A Q&A with Scottish Slam Poetry Champion, Iona Lee

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Photo by Maddie Chalmers

With Burns night fast approaching, we prepare to celebrate one of the country’s most revered poets and historical figures. Burns’ influence continues to permeate the poetry scene, but today Scotland is home to a new array of wordsmiths and mavericks. Scottish slam champion, Iona Lee, is at the forefront of this new generation of artists.

Why do you write poetry?

I have always loved stories and the different ways that they can be told and I suppose I am trying to tell the story of “me”. I am a narcissist and also somewhat insecure, as I think most poets are, and if you turn a memory into a poem you can decide what happened. You get to frame it, you set the lighting and the tone. I am nostalgic and obsessed with reflecting and figuring things out. I often say that writing a poem is like a puzzle that you are trying to solve: When you put that line in what solves the puzzle, to me, is the most satisfying feeling.

What themes are present in your work? 

I’ve always tried to write about what I know, I would hate for anything to seem unauthentic. I like to work with the confessional and I love to tell stories. Being a 20-year-old woman that has been writing primarily since the age of 17 means that most of my writing focuses on the themes of being a 17 to 20-year-old woman-girl-child. Deceptions and self-deceptions and maturing and sex and confusion and trying on all the different youse that you might become.

How can we best support our local talent?

Pay for the art you consume! Caitlin Moran once said something very wise about how Topshop does not have to give away clothes for free just because they have a website. Artists, makers and thinkers have to give away so much of their work for free. It is work, and should be reimbursed so that we can make more of it. With regards to local talent, there is so much word being spoken out there at the moment. There really is something for everyone. Get involved in the movement. Go to gigs.

Who do you admire on the current scene?

A new voice that I am loving at the moment is Katherine MacFarlane. We both share a love of folklore and Scottish fairy tales and her work is gentle and painful.

You have done some great projects so far, even working with the BBC. How did you make a name for yourself?

As with all things there was a certain amount of luck involved in my early success. The Scottish poetry scene is a very supportive one, so that helped. I have had a lot of good contacts and friends and mentors over the past four years. Winning the Scottish Slam Championship last year certainly helped on the success front.

What can poetry achieve that other art forms cannot? 

Nothing is original. Everything has been said. What poetry does though is find new ways of saying what has been said and felt and thought before.

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