I still remember the first time I heard poet Sophia Thakur perform. It was a chilly October night in 2019. I was tired from a long day at work and slightly annoyed that none of my friends had been able to come with me to the Jazz Cafe in Camden that night. I’d definitely seen the name ‘Sophia Thakur’ thrown around in poetic circles and even seen a few videos and read snippets of her work, but seeing her bring her words to life, was nothing short of magical. Sophia performed her heart out. It was an evening of introspection, joy, passion, music, dancing and a reminder of the power words have in the world.
Sophia Thakur is the voice of a generation — a soothing, empathetic, powerful voice making a home for poetry within modern culture. A Forbes 30 Under 30 (Art & Culture) alum, Sophia has lent her voice and her poetry to campaigns, adverts, workshops and working with brands like Jordan, Nike, Samsung and MTV. She’s even taken poetry into some unexpected spaces, including corporate giants like Google, Facebook and Getty and performed at Glastonbury, as well as prestigious live music venues OMEARA the Jazz Cafe in London. On top of all of this, she’s given multiple insightful Tedx talks–talk about using your voice!
Sophia is a passionate advocate for truth, both the personal and the universal. Her work spans across familial love, romance, self-expression and mental health as well as politics, race and identity. Feeling both at home on stage and behind words, Sophia is also the author of CILIP Carnegie Medal 2021 longlist nominee Somebody Give This Heart A Pen.
It was an absolute dream to speak to Sophia for Un-ruly. She’s as introspective, sensitive and gentle as her poetry. Although we mainly focused on Sophia’s work during our chat, we also dug into why poetry is making such an impact in the world right now and the misconceptions the world has about poets.
Hey Sophia! It’s such a pleasure to be interviewing you. Let’s start simply. Why is poetry important?
Sometimes we can’t find the right words to explain how we feel, so we bottle it all up. I think one of the primary beauties of poetry is that it gives us the language to talk about our complexities and feelings. It also gives us a new window to step into our feelings and write about them. Sometimes some things only make sense when we have something to compare it to. Poetry is golden for that. And so are poets.
Let’s talk a little more about your poetry. What themes do your work focus on?
I write about love a lot. Love of one person, of family, of friends and of humanity. That stretches into politics, gender, climate change and mental health. But it’s all love-centric.
In a form as wide as poetry, how do you find your own voice?
I guess you find the style of writing or performing that you enjoy creating. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea but it will be someone’s. We forget that we should love the process and who we become in that space. That’s how I guide myself.
How have you continued to develop your craft?
I keep extending poetry’s jurisdiction into spaces that have never seen it before. It forces me to write and perform in so many different ways.
You’ve lent your voice to spaces where we wouldn’t expect to find poetry and given poetry more of a platform within culture — working with corporate brands and creating campaigns with Sweaty Betty, Jordan, Calvin Klein and Netflix. How has your poetry found a space in this world?
I think that everything is trying to tell a story. Brand campaigns, artists and new products alike. I happen to think that poetry is a very charming way to tell that story and recently it feels like the world agrees. My messaging is always positive, balanced and sensitive. So as long as a brand shares the same desire, we work really well and really quickly together.
You’ve been hailed as a “literary changemaker of current culture” in a recent GUAP article. How are you and your peers changing the literary canon and the way we see poets and poetry?
Most people leave school disliking poetry. I think it’s because we were taught it in such an impersonal, almost scientific way. I like to think of the poets of today as relatable, aspirational and maybe even cool. It’s funny because poetry used to be seen as the cool thing to do and the curriculum kind of reversed it. So I think we’re reversing it back.
What has been your favorite project to work on so far?
My first headline show at OMEARA London. I’d never really put on my own show so I had no idea if people even wanted one. But the feeling of coming out on stage and seeing a packed venue, with my family in the front rows… priceless. It filled me with so much confidence moving forward. I really didn’t think I could do it, despite it seeming obvious to everyone else. Plus, I get to do all of these shows with my friends which makes it 100x better.
What has poetry given you?
Poetry has given me an excuse to feel more. To trust my sensitivity and my instincts and write about it all. It’s almost given me postcards of every stage of my life so far.
Where do you find inspiration for your work?
I have really big feelings. I used to think this was a bad thing to be this sensitive to things. Then I realized what a blessing it is to have so much to write about, and so intensely. My mother believes in storytelling massively. I used to resent having to listen to her lectures when I was younger but I’ve grown to see how much love you have to hold towards someone to want to teach or correct them, using your own life experiences as an example. It’s beautiful.
What is your favorite poem that you’ve ever created?
A poem from my new collection, Wearing My Mother’s Heart. Many poems from my new collection, actually, I’m writing a lot about mothers and family. This is my favorite corner of life, to be able to tell these stories is such a precious experience.
People have a lot of misconceptions and stereotypes when it comes to poetry and poets. You mentioned in your TedxSurreyUniversity talk that there are a lot of boxes people expect you to fit into as a female poet. Which misconceptions would you like to dismantle and how is your work doing this?
I hope that people come to see how accessible their true feelings really are. Especially men. We don’t live in a society that celebrates male vulnerability but I’m sure that if we did, the world would be a far more compassionate place.
What can you tell us about your next poetry collection?
I’ve never written from such a real place. I’m proud of it.
Who are some other poets we should check out?
George The Poet and Nikita Gill.
Raising Black Children by Sophia Thakur
“Raising Black children” is a beautiful, emotive poem, written and performed by Sophia. It captures the desire for motherhood, carefully juxtaposed against the nuances of Blackness. The poem carries joy and heaviness, fear, weariness and hope — “Black bodies are still being born with built-in predictable eulogies,” but then “both projects [her children] outlive the trials of their melanin.”
Starting with Sophia, pregnant, she considers how she’ll have to raise and speak to her Black son and daughter. She then moves on to speak to her audience, relaying the trials she and her growing family may have to face. In the final moments she addresses her children, her words brimming with honesty and intense love.
Digging into your poem ‘Raising Black Children.’ What was your creative process in writing this piece?
It came from the heart. I wanted people to understand the contentions that exist when raising Black kids in London. How do you teach a child to have pride, but also that those same things they’re proud of, will also bring a lot of pain. It’s a tough balance and I thought that beginning with the beauty of pregnancy and then the reality of parenting was the best journey to take the audience on, to feel how I feel.
Why did you choose to accompany this piece with music?
Music elevates poetry.
Check out Sophia’s work on her website: sophiathakur.co.uk. You can also check out our interview with poet Elizabeth Acevdeo here.