I’m beginning my journey of discovery around Kent’s creative community with Medway's newest poet-in-residence, Matt Chamberlain. He shares his feelings of love and loss, and his pride in Medway’s cultural practitioners.


“I’ve always been madly in love with language and had some sort of talent for words but without ever considering myself "a writer" or doing it in a creative way. Every day I sit at a desk in Westminster writing but while I take pride in anything that is clear, precise, persuasive, diplomatic, economical, I had never actually done anything creative with words. I've always scribbled phrases, lines, odd paragraphs - only to throw them away like you would a completed crossword, purpose served. 

But everything changed about 18 months ago, when I started to complete some of those poetic 'doodles', then keep them, share them, and ultimately publish and perform them. Why? A combination of things but Medway and Medway people were prominent in the mix. I lost a very dear friend. I had a health scare. People close to me had health scares. Then further deaths. ALL at once. One day, tearful on a packed commuter train and having long since given up on the free newspaper, I picked up a pen and scrap of paper and unloaded. I wrote possibly my most miserable piece (and there's stiff competition for that title, as you know!) It was called "life's too short" but was actually from the perspective of someone who is desperate, hated, forgotten, guilty, impotent, scarred or for whatever other reason absolutely at the end of his or her wits, for whom life might actually feel far too long. It is far from my best work but for the first time I had actually finished something. Created something. It felt good to hold it in my hand and say I'd done it myself."

Taking the step into publishing

"So I wrote more and more. Then, inspired by another great friend (now dead, of course) I decided to publish - actually do it rather than dreaming for a publisher to find me. And I decided to do an open mic performance. Just one. Just so I could say I'd done it. That was at the Poetry Cafe in Covent Garden. It wasn't a great performance but the audience reaction was good enough to give me confidence to try it again. The experience was illuminating and it taught me how to 'read' as opposed to just reading and it actually taught me how to write better. Lines that sounded good in my head didn't work out loud, so I'd go away and hone them.

And this soon led to the Kent open mic scene. I can't now remember how I came across the amazing force of nature that is Natasha Steer (I think she was featured in a magazine I picked up from the Rochester Visitor Centre) but she struck me as an instigator - making other people explore their creativity! She didn't suggest it, she simply insisted that I did something with this tentative poetry thing. That brought me into the world of Roy Smith, gentler in style but every bit as encouraging. He was soon giving me a platform to express things, the encouragement to keep going when things didn't work, as well as inspiring me with his own material. Then you hear Barry Fentiman-Hall perform and you're firmly on the poetry hook! I'll never get that man's verbal bullets out of my soft tissue. Nor want to."

Every ambition satisfied

"The writing and performing have improved each other and the reactions to gigs and to the two books has been way beyond my expectations. To be honest, my first ambition was to have one copy of one book bearing my name - something to point at and say "I did that". Once that was achieved and family and friends had bought or taken a copy (which doesn't count really, does it?), then I wanted somebody I didn't know to buy it. Just one person. I was immediately bowled over by messages from complete strangers - in Australia or USA - people who forked out THEIR money to read MY scribbles and then took the trouble to email me and say they liked it. I still can't explain how or why they did that but it's every ambition satisfied, isn't it? Similarly when you get messages after a gig - people going out of their way to send kind messages."

Medway’s influence

"Throughout this time I've been inspired by, and so impressed by, people like you who get out of bed and organise a literature festival when you don't HAVE to.  Fuelled entirely, it seems, by passion and goodwill and bits of help from a few local people.  And look at Emma Dewhurst, now circulating several thousand copies of a free magazine which she created from nothing simply to tell the story of what's going on culturally. Or the way people rallied round when the Fuse Festival was threatened. It all makes me proud of a place that I moved to for reasons of convenience. Medway feels far more artistically vital than London ever did. That may sound strange when, of course, it's all going on in London. But, to me, it feels like other people are being artistic. In Medway it's all ours. Whether you are 'a creative' or not.  I wasn't. Then Medway bit me, Natasha bullied me, you, Roy and others humoured me, and now it seems I did have something in me all along.  It has taken me a few years to realise that right under my nose there was talent, support, encouragement and so many vehicles to express yourself but now the lid is off, I have no intention of keeping it secret.

Next . . .  I'm sitting back and enjoying the reaction to the first two collections ('Love, misery and fruit crumble' and 'Binge Thinking'), working on an audio version of the second book and trying to do more gigs, time permitting. Third collection is also just about underway. And my style is changing very slightly, under the influence of aforementioned Barry and my other poetic hero and fellow Wigan child, Louise Fazackerley. I don't think I'll ever be anything other than 'romantic' in style, obsessing about the joys and hurts and curiosities that attach to life's smaller things, like Alan Bennett but without the talent. However, the direct-yet-gentle style is giving way to (very slightly) more 'poetical' structure in my latest pieces. And as someone set in his ways for so many years, I'm actually enjoying that feeling of things rubbing off on me!”

There’s often talk of the collaboration and support from like-minds in Medway - it was great to interview someone who absolutely proves that fact. Thanks Matt! Details of both books can be found below, heartily recommended.



This intriguing poetry collection travels in many directions but always with directness. Not quite a journey but a frantic tour of memory, love, loss, regret, hope, heartache and humour, it brings observations and feelings so raw and so deftly defined that the reader can taste, experience, see and touch them. Found in one collection a writer who, despite only recently discovering a willingness to share his work, understands both troubled souls and beautiful souls. As the title wryly suggests, these works express the simultaneous beauty, sadness and humour available in human life and, in particular, the smaller things in life.

 


Following on from from ‘Love, misery and fruit crumble’, Matt brings his second poetry collection, ‘Binge Thinking’. If the world faces a triumph of pragmatism over romanticism, this book is part of the fight back. Chamberlain hangs on to nostalgia – be it doomed or flourishing – and studiously avoids practicality. Like its predecessor this book explores the joys, hurts and curiosities of everyday life and starts and ends with poignancy, but it is ultimately an excursion whose side roads are more interesting than any potential destination. The author’s ability to describe complex emotions at the same time aggressively and tenderly is winning him friends on his performance poetry circuit and this collection makes his endearing work available to a wider audience.

Matt Chamberlain was born and raised in Wigan, Lancashire, honing his cultural sensitivities in Manchester in the late 80s/ early 90s.  Following a stint at Uni in Bangor, North Wales, where he gained a BA and MA in Linguistics, he moved to north London in 1998. Finding himself in Kent seven years ago, via south London,  it seems the gradual drift southwards and eastwards suggests he could well find himself in Belgium next! To read more about him and buy his work, please visit Matt’s website here.