Poet Leanne Moden on swimming the channel, Wikipedia rabbit holes and accidentally becoming a teenage goth

Illustrations: Toby Anderton
Thursday 16 September 2021
reading time: min, words

UNESCO City of Literature, Paper Crane Poets, Poetry Takeaway, DIY Poets… Chances are, if you’re in any way involved in the Notts literary scene, you’ve come across the lovely Leanne Moden. As a poet, educator and spoken-word performer, she’s heavily involved in Nottingham’s poetry community, and even released her own collection, Get Over Yourself, last year


What inspired you to write about Gertrude Ederle, the first woman to swim the channel?
It’s frustrated ambition on my part! Not to swim the channel, mind you! I studied history at university – I originally wanted to be a historical researcher – so, I really love the process of reading about these lesser-known stories from the past. I often get stuck down Wikipedia rabbit holes, and that’s how I came across Gertrude Ederle’s story. The dismissive attitudes she faced when training to achieve her goals really got my blood boiling – people in the 1920s just didn’t believe a woman could swim that far! The final line of the poem “They said I couldn’t do it, so I did” is something she actually said at the time. As soon as I read about that, I knew I needed to write the poem. 

Your poetry collection Get Over Yourself was released last year, and focused on the themes of belonging and exclusion. What was it in those themes that appealed to you?
It’s funny, because I never set out to write a collection around a central theme, but I always get preoccupied by certain subjects, then realise I’ve accidently written a load of poems that just fit together. Between 2016 and 2019, I was writing a lot about my teenage years, and I think everyone feels excluded and craves connection at that age. Many of the poems in the collection were written as part of my first one-person show, which was about connection, the redemptive power of music, and accidentally becoming a teenage goth in rural Norfolk in the early 2000s. Surely everyone can relate to that? Well, maybe not the last bit… 

Your poetry combines humour, poignancy and often-visceral imagery. How much is your written work a reflection of you as a person?
I think all creative stuff is a reflection of the person who created it, and sometimes writing feels a bit like bearing your soul, which can be quite daunting. It took me such a long time to find my voice in my writing, and to feel like the poems were coming from an authentic place. The idea with poetry, or painting or music or anything, is to find a way to make something that only you could have created. That’s why I’m so keen on supporting other writers through the work I do with Paper Cranes, the collective I run at Beeston library. I want to be able to give other writers the space to find their voices too! (And, if your readers would like to join us at Paper Cranes, they should drop me an email at [email protected] to find out more!).

How much did lockdown affect your creative process?
It really put a spanner in the works for me. A lot of my writing process revolves around going to open mics and workshops, and listening to other poets perform, so when everything was suddenly cancelled, my confidence really did take a knock. I also had to take on a lot of outside work in order to pay the bills, which made it much harder to find time to write. Thankfully, I’m part of a really kind and supportive poetry community in Nottingham, and I was able to reach out and connect with other writers via Zoom, in order to keep things ticking over. I’m so grateful to the Paper Crane Poets, the DIY Poets and the Nottingham Critters for their support over the last eighteen months. They really kept me going. Before all this, I genuinely thought I was an introvert, but the lockdown has really taught me a lot about myself, and I definitely need to be around people in order to function properly!

A lot of my writing process revolves around going to open mics and workshops, and listening to other poets perform, so when everything was suddenly cancelled, my confidence really did take a knock

What is your writing process? Do you have a routine or any particular ritual?
I usually think of good ideas just as I’m falling asleep, so I have to sneak off and jot stuff down so I don’t forget it. I’ve tried to just hold the idea in my head overnight, but that never works. I always seem to remember having the idea, but not the idea itself – how unfair is that? Anyway, if I’ve scribbled down some ideas in the night, I often refine them the next day, usually after work when my head’s clear. Sometimes a poem comes to you fully formed, and you can bang it out in an hour, but sometimes you really have to wrestle with it to get it on paper. The longest a poem has taken me to write is about three months. Hopefully that won’t happen again too soon!

What’s the one poem you wish you’d written, and why?
I absolutely adore everything that Kim Addonizio has ever written, but her poem To the Woman Crying Uncontrollably in the Next Stall is just such a beautiful piece of life-affirming writing. It’s brilliant. I also think The Orange by Wendy Cope is one of the most glorious poems I’ve ever read. I really want to be able to write about contentment like that one day!

You’ve recently been one of the ‘chefs’ involved at Poetry Takeaway. Can you tell us a bit about what that involved?
It’s such a fun project! The Poetry Takeaway is the brainchild of ‘head chef’ Michael Bolger, and involves a converted burger van. Only, instead of dispensing burgers and kebabs, we dish out poetry. We rock up to a market or a festival and set up the van. Then, the four ‘poetry chefs’ chat to people and write them bespoke poems, based on themselves and their lives. When we had the van in Hucknall in August, I wrote loads of poems for people’s children, a poem in celebration of a dog and a poem about a lion. It was incredibly good fun, and a great challenge for us as poets too, as we have to deliver something on the spot, with only twenty minutes or so to get it all together. Talk about poetry jeopardy!

You’re also the Creative Projects Coordinator at UNESCO City of Literature. Can you tell us a bit about what that involves?
Well, Nottingham received the UNESCO dedication back in 2015, which means we’re one of around forty cities across the world who can call themselves UNESCO World Cities of Literature. In practice, it means we work with local, national and international organisations to support reading, writing and literature in Nottingham. At the moment, we’re running some brilliant initiatives for young people, including the Rainbow Library, a national project to support the creation of more children’s books featuring LGBTQ+ characters and stories. We’re also always looking for literary stuff to celebrate on our website, so if you have something happening that you’d like us to shout about, please get in touch! 

What does the future have in store for you?
I’m running a series of online poetry workshops called ‘The Creativity Break’ for the Inspire Poetry Festival from September 20-24 , which will be fun and friendly activities to get us all writing across the festival week. I’ll also be hosting the Paper Cranes Showcase on the evening of Wednesday 22 September, which will be a fantastic night of performances from poets from across Nottinghamshire. You can find out all about both of those by searching for Inspire Poetry Festival on a search engine of your choice. Other than that, I’m keen to get back out into the world, read some poems, and talk to people face to face again. I’ve missed pubs, cafes, live music and adventures with friends. 


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