Interview with Louise McStravick
Louise McStravick is a writer, teacher, and proud Brummie. She is a slam winning poet and performerwho has headlined at events in London, Birmingham, and Amsterdam including London Literature Festivalwith Heaux Noire, Beans Rhymes & Life, Streetfest and Words at the Warehouse. She was also part of thevery first Apples and Snakes Platform Poets writer development programme, 2020.She was commissioned to write poems for the Words on Windrush anthology in 2019 with Empoword Slough. This project involved writing poetry based on oral history interviews. As a part of this she was asked read her poetry on BBC Berkshire. Louise has been published in various places on and offline including, Dear Damsels, Porridge magazine, Tommyrot Zine, Lacuna Lit, Murmaration anthology and an exciting project with Trope publishing that incorporates poetry and photography from London, due to be released in Autumn 2020. She uses writing to explore the nuances of her mixed-heritage, working-class identity. Her book How to Make Curry Goat can be purchased through Fly on the Wall Press on July 17.
Your poetry collection, How to Make Curry Goat is published by Fly on the Wall Press in July 2020. How do you feel about the process of writing the poems inside How to Make Curry Goat? How much time did it take you to complete the book?
I am always writing so the poems in the book have all been written at some point over the last couple of years, some very recent. Fatherland/Motherland was written in 2017 visiting Jamaica, that’s the oldest one in there. Writing is very much a part of my everyday and is a way of me recording and processing things I’ve experienced. I’m really interested in how poetry can not only capture moments but also help me to understand how I feel about them, or help me to reflect on things that have happened. There have definitely been moments of revelation and uncovering, such as in the poem, Pasta, Pesto and Tomatoes, where throwing away the leftovers of my ex-boyfriends go-to meal reminded me of my relationship to food growing up. This process of discovery I find really interesting and it has certainly helped me to understand myself better than I would have had I ruminated on things without writing it down.
Your main themes are deriving between “identity and heritage.” Depending on the U.S. government’s recent political moves after George Floyd’s homicide by the police force, do you think that How to Make Curry Goat has a connecting point with Black Lives Matter?
I personally feel like I have a connection with the Black Lives Matter movement due to my family and ethnic background. My book is written from my own and my family’s experience which is from the UK context rather than that in the US, but I think the two are linked historically and culturally so in that way there is a connection too. My dad was part of the Windrush generation and emigrated to the UK from Jamaica so much of my writing speaks of my experience as a second generation immigrant, one of the poems (Postcards from England) was written based on an interview with someone from the Windrush generation, I think reading the experiences of people from black backgrounds is always going to be linked to Black Lives Matter. Literature in general is not diverse enough so I feel that when anyone from a marginalised group speaks their truth it is ultimately political.
From your poem “Just another road in Erdington,” we read these lines: “My dad’s from Jamaica/We back and forth, wear countries like badges of honour.” How is your relationship with Jamaica? You are playing with accents in your poems, how is your relationship with Jamaican?
I only visited Jamaica for the first time when I was 31. We didn’t have enough money to travel there growing up, but the Caribbean community in Birmingham is strong, my living room growing up was a testament to that! Visiting Jamaica felt quite strange really, I was aware of our privilege growing up in England due to the poverty there. It put things into perspective as I am from a marginalised background here in the UK, so to feel privilege in this way has given me a lot to think about. I also felt very foreign and it made me question my identity and sense of belonging. Looking the way I do and being mixed race this question is something that I have asked and I have been asked. In terms of language, patois is something I grew up with at home so what you see in some of my poems is straight out of the mouth of my dad.So not only is it patois but it is his own personal dialect or ‘dadisms’ which may not be true to patois as it is spoken in Jamaica today as he still speaks in the way he did when he stepped onto that plane, 50 something years ago and language changes and evolves.
When did you first realize your affinity for poetry? What is your “origin” story?
I wrote poetry when I was at school and when I was in primary school my poetry got published in the school newsletter so I guess that would be my first publishing credit. An English teacher refused to mark one of my poems when I was in Year 10 because she said there is no way I could have written it (she hated me!). Having said that I stopped for many years and really only got into it again when I was around 30 and it was mostly scribbling sporadic thoughts down except for the last two years.
Do you feel like your poetry falls under a particular category, such as experimental, contemporary, etc.? If you could have your work associated with another poet, who would it be and why?
I suppose it is contemporary. I started out doing spoken word due to the classic story of being put off by school. It was like anything I wrote could never be ‘real’ poetry. The spoken word community really showed me what could be done with words and the diversity with the ways things can be expressed. I am not sure about being associated with another poet, I think maybe that is something someone else could answer!
What do you want the readers to know about you?
That I am a working class, mixed race writer from Birmingham. Only because I feel like there aren’t enough writers from similar backgrounds being published out there and I think it’s important for a diversity of voices and experiences to be heard in literature.
Are there any live events or publications that you have coming up that you wish the readers to know about?
A lot has been put on hold due to Covid-19, although I am regularly taking part in online events. Instagram @hyperbolou would be the best place to keep up with that, especially as the situation with Covid-19 changes. I have a spot on Brum Radio poets on the 20th July upcoming that you can tune into or listen to the recording on Mixcloud.
Interview conducted by Nazlı Karabıyıkoğlu, who is the Interview Editor for Marías at Sampaguitas. She is an author from Turkey, enthusiastic traveler, Feminist activist, and Mother of four cats and countless animals all over the world. Full-time resident in Georgia, escaped from the oppression in Turkey. Has 5 published books in Turkish. For further information: www.nazlikarabiyikoglu.com.