I don’t know much about poetry, but I do know that I love Box Rooms. Laurie Bolger is a contemporary poet from London. You’ll probably recognise her from the Nationwide ads on telly where she pontificates about the smaller things in life like sharing a flat, cups of tea and shoes in the hallway. These small observations that she takes as starting points for much of her poetry gives Box Rooms, her debut collection from Burning Eye Books, its unique tone and style. Her poems are, unlike many that you might have studied at school, accessible for the memories that they encourage us to recall through her witty observations: people, places, funny things that happened, youth, drunken nights out, staying in, leaving home. I suspect that Laurie’s writing does something different for everyone who reads it. She talks about feelings that we’ve all had and experiences that we can all relate to. I remember memorising a certain quote in GCSE English, it was from Alan Bennett’s The History Boys. “The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – which you had thought special and particular to you. Now here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met. And it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours.” To say that this sentiment applies to Box Rooms would be more than an understatement. I think Laurie wrote these poems with the intention, the hope, that someone might relate or identify, and in that moment look up from her little book and laugh. I asked Laurie some questions about her debut collection.
What originally sparked your interest in poetry? Do you remember a specific moment, or an age that you really began to enjoy other people’s poetry?
I had an amazing English teacher at GCSE. He made the school poetry anthology seem like a treasure chest. I know a lot of people’s memories of poetry in school aren’t the most inspiring so this helped a lot. What a legend.
Who, if anyone, inspires your work?
People always inspire my work. My family, relationships and the things that we find hard to explain like love and loss.
Is there a single poem in Box Rooms that you can mark out as a favourite?
My favourite poem has to be Living in a Shoebox.
Do you find that people are surprised by the unique tone you adopt in your poetry? Personally I’ve found that your poems are refreshing in that they’re very different to the kind I had to study at school. Is this something you hear a lot? And how do you respond to reactions like this?
People’s reactions are my favourite thing. Recently my poems hit the box during the Nationwide Voices campaign and I’ve had so many lovely emails from people saying these poems made them laugh or cry or think of someone they knew, some even asked if I would mind if they read my poems at their wedding. It’s a lovely thing and that’s what poetry is for if you ask me…not just to be read at weddings obvs! But to make people feel something and connect.
Another poem I get a lot of nice feedback on is Slippers, a poem about mental illness, particularly dementia. I think if my poems can open up some kind of discussion around things like this then that’s also great.
I also write a lot with The Poetry Takeaway and I’m sure if you ask any poet or punter who has experienced the van they will tell you people’s reactions are by far the best bit!
People’s reactions make me love my job and want to do it better and it also makes those tough hours writing about things that are sometimes deeply personal seem completely worthwhile.
Do you find your role as a contemporary poet often involves an element of persuading people that the art has moved on since the days of Byron, Keats, etc.?
Not really, I just do what I do and if people are into it, then great! I actually quote Keats at the start of one of my poems Rubbish, it’s important to remember those old romantics.
Generally speaking, is it true that there is less of a culture when it comes to contemporary poetry than there might have been a few years ago?
I think poetry is defo in the spotlight at the moment. It’s being used in interesting ways and taken seriously as a tool for social change. There’s a great BBC documentary about this, full of poetry megababes speaking about poetry on the ground, it’s good.
What inspires you to write a poem? A lot of your poetry looks at the more mundane aspects of life, but you speak in a way readers might not have looked at certain things. Does inspiration come from all around you? Could you write a poem about anything?
I think so, I try to write about the things I understand or am trying to work out. I think the politics of being human is much more important than writing, say, an overtly ‘political’ poem, for me this is too obvious. I love writing poetry about human relationships, love, loss, etc. and often for these topics it’s about finding poetry in the mundane.
However, I think if you write about a cup of tea, it’s never just about a cup of tea, it’s about a lot of other things and this is why poetry has so many levels.
Poetry in the everyday definitely seems to be my thing at the moment but you never know, this may change as I move onto new subjects as a writer.
Getting to know Laurie’s poetry over the past week has been an incredibly rewarding experience, and I feel, as a result, as though I know her quite well. Although her poems are drawn from her own life, it’s very easy to find a feeling or a memory in there that you might have experienced too. Box Rooms is available here and dates for her UK tour with London’s leading poetry night BANG Said The Gun! can be found here.