Digital Poet-in-Residence Nasim Rebecca Asl talks to Kevin Gilday about the coolness of Poetry, his upcoming collection, and other new projects.
“Poetry is never cool”, Kevin Gilday laughs. “It can never be cool. It’s not the point of it. But it’s nice that there’s maybe a little more cognisance of what we’re doing now and people understanding that this thing exists in the world.”
I point out to Kevin that we now have celebrities bringing out books of poetry, Rupi Kaur was on Jimmy Fallon and young poet Amanda Gorman went viral after her stint at Biden’s inauguration. Surely, poetry is a little cool? “We’ve come to a period where it’s slightly cooler than it used to be”, Kevin concedes. “I feel like, if anything, there’s more people doing poetry.”
He laughs as he continues: “But if I see one more Instagram post with five lines arranged randomly, that say nothing about anything…the point of poetry is to connect and see something real and authentic and put truth out into the world. It’s great that so many new young people are getting involved, but I hope they discover that that’s what it’s about. It’s not just about getting loads of likes on Instagram.”
Kevin is a man of many talents. A poet and performer himself, his debut collection is out next year, he’s worked on poetry films, founded a writing collective and, until this summer, was one half of Sonnet Youth, a spoken-word meets cabaret night that was a staple of Scotland’s spoken word scene.
“The main ethos, right from the start, was it has to be cool. I didn’t want it to feel like the poetry people wrote in school, just an open mic, or like an American, Button Poetry thing because I hate that as well. I knew it had to be laid back and cool and relaxed, and really accessible for anyone that wants to come along. It needed to be an open door if people haven’t heard poetry before, so by the time they leave they’re going ‘actually I really like that’.”
Sonnet Youth began when Cat and Kevin met on their Masters course at Glasgow Caledonian. Cat asked for Kevin’s help hosting a poetry night that went so well it was made a regular gig. Kevin already had experience running events – “I was doing really stupid poetry slams that I thought were funny, like a Champions League themed poetry night and a Game of Thrones themed poetry night (Game of Poems)” he laughed as he reminisced. “So many poetry nights it’s like, here’s the microphone, here’s the stand. It’s stripped back. We’d have DJs, we’d have cool visuals. That’s what Sonnet Youth was all about, trying to package poetry in a new and exciting way.”
Over the years, over 300 artists – be they poets, musicians, comedians – featured on the line up. It was this range of entertainment that complimented the poetry on offer and really drew people in. “The minute we made that shift, to feel more like a cabaret variety night, that’s when it opened up. Our audience started becoming really diverse and eclectic”.
After five years of performance nights, and a year of online Zoom evenings – “The lack of audience I found so hard. We’re poets, we’re here for the validation” Kevin jokes – Cat and Kevin have hung up their Sonnet Youth hats to focus on their own projects.
“I’ll be happy to leave the spreadsheets behind. It’s a really enjoyable part of my life, performing. I just don’t want to get mired in the admin that comes with it. It takes time away from your creativity. Though you’re doing an amazing thing and you’re helping other people, you’re sacrificing a lot of your own time to do that.”
Though he may be focusing more on his own work, Kevin is still devoted to helping others. Twice a week he hosts the Scribbler’s Union, an online writing space where people from all around the country gather to write, learn about new forms, and guide one another.
“It’s such a buzz, I love it. I take so much satisfaction from seeing someone who, when they started, just had really raw talent but didn’t know where to go with it. Then, because of my mentorship, because they put in the hard work, they’re now getting booked for gigs and getting work published. Art exists in the world because you give something to somebody. It’s just such a nice transaction that we have with other people. You’ll know yourself as a performer and writer, half the time it’s about confidence.”
Kevin’s noticeably excited as he talks about his recent projects and his upcoming collection – Anxiety Music, which will be published by Verve next year. “As a Scottish poet, it’s so hard for the English scene to even know that you exist sometimes. So to be picked up so readily by an English publisher, who were already aware of me and my work, it felt very validating. I think it’s the best work I’ve ever done and I’m so happy to have it all collected in one place.”
Along with the traditional physical collection of poetry, Kevin’s hoping his new Sonnet Youth-less existence will lead to more time for other projects. He’s not long finished directing Exiles, a spoken word film by Victoria McNulty. “It was an incredible experience. For me, I was like – this is what poetry’s like in the future. What if we take that one hour Fringe show, film it to a professional standard and put it out as a film?”
Maybe we’ll all have to become multimedia poets, I say to him. He nods. “This is something that, maybe as artists, we all need to add to our repertoire, thinking in a visual way as well as writing and performing. There’s a whole new audience watching this film on computers and being exposed to what is complex and amazing poetry. It honestly felt like we’ve invented something new, it felt like a new art form, a narrative poetic journey as a feature length film.”