B and B blog
B&B interview poet Serena Malcolm March 11, 2020 12:00
Serena is an amazing gorgeous person and fellow creative. She was born to write and loves poetry, creative writing, reading, interiors and up-cycling. We recently bought a copy of her poetry book and were so impressed we had to find out more about her.
What year were you born?
I was established in 1982. Just like Next!
Where are you from? Do you still live there or have you moved on somewhere else?
I was born in Tooting in South London (but my heritage is a mixture of Sierra Leonean, Ghanaian, Bajan, French and Spanish). Even though I will always call south London my home, I now live on the outskirts of the city, on its border with Essex.
Tell us a bit about your background…
I am the daughter of a teacher and a nurse so I had a very disciplined upbringing. Even though I have a mixed heritage, I grew up surrounded by my dad’s African family, so I have strong roots in the culture and traditions of his homeland. I am the youngest of three children, but with my older brother (and dad) also writing poetry, I am certainly not the only creative one.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
When I was younger, I used to tell people “I just want to help people when I grow up”. I started off wanting to be a social worker, then a teacher, and then a police officer. I guess finally becoming one of three isn’t bad!
What sort of music did you listen to when you were younger, and has that influenced your work in anyway?
I have always had a massively eclectic taste in music. My dad is a huge country and western fan and my mum was literally obsessed with Elvis, so these genres were a big part of my early childhood. As I grew up and became more independent, I started listening to a lot of hip-hop, R&B, gospel and soul. I also love a bit of 80s, and big band/cabaret (see, eclectic!) but my favourite artist of all time has to be India Arie. Her music does something to my soul, I’m sure of it! It makes me think, it makes me feel good, and sometimes it even makes me cry, but it always makes me feel something, and that is exactly what I aim for with my writing; making people “feel”.
Do you identify with any tribe?
(e.g. teddy boy, rockabilly, mod, punk, skinhead, rude boy, b-boy/b-girl, goth, acid house, skater, gamer, emo)?
My tribe? I am a gaming, tech-loving, nerdy bookworm.... is that a tribe??
What did you do before becoming an artist/creative?
I don’t think there was a “before” with me. I wrote my first poem, aged seven, in the library of the school where my dad taught. I printed it out on one of those old dot matrix printers, I remember because the paper had those holes down the side that you had to tear off. I think that that poem is still in my parents' house somewhere... anyway, I’ve been writing poems and stories ever since.
Do you work alone or are in you in a partnership/creative collective?
My poems are usually quite raw and personal. They are an expression – an extension - of my feelings and so for me writing is very much a solitary affair. Having said that, my oldest friend, Kingsley, is a poet too. Sometimes, if either of us has writers’ block, we will bounce ideas off each other via Facebook messenger. We’ve been doing this for years, even though he known lives in Prague.
Do you have a style that you stick to or has it changed over the years?
I like to experiment with styles of poetry. Anything from short Haikus, to sonnets, to three-page epics. Sometimes I rhyme, sometimes I don’t. I do feel like in recent years I have settled on a more consistent style though, one that is almost lyrical or songlike. One that sounds good when your read it out loud. I am yet to perform any of them, but maybe someday.
How did you develop your signature style?
I mostly draw inspiration from the likes of India Arie, who often tells stories with her songs. I try to tell a little story, or teach a lesson in each of my poems, and I use fast flowing rhythm and rhyme to emphasise my point. This has led to a bit of a quirky style, but one that feels like “me”, and I hope that over time, people will be able to identify it as mine.
What medium do you work in? What is your design process?
I guess the choice of medium for a writer is a pretty much pen and paper, or some kind of screen. I feel like my most honest work happens when I put pen to paper. I like to see the hurried scribbles and messy crossings out. But most of the time, an idea for a poem, or an opening line, will pop into my head at the strangest of moments. I could be on the bus, or in bed, or at work, so more often than not I use the notes app on my phone. I will type the line, or sometimes it is just a couple of words. I will then close the app and carry on with whatever it was that I was doing. Then, sometime later, I will come back to it and use that as the basis for a poem. When I have a finished draft of a poem it will be edited dozens of times before I am happy enough to upload it to my blog. But honestly, not everything makes it. If you were to look in that notes app, you would see so many unfinished works, or single lines, that just didn’t make the cut. Maybe I will go back and finish them some day. Maybe not. That is my process.
Do you have a favourite piece of work that you have done so far, and why do you like it?
When you have written over 200 poems, it's so difficult to choose a favourite. I would say, at a push I could narrow it down to two. Londoner and Underground. I think Londoner makes me feel happy every time I read it because it was written in the car on the way to may parent’s house. It was written as a kind of love poem to London and to the “home” vibes that I get every time I pass through the city. Underground, is also a nod to London (or rather commuting in London), and although it has negative connotations, I just love the rhythm of it and the metaphors that I used. I think (I hope!) both are very relatable.
Who is the person behind the persona?
I am very much an introvert. For the most part I spend my time trying not to disturb or negatively affect the people around me and I care a lot about other people’s feelings – and sadly, at times, their opinions! I do like to make people smile if I can and will often go out of my way to do so, but I also really enjoy my own company, or the company of a good book. I am down to earth, laidback, and I guess ultimately, pretty ordinary. But that suits me just fine.
Who are your heroes?
India Aire (I know, I’m obsessed but she is amazing). But also, my dad and my brother. My dad because he taught me to be kind and open minded, to not be afraid to dream, and to stand up for the little guy. And my brother, basically, because his poetry is better than mine (don’t tell him I said that). Seeing his successes makes me strive to do better myself. He is super talented and I am very proud of him (don’t tell him I said that either!)
What has been your career defining moment?
I don’t think I’ve had it yet! But the moments so far that will always stick with me, are when I finished my first novel, and when I published my first poetry book. These are achievements that seven-year-old me, sat in that library, waiting for that relic of a printer to finish, would never have thought possible.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time?
My goal is to write a new novel and have it, in print, in the likes of Waterstones. That would be incredible.
Have you got any advice for other artists/creatives?
Poetry is expressive, so there is no right, and there is definitely no wrong. Have faith that if you felt it when you wrote it, others will feel it when they read it. And don’t be afraid to go away and come back to a poem that isn’t sitting right with you. Sometimes it takes time for a piece to “ripen”. And that usually produces much better results. And lastly, us creative types are our own worst critics. It took me many, many years to start sharing my work, but I will admit that since then, I’ve found the feedback to be more uplifting and encouraging that I could ever have dreamed. So don’t be afraid to share.
Poem by Serena Malcolm - 'Londoner'
through the slither of open glass
as a concrete landscape
Skirts the path of
into my sight
with hues of bright red
Objects slink into the mirror
than I think and I
a little deeper into the faded threads
and rest my head,
and the evening paper
in the door,
Vibrations through the floor make happy feet,
And people spill across
Phones in hand,
the city’s tune,
A hive without a mind
Soldiers, drones and workers strive
while queen presides,
Millions of lives
like atoms that
Like passing ships
in the night,
remain in chains,
Slaves to doldrums,
in any zone
but our own,
And still we call it home,
Poem by Serena Malcolm - 'Underground'
And so it starts
Anthropoid lips reluctantly part
and suck me in,
They chew me up
and I stand suspended,
Digesting in the belly of the beast,
My senses feast
on fat and sweat and coffee breath,
On coughing deaths,
groins that press,
and grating voices unsuppressed,
And as the undulation
of another victim’s mastication
sways me to and fro,
I don’t let go,
I fight to keep hold
in the folds of staccato rocks and rhythmic rolls,
To maintain control,
But I know,
break the mould,
Shake the unholy farce
of the road ahead,
and my eyes;
They sit heavy in my head,
And sleep constricts me still,
Ekes out every drop of will,
And I watch it spill
and pool at my feet,
Leaving me weak and drained,
just another pawn
in their game,
Off to harvest Massa’s cane,
all over again,
will be just the same.
And no escape;
by the train.