Matt Windle, Birmingham Young Poet Laureate (2007-08) & Birmingham Poet Laureate (2016-18)

Interview (over email due to social distancing) with former Birmingham Poet Laureate and boxer Matt Windle (The Poet with Punch) on his experiences and involvement in the poetry 'industry'. Published here with full permission from Matt. 

Matt Windle, Birmingham Young Poet Laureate (2007-08) & Birmingham Poet Laureate (2016-18)

What is it like being a poet and performer?

I find it to be a very rewarding job. People come to speak with you after a performance and tell you that your words meant something to them or they ask for copies of the poem and it's great to be able to impact people in a positive way. 

How would you describe your work in your own words?

I think honest and just a reflection of me as a person. I don't write 'tick box' poems just because the topic is on-trend at that current moment, I write about the things that I think about, worry about and experiences that have happened to me. 

I know that you do a lot of work with young people. What other audiences would you like to cater for?

There isn't really an industry that I don't or can't cater my work towards. I do work in primary and secondary schools, but I'm not limited to that. I have worked in and written for young offenders, prisons, elderly care homes, wellbeing societies, weddings, corporate businesses and have even written for companies such as the Royal Mail, Barclays Premier League, PayPal, Nationwide, BBC, Channel 4 and I deliver CPD days for teachers and education professionals as well as hosting events such as the national museum conference and the looked after children awards. 

How did you begin initiating poetry events?

When I became the Young Poet Laureate in 2007, I was invited to and started attending numerous open mic nights across the city to increase my network and to hone my craft. As the Young Poet Laureate, I was asked to perform at many events that involved schools and thankfully they were impressed with what they saw, they would then invite me into their school and the word spread from there. 6 months after registering self-employed I delivered workshops for a week at an International school in Indonesia all because the librarian there had found a positive review from another teacher in England about my sessions. 

Take me through the process of publishing your first book.

Having my own book isn't something that I've spent a great deal of time on. In 2008 Pertemps surprised me with a book of my own poems that they had created for me called 'Fisticuffs' but aside from that I have stayed away from the page and instead chose to create a CD. I do have ideas for a few books in the pipeline and I'd love to create a comic book series but like many things it comes down to finance and time. I'd also need someone to illustrate the comics for me as I can't draw for love nor money. I'm currently writing a book for young people based on my experiences, similar to the Dream to Win series by Roy Apps using my sporting background to appeal to those who may ordinarily choose not to read.  

How did you enter the poetry 'industry'? What sparked it?

It was through the Young Poet Laureate competition that was held by the Birmingham Libraries. My first year of entering I made the final 10 and had to perform live for the audience and judges. Dreadlock Alien was the host and watching him I knew that this is what I wanted to do. I try to have the same impact on young people that he had on me. 

Is it a competitive place to be in?

It can be, especially if you compete regularly on the slam poetry scene. The poetry scene can be very cliquey and that isn't my cup of tea but I come from a background of boxing and fighting for a living so when we use the word 'competitive' it's all relative, I guess.  I've had plenty of people over the years be rude to me and show me a lot of disrespect but after 13 years I'm still here and making a living from it so I must be doing something right. 

Were you apprehensive about anything before making an entry?

I was nervous before my first ever performance, but I wouldn't say apprehensive. I was just a 15-year-old, working class lad that attended a PRU school for excluded children performing against middle class, mostly female students from grammar schools but after my second performance I was fine. Again, my background in boxing means that I get punched in the face regularly in front of large crowds of people so if I can do that then I'm sure that I can talk in front of people as well. 

Were there any surprises for you got involved in the poetry industry?

I think the biggest surprise was winning the YPL competition in 2007. I became the first male in the country to become a Young Poet Laureate and that's what started everything off for me so I guess that's the biggest surprise, that I went from being kicked out of school and banned from playing football by the FA to becoming a YPL and boxer within a 2 year period. 

What difficulties did you have while entering the industry? 

I didn't have difficulties as such because my way in was through the YPL competition. I guess the difficulty is being good enough. I work hard and always try to be polite and professional and people know that if they work with me, they will get a good job and I will give my all to making the project a success. 

What is your favourite part of being involved in such a dynamic industry?

My favourite part is being able to work with and impact people and young people more specifically. When I can walk in at the start of the day and have a vast majority of people tell me that poetry is boring and then by the end of the day they're wanting my YouTube name or to read me their poem or even want to become a poet is a great feeling. 

Have there been times when you wished you were not part of the industry? 

No, never. I'm not so much a part of the 'poetry industry' as I am the education industry. I don't get the majority of my work through the arts I get it through teachers, schools and education.

What are your tips for making it far in the industry?

I think tips to be successful in any industry are pretty much the same. Work hard, keep going, don't give up, get lucky (not that you have much control over that) and to just enjoy yourself. What good is it doing anything if you don't or can't enjoy it? 

What is your advice for young people wanting to take poetry as a profession?

The advice varies depending on what branch of poetry they would like to be involved with whether that be published poetry, touring, performance and poetry slams, Laureate competitions, educational poets, festival poets and so on. Ultimately though my advice would be to go for it and do it. Get as much good content online as what you can! It's the 21st century and people can make a living from virtually anything. You just have to be committed, find your niche and take it from there. Maybe you'll want to do poetry/creative writing at university, maybe you won't. Maybe you want to get started on the open scene, maybe you don't. I'd just recommend that people be open-minded and that they try everything once before declining an opportunity.  

What are your ambitions for the future?

I don't think too much about it in all honesty. I just want to continue making the best living possible by delivering workshops, impacting young people and visiting schools all across the country. I do really want to create a comic series as I've already mentioned so I guess that's my pipe dream.

Header Image Credit: Partha Mandal


Iona Mandal

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