FEATURE: Scott Tyrrell – My Inspiration | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Poet Scott Tyrrell launches new book Honest at Northern Stage on Friday 18th January. Ahead of this exciting event, Scott talks us through what inspired his new work.

In 2015 I won the BBC Poetry Slam in Edinburgh. It’s a big national competition staged in the BBC Edinburgh Festival tent and was streamed live by the BBC. One of the judges that night was Clive Birnie, the MD of Burning Eye Books, the hot new poetry publisher on the block to whom all good spoken word artists were flocking to. I wanted him to print my stuff too, so I chanced the fact that I was that night’s poetry king of the world and asked him if he’d publish my new collection and he agreed (he may have been drunk). I was overwhelmed and scared. I literally had no idea what the next collection would be about.

Then I became so busy with the day job I couldn’t write anything for 6 months. Then I became so anxious about writing because, due to winning two national poetry slams in 2015, my poetry profile had risen a bit and I felt the expectation of not sucking far more acutely. Then I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety which further added to the block. I had to come clean and tell Burning Eye I had nothing and would have to postpone another year. I was so annoyed with myself that I’d let people down and furious for allowing my noggin to get flustered by imagining all kinds of external expectations that I was clearly projecting.

Dark thoughts about childhood trauma, body image, identity insecurities, husband and father expectations were bubbling up and down during that period and I fought for the longest time against acknowledging them in my writing. After all I’m a comedian. I’m the funny poet. People don’t want to hear existential grasping at life’s cruel conceits and deceits from me, do they? Alas, there lay just another projection. Eventually I thought ‘just write something’. It doesn’t have to be funny or a potential slam piece, just be honest. Write something about you that’s honest – painfully honest, even embarrassingly honest, and don’t hold back. Get it out just so we have something, anything to work with. And so, I wrote the first poem in the book, ‘If we’re being honest’. And that was it. I actually had a start and a theme. Then old scribbled-down ideas and half written poems started to come together under the banner of Honest. What does honesty mean in a Trump and Brexit post-truth society, when democracy has been turned into an X Factor style phone vote over the most convincing lie? What have Facebook and Twitter done to honesty? How big have our honesty filters and omissions become? How honest can we be about what has shaped our identities? And then there’s mental health. Can we truly be honest about mental instability? Will people still run a mile if you mention you have problems? And could I, as a writer help in some tiny way to make that stigma crushable with a dose of honest humanity? – Well that’s probably a bit of an ask but I was willing make a start. And then there was the #metoo movement, which had men running to the hills to examine their own masculinity, privilege and choices.

Masculinity has always been problematic to me. Rough and tumble football-loving boys scared me as a kid. I knew I wasn’t one of them. They were as different to me as a vulture to a robin. But girls fascinated me. Especially intelligent girls. They were my Narnia, but I was always in conflict about who I was as a boy that consequently I was never confident or comfortable enough to ask to be part of their world. And now I’m a father and I see the same conflict in my son. Only now I’m in a position to tell him he’s not alone. He’s lucky enough to not be growing up in the seventies and eighties when the stigma of ‘gentle boys’ meant a wedgie, being tripped up or called a poof. There’s still a bit of that, but we have come some way since then.

I found I had good stories to tell about my own masculinity, about what being a father means to my generation, about the personality I’m helping to nurture in my son and stories about love – real love, male platonic love, complicated parental love, honest heterosexual long-term relationship love and the newest love of my life, our dog, whose strange devotion inspired one of the funniest pieces I’ve ever written.

And then, could I be honest about the real dark time in my life? My attempted suicide when I was 18?

That was the biggie. So, I wrote as dispassionate a piece as I could about what the hopelessness and resignation of what that felt like to me – what the bottom of the swamp really looks like and it sort of became a pivot for the rest of the book. The subsequent pages became the comical stumble and stride up the mountain out of the pit of that poem and inspired the final piece in the book. I finally had the book. A book with a point and an end and a start and a middle, but in the right order.

I’m really pleased with the finished result. It’s as good as I could write it and as honest as I could make to give the book’s namesake some meaning. And there are cool pencil illustrations too. What more could you honestly want?

Scott Tyrrell’s book launch for Honest is at Northern Stage, Newcastle on Friday 18th January.

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