Plymouth's Poet Laureate


Made In Plymouth Contributor Seren Kiremitcioglu catches up with Thom Boulton to chat about poetry, Bob Dylan’s recent Noble Prize and Thom’s new role as Plymouth’s Poet Laureate.

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On Wednesday 19th October, Thom Boulton was announced as Plymouth’s new City Poet Laureate.

At a selection event held at Plymouth Athenaeum, the five talented poets who had been shortlisted for this honorary role (David Wooley, Dennis Silverwood, Rosemarie Corlett, John Horsham and Thom Boulton) performed a selection of their work.

The judges (Dom Jinks, Director of Plymouth Culture; Heather Norman-Soderlind, Chair of Literature Works; Councillor Glenn Jordan, Cabinet Member for Culture at Plymouth City Council and writer Babs Horton) as well as the audience listened with joy and intrigue to the poems performed on stage. The five poets read aloud their submission piece, which encapsulated what Plymouth means to them, each with a different story to tell.

The panel were extremely impressed by the work of all five shortlisted poets, but for them Thom’s work stood out. Director of Plymouth Culture, Dom Jinks said:

“We selected Thom to be the city’s next poet Laureate as he’s got a freshness about his work that’s really captivating. He’s a slight maverick and very funny, yet at the same time emotive, which makes you stop and think about the meaning behind the words. This is a prestigious and important role and we are certain that Thom’s accessible style and unrelenting passion for poetry will inspire Plymouth’s next generation of writers.”

We would also like to thank Plymouth’s previous Poet Laureate, Mike Sullivan, for all his hard and dedicated work to support poetry in the city.

Made In Plymouth contributor Seren Kiremitcioglu caught up with Thom to chat about poetry, Bob Dylan’s recent Noble Prize and Thom’s new role as Plymouth’s City Poet Laureate.

Hi Thom. Well done for becoming Plymouth’s Poet Laureate, a really high honour no doubt! How does it feel to be awarded something so important?

It was a bit of a shock at first and I’m still not quite sure I’ve got my head around it! I’m still not sure what it’s going to fully entail, but I was really, really pleased and happy and I can’t wait to get stuck into the first challenge that’s thrown at me. I just hope that I do alright and that everyone’s happy with the work I produce! But at the moment it’s so early, I’m not exactly sure what i’m gonna do but I’m starting to get ideas forming and I’m just thinking about how exciting it can be opportunity-wise.

What are you hoping to achieve as the city’s new laureate?

I do have a plan in my head of projects I want to do. Part of the application process was to see where you wanted to take the role and one of my main focuses was youth writing; I’m a primary school teacher and it links for me. I want to organise youth festivals and really encourage creative writing for younger people. Another thing is that I want to focus on what’s already going on for Plymouth so I can signpost where to go for new and returning writers.

For the readers who are strangers to poetry, I thought it would be good to go back to basics. Could you tell us the story behind your name, Blaidh Nemorlith?

Blaidh is a Welsh-Cornish mix and it means ‘wolf’; basically, when I was coming up with the idea of doing storytelling and workshops, ‘Thom’ didn’t really have a storyteller air to it, so I tried to come up with a name that would be a bit more mystical and imaginative and link to the folklore fairy tales that I’ve been writing. So I came up with Blaidh Nemorlith as a pseudonym.

As cliche as this sounds, what inspired you to follow poetry as a career? I know that in our current society, a lot of people are worried to follow their writing passions.

It’s always been a let out – it’s always been an expressive way for me to get out feelings. I find if I get it out on paper, it helps me process what I’m thinking; even if it’s small or if it’s something bigger, like a world issue. I got inspired by my dad – he used to write poetry all the time but he’d keep them on a shelf and he’d never share it around. Michael Rosen was also a childhood hero in particular who inspired me to write; I just thought want to write funny, I want to write things that people like to read so that I get something from writing it and people get something from reading it.

Do you have any particular poets that influence your style?

Christian Bök is one, he’s fairly unknown and a bit of a linguist. His poetry is very experimental, he’s written a book where he basically removes all of the vowels; there’s a vowel per chapter and he wouldn’t use any words that just had that vowel in, to kind of prove a point about tone change; it was fascinating. He also did one where he injected a strand of DNA that he sequenced into bacteria, and whatever the bacteria mutated into was the response for the second line of the poem, and it was fascinating stuff! The thought of taking language and written word and trying to push it really inspires me.

From back left: the selection panel of Babs Horton, Heather Norman-Soderlind, Councillor Glenn Jordan and Dom Jinks are joined by Owen Ryles, (front row: the shortlisted poets) Dennis Silverwood, Rosemarie Corlett, Thom Boulton, John Horsham and David Wooley (credit: Pete Davey).

Thom Boulton and Portfolio Holder for Culture Councillor Glenn Jordan (credit: Pete Davey)

Thom Boulton displays a collection of his work

You run a lot of collaborative projects on your blog, Blaidh’s Tales. Could you tell us more about your Anthologia series?

In terms of the name, it just sounded better going to the root etymology for anthology. It started off as writing for the Oakwheel (or the Oaktree, I can’t remember which one), a blog run by an American writer. But he decided to stop it, so all the writer’s emailed each other and agreed to carry it on, so I said I would host it. I send a prompt out each week, trying to keep to the fairytale/ fantasy theme of the website, but the poetry doesn’t have to be, it can just be inspired by it. One of the recent prompts was ‘curse’, so the poets all wrote something around the idea of curse. Whoever’s in that week will email back and we’ll put it up on the blog; it’s proved very popular and gets lots of hits, and people who have read it have added and contributed as well. But I’m going to take a step back from that now so I can focus on being Plymouth’s Poet Laureate.

You have a series of books for both adults and children; which do you prefer creating? I loved the idea of your children’s book, South West Legends!

I like both! Writing adult poetry is easier, it comes more naturally because you can write whatever you want – you can choose whatever theme and there’s no censorship. Whereas with children you’ve got to think, ‘is this too dark? Is this a theme that we shouldn’t be talking about?’ Thinking about language, is it accessible? Luckily, having a class of primary school children, when you read them something you can see how they respond and you can feed that back into your writing. One thing they love is chorus; so I always try to put in something that’s repetitive and they can join in with. So, it’s a lot more difficult to craft a poem for a child. But it’s swings and roundabouts; you can read a poem for a group of adults and you might get a clap at the end of it, but with a group of children they’ll be joining in, screaming, shouting and looking like they’re about it explode!

Bob Dylan recently won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Do you have any particular opinions on that?

It’s a funny one; its great with his lyrics. I found it a bit funny that they were a bit offended that he snubbed it, because if you know anything about Bob Dylan it’s that he’s not going to be interested, and he’s not going to attend. It’s a difficult one, I think there’s so many different people out there; I mean, you can find poetry in all sorts of writing, even in prose. It just depends on how you play with the language and how you interpret it. If you think about hip hop as well, that’s hugely linked to Shakespeare. If you take a hip hop song you can rewrite it to make it sound Shakespearean, and there’s a lot of people do that. I think its great to expand where you draw your influences for poetry and recognise people you wouldn’t normally recognise; but be prepared if people say, ‘that’s not really my first field’.

Finally; what message do you want to send young people in Plymouth?

That’s a tricky one! I think in creative writing senses; don’t let anything set you back. If you’re not the best speller, if your handwriting is not the neatest or if you struggle for ideas sometimes, don’t let any of it knock you back because you can always get better at writing as long as you’ve got something to say – that’s the important thing. I always try to encourage the children at school and I hope to do the same as poet laureate. Keep writing if that’s something you enjoy, because someone will always be interested.

A collection of Thom Boulton’s work

Where does the bus go when it doesn’t arrive on time?

Wait in the rain

with face pressed hard against plastic pane

reading that advert for latest Anne Hathaway film

over and over

wondering where

that bus has got to

and why it is terribly late…

It has not met grizzly fate.

No, it has not,

bus has it’s own venture

before rescuing passenger

from propped up purgatory shelter.

It has gone to Disneyland

and ridden all the rides,

queued for hours to enjoy the madness of Thunder Mountain.

It is sat in a local bar

meeting an old friend,

discussing the old days of conductors

of which it misses terribly.

It is meditating in Tibet.

Contemplating the crisis of Dalai Lama and China

and mulling over how

it can bring about

world peace.

It is writing a new cookbook

called Grease and Diesel based dishes for Automobiles on a budget,

so far, it only has two chapters.

It is protesting unlimited University fees,

Apartheid (yes it can travel back in time),

It is singing along to Jimmi Hendrix at Yasgur’s Farm

and taking stock of the transcendental vibes

being puffed out into a plume.

It is anywhere but where you want it

because it does not belong to you,

the bus is free, and extremely busy.

How dare you demand it to be on time.

How dare you limit it and judge it’s life choices.

When did you become the only individual on that busses passenger list?

And in mind bending, spoon bending moment,

you realise, there is no list.

No doorman,

no velvet rope,

and the VIP area is merely a wide seat with your own buzzing button.

Change the laws of physics if you want the bus on time,

If you can’t, learn a virtue,

Or a card game, maybe… patience…?

By Plymouth Poet Laureate Thom Boulton / Blaidh Nemorlith