An Interview with Stephen Watt
THE MUMBLE : Hi Stephen, so where ya from & where ya at geographically speaking
STEPHEN : Dumbarton, born and sandwich-bred.
THE MUMBLE : Its clear Dumbarton FC is in your blood, how did becoming club laureate come about
STEPHEN : About four years ago, I had written a poem ‘Boghead’ which won 3rd prize in The Pride & The Passion Football Anthology – judged by Ian McMillan and in association with Derby Country FC. My poem was then published in Dumbarton’s match-day programme vs Hearts in October 2014. At the time, it crossed my mind that a poet-in-residence would be an interesting concept, uniting football with literature. Not long after this, Selkirk FC appointed Thomas Clark, who had also appeared in the anthology, as the first Scottish football club poet-in-residence – and then St Johnstone FC appointed Jim Mackintosh – both of whom are now friends and exceptional poets. After a bit of coercing, I was delighted when Dumbarton FC said that they were open to the idea of appointing their first poet-in-residence, and confirmed this appointment in September 2016 for the home game against St Mirren.
THE MUMBLE : When did you first feel yourself getting into poetry
STEPHEN : 1999. I was assaulted twice within six months and I was in a messy place attending counselling, the court trial, suffering from depression etc. I was lying on my bed listening to a bin lorry rumbling down the street when I began scribbling something down into a little notebook. Although I was 19, I had often written short stories throughout my teens and knew that there was a creative side somewhere in me having previously dabbled with charcoal drawings and cartoons before. Anyone can write poetry – it was something I didn’t feel that I had to be tutored on (although, of course, it’s hugely beneficial when one reads, listens to other poets, and works at their craft) and I was delighted when I had my first poem published at the age of 20.
(Appears on Neon Poltergeist EP)
appear to dissolve
the recondite dales
where only the hares
where the bodies are buried.
like extinct murmurs,
agitated by the demi-suns
of police torches
breath, blood, bone.
In prison, his soup
swills with broken glass,
but he cares little,
used to fasting
Beneath the peat,
a suspended child
stretches up to Heaven
but is primed
The light will find him.
THE MUMBLE : What were your earliest poetic inspirations & what inspires you today
STEPHEN : Carol Ann Duffy was, and remains, one of my biggest inspirations. She is brilliantly talented and has a system which captures my imagination every time. But social narrators have always been the lifeblood of what I write about – Irvine Welsh, Anthony Burgess, Nick Hornby… directors like Danny Boyle, Ken Loach, Shane Meadows… musicians like Jarvis Cocker, Mike Skinner, Kate Bush… and poets like John Cooper-Clarke, Charles Bukowski, Ian Dury… I also love gothic/horror, as shown in the macabre E.P 55.862670, -4.231142 (co-ordinates of Glasgow Necropolis) released with sound engineer/musician Gareth McNicol last year under the guise of ‘Neon Poltergeist’ and have to credit Mary Shelly’s “Frankenstein” with inspiring that part of my writing.
THE MUMBLE : You are an active member of the Scottish spoken word scene. Is at as thriving as it seems
STEPHEN : I had been writing for 11yrs before I first broached the stage in 2010, courtesy of Robin Cairns at his ‘Last Monday At Rio’ evening. In the past seven years, I have attended countless spoken word evenings, mostly in Glasgow but certainly across Scotland too, as well as festivals and fusion nights (cabaret, theatre, music, comedy, improv, spoken word, magic, etc) and met so many incredible talents that it is easy to forget how little there was to choose from at the start of the decade. What I am wary of is that poetry patterns demonstrate peaks and troughs, and that nothing lasts forever. There are good people involved, there are passionate people who are trying to get their message across, and that the upward trajectory in spoken word popularity (Nationwide adverts, Kate Tempest on Jimmy Fallon’s “The Tonight Show”, etc) shows that it is currently in vogue. Who can say when this will trail off but in the meantime, we are hugely enjoying the public’s approval.
THE MUMBLE : When it comes to OTHER poets, who should we be looking out for
There are so many exciting lights on the scene that it is difficult to whittle that list down to a few. Liam McCormack blazed out of nowhere and slayed the London BBC audiences…. Calum Bannerman remains a firm favourite… Loud Poets are the hardest-working unit in the country…. Katharine McFarlane is as beguiling as her character, a stunning writer (Katharine has supported me at both my ‘Optograms’ book launch and Neon Poltergeist EP launch)… and then there are seasoned campaigners who we all know are just wonderful additions to any bill – Jenny Lindsay, Kevin Gilday, Sam Small, Ross McFarlane. And then across in Ireland, Matthew Rice is captivating. I get more excited about seeing these guys in action than I do my own turn, frequently.
Mid-February, at a Jah Wobble gig in Nice n’ Sleazys,
watching a metallic-haired raver
wrap himself around one of the greasy
pink hard-boiled sugar poles
declaring it to be “ma best pal in the world”,
listening to a rendition of the Get Carter theme,
I slip into a gig-dream
back in your chic-shack
with the Get Carter soundtrack playing
as we shared a pack of cigarettes on a mattress
discussing how typically us
to be single on a Saturday night
savouring nicotine, Michael Caine, and our teens
No-one takes pictures at this gig
because it is an older audience
who know how to appreciate here and now
without the constant need to document
every tremor of a performer’s eyebrows
and I wonder how
you are getting on; whether or not
you would like the reggae-bass or steel drums
or call me a wanker for being out
enjoying this song without you.
My thumb presses record on my phone,
warrants the burn of all eyes around me;
tapes a handful of seconds to show you
in case you ever get in touch.
THE MUMBLE : You have just returned from performing at Stanza 2017, can you tell us about the experience.
STEPHEN : Oh. Wow. I was sharing the lunchtime bill with Katharine McMahon at the Byre Theatre. We had hoped to sell 20-30 seats and then we were advised by the Glasgow makar Jim Carruth that he couldn’t get in because we had sold out! It was a fun experience – very professional for what we are used to in ‘Poetry World’ (agendas, transport, registration – all very official) but a real treat to visit such a beautiful town and perform to such an attentive audience. I was supported by friends made at Bloody Scotland crime writing festival, former makars of the Federation of Writers (Scotland), the afore-mentioned Jim Mackintosh, but equally as wonderful was a new audience tuning in to my little insecurities that I like to pen down. I only wish I could have stayed longer, but I found StAnza to be a very warm, supportive, and poetry-passionate experience for which I am grateful to the director, Eleanor Livingstone, for inviting me to.
THE MUMBLE : You also chaperone your poetry into print. Can you tell us about your two collections.
STEPHEN : “Spit” was published in 2012. Looking back, it’s a farrago of punk, nostalgia, romance, and social commentary – but in the most favourable terms. I have incredible memories associated with that book – and it produced perhaps the strongest piece I have ever written, ‘Rubik’. “Optograms” was published in 2016 and is a lot darker – it certainly counters social issues with a helpline number attached beneath every title which is indexed towards the back of the book. Issues include homophobia, eating disorders, drug misuse, prisoners’ rights, noir, miscarriage, and more. I’m not trying to paint any fairytale ending to these poems – the helpline number is supposed to be the shining light at the end of the tunnel. I was fortunate that punk photographer Peter Gravelle agreed to produce the cover for the book, and I can only hope that it helps someone during a bleak period in their life.
THE MUMBLE : What does Stephen Watt do when he’s not musing into the aether
STEPHEN : Right now I am preparing for my wedding – less than 11 weeks to go. But usually I am planning – whether that’s my social life (attending Dumbarton games, friends’ birthdays, visiting my wonderful niece), working within the housing sector, or matters of a poetic-nature. I’m also a reviewer for The Mumble, Louder Than War, Pat’s Guide to the West End, and attend a number of music gigs which, in essence, is my first love. As soon as New York was chosen as our Honeymoon, I was straight online to check if any favourites are playing in the state when we visit. I’m also a fan of crime fiction and have read books recently by Sandra Ireland, Amanda Fleet, Craig Robertson, Chris Brookmyre, and several others which really get the creative juices flowing.
In the lapsed nugatory of space,
the milk of the moon melts into atoms,
gasps of stars
from aliens with green, rubbery faces
and kinky wit, eager to see what happens.
It transpires in slow motion.
to lustre, the sheen of the Milky Way
reflecting like false teeth
in a bedside glass of water;
the hypothetical future
toasting his lungs, heart and organs
towards where his wife and children
shelter their eyes from the sun
as the present rips their world apart.
THE MUMBLE : Will you be performing at any festivals/events throughout the summer
STEPHEN : I’ll be reading at Stowed Out Festival in August which will be an opportunity for the three football club PIR’s to meet together for the first time. I will also be appearing at various festivals as part of the Ten Writers Telling Lies project I am part of in association with musician Jim Byrne. If you want to see the perfect festival poet though, I recommend Mark McGhee of The Girobabies – but do toddle along to whatever stage I’m on if you find yourself between any bands and ice-cream.