Georgina Wilding is Nottingham's First Young Poet Laureate

Photos: Tom Morley
Interview: Aly Stoneman
Monday 13 November 2017
reading time: min, words

Georgina Wilding was announced as Nottingham’s first Young Poet Laureate on National Poetry Day. A rising star on the literature scene, Georgina is the founder of independent publishing house, Mud Press, and has written for radio and TV, most recently performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. A staunch believer in the power of poetry to change lives, between now and February 2019 she’s going to be promoting Nottingham worldwide through words, and getting as many people involved as she can...

At Home in Nottingham

Grey haired uncles
who smelled of herbs
would stay till late, bang on our tables
and sing que sera sera, whatever will be will be
and as the beer spilt like holy water,
I’d laugh away the practicalities
and the tesco two stripe.
3am mornings and home comes Grandma
and her brothers dragging a not so sober granddad,
bevvied, back from the Micro.
He’d swear that Grandmas Tia Marias were all coke
but hers is a liver of iron!
And there’s always proof of a trip to the Fish King
on the walk back – grease paper come family emblem
spread eagle on the counter top.

I was brought up on Karaoke and Kebab.
Chips are a staple in my house
I’m probably made of them.
Of tangy freezer.
Of soggy emblem.
Of holy chip.
Of shop kind.
Of crumple que sera,
here, at home in Nottingham.

Congratulations on being appointed Young Poet Laureate for Nottingham!
It’s a bloody honour, I’m so chuffed. Thank you! I was actually at home, really ill, surrounded by tissues in bed and binging on Netflix when I got the phone call. It was Sandy Mahal [Director of UNESCO Nottingham City of Literature] on the other end, and she asked if I had “time for a quick chat”, so I felt my heart sink a little. But the next word out of her mouth was “Congratulations” which had me squealing like a bunged-up piglet.

Sounds like you’ve had a whirlwind few weeks since then…
I’ve been lucky enough to be interviewed by the team over at Kemet FM, who are real champions of the arts in Nottingham. I’ve been in with BBC Radio Nottingham and Notts TV who were all great, I’ve had meetings with Sheep Soup, DYT, members from Nottingham Council, and hosted a five-hour poetry drop-in session at the National Videogame Arcade thanks to the lovely lot at Hockley Hustle. I met some crackin’ kids there – real talents – and they made their own zines with me and filled them with some gorgeous poems. Some of their lines will be featured in a poem to be printed on walls all over Hockley, so watch this space.

Why do you think Notts needs a young poet laureate?
Did you see the way that poet Tony Walsh brought thousands of people together in Manchester in defiance of the recent terror attacks with his poem Mancunians in Union? A poem that’s four minutes long reminded the world what it was to be Mancunian, to be human, and had people who would never identify as poetry lovers talking in pubs, in hashtags and over their tables at dinner about the words he spoke on behalf of the city. A young poet laureate, to me, is someone who gets involved in as many aspects of their community as they possibly can, and tries to celebrate and berate the social issues at hand in a way that’s new and hopefully strikes a chord where it may not have done before.

So, what’s the plan?
It’s a developing role, so more and more work will crop up as we go, but my first residency will be in December at Lakeside Arts. Before that, I’ll be performing for BBC Four’s Random Acts at the University of Nottingham’s Being Human Festival in November, and at She Speaks; a female-led spoken word night in Derby. UNESCO City of Literature have organised plenty of teaching opportunities for me, such as residencies with City Arts, Hyson Green Library, New Art Exchange and NTU, not to mention the cultural shares and international trips to places such as Tartu in Estonia for their poetry festival.

How will your role support Nottingham’s 2023 European Capital of Culture bid?
There’s a lot in the pipeline for the 2023 bid. I’m currently working on a commissioned piece for them to represent Nottingham and our strengths as a city, and it’ll be shown worldwide, so there’s a fair bit of pressure to get this one right. I’m really excited to see how the 2023 bid and the availability of the position of young poet laureate brings all the people in their poetic capacities together across the city, because I think once we’re working more collaboratively, we can reach even more people who either need a voice or want to develop their own.

What are the barriers to people taking part in poetry?
The biggest barrier can be finding out where to get started. If you haven’t attended a poetry class or collective, you can be left wondering how to even write a poem. For people who want to start and perhaps don’t have access to a class or a group, I’d say to get yourself on YouTube. Take a look at Def Poetry Jam or just search “spoken word” and you’ll soon find what you like and what you don’t, then you can use others to inspire you while you find your feet.

There are also some incredible poetry anthologies out there, and once you start reading them it’s almost impossible to resist the urge to have a go yourself. I’m currently reading Penguin Modern Poets 3, Your Family, Your Body, by Malika Booker, Sharon Olds, and Warsan Shire. If you haven’t picked it up yet, you absolutely should. Of course – shameless plug alert – you can also check out the poetry publishing house I set up in 2015, Mud Press, which showcases poetry from artists who represent all kinds of backgrounds and movements.

It’s good to hear you’re still running Mud Press alongside your YPL role…
Yes, Mud Press will be running for as long as I can afford the paper and ink it’s printed on. We’ve got our Christmas Zine Vol. 2 hitting the shops – Ideas on Paper, Rough Trade, and Five Leaves Bookshop – in November, so keep an eye out for that.

How has the city influenced your career and development as a writer?
It’s home. I have generations of family who grew up in Nottingham, and their stories always creep into my work, be it the night my uncle was banned from the local Chinese; Grom [Gran] shotting tequila during freshers’ week; or Grandad taking his watch off before a brawl in the Greyhound. They’re a mad lot and I love them.

Nottingham has also provided a plethora of opportunities for me professionally, including working for Candlestick Press, a poetry publisher based in Arnold, and scriptwriting for BYG Systems. I studied Creative and Professional Writing at the University of Nottingham and gained teaching and performance work through the poetry collective Mouthy Poets before setting up Mud Press. Had I not lived in Nottingham, I don’t think I’d have been able to achieve even half of the things on that list. It’s a city that gives back, and I’m very aware of how lucky I am to have got this far.

Besides writing some mint poems and promoting good old Notts, an important part of being Nottingham’s Young Poet Laureate is to inspire a new generation of poets…
I’ve learned first-hand the importance of being part of a community and learning around skilled people. If it hadn’t been for Mouthy Poets, I wouldn’t be in the position I’m in today. They developed me for over five years and gave me opportunities I would never have otherwise had; if I dare say so, more opportunities than my degree offered.

I hope to bring the same calibre of opportunity to everyone who wants to explore poetry. Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature are doing everything in their power to help me realise this, including helping me work towards setting up Nottingham’s own poetry school, so the community can come together and verse like the force of nature it is.

Christmas Zine Vol. 2 is out in November.

Catch Georgina performing at the University of Nottingham for the Being Human festival, taking place Friday 17 - Friday 24 November.



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