything, you know? I don’t think I’d have got to half the places I have without it. It makes such a difference to have someone to share work with, and just to have friends who read poems is amazing. To be able to go to different nights and know that even if you turn up alone, you’ll always find someone to wlecome you in and talk to you… it’s a really beautiful thing. Writing is a very solitary task, so I think it makes a real difference to have a community around you.
C: Absolutely. I totally agree with Sophie. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the poetry community. That’s really where everything started for me, after uni. I was attending poetry nights for ages before I actually gained the courage to perform but I always got the vibe that everyone was really friendly and really supportive and eventually that made me feel like I could share my work as well. It’s like Sophie says, you can always go to a poetry night on your own and find someone there that’ll be nice and have a chat with you and it’s just really uplifting and it truly helps people grow. I would say I’ve made some lifelong friends from the poetry community, this one being one of them!
S: Thank you, thank you. And the thing about poetry and writing in general which I think is so good is that everyone comes from a different background, culture, wherever it doesn’t matter. The mixes of people that come to poetry nights is beautiful and you meet people that you would maybe never come across or socialise with in any other situation. Which, I mean… that’s got to be good, ent it?
It’s great. We see it at the festival every year.
C: I’m dying to get to one!
S: They are very good.
C: Do you want to come with me next year?
S: Yes! Poetry trip!
We will see you then! In the meantime, what will you be up to? Anything coming up you’d like to plug?
C: [Dance break]
Yes! Our double book launch extravaganza is coming up!!
C: It’s going to be a poetry party, I’m getting ready for it now.
S: She’s hyped! And I will be hyped too, closer to the time.
C: I feel like Sophie’s dancing too, on the inside, she’s just trying to keep her composure.
C: I’ve got a few other things coming up too but I’m not sure I can say anything yet.
S: Me too. I’ve got a dentist appointment coming up, that’s pretty much all I can talk about.
Fantastically cryptic, thank you.