caitlin mckenna she/they
Caitlin McKenna is incredibly talented. First appearing on our founder's radar during the On the Mic poetry evening at Leeds' Left Bank, her words are fierce, feminist and unapologetically confrontational. Barely edging into her twenties, she has taken the mantle of queer representative and run with it - delivering fast-paced wit, reflective short-form pieces and lengthier spoken pieces that force you to look at how we exist in society today.
Releasing her first chapbook as part of the Bent Key Queer Poets Collective, we are excited and privileged to be publishing her words.
Want to know more? Read on...
Can you describe your work in five words?
You’re releasing your first chapbook as part of our Queer Poets collection. What does your queer identity mean to you and how has that fed into your writing?
My queer identify is synymous with who I am as a person. I’m very clear online that I am a queer, vegan, socialist poet. My values are clear and of course that feeds into my work. My conception of love has perhaps been impacted by my sexuality and gender expression because I have felt what it’s like to repress it, to embrace it, and celebrate the vastness of it. And at the end of the day, that’s what a lot of my writing (including this chapbook, specifically) is about - love.
You are still very young - for how long have you been writing and performing your own poetry?
I think I’ve been writing poetry since I could write really. I held my first ever ‘poetry competition’ when I was in year 5 with the help of my primary school head teacher but it was only during the final year of my undergraduate that I decided to start taking it more seriously. I signed up for a Masters in Creative Writing, started submitting work, and began performing at events.
Unfortunately, the global pandemic put them on hold so I’ve only managed to do around six live
shows all in all but I’m so excited to keep going!
You have quite a unique typewritten aesthetic on your social media posts; how important is style when you’re compiling your work?
It’s funny that you mention it because to begin with the typewriter use wasn’t intentional. It was a gift from my boyfriend with the instructions to use it to write the ‘next great novel’. I’m not a novelist sadly but I’m very much into vintage aesthetics and think there's something truly magic to a typewritten poem. So it was more the intention of creating work with something someone I love gifted to me, and making it solid and tangible. I’m very conscious with my work though that I want it all to sound good, read well, and look great on the page as I think all three are so key to my poetry.
Which poets do you like to read/listen to and how have they influenced you?
At around 13 I discovered the Beats and just fell in love with Ginsberg. He remains to this day a
personal favourite and I’d say my poetry does have a lot of beat influence (especially Ophelia
Damnation) in its lyricism and rhythm. I started reading a lot of confessional pieces as I got older and listening to a lot of spoken word like Andrea Gibson. They introduced me to the deeply
personal style I write in now and I found representation in the vastness of their queer
Which poem of yours is a personal favourite?
This is really tricky! ‘Brittle Bones’ means a lot to me, because it was my first poem nominated
for an award and included on a reading list. It’s a poem about sexual assault and it felt really
cathartic being able to work through my emotions like that, and have someone appreciate what I had to say enough publish it. At the moment ‘Sol’ has a dear place in my heart though because I love the language in it and the fact I get to perform a dedication to my partner at events. It’s a
really blessed thing to be able to do.
What would you like to achieve with your poetry, long-term?
All I’ve ever wanted with my poetry is for people to be touched by it, so if I can affect you (make
you cry, help you recognize part of yourself in it) I’m happy. At large I’d like to be able to go into a bookshop and see my books on the shelves, and be able to continue writing alongside other
ventures, anywhere I go. That’s my main thing. I just want to keep writing and keep performing.
You are based in Leeds, which has an up-and-coming poetry scene. Can you recommend any
nights for budding wordsmiths?
I love On the Mic at Left Bank. It’s this stunning old church turned into a cafe and event space
and the atmosphere is always incredible. Outspoken run by Say It With Your Chest is just packed
with ridiculous talent. I always tell young performers to watch out for a poet called Jack Collins in Leeds - if he’s hosting an event or performing there you can be sure it’s going to be a good night!
What normally happens at a Caitlin McKenna show?
I read some poetry, drink some wine, try not to get too emotional (though there can sometimes
be tears)! We talk about love, tough topics like sexual assault and mental health, andthere’s
usually a funny/ angry breakup poem in there to get some laughs. I love shows because it’s the
one space I get to be surrounded by other poets so usually I love to chat to other performers.
The connections you make at the shows can be amazing and really that’s why I adore them so
Now Say It Back drops in August 2022 as part of the Queer Poets Collective