stevie turner any pronouns
Stevie Turner is an enigma. Moving mysteriously through time and space and painting the world with an ethereal brush, he crafts poetry that is both mundane and provocative, ambitious yet familiar. Drawing on politics and challenging societal norms, Stevie's work is that of a person who is proud to not fit in to a society that likes to file people in boxes. He is exciting, extra-ordinary and, some might say, edging into extra-terrestrial. Combining clever wordplay with stunningly raw lyrics, his work is as captivating as he is.
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?
I was exiled to Essex when I was eight and, with long hair and a curious fusion of Scottish and northern dialect, was quickly dubbed ’the Loch Ness monster’. I felt that sense of otherness long before that but, unlike my brother who shed the accent and blended in, I rather revelled in being different (if struggling to find my place). My poem ‘Vintage’ is about being hurt by words but defiant in action. The American author and activist Bell Hooks talks about “queer as being about the self that is at odds with everything around it and has to invent and create, and find a place to speak and to thrive and to live”. Writing is somewhere to escape to and, while there, assess the role of the past in the politics of the present.
How long have you been writing and performing your own poetry?
As a teenager I often eloped to cities where I could lose (yet ultimately find) myself, so I wrote about that. I’ve been performing regularly since 2007, though the first time I performed poetry was at an evening with Carol Ann Duffy at the University of Bolton. I felt really confident but my hands shook uncontrollably as I read my poems. The night in 2007 that got everything started was Freed Up, a wonderful monthly themed night at the Green Room (now Gorilla) run by Dominic Berry and Steve O’Connor. I had lived in London in the years before and had gradually found my style. That night the style found its audience.
Give us a bit of background to Stevie – what are you all about?
I came back from Prague with a rucksack full of books and was fascinated with the prevailing idea of the émigré, both political and social – the writer in exile from birthplace and body – and the extent to which what you leave behind becomes imaginary. When as a young child you move to a completely different place it’s easy to take up the involuntary role of outsider in both the community of birth and residency. Identity is displaced and rewritten (often for you) and much as that can be stimulating and though-provoking, it’s much easier to reclaim language as a community than as an individual. In many ways, my poetry is a journey from that solitude to the warmth of the present day poetic community.
Which poets do you like to read/listen to and how have they influenced you?
I tend to be influenced more by music and film because my poetry is often shaped by sound and rhythm and tells a story cinematically, heavily influenced by pop culture. In this way, I enjoy Jeremy Reed’s poetry. When I’m writing about something, I often imagine looking at a person through eye of a camera, rather than through that person’s eyes. In that way, you can pull back and begin to tell the stories of everything and everyone that surrounds and influences them. One poet who does this beautifully is Melanie Neads who writes about “memories sewn together with a thread of her sister’s hair”. I like stories sewn together with almost imperceptible twists of fate that draw us into the random conversations of the night with fellow bad influences. So much of life hangs on these small details. One of the poets who influenced me the most is Rebecca Audra Smith, who writes beautiful, sensuous poetry about queer relationships and identities. She wrote poems about me which have often sustained me in moments of doubt. She was the first person to put into words the identity I was trying to conjure and celebrate it unequivocally.
Which poem of yours is a personal favourite?
A poem called ‘Against Nature’, which takes its name from the JK Huysmans’ novel À Rebours. The poem is about living vicariously through art and beauty; in the book the protagonist Des Esseintes rails against nature for not being able to fashion the perfection he seeks. In 2015, Marc Almond recorded an album of the same name and I went to Dean Street Studios in Soho to listen to it with Marc Almond, Jeremy Reed and Othon. There’s a photo of me with Marc holding a handwritten copy of my poem. It was the most enchanting of afternoons and Marc thanked me for “dressing the part”, referring to Des Esseintes, though I was essentially dressed as myself and that meant a lot.
You call yourself the Absinthe Poet – why?
Absinthe is like a truth drug that helps you shed inhibitions you didn’t even know you had and something I found made me feel very creative. Unlike many other drinks, I could sustain this feeling and still remain lucid. Sadly, its expense kills you and the sense of creativity probably owed as much to memories of the adventures that accompanied it. Absinthe evokes a sense of time-travelling decadence and revelling in subculture – the poet in the corner of a European bar people watching and dissolving into their stories, the two friends who stay out dancing long after everyone else has gone home as their stories multiply – also self-destruction and tragedy but the romance of poetry and lyrical music is almost always tinged with the sense of “the misery happiness would bring”.
What would you like to achieve with your poetry?
I wrote a poem called Lost Hearts about coming out of lockdown and reconnecting with music, nightlife and the assembled ‘misfits’ of the city. Another poem, Normality, is about celebrating diversity at what feels like a pivotal point in our society where the social values of millennials are winning but there’s a kick back. It helps if we’re honest about our own battles and I think these two poems have had the strongest reaction because they are immediately accessible as performance pieces, yet intricate enough to survive further readings and the inquisition of the printed page. At a point where young people are increasingly disenfranchised by the political system, it’s important that poetry, art and music connects with the audience and fortifies them. While my song Different Ways is implicitly about trans identity, Normality explicitly states “we will no longer be shamed”.
What normally happens at a Stevie show?
At a Stevie show you find someone dressed to excess fusing post-lockdown travels through the underworld with tales of the lost decades.
Sweet or savoury?
I was talking about this with my friend Izzy this morning while we demolished bags of sweets and we concluded that I would be deluding myself to say ’savoury’. In a previous life, I was a Swizzels party pack of Fizzers.
Lost Decades drops in August 2022 as part of the Queer Poets Collective