Chris McLoughlin: Interview

PHOTO CREDIT: Jeiran Ganiyeva

We met a Beeston performance poet who is breaking down the boundaries of mental health…

Breakdown

It’s very rare that I cry after reading a book or poem. But one Beeston-based performance poet succeeded in opening the floodgates when I read one of ten poems in his collection Breakdown. The man in question is Chris McLoughlin, 28, who has been writing for two and a half years, ever since he moved to the area.

His chapbook was published in July 2016 by Big White Shed, a Nottingham-based business run by Anne Holloway, which acts as an enabler to help poets such as Chris realise their ambitions, such as writing a book.

After reading his collection, I couldn’t wait to meet him and it turns out we have a lot more in common than expected, i.e. we both have anxiety. I begin by asking him about the subject matter of his poems. He says, ‘They predominantly cover the mental health spectrum and grief.’  It is by nature a personal subject, so I asked him what his poems mean to him, in terms of their content and writing them. He tells me that ‘they are a way for me to process what I’m going through, but in performance and by publishing they are a way that I hope other people can process what they are going through.’

As a Beeston poet myself, I wondered whether he has ever been inspired by our home-town. He says: ‘I write about Beeston quite a lot. You know the concrete steam towers? When you get the train in just before the station? I’ve written about them loads. Every time I reach them I’m home, and they’re the signifier.’

At this point we turn to the subject of performance. Chris tells me that he has a background in drama and is a trained actor. He says, ‘I’m more of a stage poet than I am a page poet. The difference for me is when you read a powerful poem, it will tend to reach people for longer but not in the same way. Whereas when I perform, I perform to people not just at them.’

I walk into the audience and get them to cram around me as tight as they can, and it’s trying to teach them what anxiety is.

Chris has performed at a number of festivals including Luton International Carnival, Nottingham Poetry festival, and Greenwich & Docklands Festival. He provides me with an insight into how someone expressing mental health problems transfers that to an audience: ‘There’s one poem called Ghosts which I do at festivals,’ he says, ‘and usually you tend to get quite a lot of “traditional” poets who read and look like professors. But in Ghosts, I walk into the audience and get them to cram around me as tight as they can, and it’s trying to teach them what anxiety is.’ I tell him what a great idea it is, to combine his acting skills with being a poet, and he recalls a performance he did at Das Kino in Nottingham. ‘They’ve got a big mirror at the back which you perform in front of,’ he tells me, ‘and that’s so horrible! If I perform in front of that, everyone is going to be like “whatever”, so I got everyone to turn around and face the mirror, and I faced the mirror and said, “this is what anxiety looks like.”’

I tell him I need to see him perform.

To tell me what message he wants to convey to his readers through the written word he begins by explaining the writing process of his book’s blurb: ‘We [him and Anne] took three hours to write the blurb, and it’s two sentences. It’s because we didn’t know what we meant, and it was always stuff like “Chris McLoughlin is a blah blah blah” and in the end I just wrote “he kinda wants you to buy this book, or whatever, but really he just hopes these poems help you feel less alone”. And that’s exactly it, I just want someone to hear the poem and go “oh, me too.”’

I was meant to interview Chris for the last issue, and touch on his role with the Mouthy Poets, a poetry collective that run weekly workshop sessions to explore poetry in terms of performance. But in December 2016 they split up, so I decide to ask Chris, who was their Artistic Director, about the reasons behind the split. He tells me ‘we got caught in a catch 22 where our funding got so low we could barely afford to pay our staff, and we needed our staff to be doing funding stuff. Eventually we decided rather than impact our participants negatively we’d say “we’ve done a lot and that’s that.”’ He informs me that the average running course of an arts organisation is five years, and the Mouthy Poets had been on its sixth year.

It’s not all bad news, however, as participants from Mouthy have branched out and created new projects such as a writing collective and an editing circle. Chris adds that although he doesn’t see Mouthy coming back together, he wouldn’t rule it out completely.

After reading Breakdown I’m eager for more, so I ask him if he is working on anything at the moment. ‘I’ve just finished my first full collection, called Underneath the Almond Tree. It covers my life from three months before my mother passed away from breast cancer up until the present day.’ As he wants his collection in the hands of more people, he’ll be sending it off to publishers such as Faber and Carcanet, and it’ll be another two years or so until the collection is out.

But for now, you can buy Breakdown from Chris’ website:  http://www.pijaykin.com

Or see his featured poem below, taken from his upcoming collection.

 Dodo

I want to be big, flightless, and tasty
for explorers. When I walk into a room
parrots will squawk Who’s a pretty boy
then? I want a beak, for pecking,
grabbing, but not chewing.
I don’t want to chew anymore.
I want to swallow things
whole

or leave them alone.

Chris McLoughlin

Jade Moore

Rhymes with Purple: Review

An evening with the beats…

Until I got asked to review it, I didn’t know that this monthly poetry event even existed. It was set up by The Beestonian’s very own Darren Kirkbride, as a replacement for the Flying Goose event which ended a year ago. He mentioned the idea to Alan Baker when he interviewed him for the January issue, and, with the additional support of Sarah Jackson and John Lucas (the man behind the Flying Goose events) he was able to set it up. There have only been three events so far, including the one I attended, and guests for each have been Alan Baker, Rory Waterman (coincidentally my former dissertation tutor) and Graham Caveney. The event is held at The White Lion, and commences at 7pm.

The event was slow to start, with only a few attendees present at the start time. However, eventually people started to filter in, and there was a good turnout for when Graham Caveney, the guest speaker, began his talk. Graham is a biographer of Alan Ginsberg and William Burroughs, and when listening to him, I found the English Literature student in me was satisfied. It was almost like being in an especially interesting lecture. I admit I’ve never read any Ginsberg or Burroughs, but I have had Burroughs’ Naked Lunch on my bookshelf for a couple of years, waiting until I get round to reading it. And why was this month’s subject on The Beats? It is 60 years since Ginsberg’s poetry collection HOWL was published.

Anyone who finds themselves in a pub on a wet Wednesday in Beeston probably owes that presence to this bunch of psychiatric casualties, self-styled outlaws, and, occasionally, brilliant, inspiring poets.

The talk lasted just under half an hour but covered lots of ground, and many different areas of the Beats and Beat poets. I found out that their influence was far greater than I initially thought, and collided with other well-known figures from modernists to musicians. Graham mentioned that ‘Burroughs coined the term Heavy Metal’, and ended his talk with an apt observation. He said ‘that anyone who finds themselves in a pub on a wet Wednesday in Beeston probably owes that presence to this bunch of psychiatric casualties, self-styled outlaws, and, occasionally, brilliant, inspiring poets.’ This set the tone perfectly for opening the floor to questions.

I’m used to these moments being filled with silence and awkwardness, from my experience in lectures at uni, but here, there were plenty of questions to be asked. Since I felt I was learning about the Beats, I decided to listen to the questions and answers rather than contribute one myself. After the Q&A there were a series of clips from Youtube lined up for us to watch. These included a visual interpretation of Ginsberg’s poem ‘A Supermarket in California’, video footage of Burroughs giving a speech (I really liked this one; there’s something strangely satisfying from having heard about someone, and then actually seeing what they look like. He didn’t disappoint).

At this point, we took a break. I heard many Beat-related conversations going on around me, and I took in the ever-cosy atmosphere and looked forward to the next part of the night: Poetry Readings. The brief was to ‘bring along your favourite Beats inspired poem as well as read your own work’. The readings began with a reading from Tony Challis of one of Ginsberg’s poems, and then a poem he’d written in the fashion of Ginsberg’s. Next, Russell Christie read out another Beat poem, followed by an extract from his novel The Queer Diary of Mordred Vienna. More reading’s ensued, ranging from poems inspired by travelling, to humorous haiku, Primark, and the love of cheese.

All the money raised from the evening was donated to helping the migrant crisis in Calais. All in all, it was worth going. Unfortunately, the event won’t be running over the summer, but I have it on good authority that the next one will take place on September 27.

Jade Moore

 

Megan Taylor

I have always been a great that believer in the idea that Beeston is made up of some fantastic people. Occasionally, however I have the bizarre experience of meeting someone who really does stand out from the crowd. This month I had the great pleasure to meet one of our greatest local writers, Megan Taylor, to chat about her work.

What makes Megan stand out quite as much as she did for me is not only her work but mainly that she is by far one of the sweetest people I have ever met, a characteristic that, despite making the interview and beer we have had since very enjoyable, I find just a little bit suspicious.

I’m sure that at this moment, dear reader, that you have someone similar in mind; we have all met someone who is just too nice at some point in our lives. What’s the catch, you may be asking? I will come back to that.

So, putting any notions of suspicion aside, conversation quickly began to flow. Megan explained that having work and lived in London for most of her life she was the proud recipient of a BA in English from Goldsmiths University of London (“la de da” I said, as a lowly Trent Poly student) which began a lifelong passion for all thing literary. In 1999, she relocated North, finally settling here in Beeston (having quickly realised that West Bridgford was not quite all it’s cracked up to be).

It was here that things really started to take off. Her first novel ‘How We Were Lost’, an edgy coming-of-age story, was published by Flame Books in 2007 after coming second in the Yeovile Prize 2006.  Deciding that perhaps she was ready to pursue her writing career with all the vigour of a true Beestonian, Megan enrolled herself on a distance learning Masters in creative writing from Manchester Metropolitan University during which time she continued writing, eventually publishing her work ‘The Dawning’ in 2010. Since then Megan has gone from strength to strength, next came the utterly gripping ‘The Lives of Ghosts’ in 2012.

Then, in 2014, she published her first short story collection ‘The Woman Under the Ground’. To top it off, Megan also contributed to the highly successful ‘These Seven’, an anthology of short stories combined and published by Nottingham’s own Five Leaves, to showcase the diversity of writing and communities that our fair city has to offer.

In order to explain how I have finally come to terms and laid aside my initial “she seems too nice” discomfort I took to Megan’s latest novel ‘The Lives of Ghosts’ for some answers and boy did I find them. For the sake of brevity, I will say only that this story was one of the most gripping I have read in a very long time, comparable with so few other but most readily writers such as Joyce Carol Oates but with the emotional engagement displayed by the likes of Stephen King. The narrative may initially appear daunting to some, alternating chapters between our protagonist Libery Fuller as a grown woman and as her 12-year-old self, but Megan has masterfully interwoven these two perspective to offer a level of depth that most author struggle with their whole careers. The story follows Liberty as she returns to her childhood home, an eerie loch-side house in rural Scotland, and attempts to confront the ghosts that have haunted her for 25 years. The dark insight into a number of traumatic events and the attempt to resolve the effects of them give the story a dark, almost sadistic, sense of suspense which combined with a twist that I did not see coming, makes this a novel that I genuinely could not put down.

Having read many of her short stories as well as her latest novel, all the pieces began to fall into place. Why is Megan such a genuinely lovely woman? Because she is able to express the darker side of herself so poignantly in her writing, creating worlds and characters that strike a chord with everyone who reads them.

Her works speak for themselves but be warned, they are to be read on a dark evening, ideally by candlelight. Megan’s work is available through the usual channels: the Five Leaves bookshop, from her own website and Amazon.

Darren Kirkbride

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