Floats like Tinkerbell; stomps like a Tonka Truck - Tonkabell is a very, very special artist. A legend of the Manchester spoken word scene, you will hear Tonkabell before you see them. Tiny in stature but with rhymes that pack a severe punch, Tonkabell's words will resonate, reverberate and remain with you long after you read them.
In a bold move for a small publishing house, Bent Key have decided to honour Tonkabell's wish to publish their work in an unedited format - as they come, straight-up, no flounce or bluster, mistakes and all. It's raw, it's edgy and it's innately Tonka - colourful, riotous and radically charged.
Tonkabell is proud to be a dyslexic poet, and embodies Bent Key's ethos that decent art is about soul and spirit just as much as it is about accurate spelling and punctuation. Tonka's view is that you do not need to be presented in Times New Roman 12pt to be taken seriously - and damn if they're not bang on the money with that. Their collection is an intimate insight into their mind and being, and if you purchase a copy, you will be holding a small piece of them in your hands. It's going to be very special indeed.
Diary of a Mad Bat is making its way to the market in June 2022.
Tonkabell's work in five words:
Tonkabell's work is designed to challenge your beliefs, make you question your opinions and think about your place in a society that increasingly ostracises artists.
We sat down with them for a chat about their upcoming work with Bent Key:
Tonkabell is a great stage name. How did it come about?
I had a friend who saw me dance - and he said I had twinkle toes but was also very heavy-footed and clumsy. He said I was like Tinkerbell combined with a Tonka Truck - and Tonkabell was the result.
I actually used it as my email and Instagram at first - I was originally on the scene as Boo Hoo the poet, writing my work on walls around the city. Then I met Antony Szmierek - he came to see me perform at Verbose in Manchester, and he'd been told about the name Tonkabell. I performed Weird Love and afterwards, he came over to me, shouting "fucking hell, Tonkabell, I love you!"
I got renamed Tonkabell, or Tonks, by Antony, and now it's the name most people know me by.
Give us a whistle-stop tour of your poetry career so far.
Well, I've been performing for about five years. I first got introduced to it when I was coming off drugs; I was on my way back from an acting group and met my friend Ged, aka The Urban Poet. We got talking, went into Affleck's and I met the absolute legend Joy France, in her creative space on the top floor of Affleck's. It is a beautiful space. I asked if I could write a poem on the wall and she said yes - after that, I met her a few more times, and she really encouraged me, introducing me to more people and helping me believe I could get up on stage to deliver my stuff. I'd written hundreds of poems during my recovery from drugs, and I took them in to share with Joy, who encouraged me fully to get involved more in the scene!
All of your work is hand-written in meticulously organised notebooks. This is massively different to the Insta-poets of today who tend yo use their notes apps. Why do you do it this way?
So, after meeting Joy I met a load of other people - squatters, mainly - and met my beautiful friend Heather. I started writing anywhere I could - paper, walls - anywhere - and Heather asked why I didn't just get a really nice book to keep my work in. I bought a book and started writing in them instead - my first one was a bit scruffy, but the second book and the ones that came after were neater and more organised. Heather loved it, and encouraged me to post the pages online in addition to keeping a ledger of everything I'd written - an index. It helps people to see how my approach changes - I go from messy and scruffy to organised and neat, tidier and prettier. I thought they looked really nice, so kept doing it.
Who is your biggest influence as a poet?
I'm heavily influenced by people, and their views on the world - their opinions on what is happening in the world today. Sometimes we agree; sometimes we will disagree - every now and then, I'll hear someone say something, a small sentence, and it will stick with me, and I'll build a poem from that.
My biggest influence is this - everybody I know - although, if I had to narrow it down to one influence? Well, my first 200 or so poems were based on my mate Wayne. He's got so much knowledge - so much sense, fun and calm - he says things and they're so amazing; at least half of the poems in the first book are based on things that he's said. There is a drawing by Wayne in my first book - he's one of the only people I trust to hold my original books.
Out of all of your work, which is your favourite piece?
I have to say, there's many a poem I've written that I believe is fucking spectacular. I've written poems where I've not eaten or slept for four days because I've been so immersed in them. Things come to me and it's as if I switch off to everything except poetry.
Most people will say their favourite is Weird Love - and there's a story behind it. I perform at Verbose regularly, and back in the day I'd messaged them to see if I could do a set one month and they agreed. However, the weekend got a bit messy and I opened my emails on the loo that Sunday to see they'd said the theme was 'weird love'. The line about Angelina Jolie and her brother came to me immediately and I was like, "what's happening?" I was hungover to death, was due to be babysitting my grandson, so I got washed and took my grandson out, all the while with this line in my head. I tried to find a quiet place to finish it while the kids played, eating some Curly Wurlies, and then the infamous Curly Wurly line came to me. The rest didn't come until I was on the 92 bus to Longsight, where I finally finished it and read it to the barman at Fred's Ale House and then on stage at Verbose, where it went down a storm.
I still love seeing people shouting along with me as I read it - "WEIRD LOVE!"
Who do you write for?
I write for me. I write a lot of stuff that's in my head, appearing at stupid-o'clock when I can't sleep. Poetry and writing helps me process everything - getting off drugs, trauma - I write it all down. I've always written and I've so many books put away - stories, mainly. Poetry itself is pretty new to me, but writing has always been part of me, and a way to get stuff out of my head. I've come to the realisation that not everybody will listen to you - no matter how vocal you are. Sometimes, I'm not very articulate, and I know that sometimes I can make people feel awkward when I talk, but my writing hits differently - it makes me real.
I'm nonsense, but in some weird way, I make sense in poetry.
What do you hope to achieve with your work?
Personally, I didn't set out to achieve anything. I was writing to get stuff out - mental health issues, my own emotions - I'd write them anywhere. On walls, on pads, then out loud on stage... I put it all together but I never considered it an achievement, as such.
I know my poetry is beautiful, and to me, that was enough - I never really set out to do more, but I'm really pleased it's ended up this way.
I've actually had publishers interested before, but they always wanted to adjust my work, fixing my grammar and regularising it - it felt like they wanted to change me and the words that make me who I am. I'm dyslexic, and I'm proud of it - I don't want people to feel like they can't write just because they have a condition outside their control, that they were born with. I guess what I want to achieve is to show dyslexic writers that your writing is you - it's your soul on paper, and it doesn't need to hold you back, nor does it need to be altered. I'm a proud Manc and my spellings are often how I speak, and that's one of the key parts of my stuff!
What's your process?
I used to write in my book in pencil, and once I was happy, go over it with pen to 'make it official' or real. Writing by hand also helps me to remember my poems; I do a lot of stuff on stage from memory and the process of hand-writing helps me to commit it to memory.
It's also my mark on the world, to stay here long after I'm gone.
What can we expect from a Tonkabell show?
Absolutely fucking wet pants, mate!
Bit of banter, maybe a few arguments - I might cause a couple of divorces - I'm like Marmite. You'll love me or want to end me; you'll have to come along to find out which...
Diary of a Mad Bat lands in June