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  • Writer's pictureBelle Kenyon

The People Who Shaped My Writing: Tom McColl

Updated: Jul 27, 2020

Thomas McColl was born in 1970 and lives in London. He’s had poems published in magazines such as Envoi, Iota, Prole, Riggwelter, Atrium, London Grip and Ink, Sweat & Tears, and his first collection of poetry, Being With Me Will Help You Learn, was published in 2016 by Listen Softly London Press. One of the poems from the book, The Chalk Fairy, was subsequently included in the Shoestring Press anthology, Poems for Jeremy Corbyn, and ended up getting quoted in the Evening Standard. He’s read and performed his poetry at many events in London and beyond - including Celine’s Salon, The Quiet Compere, Birkbeck Writer’s Room and Newham Word Festival - and has been featured on East London Radio, BBC Radio Kent Wandsworth Radio and TV’s London Live

Isabelle: Do you feel your work has been inspired by your influences in any way? To what extent do writers inspire your own poetry?

Tom: I think it would be fair to say that with my latest collection, Grenade Genie, being more political in tone than my previous work, it’s clear that the influence which political poets such as Adrian Mitchell had on me in my teenage years has very much come to the fore again.

At any rate, Mitchell was a poet I studied at school, via the Penguin Education book, ‘Worlds: Seven Modern Poets’. Out of the seven poets featured, he was the one I took to most, as his poetry was straightforward, direct and easy to understand – but, at the same time, sophisticated, rich with metaphor, satirical, funny and very profound – and it does feel as if his influence is there in my book, especially in connection with poems such as The Evil Eye, Literal Library and Statement by the Pedestrian Liberation Organisation.

But while Grenade Genie, overall, is a serious and politically engaged collection, with important issues covered, there still remains that quirkiness there’s always been in my poetry, a quirkiness I got from my biggest initial influence, Stevie Smith. She was a poet I really got into in my teens: firstly, because I found that her poetry – which, at first sight, was quirky and light – was often, actually, very deep and moving, and, secondly, because I thought I’d have some chance, as a complete beginner, of emulating her seemingly free-form whimsical style (whereas I didn’t feel I had a chance in hell of getting up to the standard of Dylan Thomas, W.H. Auden and Elizabeth Jennings – who were all poets I read and admired at the time as well).

Thing is, though (and it took me a while to understand this): Stevie Smith’s poems are just as sophisticated and complex as the poems of those other three poets I’ve mentioned, and arguably more unique. Smith’s poetry looks deceptively easy to write – and maybe that’s why novice writers are often attracted to her work – but it isn’t, and I love that about her writing, and what I always loved about Smith herself was her eccentricity and how she was her own person: very much a one-off. And so she remains, very much, a favourite poet of mine to read…

…as does Roger McGough, whose influence on my writing is also always present, and I was thrilled not just when my poem, Breaking the Clock, was, last year, shortlisted in a competition he was judging, but when, in his foreword to the competition anthology, he mentioned my poem as having been one of those which ‘rose to the challenge and unleashed some memorable images’.

Finally, there’s a poem in my book, entitled The Greatest Poem, which features two major poets, neither of whom I would say have influenced me particularly: one, T.S. Eliot, is arguably the greatest poet ever, while the other, William McGonagall, is inarguably the worst poet ever, and while I can probably safely stick my neck out and say I’m inarguably somewhere in between those two poets in terms of ability, it’s very much arguable as to where that in between is, and while many people will have heard of both Eliot and McGonagall, not many people will have heard of me.

And that’s the thing: it doesn’t matter how good or bad I am if no-one knows who I am, so I need to get out there, and getting this collection published with Fly on the Wall Press has certainly helped me to do just that.

Grenade Genie is out now and can be purchased here!

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