An Interview with Steve Pottinger

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THE MUMBLE : Where are you from and where are you at, geographically speaking

STEVE : I was born and brought up in a small town in the Black Country, part of that industrial sprawl north and west of Birmingham. I moved away to go to university, stayed away, and spent years travelling and exploring the world while avoiding anything as structured as a career. Right now, I’m back in my hometown, in the house I grew up in.

THE MUMBLE : So what got you into poetry in the first place

STEVE : I was seventeen and my girlfriend introduced me to the Mersey Poets (Adrian Henri, Brian Patten, Roger McGough). We’d been seeing each other for a few weeks and she gave me an anthology of their poems and said “Read this.” I wanted to keep in her good books, so I did. It was the first time I’d read poetry which was cheeky and honest and moving, and felt like it could have been written by and for people like us. It spoke the way we spoke, it was energetic and vibrant and alive. I’d been writing typically miserable teen-poetry before that, but this showed me a whole other world of possibilities.

THE MUMBLE : Who have been your greatest poetic influences

STEVE : I’ve mentioned the Mersey Poets. I also loved Dylan Thomas – my folks had the LP of Richard Burton reading ‘Under Milk Wood’, which I listened to over and over as a kid, in love with his voice as much as anything. But my greatest influence was probably a copy of ‘For Beauty Douglas’, the collected poems of Adrian Mitchell. I loved his playfulness, his wild imaginings, his anger, and the range of subjects he dared to cover. I still go back to that book now and find myself in awe.

Sometimes, though, I’ve gone to poetry nights and been bowled over by the performance and the words of someone simply getting up to do an open-mic spot. That’s the wonderful thing about poetry: anyone can have a go, anyone can move us.

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THE MUMBLE : You wrote a letter to Caffè Nero about their tax avoidance which went viral, can you tell us about that

STEVE : I love hanging out in coffee shops watching the world go by as much as anyone else, but corporate tax avoidance really gets my goat because the rest of us – you and me – end up picking up the tab. I wrote my poem ‘No-one likes an angry poet’ when I learned Starbucks seemed to see tax as an optional extra, and started going to my local Caffè Nero instead. Then I read that they weren’t paying tax either. So I wrote them a letter, took a pic of it, and posted it on Facebook. I guess it hit a chord, because it got shared thousands of times, picked up by campaigning organisations, and the BBC and Independent got in touch to talk to me about it. I’m reliably informed the boss of Caffè Nero hated it. That pleases me immensely.

THE MUMBLE : The Punk scene is always hovering menacingly over your work : why is this?

STEVE : I don’t know if it hovers menacingly – it’s got dodgy knees by this point, for starters – but punk attitude does inform a lot of what I do. This questioning, idealistic, slightly bolshy attitude isn’t peculiar to punk, of course – anyone who’s ever put two fingers up to the established way of doing things and decided to find their own path will recognise it – but I suppose I’m old enough to look back at the punk era as being a time where it was in its pomp. I’ve a soft spot for the music, too, and have been lucky enough to help two punk legends write their autobiographies.

For me, punk’s all about valuing and respecting each other, putting people first, recognising our common humanity (a theme in my work, I know) and listening to each other’s stories. And getting up and dancing for as long as the dodgy knees allow.

THE MUMBLE : What are you bringing to the table at this year’s Stanza festival

STEVE : First and foremost, a love of words, of their power to shape the way we view the world, engage our emotions, and say something important about our shared experience. Oh, and expect a healthy pinch of irreverence, too.

THE MUMBLE : What does the rest of 2017 have in store for Steve Pottinger

STEVE : Gigs. Adventures. Stories. Interesting collaborations with other poets. Days out on the mountain bike and in the camper van. Hope and scribblings. Determination and laughter. Wilderness, cities, and a glass half-full.

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