“Poetry is the New Rock & Roll” an Interview with People’s Poetry Podcast

by Charlie Fabre

I had a lovely chat with Jimmy Bowman, host of People’s Poetry Podcast to discuss all things poetry, from his own, to teaching it, and where he thinks the future of poetry lies.

An English teacher, a poet, a lover of Emily Brontë and rock, Jimmy Bowman is the host of People’s Poetry Podcast: a travelling podcast featuring local poets all over England talking about their work, and sharing their love of the literary form. With seven seasons of the podcast he has many interviews under his belt and names such as Cecelia Knapp, Leanna Moden, and Jason Williamson from Sleaford Mods.

Jimmy and I sat down a few weeks ago to discuss just that, poetry and beyond, but our roles were reversed and I got to hear Jimmy’s side of the story.

So, what inspired you to start your podcast? Can you tell us a little bit about the journey it’s taken you on and what inspires you to keep it going?

I’ve always, always been into poetry and written poetry – it’s something I’ve always been interested in. It got to a point during uni where I thought that, even though there were very good poetry podcasts out there, there weren’t any that seemed to be interviewing contemporary poets that discussed their work. It’s a massive scene, and one that’s growing and happening right now.

I wanted to be a travelling podcast and, to my knowledge, I’m the only one doing that at the minute. I’ve loved keeping it going as I really think it’s important and I’ve met some amazing poets, I’ve discovered poets I would have never ever found had I not started doing this, and I get to then share them for other people to discover as well.

It’s just a celebration of poetry and what’s happening now.

The fact that you travel, that must be really nice for you as well as you get to see different areas and meet these poets in the spaces they know.

Yeah, definitely, and it brings the poets’ world closer and you can see their environment and maybe the places they write about, or certainly what inspires them. Sometimes we sit in a park, or in a pub, while we record, and so you also get the atmosphere of that in the recording.

If I understand correctly, you’re an English Teacher as well. How do you approach teaching poetry to kids and making it more accessible?

I think the main problem is the curriculum. I love all the poems on it, but they are essentially dead white men and women half the time and it’s that they’re so old and that’s the kid’s misconception that because it’s old it’s hard and unenjoyable. But, I have a poetry wall in my class where I have pictures of poets that I’ve come across, in my own reading and through the podcast, and musicians I consider poets, so that the class can see there’s young people, and people that are alive more importantly on that wall, not just Byron. Just to show them this isn’t some sort of ancient relic.

What about you? Did you connect to poetry in school or did it take you until a little bit later in life?

I connected with poetry straight away at school, for me it was Simon Armitage, and Kid, a poem about Batman and Robin, and it was such a weird image as a kid growing up with Batman and knowing he was uber masculine and very grumpy, and sitting there in English talking about them, that was fun, that was good.

You’ve got to put a bit of razzmatazz into the poem and the delivery.

You’ve interviewed our Fawn Press friend, Scarlett Ward! How exciting! Can you tell us a little bit about how you choose who to interview? Is there a specific kind of poet you’re interested in?

The term that I use in the blurb is ‘rising stars and established poets’ because there are some poets who are household names, and others who aren’t heard of as much. It’s a mixture of things that I’ve read that I liked and also word of mouth from other poets. Some of the poets that are featured reached out to me themselves and sent me their work and I thought ‘wow that’s amazing I’d love to chat about that’, so it’s a bit of that as well. I’ve been lucky, really, to have so many people reach out to me, and the ones I’ve reached out to accept.

Is there a ‘famous’ poet that you would love to interview? Are you interested in speaking to the more world widely famous poets, or do you prefer to keep it to the local poets of England?

Given the chance I would love to, yeah. It’s funny, when Covid hit everyone suddenly had all this extra time, but then for a travelling podcast it ends up not being as useful. But, Zoom opened up access to some people I wouldn’t normally have had access to. If I could get Pete Doherty (Jimmy was sat during our interview wearing a Pete Doherty shirt) on to chat poetry, or Cooper Clarke, I think they’d be great people to chat to with a wealth of experience. It would be interesting to talk to people who aren’t strictly poets, but people who have a writing process that’s similar to poetry as well.

So, you also write poetry. Where does your personal inspiration for that come? Are there any poets who have really inspired you?

I suppose I write a lot about loss and a lot about working class communities, and the contentious idea of what Britishness is and what it means now. I’m not patriotic, I hate that, but I still want to celebrate Britain and areas of it where working class communities still harbor together, and the good that’s still left in this idea of Britishness. I go back to council estates as well, and pubs, in my writing, and the things that are dying out.

I like to try to keep those old stories and characters alive through the poetry.

Jamie Thrasivoulou is someone I’m really inspired by. I feel like me and him have a lot in common, we’ve almost got this stubbornness, where a lot of people think poetry is just for the upper class and it’s hard and there’s nothing in there that represents them. We both write out of that stubbornness to show that no there is stuff here for everyone. Poetry is about whatever you want it to be about.

To you, what makes a poem? If you could try and distill a poem into one definition (a very arbitrary exercise) what would you come up with?

I always describe poetry as an onion in a world full of carrots. What I meant by that is, anything that sticks out from other literary norms. Poetry is the new rock and roll at the minute, and I think it always has been, it’s always been the James Dean of the literary world, it can’t be put into a little box, a pigeon hole. It’s anything that tries to break the mould, and also anything that tries to convey some emotion, or even just a sense of something, it might not have to be an emotion. Place Poetry, I love place poetry because you can just read it and get a sense of that place. So, I guess anything that gives you that sort of feeling, which is why I consider lyricists and music poets as well.

What you just said now about poetry being like music has made me think of how, so many people say they don’t like poetry and then listen to music all day when actually they are the same thing. How can that be?

It’s their turns of phrase. In a literary sense it’s not always mind-blowing or profound, but they just hit the nail on the head. You always have that line in a song that you just stew on for a little bit and resonate with, and what a good poem does it exactly the same.

Anyone flying the poetry flag is a friend one mine.

I wanted to briefly discuss ‘Instagram Poetry’ and what you think of it. Personally it’s not my favorite, but that isn’t to say it doesn’t have it’s place. What do you think of the platform’s new form of writing?

It’s something we used to talk about a lot in the early series of my podcast, I think Hollie McNish and I spoke about it a bit, and I’m on the same page as her: I don’t think it does any harm. I’m like you, I don’t read a lot of it, but I think anything that promotes a love of writing and poetry could inspire someone very young and make them put pen to paper. Anyone who is vehemently against it is probably the kind of person that I started the podcast to get up the nose of, to prove that poetry is for everyone. And with everything online and digital now, it doesn’t surprise me that it’s sprung about, and why not?

Last question, and this one’s a hard one: who is your favorite poet and what is your favorite poem?

Of all the questions I could have pre-empted, this is the one I should have pre-empted and I just can’t think of an answer. (He thinks for a while, stumped). I suppose I have to say Simon Armitage and his poem called My Father Thought it Bloody Queer which I remember reading at school. Simon Armitage was a bit of a punk at school and he had a silver earring like this (Jimmy points to his own ear) and he put it in his ear and his dad was very old school and his dad said ‘you should have got it through your nose instead if that’s how easily you’re lead’. I resonated with that because I thought I was amazingly edgy at school and reading that made me think ‘look there’s poetry about me.’

After that final question Jimmy and I had a few laughs about our mutual likes and dislikes and promised to both meet up in the London area – an event I am looking forward to. Then I let him go to write some poems and help the kids prepare his school’s play.

People’s Poetry Podcast is a unique show for all poetry lovers out there who love to read the written word and get to know the people behind it. You can find it on Spotify, SoundCloud, Apple, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

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