Interviewed by Hannah Green
You describe yourself as a ‘working class man talker’ - how do these three identities fit together and inform your work?
For me, the identities fit together very neatly but not without friction. I come from a rural working-class background and this world is very rarely explored, celebrated or even just alluded to. I want to see it represented so I make sure it is in my work. Being an artist isn't really seen as an actual job that someone could get where I'm from, so to do it feels important. I feel 'working class man talker' is an oxymoron in ways, working class men aren't known for being open about their feelings and experiences, I always found that really difficult growing up, so I guess I'm trying to challenge that idea of masculinity.
What are your earliest engagements with poetry and performance?
I definitely came to spoken word through a combination of punk and hip hop. The political content of both felt more engaging and important than anything else. I started writing lyrics in punk bands, one day the band had all gone on to do other things and I was just there with loads of lyrics, I just started doing them without the band and it worked. When I started to take it seriously it was people like Scroobius Pip, Kae Tempest, Sage Francis and Aesop Rock that I was seeing and being like 'yeah this is actually something I want to do'.
I’ve seen you perform live a few times at spoken word events in Bristol - could you tell us a bit about your experiences performing live? Is this where your poetry feels most at home?
I feel my poetry feels most at home when people can hear it. I love being on a stage and people able to feel a crowd interact with my work. I write it with this in mind, with accessibility in mind, I'm dyslexic and always enjoyed writing but never thought I'd be able to be a writer. What I feel is most important though is challenging the room, the audience, the scene. I always try to make sure my work is not preaching to the converted, there is lots of work out there like that, perfectly good writing, but what's the point in saying something if that's what everyone already thinks?
I was wondering if you could talk a bit about working with different mediums, such as the visual aspects of your new film FACTORY TALK? What, generally, is the relationship between the verbal and the visual for you?
Honestly, it's easier for people to take in more complicated concepts if you just feel like you’re watching TV or something. Like I said, the content should be challenging, but not the medium. I want my work to be enjoyed by normal people, without them having to do loads of extra work to understand it. Don't get me wrong, I want people to think and think deeply but I don't need people to have a 2:1 from a redbrick to understand my reference points. I'm not trying to be clever when I write, I'm trying to connect with people. I think you can deliver high concept, challenging work to lots of people if you present it in an accessible way. In terms of the specifics, I really like combining writing with image, and audio with image, it's just a more full experience. In the short I made with Lucie Rachel, FACTORY TALK, the voiceover explores one definite moment, whilst the visuals explore the repetitive lives of the characters. The delivery of the voiceover is fluid, the visuals depict something more rigid. You can’t have that interplay happening at the same time if you just use one medium. Collaborating is also the best thing about making art.
What’s it like working on commissions as a poet? What is the balance between the support of a cultural institution and your own creative agency?
I love a brief, I love a really specific brief, it just feels like collaboration. To me it's just a challenge, and the creativity comes from overcoming that challenge. I have a good sense of who I am as an artist so I make sure I never put anything out that jeopardises that, as long as I can say that's a good representation of me, then I'm happy. It's all about drafts and feedback, and being able to take the feedback on board.
In the Random Acts showreel you say that ‘art comes from adversity’. I was wondering if you could expand on that a little - where does your art come from?
The art I like comes from adversity because that's when art is transformative and vital. I don't want to see a watercolour of the view from your holiday home, ya know? For some people art is the only pressure valve they have. The only way they can flex something they need to flex. I don't tend to share work that's about something there isn't a problem with, I like to feel like my art is problem-solving, issue-addressing and challenging. It is definitely challenging where I come from. I'm not deluded, I'm not going to write something that will change the world, but I might write something that could start a conversation between people that really needs to happen. Maybe I'm an activist, maybe I'm just an aquarius.
How have you found the past few months - are there any projects you’re working on?
I've been doing some radio and livestream performances of ERASURE ISLAND. I've just finished and released a zine called WORKER TYPES. It's inspired by a few things that happened in lockdown, I wanted to celebrate working-class people and what they do for this world. My short FACTORY TALK is out now which we managed to finish just before lockdown. I'm working on some workshops on mental health, masculinity and LGBTQIA+ identity for universities in the US and Canada. I should have a patreon sorted soon with lots of really fun stuff coming out to subscribers, so follow me on insta and twitter @1990schris for what I'm upto. Cheers for having me.
Photo by Danny Obasa
Photo by @jessicabrain
Here's the links out to everything:
Photo by @lucie_rachel
" I feel my poetry feels most at home when people can hear it. "
" I'm not trying to be clever when I write, I'm trying to connect with people. "