Yorkshire’s Punk Poet: Interview with Toria Garbutt

Toria Garbutt is a refreshing figure in the world of poetry and spoken word. She released her debut album Hot Plastic Moon in 2016, and her poetry collection The Universe and Me earlier this year. Both demonstrate Toria’s ability to write poetry that is beautifully honest, engaging and down to earth. I was able to speak to Toria who gave me an insight into her writing and performance.

You’re a pioneering poet, proving that poetry does not need to be an elitist art form. How was your experience with other poets and poetry when you were growing up?

I get a real bee in my bonnet about this. I’ve just published a book that’s got good reviews, but I don’t quite know where I belong in the poetry world. I’m seen as a performance poet but not quite a page poet. I’ve studied English language and literature, so I know the rules of poetry and understand how to write in form, it’s just a conscious choice not to. I get annoyed that people think I can’t write proper poetry or that I don’t understand the craft, because I do. It’s words that come straight from your heart that connect with somebody else and take them to a higher place. I think that’s what poetry is, and you don’t need to be educated to access that. I want to appeal to people who feel that poetry isn’t for them.

A lot of your poetry is rooted in where you have grown up such as the poem ‘Us What Come from Knottla’. The North is inspiring to many poets and writers, what do you think makes the North so inspirational?

I spent a long time trying to get away from that identity and it’s only now I speak fondly of it. At school I got my head down because I wanted to get away from there and I did really well. I was embarrassed about my roots but at college and university I was loyal to where I came from because I heard people speaking badly about it. An amazing poetry tutor said what you need to do is write what you know, and that was a lightbulb moment. I did this whole project about a block of council flats I lived in in Knottingley along with the characters and the greasy spoon around the corner. My tutor gave me a first and I thought I can do this. I think wherever you’re from and whatever you’ve got to say, just say it. Whether you have had a real fortunate upbringing or whatever, just talk about that, it’s interesting to other people.

The title of your collection is The Universe and Me. How did this come about?

I’m massively into the law of attraction which is the idea that you visualise what you want and request it from the universe. I was depressed and in a destructive, fucking abusive relationship and didn’t have anything to lose. I read this book about law of attraction and thought I might as well give it a go cos it can’t get any worse. I visualised what I wanted and things began to manifest, such as getting on board with John Cooper Clarke. I have this massive reverence and respect for the universe and so the collection of poems is all about that and the idea that I’m in awe of everything that’s in front of me.

Your poetry collection is a fantastic selection of poems. What was the process like of forming this collection?

I toyed with the idea for years of putting a collection together. I always thought I’d call it plum juice and then Holly McNish released a collection called Plum. There are poems in there that are 15 years old and some that were written the day I submitted it, so I wanted to get in a bit of everything. Also, being conscious of the fact it’s there forever and my kids are going to read it. Then I just thought if I take out everything that might offend somebody then there’s going to be nothing left.

Fake Plastic Moon is a beautifully orchestrated album that discusses difficult themes in a very down to earth way, to people who have experienced the things discussed, your album will be even more vital. Is poetry an instinctive outlet for these subjects?

Yeh, it started with writing a diary as a kid and it has always been an extension of that. It’s the most natural thing to do for everybody and a way of helping make sense of things in your head.

There are also elements of humour in this album, particularly the poem ‘First Kiss’ which is scattered with funny one liners such as ‘my knight in shining shell suit’. Is humour important in your poetry?

I always say that if you’ve had a lot of shit in your life then you laugh the hardest. You’ve got to balance the tragedy with humour. I don’t want to paint a bleak portrayal of life up North, there’s enough out there already. What we have got in the North is a great sense of humour and thinking fuck it you’ve got to laugh or you’ll cry. I don’t want people to listen to me and think that sounds fucking dreadful, I want people to feel hopeful and be able to laugh.

Matt Abbott has spoken of you as a ‘lyrical machine gun’. As someone who is considered a punk poet, do you feel a strong connection between music and poetry, particularly when performing?

In the late nineties I was in a riot girl punk band with the drummer out The Cribs and a few female friends. I got a real buzz from being on stage and what I learned to channel then translates to what I’m doing now. I would hate to be thought of as a page poet who was standing and reading. It’s about a theatrical performance that’s got the punk heartbeat influenced by poets like John Cooper Clarke and Mike Garry. Punk is an ethos that states ‘I’ve got something to say and I don’t care if you don’t like it’.

Phoebe Berman

Image Courtesy of Amy Charles Media