We got the chance to catch up with activist, writer and poet, Matt Abbott, whose poetry is heavily influenced by Kitchen Sink Realism and social commentary. Find exclusive content from Matt Abbott on Overheard Walking Tours or simply download the Overhear app and go and hunt him down for yourself his poem goes live on the 4th Feb!
What is your occupation?
I’m a professional poet, and through my poetry I do a range of work; writing, performing, teaching/facilitating, programming and producing – but I’ll just say “poet”!
Where are you from? What brought you to Birmingham (if not born here)?
I’m from Wakefield in West Yorkshire and I currently live in East London. I’ve been invited onto the Overhear poetry because my début poetry collection was published by Birmingham-based indie press VERVE Poetry Press in October.
How did you get into poetry?
I initially accessed poetry through music. Reverend & The Makers frontman Jon McClure used to do short bursts of spoken word before songs, which was inspired by Alex Turner’s love of John Cooper Clarke. So naturally I started listening to the old bootleg recordings of JCC from the late ‘70s, and I was hooked. This is when I was 17.
Who/what inspires your poetry?
I’m a social and political activist, so that inspired my poetry a great deal. It’s either commentary on issues, or ‘kitchen sink realism’ – I’m heavily influenced and inspired by the British New Wave of literature and cinema from the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. It replaced Hollywood sheen with Northern working-class grit. I’m also influenced by music as much as I am poetry; before I’d even considered poetry, I was obsessed with the lyrics of bands such as Arctic Monkeys, The Jam, Squeeze, Madness, etc.
How did you get involved in Overhear?
Tom contacted me a few months back because of my VERVE connection and I immediately wanted to be involved. I think it’s a great way of introducing poetry to the masses and using poetry to celebrate local landmarks and culture.
What do you find the most unique about Birmingham’s poetry and spoken word scene?
The sense of community and belonging. More than any other city, Birmingham’s scene has a strong family feel to it which is instant for any poets who visit and is really enduring. Even to be on the fringes is brilliant.
What do you think Birmingham’s arts and cultural scene is missing?
I honestly couldn’t say as I don’t live in Birmingham, so I only see the good bits!
What’s your favourite poem about/who’s your favourite poet from Birmingham?
The first part of that question is far too difficult as it’s impossible to choose my favourite poem! It’s also tough to choose my favourite poet from Birmingham because the poets on VERVE are all superb in their own way/. If I had to choose, I’d say I probably enjoyed reading Amerah Saleh’s collection ‘I Am Not From Here’ the most, but as I say, they’re all top.
What have you found most inspiring/rewarding about working with Overhear and Verve Poetry Festival?
As I say, the close-knit nature of the scene is really exhilarating and it makes me feel like I have a strong base of friends and peers, which is highly valuable as a solo freelance artist. I’d always relish the opportunity to perform in Brum because I know that the audience response will be fantastic, and I know that I’ll always have someone to have a pint with. Viva Brum.