In Conversation With Toria Garbutt, Yorkshire’s Own Punk Poet

We were pleased to be offered the opportunity to chat to Toria Garbutt, whose poetry and spoken word has been described as ‘beautifully honest, engaging and down to earth’.

Toria’s debut album, Hot Plastic Moon, was released two years ago, and this year saw the publication of her poetry collection, The Universe and Me.  So what lies behind the published works?

Toria is very keen to have people understand that poets don’t need to be educated in the formal sense – that life itself educates.  Poets hope that their words will connect with other people, will resonate with them.  She understands the art of poetry, the rules and the form, having formally studied English language and literature, so she is no stranger to what the mainstream might expect from her; she just chooses to do it her way.  One might argue that with a First Class degree she can make that choice.  This is how she put it:

“I think we become educated through our life experience and that that’s the most important in terms of being a good writer. Authenticity, honesty, pain, growth, all the education that comes through living. Spiritual education maybe. Articulation and having the ability to arrange words in a pleasing order I think comes from reading and feeling instinctively. Like anything, the more we practise, the better we get; there’s no shortcut and no fluking. It takes hard work but we can do it without formal training.  Poetry workshops are popping up all over and if you really want to learn to write in form you can find out at the click of a button.  I think we already know most things; we just have to remember to tap in to access it. All the best stories are already in our heads.”

She admits that for a while, she wanted to escape her identity as a northerner, whereas now, she claims that identity and her affection for it.  The change came about because the transition from school – where she studied hard to make her escape – to university gave her reason to defend her roots, not to deny them.  An endorsement of this change came about because the poetry tutor she so admires advised her to write what she knows… Toria wrote about the block of council flats which were once her home, together with the characters and the places with whom and which she was so familiar.  Toria advises that no matter who you are and what your background happens to be, you should just talk about that. It’s more interesting to other people than you may at first realise.

How, then, did The Universe and Me arrive?  Toria explains that she has great respect and reverence for the universe and often finds herself in awe of all she sees.  At a bad time in her life, depressed and in a toxic relationship, she read about the law of attraction and decided things couldn’t get any worse so she’d give it a go.  The Universe and Me is just a part of the result.  The poems were written over a period of fifteen years and Toria admits that some are likely to offend some people, but she left them in the collection anyway.  To remove them, she feels, would have been less than honest.

Hot Plastic Moon covers difficult topics in a very grounded and frank way, its origins in Toria’s diary-writing as a child, attempting to make sense of life’s challenges.   The album is by no means devoid of humour, which Toria believes is stronger in those who’ve seen and experienced a lot of the downside.  She is clear about the North’s sense of humour and the ‘laugh or you’ll cry’ attitude which aims to give people hope and – yes – laughter.

What about being known as a punk poet?  Toria explains that she was once a member of a punk band, along with the drummer from The Cribs, and stage performances gave her a ‘real buzz’.  She believes the experience helps her to deliver theatrical performances rather than standing and reading as a page poet.

It is clear that performance for Toria is also her reality.  She has something to say and if people don’t like it, she can’t care about that.  If she did, the honesty, the humour and the engagement would be compromised.

Photographs by Emma Aylett

Asked about what she is currently working on, Toria had this to say:

“I’m back on tour with John Cooper Clarke this week, promoting his new book The Luckiest Guy  Alive. I’ve been touring with John pretty much fulltime for two years now and I love it. My homeschooled children come with me and we are like a big on the road family. I have a very soft spot in my heart for Johnny Green, our road manager. He used to manage The Clash back in the day, so he is punk rock royalty to me.  He has taken me under his wing and treated me with such respect and kindness and I hold him in the very highest regard.

I collaborated earlier this year with award-winning theatre company Not Too Tame and we took a show to Edinburgh.   I’m really interested in writing for stage at the moment and I’m working on my first script. I’ve been reading a lot of Jim Cartwright and Andrea Dunbar.  I’m enjoying learning a new form and being out of my comfort zone. I love the buzz of handing my words over to an actor and watching the magic of their craft. Working with a theatre director has informed my own stage performance and I like feeling my own work grow and change. Watching actor Louise Haggerty play the part of me at this year’s Edinburgh was a surreal experience. She made the story her own and even I believed her.”

With all this going on, Toria has also been working on her second poetry collection,  which she hopes to release in the spring of 2019.

Toria is at The London Palladium on 24 November, Sage Gateshead on 29th and The Queen’s Hall Edinburgh on 30th.

Hot Plastic Moon released on Nymphs and Thugs

The Universe and Me published by Wrecking Ball Press

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