Shuddhashar: What is it that you strive to explore and convey through your poetry?
Thom Seddon: Writing poetry is integral to my identity. It’s the vessel through which I communicate my ideas and observations, or figure out my own internal dialogues. It’s been this way from a young age, first at school doing creative writing, but even more so when I started keeping a journal. Onto the pages I would pour poem after poem about whatever was rattling around in my head; granted a lot of it was teenage frustrations and melodramatic heartbreak, big dreams of what I wanted to my life to be in comparison to what it was, but still, I feel a part of the confessional aspect of my affinity with writing has carried through into my published material. I wear my heart in the margins of all of my work, and my words remain very personal to me. So, while I may explore many different subjects, from mental health to sexuality, social constructs to animal rights, honestly, I don’t think it’s so much about what I’m trying to convey, but more that I hope people can understand and appreciate my unique perspective. Perhaps to a certain degree those who read my work just happen to be along for the ride of whatever was burning up in my mind at the time of my writing it. I write what I want to write quite simply because I have to write it. It’s a means to an end, for my own sanity, so if the message resonates with whoever comes across it, that’s wonderful – maybe it just means both I and the reader are less alone in the world.
Shuddhashar: How do you interpret the present world, and how have current events spurred you to write?
Thom Seddon: I find the present world to be a constant source of amazement and frustration, and not always in equal amounts. For example, the pieces I’ve contributed for this article are about my complicated relationship with being British in the current political climate, and an achingly acute awareness of how we’re being perceived by the rest of the world. It is – putting it in no uncertain terms – humiliating to think of us being generalised as a nation going backwards. I can’t deny that it feels like this country’s just desserts, having built a now fallen empire through the most unforgivably atrocious means. I feel a deep upset watching other countries fighting against laws which the UK imposed on them during their colonial rein, such as the criminalisation of homosexuality in too many countries to list; but equally I struggle that the rising, more progressive generation who seek to make reparations have been punished and had their futures negatively impacted by decisions like Brexit, and so much power being given to a conversative, right wing government. That being said, there are many pieces I’ve written which are celebratory; work that speaks of sexual liberation, connecting to nature, or the sheer joy of hedonism. In short, it’s overwhelming in the present world to be a person, and I try and get those emotions out on the page rather than letting them fester (which they often end up doing anyway. There’s only so much I can do to steel myself and remain resilient…)
Shuddhashar: What literary pieces – poetry, fiction or non-fiction – and writers have informed and inspired your own writing? How have they done so?
Thom Seddon: I must be blunt and say this is a pretty loaded question for myself that triggers some pre-existing hang-ups. Having started to seriously pursue the idea of writing as a profession when I was still in my teens, I always had the desire to be the next Douglas Coupland, or Thom Gunn, or Chuck Palahniuk; those whom I idolised. Then, after studying creative writing at university level, I became haunted by the inner critic forever asking me; “Is this publishable? Does it have mass appeal?” I had to learn over time to enjoy the work of those I respected and admired, without comparing myself to their exceptional skills and particular voices. Reading is fuel to be inspired by, but my words should come out because they have to. In later years, I found myself enjoying a lot of memoirs, from comedians like Simon Amstell, to musicians like Pete Burns, and activists like Dan Mathews, because I’m fascinated by how gripping real life can be, a notion which I allow to feed into my own work. I’m also fortunate in that I’m forever blown away and inspired by the local community of writers in my hometown of Nottingham, and the surrounding East Midlands area. The level of talent is quite staggering, and it’s understandable why the city has its own poetry festival, the Nottingham Writers’ Studio, and is the basecamp of Writing East Midlands.
Shuddhashar: In what way do your personal identity and experiences shape your poetry?
Thom Seddon: As mentioned before, my work is often confessional and introspective. Writing is such a part of who I am that my identity and my work are closely interlinked. In my most recent collection, Choose Your Own Mediocre, the majority of the pieces are essentially memoir, based on very real experiences, like the story of when I moved away to go to college, or the time I carelessly ran out in front of a car while trying to get home from the supermarket, or a morning I woke up hungover with a headache so violent I genuinely worried that my eyeballs were going to burst. I frequently draw inspiration from moments of nostalgia too, where strong memories or even vague, ghostly feelings from childhood flash in my mind and insist on being revisited through poetry.
Shuddhashar: How do you use structure, language and grammar to accentuate the message of your poetry? Do you subscribe to conventions or break them?
Thom Seddon: In short, I do and I don’t and yes and no. I used to go out of my way to appear abstract and avant-garde, experimenting with structure and language to the point of which it was – in hindsight – a nuisance holding me back. These days, I’ll quite merrily break conventions as I see fit if I feel sticking to form will hinder the work, but conversely, I’ve no issue in my want to subscribe to conventions either. For me, it’s about finding the balance and knowing when it’s right and when it’s serving no purpose. My last collection, I actually went back and forth many times with the editor at the publishing press wanting to get the layout and formatting exactly how I wanted it, as I’m undeniably particular about how my work should appear visually on the page, as well as how it sounds when read aloud. Furthermore, I used a lot of words that aren’t found in any dictionary, and shamelessly featured turns of phrases that are not just colloquial, but exclusively used by only myself and my peers. In saying that, I did ensure pieces where these popped up remained accessible, and the content was contextualised to make the meaning clear. Even when I’m having fun and being playful with language, I don’t want to completely shut the reader out…
Shuddhashar: What is your opinion about the conflicts and solidarities between political poetry and the literary and artistic values of poetry?
Thom Seddon: What I adore about poetry is that it doesn’t need to be pigeonholed or fall into a specific category anymore. You can take liberties with subject matter, and juxtapose the lyrical with the satirical – sometimes even within the space of the same poem. I love how poetry and, in my opinion, especially spoken word can communicate political ideas and spread a message while remaining beautifully worded, and dripping in lyricism, metaphor, rhyme, whatever means have been used to get the piece on the page and delivered to the audience. I also respect the use of content and trigger warnings when more sensitive subjects are being approached. It shows that matters are being handled with a lot of respect, and consideration for those affected first-hand. I’m a big fan of watching the lines between what is and isn’t poetry becoming more and more blurred as it’s challenged, and the medium becoming more accessible, more free and unrestrained.
Shuddhashar: Does your poetry transcend national boundaries? Does it appeal to different nationalities or linguistic groups?
Thom Seddon: Well, that’s not a question I’ve ever given much consideration to! actually Once more I have to mention – and sorry for repeating myself – writing is integral to who I am, and as a result, I think transcending boundaries is something I can’t get too bogged down in if it’s going to compromise the integrity of my work. Otherwise, I run the risk of seeking mass appeal over truth in my art. I took so long trying to unlearn the distracting worry of being utterly original and yet exceptionally marketable, that I can’t get too distracted by ‘who I’m writing for’ other than myself. If I’m lucky, my work will be relatable to others, but I have to remain realistic; I’m aware that while some aspects of my poetry will have universal appeal and a strong message, in other ways it remains quite niche. I suppose I always have the hope that my writing will continue to find its audience; the other queers and weirdos out there, wherever they might be.
I woke to the sound of bullets in my bedsheets.
Cherry red screaming, admiral screeching, and
knives whispering into flesh.
I smelt the smoke of cells dividing,
the burning body of altruism,
its selfless skin sizzling
like mass murdered pigs.
The battle cries of the belittled rattled,
the voices of urchins rasping, their
sentences cut short like a little boy’s hair.
I saw proud flags shredded to tatters.
Unities smashed like heirlooms slipping
through so many clumsy fingers,
distracted by the cheap gold and glass jewels
adorning their soft hands.
In my mouth, dead breath, lost sleep.
The salt of parents as they wept and
so many mournful dreams,
so very many countless cherry red screams.
Synapses crack like whips.
Awake to air the weight of concrete.
The unforgivable is purring, curled around my feet.
The shadows of every room
breach the edge of the bed
and crawl into my palm.
From their whimpers the echoes howl,
drowning out my urchin voice,
by the bullets in my bedsheets.
In that moment between nightmare and sleep
I am so insignificant, so weary, so weak.
(I Didn’t Want to Write) A Poem About Politics
I didn’t want to write a poem about politics.
I was meant to be doing something else
but then – isn’t this the song of my people these days?
I didn’t want to write a poem about it
any more than I wanted to look at the stitches
of a pustulating wound, oozing and dripping
as its bandages are changed from soft white cotton
to a musty kitchen tea towel picked up off the floor.
Heard it all before?
I didn’t want to write this poem anymore
than I wanted to think of a Tory
nude, and legs akimbo
on the meconium green chairs of the commons,
flicking their nasty, wrinkly frozen bits
as they cackle a laugh
the rasp of a witch
sawing a cheese grater in half in their throat
hanging us all on the end of this rope –
fuck off, fuck off, fuck off.
I didn’t want to write a poem about politics
but when every single day you’re faced with it
how can you not comment?
Another pissed up bishop blunders on the chess board.
Another coked up pig topples back off the see saw
while millions remain
perpetually and criminally ignored,
opinions not counted for,
their thoughts and feelings are as meaningless
as their ballots
not giving those in power the desired answer.
Not so fun ‘fun fact’: in the years I’ve been watching
this brutal debate, politics the snake eating it’s own rear end,
towers burning, though not ivory,
jungles razed from Brazil to Calais,
a new generation has risen up, come of age.
The generation that will actually see the consequences
of this astronomical shambles
and miss out on the joy of retiring to annoy the Spanish.
This will be the generation apologising to their kids
for granny and grandad’s choices
on weekly visits to the cemetery on Sundays
to leave them flowers
then spit on their graves.
Let that thought sink in
like toxic vitriolic saliva into undeserved resting soil.
Because those who motion for a time long forgotten,
who still think blighty sits in a deck chair on Yarmouth beach
with a knotted handkerchief on a bald head
still dream we’re a living, breathing comic strip
and not shuffling sheep at the crumbling cliff’s edge.
They may have watched so many red poppies lay rotting,
maybe it came from a place of nostalgia not ignorance
but let’s face it,
neither are the most productive of emotions
and let’s face it,
it’s still quicker to just call them racist
and that’s the hurtful truth –
to box these people together
when they didn’t know what they were doing
was a mistake.
Led down the garden path
round the back of the shed
to get a lump of coal smacked on the back of their heads,
but I’m sure Ethel and Roger and Alfred and Bev
all meant well for the youngsters, right?
There will be more jobs for them in the future –
shut up, shut up, shut up.
Why is everyone’s upper lip so stiff?
Why aren’t people more panicked?
Even those with sense still don’t accept or realise
if this continues, more people will die,
austerity the gallows where all our feet could go dancing
and still it isn’t up for those on the rational side
of this massive cock up
to debate or contribute or decide.
We’re the lost souls,
blundering through the stalls of a higher class’ career fare
where we’re all unqualified
who don’t deserve to be there,
don’t deserve to be heard.
Incidental casualties, unattended
in the corridors of hospitals waiting for a bed.
No, I didn’t want to write a poem about politics –
goodbye, goodbye, goodbye.
I just want
to go lie on a patch of warm grass someplace
and wait for this to be over,
fall asleep in a forest looking up at the sky,
let a tree grow up through my abdomen
sit beneath a waterfall and calcify.
You’re all invited to follow me,
walk slowly into the ocean and dissolve into brine.
Come with if that tickles your fancy.
Walk into the plains and become a forest fire,
lie on a hill and let the wind erode me
becoming one with the atmosphere
like I so wished my country would be.
See the sense.
Feel the heat.
because these years
have seen the biggest blunders in our modern history.
Maybe Guy Fawkes had the right idea
I didn’t want to write a poem about politics
but essentially, I’ve got two options;
become one with nature,
or let my fist become one with the scumbag politician’s faces.
We’ve crawled back and forth to Brussels
shameful, humiliated, graceless.
I want to put my boot so far up a Tory’s arse
I could reach into their lying mouth to tie the laces
but violence isn’t a colour that sits well on me
any more than a conservative blue.
I just want –
I just want to turn back time.
I want the planets to realign
but mostly I just want it to
It was the first day I’d noticed the tattered Union Jack flag, fluttering in the car park of the prison. I walk past the walls of those detained at HM’s Pleasure almost every day, whether it’s running errands or to go and run at the gym but I’d never spotted this flapping mockery of Great Britain hanging from a paint chipped white pole. Perhaps because it was winter. Perhaps because it was cold. I was looking up at the white static of the sky waiting for it to snow. Nothing fell, though each breath from my nose felt frozen on my moustache. One of the worst things about winter is how the air condenses on those bristly hairs. But what a first world problem, when I’m walking past a dystopian, Orwellian structure housing over a thousand persons. And I wonder; how many of them are innocent? How many are monsters and how many are just men? How many of them repented the split second their crime was complete? How many were defeated by life, more strife than alive and found themselves in poverty just trying to survive? Nature versus nurture is the sword of Damocles – if there’s such a thing as a natural born killer or if surroundings make us that way. They still question the same thing about being gay, I wonder if that’s why all these bloodsucking conservatives are so quick to associate being gay with being criminal. I wonder back to Peter Wildeblood, a name I was ashamed it took me so long to learn. It wasn’t so long ago I’d be put in the very prison before me for being who I am. I walk past this building almost every day, and today a flag, gasping in the freezing sea of sky, I can’t tell if I’m mocking it, or whether it’s mocking me. I walk past this building, its grey walls looming, housing the dregs I’m dictated to view as ‘scum’ – “Rule Britannia,” I think to myself and wonder; whatever have we become.