SL Grange is a poet and theatre-maker. Their work engages with queer community, marginalised voices and unruly ghosts. Recent work includes: Wou d’Uelzecht created with composer Catherine Kontz; A Note to Mary Frith, commissioned by Shakespeare’s Globe and Bodies and Other Haunted Houses, winner of the Poetry Wales pamphlet competition 2021.
Founded in 1965, Poetry Wales is a triannual magazine with an international reputation for excellent poems, features and reviews from Wales and beyond. Emerging from a rich bilingual culture, the magazine explores the diverse perspectives of Welsh poetry in English and its international relationships.
1) What inspired you to become a poet?
I’ve been writing poems since I was teeny small — I’ve always loved messing around with words and I use poetry to work out how I feel about the world and what the heck I’m doing in it. I enjoy the way poetry allows words to be really slippery and playful as well as laser-precise. A good poem can be like necking a shot of something powerful and mind-altering.
2) How do your careers as a poet and theatre-maker influence each other?
My theatre background brings a particular awareness of — and conversation with — the audience. Whether that’s the reader sat alone with the page poem or someone at a live performance, I try to open space in my work for them to get in, to be aware of their body as well as their mind/imagination. The poem happens in a third-heart space between us. I’m interested in the atmosphere of a poem too — I think that comes from a theatrical sensibility, creating a shared space in some way.
3) Do you find writing helps you take on your own personal demons?
I don’t really think about personal demons as something I need to ‘take on’ and wrestle with or conquer. Like anyone else, there are lots of parts to me and some of them are gnarly, but I find having conversations with them is way more interesting and productive than fighting them. Poetry can be a really great way to have a those nuanced conversations, for sure, but it’s not about wallowing in angst — it’s more of a compassionate curiosity — I hope!
4) Why do you group ‘bodies’ with ‘haunted houses’ in the title of your pamphlet?
Our bodies are all haunted houses really — on one level haunted by our ids and egos, desires and needs, but also by both our personal pasts and our generational narratives. I’m really interested in the ways the body physically holds memory, generational trauma, feelings.. European society kind of beheaded itself with Descartes — I’m attempting to work on healing that wound and exploring the ways in which body and mind can reintegrate, and by extension connect to wilder relationships with the land and other forms of life. There’s quite a few other animal bodies in the pamphlet intermingling with the human ones.
5) Who are the lost transcestors you give voice to in the pamphlet?
I work a lot with queer ghosts like Mary Frith, a cross-dressing performer and trickster from the seventeenth century (I’m in the process of a practice-based PhD that is an attempt to have a conversation with Mary). One piece is inspired by Sappho, and the women accused in the Pendle witch trials also feature in Malkin Tower (these latter perhaps more queer-as-in-strange than our current use of the word to refer to non-normative gender or sexual identities). I enjoy the term ‘transcestors’ as it holds a sense of lineage whilst the ‘trans’ aspect keeps it open to many kinds of crossing — of dress, boundaries, genders, sexualities… When we encounter marginalised people from the past, there’s often a lot of gaps in what we can factually ‘know’ about them, and we might also end up trying to squish them into the categories we use to understand ourselves now. Notions of gender and sexuality aren’t fixed — they have always been in flux across times and cultures. Rather than force someone from the past into my pigeonholes, I use poetry (slippery-precise and playfully gappy!), and some other creative processes more akin to a kind of channelling, as a way to meet them and give them back some kind of dignity, understanding or spirit on their own terms.
6) And finally, are you currently working on anything that you wish to share with your readers?
I’ve recently been doing this in the High Court of Admiralty papers at the National Archives, where occasionally female lives drift up out of the male-dominated miscellany and demand attention. You can read more about that here, including the series of poems I’ve produced in response to these lives: https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/about/our-research-and-academic-collaboration/our-research-projects/current-research-projects/letters-of-no-moment/
Next up for me is a residency at the Triangle, a new LGBTQ+ venue in Deptford, where I’ll be hanging out with eighteenth-century female shipwright Mary Lacy / William Chandler for a few weeks, creating some poetry and possibly an installation of some kind. Follow @sl.grange on Insta or @mollfrith on Twitter to find out more about that.
Another great interview for our #MeetTheContributor series. Thank you SL Grange for talking to us about your career, award-winning pamphlet, and what you’re working on currently.
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