Tom Stocks' debut collection
Tom Stocks, aka The Chubby Northerner, is a poet originally from Bolton, but now living in Wigan. He is a voice for male body positivity and mental health; he can also be quite political when needed..!
Tom aims to write relatable poetry that could be heard and understood by the average guy down the pub; he markets himself as a 'pub poet' - he didn't get stellar GCSE marks, nor did he love Shakespeare but that hasn't stopped him making his mark on the poetry world. He is cheeky, witty, genuine and kind - and all of this is reflected in his work.
Tom's work in five words:
Even though he is now quite well-known on the circuit, he only started writing poetry during the Covid lockdown. Already, his poetry has been featured on BBC Radio Manchester, the BBC Upload Festival, BBC iPlayer and BT Sport.
His spoken-word show also won The Royal Exchange's Local Tale competition, and ever the busy bee, he also co-runs The Mic At The Mill, a poetry and open-mic event in Leigh's Spinners Mill.
He signed to Bent Key in December 2021 and is releasing his first collection in March 2022. We sat down with him for a little chat!
In your upcoming book, you talk about how you originally thought poetry wasn't "for you". What do you think the barriers are for young people who might love poetry but don't know it yet?
I think showing different voices is the key. Growing up, I was only shown the likes of Shakespeare, Poe and the like; basically old school poetry and language, which is absolutely fine for some people but just not for me. I didn't understand those voices - but as soon as I started to hear modern poetry that spoke about issues and topics I understood, I immediately gained interest. I just don't understand poetry that has loads of metaphors, or anything I feel I need a dictionary to understand - it has its place, but it's a voice I just don't understand. I always thought poetry was a very middle-class thing, but I have learned since that I felt like this because it was dominated by middle class voices. Now, though, it feels as if poetry is changing and there are now voices from all corners of life speaking up and being heard. I believe that this now needs to be brought into schools and to show a more diverse range of voices or we face alienating another generation.
You write a lot about body positivity. What has the reaction been to these poems and why do you think this has been the case?
It's something I've been really passionate about for a while. I've always thought the topic of body positivity has always been geared towards women; I wanted to add a male perspective to this. It's not a topic spoken about very much between men, and I wanted to open up the topic for discussion in order to normalise it.
The reaction to all those poems has been incredible and probably my biggest success. I guess it's what I'm known for - especially as I've called myself The Chubby Northerner. It amazes me the number of lads approaching me after shows - from all walks of life - saying how brilliant it is to hear the topic being highlighted and how good my poetry makes them feel when they've heard it. I'm a chubby lad myself and I've always been teased about it, but I'm here to highlight that being a chubby man is absolutely fine and you should never tease someone about weight insecurities because you never know the effect it could have on someone.
As a Northern writer, do you feel the North is adequately represented in the poetry scene?
I've only performed in Manchester and surrounding areas so all I see is Northern poets! I'm in a bit of a bubble of incredible Northern talent. In terms of mainstream poetry, more can always be done. Also, hearing accents is a massive thing! I only ever used to hear poetry in RP and as soon as I heard poetry in a Northern accent I was already 100% more engaged.
Who are some of your key influences as a writer?
I don't think I have huge influences in terms of particular poets who really inspire me; I'm actually more influenced by audiences. I've always been influenced by people not in the arts in any way. I feel the biggest compliment a poet can ever receive is if someone who has no affiliation to literature or the arts understands the story you are telling. That is the biggest praise I could ask for. I call myself a "pub poet" because I feel I could walk into any pub and perform a poem to whoever is sat down and they would understand what I'm talking about.
What is a topic you'd love to write about, but haven't yet?
This is a tough question as I'm very much an in-the-moment writer! I will only write about my own experiences or topics I'm passionate about. I will never pre-plan or search for a specific topic or issue; nor do I do extensive research. I'm very impulsive - if a news story, a comment, or an issue has affected me that day, I will just write about it.
I'm sure there will be topics I would like to write about but they just haven't come to my attention yet - and I won't write about anything until I have experienced it myself.
Why do you think poetry is an important medium, specifically for men?
I think it is a really powerful way to get across taboo topics within a male-centric world. I've spoken about mental health, body positivity, checking your body and more; I hope that my voice encourages men to rethink a few things and work to break any stigma. I want to encourage them to open up and normalise certain things.
I also highly encourage any man to give poetry a go. I never knew until I started writing myself, but poetry is very empowering. It's almost like therapy. You can perform it, you can publish it or you can just write for yourself and not show anyone - but sharing your voice and experiences on stage is amazing because you never know who it is going to touch and possibly even help. Words are a very powerful thing.
What kind of message do you hope your poetry sends, and to who?
I just hope it encourages people to not be afraid of poetry, to be comfortable within themselves and to realise that poetry can also be fun.