In a time where crime in our capital is at an all-time high, the narrative we often see in the mainstream media is that people of colour, are using violence to channel their pain. This is only part of the story. There is a growing group of BAME men and women, using their experiences to inform their art. 

In our 10 part feature, we meet some of these artists. These artists are swimming against the tide, creating a lane for themselves.  They talk to us about the Cost of Artistry.

5/10 meet Maz Hedgehog

With this feature we want to give our readers, an insight into those whose work we greatly admire, the opportunity to have a serious discussion about poetry/rap – free from the usual angling of “page vs stage” or “new young star brings poetry out of the dusty library”.

We caught up with Maz Hedgehog and spoke to her about her journey as a poet and her relationship with the world of poetry.

When did you discover you had a “talent”?

I’ve been writing for as long as I knew what poetry was. I guess I discovered I had talent when I started performing in 2012/13 and my work got such a warm reception.

What have you had to sacrifice to nurture your talent?

I’ve sacrificed a lot of sleep getting to and from poetry nights; public transport is really unreliable. Otherwise? I really don’t feel like I’ve sacrificed anything. I’m doing what I love!

Who inspires your artistry?

My family; I grew up reading poems with my siblings and hearing my parents tell me stories. I’m inspired by mythology as a way of parsing culture and telling stories. But I’m mostly inspired by fantasy fiction. I mine fantasy novels and fairy tales for poem ideas all the time.

What is the biggest misconception people have about poets?

That we’re all pretentious. Poets can be a really friendly and down to earth bunch, especially in the spoken word scene. I hope even more newcomers dip their toes in and figure out what a thoroughly welcoming broad church we are.

In an age where digital echo chambers are growing wider, what role do you think poetry can play in this?

Poetry can slip in politics when you’re not looking. The stories poets choose to tell and how we choose to tell them says a lot about our social and political outlook. When you read poetry (or fiction, or even creative nonfiction) you’re invited to humanise and come to understand people you may not come in contact with otherwise. That’s a powerful thing.

Has a poem ever humbled or frightened you? What was it? When did it happen and what did you do afterwards?

So many times! Where She Is Opened, Where She Is Closed by Donika Kelly has haunted me ever since I read it. What The Dead Know By Heart by Donte Collins is a masterclass in emotional force. Mary Magdelene by (Amy) Kinsman is where I’d like my poetry to be in a few years. For each of these, I’ve turned them over in my head a hundred times and tried to figure out what has made them stick with me so firmly. I don’t try to imitate as such, just learn. I’m trying to make my writing make me feel the way theirs does.

Some poets claim that a poem is like a living creature: once it’s out there is not much you can do to ‘correct’ or ‘improve’ it, while others edit meticulously, not leaving much from the original, draft form. What is your take on it?

My writing process is like a journey to find my poem. I often start out having no idea where its going to end, so it’s almost like an adventure. But it means I have to edit a hundred times before it ends up in a form I’m happy with. So I guess it’s a mixture of the two? My poem is a living thing, it just takes me a few tries to find it and bring it out into the light.

How do you define success?

My idea of success is to be able to walk into a room of amazing poets I admire and know down to my toes that I deserve to be there. I hope I get there soon.

Follow Maz on twitter @MazHedgehog

Do you ever regret sharing your work publicly? Do you trust the reader in a world of instant gratification and instant communication?

No. There are some poems I performed years ago that I hate now, but each moment of sharing and vulnerability has helped me grow into the poet I am now I trust my readers because they choose to trust me. Of course I worry that they’ll misinterpret it, but that’s a risk every artist who’s ever lived has taken. I don’t think instant communication changes that very much, other than enabling me to reach wider audiences than I would otherwise. And for me, that’s pretty amazing.

The cover of Maz Hedgehog’s new collection Vivat Regina

Maz Hedgehog’s new collection Vivat Regina is out February 28th. You can pre-order it here: https://www.waterstones.com/book/vivat-regina/maz-hedgehog//9781907133862

Support Maz on Patreon here: https://www.patreon.com/MazHedgehog