It’s not often we come across a talent with such flair and verbal prowess as 18-year-old Brighton-based poet Tommy Sissons. For such a young-tongued mind, chattering within the cultivated art of vernacular, it’s quite hard to fathom how wonderfully this kid approaches his craft. His off-beat diction and love for abstract thought keep your ears and mind captive through a kaleidoscopic range of poems. At 18, this working-class troubadour is already a published poet and proud champion of the 2013 Brighton Hammer and Tongue Slam Competition. We caught up with the spoken-word prodigy for a Q+A, as well as concocting some suitable visuals for one of his recent poems.
Read the full interview and watch the video for Blue In Green (For Miles Davis) below.
You’re only 18 and already a poet with a really distinctive style. How did you get into poetry and how long have you been writing it for?
I’ve been writing poetry for page since I was about 10 years old. A teacher at my primary school used to say I sounded like John Cooper Clarke and he encouraged me to perform my writing. Between the age of about 12 and 14, I focused more on writing stories but I began to rediscover my love of poetry when I got involved in the open mic slams at Hammer and Tongue. This was really my introduction to spoken-word and I’ve pursued it ever since.
Has there been anything that has directly shaped your poetic style?
I’ve been inspired by a variety of things. Of course other poets have had a major impact on me; poets such as John Cooper Clarke, Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Bukowski, Allan Ginsberg, Buddy Wakefield; the list goes on. When I first got into spoken-word properly I also watched a lot of Def Jam Poetry videos online and that hip-hop poetry has definitely influenced my writing style as well. Besides that, I’ve drawn inspiration from a range of music from different genres, particularly artists like Mike Skinner, Taskforce and a lot of the old greats of jazz and soul. Films and theatre have also been a big influence on my style. Arthouse films and kitchen sink dramas. A lot of British films such as This Is England and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels but I’ve also been inspired by actors like Oliver Reed and Jack Nicholson.
What drives you to write poetry?
I’m influenced by what I see on a daily basis from sunrise to sunset; my own experiences as well as the experiences of friends and family. I want to try and capture every aspect of my life, from emotions to actions, on paper. It’s like keeping a diary and it’s a good way to get things off your chest. When I pick up a pen, I like to write down whatever’s on my mind at that moment in time and see where it takes me.
What makes you satisfied that a poem is complete?
When I can read it out loud and find the right pace and rhythm. Also when I can play around with the facial expressions and tone of voice I want to use when I’m performing it. The presentation is key to a poem’s being complete for me.
Can you talk about some of the recurring themes in your poetry?
I usually write around urban lifestyles, working class values and the impact of politics. I like to keep my poetry darkly humorous in places so it’s not all purely grit but that’s mainly a sarky, cynical humour. I tend to write from my own perspective so whether I’m looking at something ugly or beautiful I like to find a way to turn it on its head.
How does music influence your poetry? Is there a direct link there?
Everything about music influences my poetry. When I listen to music I create pictures in my head that relate to the tune and sometimes it inspires me to write a poem. The lyrics as well; I always note down cool-sounding words and phrases that I hear in lyrics.
Has Brighton influenced your poetry at all?
Definitely. Living in Brighton, I’ve seen the best and worst aspects of the city and it naturally embeds itself in my poetry, because I write what I see and what I see every day is Brighton. I’m sure my poetry would sound different if I lived anywhere else.
Looking forward, where would you like your poetry to take you say, 5 years down the line?
Somewhere where I can be an influence on other creative people. I really just want to keep getting my words out there so people can hear them and hopefully relate to them. You can’t expect fame and fortune from poetry but fingers-crossed I’ll write a couple things that will have an impact.
What can we expect from you in 2014?
Following the publication of my first poetry pamphlet, Take It As It Comes, by Pighog Press back in October, I’ve been writing on a full collection of poetry. I’m currently working with a couple of photographers who are coming out with me to take photos to be featured in the collection, alongside my poems; photos of deprived and dilapidated communities as well as the people, particularly the youth, of Brighton in their everyday environments. Alongside this, I’m putting on a one man spoken word show, entitled ‘A Day In The Life’, for the Brighton Fringe. It will be on at the Komedia on the 6th May. Having recently won the Brighton Hammer and Tongue regional slam final in December, I’ll be returning to the national finals in London during the summer to compete for the title of ‘Hammer and Tongue National Poetry Slam Champion’. I’ll also add that I’m hoping to do some more collaboration with Stamp The Wax soon too! Cheers!
And finally, could you give us a few Brighton-based talents (music or poets) that you think our readers should know about?
Yeah definitely. As far as poetry goes there’s always an endless display of quality down at Hammer and Tongue (on the first Thursday of every month at the Komedia). A.P. Staunton’s a personal favourite of mine. Also my mate Amyn Ali has just gotten into spoken word and he’s sound. Both of these are well worth keeping an eye open for. There’s so much music in Brighton that I could give a shout out to so I won’t go into detail but here’s are a good few names – Normanton Street, Spoken Herd, Dope Central, Barcode, Jay Harz and if you’re into your indie stuff look up Tuval, Mellowphonics, Twin, The Chances; the list goes on.