Laura Lewis-Waters is a mum, teacher and research student from the Midlands. Having studied Literature, History, Creative Writing and Volcanology and after living on three continents, she is now finally settled teaching English at secondary school and researching verbatim and map poetry for a PhD. Her poetry has recently been published in The Public Sector Poetry Journal, The Mechanics Institute Review, An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Leicester and The Purple Breakfast Review.
Her upcoming chapbook, Bathroom Prisoners, is a heart-wrenching and often challenging journey through life as part of a family where mental illness has taken a seat at the table. It is raw, unfiltered and honest, which is why we were desperate to publish it. Laura has an incredible talent for taking OCD and shaping it into something tangible and monstrous, whilst retaining a level of humanity and compassion.
We sat down with her for a chat:
Can you describe your work in five words?
Give us a brief outline of your upcoming chapbook, Bathroom Prisoners – what are the themes?
Bathroom Prisoners is about a vicious cycle of my husband’s anxiety affecting my own mental health, which in turn, affected us both. Everything was amplified due to being trapped at home together during lockdown. The poems explore the effects of anxiety and OCD on both ourselves as well as those around us. These include learning to deal with someone else’s mental health before realising you have your own struggles to come to terms with. They also evoke a sense of place (home) and isolation not just from the world, but from each other too.
Your poetry is very creative in its structure and form – what led you to write in this manner?
To be completely honest, I don’t think there was any conscious reasoning behind the structure and form of the poems. It was a difficult time and I think sometimes the nature of the situation leant itself to the form like the vicious cycle of mental health in ‘Vicious’. Plus there might be one in there influenced by being a teacher and the fact that I was creating resources at the same time as writing.
Which poem by another writer do you wish you’d written and why?
The Moment by Margaret Atwood. I’ve been a little obsessed with her since I did my dissertation, which focused on how the environment is presented in her work.
In Bathroom Prisoners, you share some very personal experiences. Why do you think it is important for writers to share these stories and be openly vulnerable?
Believe it or not, I have always been a very private person and then one day I decided to get up and write some of the most vulnerable things I have ever written and share them with the world. It’s important to be honest about how we’re feeling (something that I’m still working on) and I hope that by sharing our experiences and the struggles of mental health through poetry we can help to create a narrative where we feel safe to open up, address stigmas and feel less alone.
How and why did you begin writing poetry?
According to my mum, I began creating poetry when I was very young and we used to make up rhymes together. When I was about 10 I wrote my first collection of poetry about Space (an obsession at the time). I used to love writing poems in quatrains (not that I knew the name back then) and with a lot of rhyme. The rhyme was beaten out of me whilst doing my BA in English Literature and Creative Writing, as were the meaningless poems. Now I prefer writing about mental health and motherhood in the hopes that I can help others feel less alone. I also write about climate change for my PhD to raise awareness about coastal change.
Mental health is a thread that runs through the chapbook. Why do you think so many artists with experience in dealing with mental health issues are drawn to poetry?
Poetry, as always, is a great medium to help us connect to others and make sense of the world around us. I think specifically with mental health it helps us to externalise our internal struggles. When they are on the page in front of us they are easier to make sense of.
You’re a Midlander – what’s your opinion on chips and gravy?
Yes! But with some brown sauce mixed into the gravy too. Is that a thing?
Bathroom Prisoners arrives at the end of May