Meet Kurly McGeachie, judge of the poetry category

ALAN (Kurly) McGEACHIE is a shortlisted Birmingham Poet Laureate and Hip Hop artist. He visits schools and youth/community settings throughout the UK as a freelance Literacy Engagement Specialist. Each year he helps thousands of children to read, write and perform poetry and rap with confidence – helping learners engage with the curriculum whilst boosting their literacy confidence. Kurly has delivered workshops on behalf of many organisations such as Women’s Aid, UNICEF, Writing West Midlands and British Council to name a few and previously taught English and Citizenship in a Pupil Referral Unit – whilst also supporting pupil’s reintegration back into mainstream school.

Check out Kurly’s website. Twitter: @KurlyMc

 

How did you get into poetry?

Being a writer was something I’d not even thought about until I was 18, for two reasons: not being encouraged to write (apart from what I was told to write about at school); and never seeing writing presented to me (in a way I could identify with) as an actual career option.  My first real invitation to write strictly for fun/creative purposes came when I was coating chicken with secret herbs and spices during another busy shift at a well-known fast food restaurant.  I was 18, prepping chicken for the next rush when a colleague briefly mentioned he was working on a song, he could sing and felt there was some space on the track that required something other than singing i.e. a rap! He asked me if I’d like to give it a go. I explained I’d never done anything like this before, however, the reason for his confidence in my unqualified abilities were soon revealed.  He said: “You’re black/mixed raced so you should be pretty good at it!” For the record, yes, he was white, and he was also a joker without malice, so my response after genuinely laughing was: “Yeah, tell me more about your song…” I wrote a rap, the song turned out ok – but with lots of clichéd rhymes, including ‘love’ and ‘dove’ etc. But that was how I started out, by saying: “Yes.”

 

What advice would you give to your younger creative self?

I’m 40 years old now so roughly 22 years in the writing arena in some form or another but I still consider myself to be very early on in terms of evolution in my writing/career journey. You can only make choices based on what you know so I can’t say I would have changed much in terms of the actual life choices I made (despite some serious adversity) but looking back, advice I’d give to my younger self would be to try and get my head around more content creation and be more intense with using the various internet/social media platforms to connect with others.

The opportunities today are easier to come by compared to the pre-internet era where my route as a writer started. I had to 1) Find a producer with the equipment to make/record music; 2) record my lyrics over the music; 3) Burn and package the CD; 4) Create press packs with pics and printed bios of me and the group; 5) Search music magazines to find out who the local radio stations and DJs/promoters are and physically drop them off or post them; 6) Hope that they get it and play it or ask you to perform; and all this BEFORE my music even had a chance to be heard by a single audience member!

 

What advice would you give to aspiring writers/poets

Today, it’s a different story to when I started. Most of what I just mentioned can now be done on a phone, uploaded and shared direct to an audience in one day! Awesome! But it has to be good, and speaking YOUR TRUTH through your art is your advantage! So be sure to work on your craft as much as possible. Also, have a diary to book things in, be on time, be a good person, admit mistakes – don’t dwell, just learn from them and keep moving forward. These things will also get you known in different circles for the right reasons which will also lead to opportunities!

Make use of tools now at your disposal in 2018 to create and share your work. Through these you could meet the people who may take you to the next level, become part of your community, and later help build your potential followers. I have very few followers, but I make a living doing what I love from the few people that are aware of what I do and that list is growing. It takes time, so be patient.

 

Which Poets inspire you the most?

The ones who have managed to make a career from writing. I’ve met some amazing  poets/rappers/writers at different levels. But the ones that I’m most interested in learning from are the ones who’ve managed to navigate the writing landscape successfully to make a career from their creativity: the Jonathan Coes, the Maya Angelous, Kate Tempests, Ben Zephs, the Akalas, the Kit De Waals. Time is short, but life is long. I’d advise anyone who knows what they enjoy to invest time in learning from those who are involved in the same industry (in this case writing) who are ahead of you and see what clues they’ve left to see what factors contributed to their success either as a break-through emerging artist or as a long-term established one.

 

What projects are you working on at the moment?

I’m working on a few things. An album. Content for upcoming workshops in schools over the next few months (as one way to make money from your craft is to be capable of offering what you do as a service that helps solve problems). I’m developing teacher resources for primary and secondary schools that support teaching and learning, literacy engagement and pupil progress via poetry and Hip Hop. I’m also doing a lot of content creation, mainly as video – again to reach out the relevant audiences. At the moment that means teachers and pupils for specific curricular topics for a teachers’ resource pack that I co-created and recently published with a couple of friends who are both Poet Laureates. It’s hectic times, balancing time with my children and investing in their creative development as well as going around the country to perform at festivals and gigs to showcase myself as a performance artist in my own right, all at the same time. But it’s this life I much prefer over the one I had before which is perhaps another story for another time…