emma-jane barlow

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Emma-Jane Barlow (known as EJ) is a best-selling Manchester-based author, poet, songwriter, singer and mental health advocate. She has been writing poetry for over twenty years and finds comfort in writing about her life experiences.

Emma-Jane has performed at several events including Poetry at the Park, Mic at the Mill and Switchblade. She has been featured in multiple anthologies including Blue Rose, Our Minds: Our Future, Chapters of Venus and Ey Up - A Northern Anthology (Bent Key's first anthology collection). EJ shares her artistic journey on her Instagram page and is also the founder of the successful collaborative poetry project First Line Poets.

In 2020, she self-published her debut book Darkness & Light, which became a multiple bestseller on Amazon, including the top 20 bestselling books for British poetry. She is due to release her second collection of poetry, Sins & Sunflowers, with Bent Key in May.

Emma's work in five words:

  • Honest

  • Raw

  • Vulnerable

  • Brazen

  • Bold


EJ's second collection is a world away from her first - covering a whole new range of themes, experiences and life changes, expect the unexpected as we see her come out of her shell.

We sat down with Emma for a chat about her work and the multitude of projects she is working on alongside writing her second collection:

Who are your main influences when it comes to poetry, and why?

I have always been a traditionalist and regularly read work by Emily Dickinson, Maya Angelou and Carol Ann Duffy. However, being part of the writing community on Instagram, I have come across some extraordinary new voices in modern poetry. A few of my favourites are Scarlett Ward, Alix Klingenberg and Nikita Gill. I am deeply inspired by the wonderful female voices that are shining in the current poetry scene and I believe there is a space for everyone to have a platform to share their truth. 



Which poem do you wish you'd written and why?

If I Should Have a Daughter by Sarah Kay. I adore that poem and the way that she performs it; there are so many incredible lines in that piece but the one that always sticks in my mind is "this world is made out of sugar. It can crumble so easily but don’t be afraid to stick your tongue out and taste it." I have recently fallen in love with spoken word and performing my poetry and I hope one day to be as good as she is at captivating an audience with her words. 


Can you give us a bit of background on how your new collection came into existence?

When I started writing poems and putting them aside for what would be my second book, I couldn't find the identity of what I wanted it to be. A few title changes later and I still didn't know what story I wanted to tell. Originally, I was going to write a positive collection of poetry to uplift and inspire. Then a significant and unexpected heartbreak quickly unravelled in my personal life and in the aftermath, poetry was pouring out of me. I was filling notebooks with poems about heartbreak and love I knew the moment it happened what my second book was going to be. Sins & Sunflowers felt like the perfect title to describe the duality of chaos and clarity I have been experiencing during this phase of my life. 


Who do you write your poetry for?

I always write poetry for myself first. I have always been this way and before I started sharing my work with others, I would write cathartically to understand my thoughts, emotions and experiences. It was a scary moment for me to start sharing my poetry and to be vulnerable enough to gift a little bit of my soul in each piece of art that I create, but I am glad that I did it because I never would have immersed myself into such a wonderful writing community or had the confidence to release my first book, Darkness & Light. So, I still write poetry for myself but now I also consider the audience in both my page and stage poetry when writing and editing my pieces. 


You run an Instagram poetry collective - The First Line Poets. What is this, and how can budding poets join in with the fun?

In 2020, I joined Instagram to share my poems with people. I was a little sceptical about putting my poetry on a social media platform, but what I found rather quickly is the amount of talented, supportive and interesting people that also chose to share their work. The idea for the First Line Poets Project actually began as a shower thought! I was intrigued by the idea of a large number of poets with individual voices writing to the same first line as inspiration. I reached out on my page and asked if anyone would be interested and within a few months, I had four groups and over one hundred and twenty writers taking part, which is incredible!

I am so proud of this project and what it has become; it's a big poetry family and I am honoured to run this initiative and be a small part of so many poets' artistic journeys. I will be releasing the First Line Poets Anthology in March 2022 with poetry from talented writers from across the globe. If a budding poet wants to join the initiative, the best way is to follow me on Instagram - and the project page - and express your interest directly, as it is an invite-only project. 


Have you learned anything about yourself whilst writing this collection?

I have learned a valuable lesson of strength and tenacity that I didn't know I had. I thoroughly enjoyed writing my first book, but this time it felt different. I wasn't holding back, overediting or censoring any of my poetry. I wanted Sins & Sunflowers to be an accurate portrayal of the tumultuous grief that comes with heartbreak. As this was my first heartbreak, I found myself organically telling the truth and documenting the pain I felt through all the phases of hurt and healing and I hope my readers resonate with that. 


Do you have any advice for young women struggling with heartbreak?

I do have some advice to share. But I also know that no two heartbreaks are the same, just as no two relationships are the same. But I think what I would say to anyone suffering from heartbreak is to feel everything, don't diminish the importance of your emotions. Take your time and don't let anyone else influence you on how long it should take to move forward. I also think art is a great way to channel your pain, so even if poetry is not your medium of expression, do something creative for yourself to release all the supressed feelings to truly understand them.  


What causes do you feel passionately about?

I am a mental health advocate and I am extremely passionate about spreading awareness about mental illness because I suffer with chronic anxiety and depression. In the past, I have done multiple online workshops and events in honour of World Mental Health Day to raise money and awareness for a positive mental health and wellbeing for everyone.  As well as mental health, I am deeply involved in spreading economic messages such as climate change, pollution, global warming and deforestation. I am an avid supporter of WWF and I have adopted orangutans because I believe they are intelligent and wonderful animals that should be protected. 


Which is your favourite poem in the collection, and why?

I have so many favourites in my collection but I think the two that I love the most are the preface and epilogue poems - Weeds and Weeds (Reprise). Weeds was a poem that I wrote before my breakup and it is almost a premonition of what was to come; it expressed an unhappiness that I didn't know the reason for at the time. Weeds (Reprise) is the last poem in the collection and I wanted to end the book with positivity, light, hope and healing energy to leave with the reader, to show that healing is an ongoing journey, but it is also attainable and rooted in the power of self-love. These two poems are the bookends of this collection; they are anchors that signify a pivotal change in my life and the unlimited possibilities of starting a brand-new chapter.  

Sins & Sunflowers arrives in May