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The Comedy of Errors

Notts Poet and Austerity Opposer Lytisha Tunbridge Tells Her Story

23 October 18 interview: Aly Stoneman
photos: Mann Hans

Lytisha Tunbridge won the Expanding Horizons Award 2018 at Nottingham Writers’ Studio, for her work supporting World Jam, DIY Poets, Poetry Aloud, Poets Against Racism, Social Model Writers, Sisterhood and Solidarity, Support the NHS, Young Voices, Reading with Dementia, and We Shall Overcome. Somehow she managed to find the time to share some words with us, and tell us her story...

My mum inspired my love of poetry from a young age, mainly because she didn’t want to read children's books and recited poems to me instead. I doubt I’d have contemplated my current career path if I hadn’t volunteered in the Rotherham Pop Up Story Shop. I delivered workshops and creative writing sessions, which even six months earlier I would never have believed I could do. I then went on to coordinate the Rotherham Story Festival in 2013.

I have been delighted and honoured to meet, listen to and read so many talented local writers, and I feel that Nottingham really deserves its UNESCO City of Literature status.

I’m indebted to the DIY Poets for their encouragement and support in getting me to initially share my poems at the Festival of Words back in 2014, and to writers Maresa Mackeith and Mina Fatemi, who introduced me to World Jam. I subsequently joined an MA in Creative Writing and the timing proved to be really good for me, as I lost both my mum and brother in the ten months just after the course began. Having the support of my colleagues and tutors, plus the focus on the course, helped me enormously at a very difficult time.

In 2015, Henry Normal and Tommy Farmyard were starting to organise the first Nottingham Poetry Festival; when I received a call from them, I thought they were prank callers. I’ve been involved in the festival in a number of guises, and I love it; so much poetry in such a short time sends the head swirling with images, ideas and awe.

One of my poetry-career highlights was sharing the stage with poets Atilla the Stockbroker and Henry Normal, both of whom I’d seen perform years earlier in Edinburgh. Since 2017, I’ve read at literary events in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Brussels, Australia and New Zealand. I’m also in Two Seda, a multilingual performance group. We’ve performed at several events, including Nottingham Poetry Festival, Refugee Week, and Hockley Hustle. I have been delighted and honoured to meet, listen to and read so many talented local writers, and I feel that Nottingham really deserves its UNESCO City of Literature status.

I was delighted to have my pamphlet, Every Last Biscuit, published in 2017. Lost family members have been the inspiration for some of the poems, but I promise they aren’t all miserable. Often, my poems reflect on mental health or are triggered by imagined conversations, phrases overheard on the bus, or something I’ve read. I use a variety of forms, including free verse; I prefer to let each poem dictate the form rather than force it into a format. Last Biscuit was voted runner-up Poem of the Year by members of Nottingham Writers Studio, which was very humbling considering the competition. It was inspired by a moment of sibling teasing, which became family lore. Only when you lose your baby brother (aged 37) to a daft accident, does it take on a greater significance. Held was inspired by something that happened to me in the Arboretum that made me think about what differences we can make, when too often we feel overwhelmed by the scale of injustices. I was proud to have it selected and included in the first We Shall Overcome Anthology in 2017.

I used to work in social housing and was increasingly angered by the policy and benefit changes that were making life incredibly difficult for those least able to manage. Far too many people exist in poor mental and physical health precipitated by precarious incomes, housing, and access to regular decent food. The first We Shall Overcome event in Nottingham took place at The Running Horse in 2015, and brought musicians, artists and community organisers together to raise awareness and help those who have been adversely affected by austerity policies. Proceeds from WSO events this year are going to The Friary, WalkersNotts, and Emmanuel House.

Recently, I’ve been working on a project on the living history of Clifton Storeys, together with Creative Paths and Rachel Scanlon Allsobrook. I collected stories from people who live there, and wrote a pamphlet of poems entitled No Edges. I learnt a lot about the people of Clifton and how different life was before and after the “new estate” was built. I’m also editing the next Word Jam anthology and working on a series of longer, novella-length stories. The style is totally different to anything I’ve written before. Nigel Mazlyn Jones, the songwriter, gave me this advice: “Write and write. Put it away. Leave it. Read and read. Later, edit. Then get feedback and edit again.” I think those are wise words.

Lytisha will be reading at We Shall Overcome events including: Acoustic Punks and Poets at The Sumac Centre on Saturday 6 October; Emmanuel House on Sunday 7 October; and Hockley Hustle at Emmanuel House on Sunday 28 October. You can also catch her at the Disability History Month Social Model Writers event on Thursday 29 November.


Here is Lytisha's poem, Last Biscuit

You hid my last biscuit for a lark

you knew I’d be upset

But when I cried

you laughed


It was a bit extreme

but I thought you were being mean


Then you gave it back

but kept the tale to tease me

for years to come


If you were here now

I’d give you every last biscuit


Lytisha's website




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