There's a real feeling of excitement in Birmingham at the moment. After a tough time in the past, it's a city on the rise again. It's full of artists, musicians, writers and entrepreneurs who are making great things happen. Birmingham isn't a city to blow its own trumpet though which makes it all the more appealing!
I grew up in a family where books and poetry were treasured so when I was a child we were always reading together, learning poems off by heart and making up our own poems. From a very young age, poetry and writing were my secret world, a place to escape to, where you could be anything and make anything happen. In my twenties, while working as a primary school teacher, I took a night-class in poetry and started to take my writing seriously. Everything came alive for me then and I began to write with a fury, making the poems, which went on to become my book Black Country.
So many things inspire me. I think it's very important as a poet to keep your sense of wonder and curiosity. I have a son who's nearly two and it's thrilling to be able to see the world afresh through his eyes.
I'm very inspired by the Black Country, the area where I grew up. It’s got an amazing dialect and folklore, an astounding story of industrial wonder and decline and is a region with a lot of heart, pride and rough-and-ready tenderness. In many ways, the book is a love letter to the Black Country. I wanted to write poems, which uncovered the magic beneath its grit, and to reclaim its beautiful (though sadly often much maligned) dialect as the stuff of poetry.
I'm also inspired by ideas of transformation and metamorphoses, stories of the extraordinary or enchanting hidden within the everyday. I'm fascinated by the interplay between the human and the animal, the way in which boundaries dissolve and we’re made creature by the ecstatic or sensual experience. Although I rarely write about my work as a teacher, I find the spirit of early childhood weaves itself through my poems – that spontaneity, rawness and wonder that little children have.
The Birmingham Roller is a wonderful breed of tumbling pigeon, which was originally bred in Birmingham, the city where I now live. Whilst flying it performs the amazing trick of doing backwards somersaults, almost as if it's falling from the sky. As soon as I saw the Birmingham Roller I knew it was a perfect symbol for the region and its language: a seemingly drab grey bird hiding a spectacular trick under its wing!
I felt surprised but thrilled. Black Country was chosen as a book of the year by some very diverse newspapers, from the socialist Morning Star to the conservative Telegraph! How strange but lovely to appeal to such a broad range of readers. I think perhaps it's because the book, even at its darkest or strangest moments, is suffused with a sense of joy and flight.
There are so many poets whose work I love and admire, it’s hard to know where to start. One of my favourite poets is Kathleen Jamie. Her collections, like The Queen of Sheba and Jizzen, are truly wonderful; amazing, alive books which use Scots dialect in such an exciting way. Her voice just fizzes.
For inspiration for the dark magic, folk tales and myths, I love poets like Robin Robertson, Pascale Petit, Vicki Fever, Sasha Dugdale – all poets who can make you shiver and feel thrilled.
I love poets who aren’t afraid of raw or tender feeling and sincerity –Warsan Shire, Andrew MacMillan, Julia Copus, Sharon Olds, Hannah Lowe, Paul Batchelor, Fiona Benson.
I return time and time again to Thomas Hardy, Emily Dickinson and Christina Rossetti. These old loves lose none of their music, their thrill or their ability to make my heart beat faster.
No but I take lots of inspiration from art made by others. Many of the poems in Black Country were inspired by the paintings of the wonderful British artist George Shaw.
Read, read, read! Read things you adore, things that make you furious, things that make your heart race. Fall in love with poems. When you're ready to write your own then begin openheartedly and write about the things you really care about and find fascinating.