Matthew Jacobson interviews Poet and Spoken Word artist, Laura Ferries.
“As the C.S Lewis quote goes,’we read to know that we are not alone.”
When did you begin to have an interest in poetry?
I always enjoyed poetry at school but I really fell in love with it whilst studying for a degree in English Literature. My personal tutor, the wonderful and unfortunately late Jo Croft, and several other lecturers, introduced me to the poetic works of Sylvia Plath, the Brontës, Christina Rossetti, John Keats, Tony Harrison, William Blake, Ted Hughes, Oscar Wilde and more.
If you’ve never come across Tony Harrison’s epic poem, ‘V’, I highly recommend you look it up on Google, it is a masterpiece. It was the topic of my first ever seminar at uni and its rawness captivated me. I have returned to read it every few years since.
And what was it about poetry that you connected with?
Poetry made me pause and appreciate beauty; whether that be the beauty of the nature and landscapes described, the human interactions and emotions explored, or the beauty and craftsmanship of the language itself. I started to find comfort in carrying a book of poetry around with me to read on the train or whilst waiting for a bus. As the C.S Lewis quote goes, ‘we read to know that we are not alone’.
It was around this time that I started to carry around a notebook as well to write down snippets of thoughts that occurred to me in this ‘downtime’ and I realised that poetry allows you a creative channel to make sense of your thoughts, emotions, and experiences.
Reading poetry gives you a comforting glimpse into the lives of others, and writing poetry allows you a clarified glimpse into your own life.
Who were your first influences?
I started writing poetry when I was 22 and music was the major influence. I was in my The Smiths phase (don’t we all have one?) and I was also listening a lot to The Cranberries, Florence + The Machine, Fleetwood Mac, Annie Lennox, Kate Bush and more from who I drew inspiration in terms of lyrics and style. Stevie Nicks is my main icon and her lyrics are poetry.
My poetry writing was sporadic back then as I was a newly qualified English teacher and those early years in a demanding career can really consume your creative power, but it returned to me in my late 20s.
I also remember that when I was at primary school, the teachers put a call out to parents and carers to write poems to be hung on 2000 silver stars in the school hall to herald in the new millennium, and my dad wrote one which was hung there on the ceiling which I could see during assemblies. This was probably the first time that I saw that it’s not just the untouchable rich and upper classes who have the luxury of writing poetry, it’s also there for you and me. All of us.
How would you describe your poetry, is there a theme within, if so – could you expand?
The subtitle of my first self-published collection (Somewhere Between Roses & Oranges) is ‘Poetry of Place, Space, Life and Love’ and I would say that still defines what I write today. My poetry is lyrical and more often than not, rooted in nature. I use water as an extended metaphor as by its very nature it is fluid and allows me to convey myriad feelings, states, and situations, and it was the core element of my second collection, Lucid Dreamscapes.
My poetry covers a range of subject matter including nature, nostalgia, love, language, healing, work-life balance, and it is strong and clear in its message of anti-VAWG (violence against women and girls).
What are your favourite venues that you have performed in?
I will always hold a special place in my heart for The Jacaranda- it was the first venue I ever performed at, nervously and clumsily clutching sheets of paper after two glasses of red wine with my mum as my support. I am proud to say that it was at the first ever Give Poetry a Chance! (founded by Dan Cullinan) event too.
The most beautiful venue was Mansion House in Calderstones Park for Saint Vespaluus’ ‘Spoken Word’ event; it was a hot summer’s night in 2021 with fairylights strung around the gardens and such a lovely group of people in attendance. It was also a privilege to perform at Studio 2, Parr Street Studios for Katie Nicholas’ ‘The Wordsmith’ event in December 2019.
That’s the thing when you perform at one of Liverpool’s historic music venues: you think, ‘Wow- The Beatles performed here in their The Silver Beetles days (The Jac)’, or ‘How amazing to think that Coldplay recorded ‘Clocks’ in this studio (Parr Street)’. It is an honour to read where they have played or recorded.
Other memorable venues include Crosby Beach for Olive’s ‘Hidden Poets’ event last autumn, and the gorgeous vibes at Nomad on Smithdown Road for Nick Ellis’ Sunset Sessions event this summer.
I watched yourt recent and brilliant performance at Nomad, supporting Nick Ellis – a superb night of creatives and community.
Thank you very much! Nick set me the challenge of writing two new pieces of approximately 7 minutes each. He encouraged me to write in a freer flow, not worrying about rhyme or other poetic devices which can sometimes be restrictive. I did feel a certain amount of pressure to come up with something good as longer pieces can either bore a crowd or give them something layered and explorative to think about during the reading and hopefully, afterwards. The topics came to me quite quickly, but I spent a good 3-4 weeks writing them, taking the approach of free-writing, then editing; free-writing, then editing. I was tweaking them up until the day of the event!
It was a wonderful evening amongst such lovely people, and I really appreciated the creative exercise that Nick set me.
Are you constantly thinking about writing or do you stop and say it’s now time to write?
On the whole, thinking about writing is there like a program on a computer running in the background but the writing itself comes in feast or famine. I used to worry whenever I was in a drought but I read a book of Osho’s teachings on creativity earlier this year which reassured that we all feel a grief after we finish writing something we are proud of, and it may take time for the reserves to build back up, but rest assured it will return soon enough.
This also brings to mind something that the poet Gillian Clarke said at a GCSE Poetry Live! event I attended as a PGCE student: “some poems can germinate inside of us for decades before they even reach the paper”. I do set time aside for writing but sometimes nothing transpires, and it’s ok. I just close my notebook or laptop lid and try again another time. Other times, I have to pull over in my car and frantically type something out into my iPhone notes because a line or even a stanza came to me whilst singing or thinking.
Has Liverpool, the city, the people been an influence?
Absolutely. I have written several poems which directly reference Liverpool and its people such as ‘Mersey Song’, ‘Liverpool’, ‘One Sunday in Sefton Park’ and many more. I feel that Liverpool people have an intrinsic connection to the water, given our proximity to the River Mersey and the Irish Sea, and the significance and history of the docks, so again, water imagery is frequently worked into these poems.
The second poem I wrote and performed at Nick Ellis’ event in Nomad was called ‘City Phantoms’, where I take the listeners on a journey re-treading my own footsteps through my own history of Liverpool, conjuring up the ghosts of various people and the footprints of parties, uni days, graduations, and so much more from times gone by.
And what next for Laura Ferries?
I still write and perform poetry regularly and keep both travel and poetry blogs, but my big projects now are writing two non-fiction books: one about the food, people and culture of Italy and another about my time living in the south of Spain.
I am writing them in tandem because I flit between whichever I am feeling most inspired by in a particular moment; I can write chaotically like that but everyone has their own way and that’s my way!
With thanks to Laura.
Love and Peace