IN CONVERSATION WITH THE NASTY POET




WORDS CHARLOTTE- ROSIE CREIGHTON - IMAGES COURTESY OF SOPHIE LESEBERG SMITH

A native South Londoner, 25-year-old spoken word artist, Sophie Leseberg Smith, professionally known as The Nasty Poet, speaks with wisdom beyond her years. It’s the sort of wisdom that I strongly believe one collects over many past lives; (which ironically, is the one subject I didn't get around to asking her about).

Sophie first hit the poetry scene at a friend’s open mic night armed with her iPhone notes in one hand and a little Dutch courage in the other, she instantly caught the poetry bug and (thankfully) hasn’t looked back since.

At the start of March (otherwise known as Lockdown the prequel) Sophie challenged herself to write 25 new poems. A task which (she will be the first to admit) was encumbering at times but she pushed through and was able to produce and self publish her first book. Blessings, Mainly Schoolings tells a story, a very real relatable story which is raw and emotional at times but has a beautiful message of hope running through the spine of it.

Young or old, he, she or they, we could all learn from Sophie’s teachings.

I sat down with The Nasty Poet aka Sophie Leseberg Smith to discuss all things from lockdown 1&2, word vomit and the importance of owning your vulnerabilities.

Charlotte-Rosie Creighton: Thank you for joining me! Could you tell me a little bit about yourself?

Sophie Leseberg Smith: This is my first Zoom interview so I feel a little nervous. I should be used to it by now because I spend my life on Zoom.

CC: Don’t worry, it's mine too. We’re in this together!

SLS: I used to write and I’ve always been a storyteller, more to get attention if I’m honest - mainly from my sister when I was a child because she was the cute one. I’ve always had the general knack for being a bit of a performer. Attention seeker is more what my mum would say. I used to write a lot, my sister and I would make up a lot of stories. Then I saw writing as a means to get things out that I was feeling and a way of dealing with my feelings. Then it became more of a cathartic thing.

CC: When was your first proper performance?

SLS: 6 years ago, my friend James put on these poetry nights in Peckham and I’d written a pretty funny poem about a boy who had mugged me off basically, he’d been an arsehole. I don’t know why I’d had a few drinks and thought it would be an appropriate area to showcase my spoken word talent. And people laughed, I think I got a kick out of being able to share something that other people had felt too. As people, we can associate with others who have been through a shitty breakup or have been treated badly by somebody they like. I just wanted to have fun with it and see how I develop as a writer. I hope one day I will be able to perform without feeling nervous or perform stuff that is actually worth performing rather than just cracking poems about boys.

CC: Well I would say it’s a bit like an Adele album, you love it, its cheap therapy and it’s very relatable.

Therapy for the masses!

SLS: It really is, because I do performance poetry, you put yourself in a different position of vulnerability when you’re performing.

When I went into lockdown I wrote a lot because I felt that I needed to be working on the next thing. I have ADHA and was only told as an adult, there are always a million tabs open in my brain at any one time. I think lockdown took me back a bit, I wanted to complete all these things and then I just stopped for a bit and just wrote things. So I used the time to just write and learn how to cope with my emotions better and how to be a better person, a better friend and a better daughter.

I realised there's been quite a few things that I have gone through that I didn't quite know how to deal with. Things that range from being quite common, I suppose, like a bad break up to things that are actually a little traumatic. Me being me put them all in a pocket as one thing and actually what I needed to do for myself and other people who may have been through those things was to write them down. I thought it would be nice to create something physical that people could actually have and hold and that means something, that's more than just an Insta video. Whenever I hold it I feel like, ‘ahh it’s amazing’. We lost so much time where we could physically hold things that could make us feel more human. The poems in the book are a lot more vulnerable than I would ever normally read aloud but I think that's nice because then it becomes a really personal thing that you can have.

CC: It also feels safer doesn't it? It's safer to write things down, like a Pandora’s box but the other way around.

SLS: Yes! That’s exactly it, you’ve hit the nail on the head there.

CC: You must be super proud.

SLS: I feel really happy, in my head I'm also thinking what am I gonna do next? But I think that's how our generation feels anyway.

CC: How are you feeling about lockdown the sequel? Is there another book?

SLS: [Laughs] My mum asked me that. Its quite hard. I don’t know. Maybe? There's this poet who I follow who is amazing called Hussain Manawer and he said if we went into a lockdown again he’d write a poem a day. I thought that was a nice idea. It reminded me if a video that Lemn Sissay had done, who said you should try and do something everyday without purpose, it doesn't need to mean something to anyone, it's just a daily exercise.

CC: That's great advice for anyone, what an amazing coping strategy.

SLS: And it can come across all different arts, writer, poet or artist. Anything, just doing something every day; it doesn't have to be your best work, it doesn't have to solve every world problem there is, it will save you a little bit for you every day. It's so easy to forget to do these things that make us feel a little bit human, especially now. It's really hard.

CC: It's really hard, there's such misery in the air. So obviously artists and creatives have taken a massive hit during this time, how are you feeling about it?

SLS: It's really strange, a lot of my friends are artists or DJs so I feel like I’m in an echo chamber of trying to work out whether there's anything we can do collectively together or what do we really do? It can be overwhelming. For me, its slightly different, I’m not a DJ so live nights haven't affected me in that way. I did something different by putting a book out rather than performances, it's a bit cheeky of me to have a real point of view on it because it hasn't affected me as badly as I can see a lot of my friends affected by it. Even talking about it makes it about me and it's not about me right now. It does feel almost inescapable at the moment.

CC: Could you tell me about the process of writing a poem for you? Where do you even start?

SLS: Because I normally do performance poetry a lot of stuff just comes to me when I'm on the bus, a night out or wandering around the house. When it's not commission stuff, that's very different. It’s usually just raw feelings, I’ll make a few notes on my phone and then spend 5 or 10 minutes writing something. Because if I leave it, it becomes a bit bitty. I’ll leave it for a few hours and then come back to it to figure out if the rhythm and flow. Then I edit it because if I don't, It turns into word vomit.

With the book stuff, I couldn't rely on that. It was a very different process. The general idea of the book is that from every experience in life you have to learn something to grow as a person. I wanted the book to pay homage to the things you get over and grow from. I started writing separate poems and not reading them aloud, I would just read and write and read and write; I wanted to make sure the person reading them would feel the same things I did writing them. It's a lot harder without intonation or personality to inject those things. If you're a writer I guess its probably a lot easier, right?

CC: [Laughs] It's not, it's still difficult! So that in itself was a challenge for you?

SLS: It was! A massive challenge! I know how to write a brief but this is different, it's super personal. But then at the same time, some of the things I talk about in the book are so accessible. That's also what I really wanted to do. Poetry is storytelling for the people, it's the oldest art form, its the way people told stories because they could remember them that way. I think the reason why spoken word artists came along was because they were performance poets that were not given the rights to be called a poet. With the book, I wanted to show that poetry isn’t this inaccessible thing. I talk about ex-boyfriends and stuff.

CC: And talking about feelings and ex’s is something that young women haven’t really been taught to do, its very hard for some of us to vocally express our feelings without being called crazy.

SLS: That's it. We have been taught to not talk about boys, to not be crass or rude or vulgar or to have a point of view on stuff. Though It is changing, thankfully! I would hope that a young aspiring poet would pick up my book and go, ‘oh I feel like this too, I could do this’. That for me would be so amazing.

CC: What a lovely gift to give to the world!

SLS: I hope so.

CC: So what advice would you give to budding young poets?

SLS: Just write, write everyday! It doesn't have to be good. You don’t have to show it to people. It shouldn't impress anyone, it should just be for you; if you do that you will be so much better. It's as simple as that. Also to read other people’s work! That’s really important!

CC: Do you have a favourite poem in the collection?

SLS: Yes, Masked. It’s about when you first get into something with someone you don’t allow yourself to be vulnerable but it's the not allowing yourself to be vulnerable that's biting you in the back. You're not fully giving yourself to someone, that can be so dangerous. You almost want to pick things apart to give yourself a reason to not have been vulnerable in the first place. You almost use it as a defense mechanism. You’ve almost wasted your own time. When you do really love someone your faults don’t matter.

CC: Where do you see your future in the poetry world? Do you set yourself personal goals?

SLS: I do, they are lesser goals. I want to do more workshops with schools. I did a poem for children going back to school. They aired it on BBC LONDON which was wicked. I would like to work a lot more with young people and get them into writing. I think I could learn a lot from them. I would like to be in the position where I feel confident enough as a writer to do work shops in schools. That's ideally where I would like to be in a few of years time. I would also love to mix poetry and film together. I have played around with short films and script but not audio visual. You can have a really big impact doing that, not just for yourself but for other people.

CC: And finally our favourite question, what's your favourite F word?

SLS: Fresh!

Blessings, Mainly Schoolings By The Nasty poet is out now.

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