WORDS BY FLEUR FRUZZA
PHOTOGRAPHY BY BRIAN DALY
The missing link between Harry Potter and Sylvia Plath, Greta Bellamacina is dragging poetry into the Instagram age. She discusses pregnancy, anarchy and the refugee crisis with Fleur Fruzza and, here and in print, we publish exclusively her poem Missing Europe.
“National Poetry Day! Who Gives A Fuck!” Well, more people probably did after seeing this graffitied in giant, fierce-looking red letters outside the Soho Revue Gallery last autumn. This is the kind of gently anarchic behaviour that 26 year old poet Greta Bellamacina and others in her movement subscribe to; shaking things up, making themselves heard, giving poetry a voice for a new generation.
For Bellamacina, the seed was sown growing up in Camden to a musician father and artist mother. She was encouraged into creativity and inquisitive thinking at a young age, and it was always poetry that she was drawn to. “It was something I found easy; something that I could understand. I never had to think about it too much.” By the time Bellamacina was at King’s College London reading English Literature and Language, she was performing at open mic nights and engaging with a wider community of poets. “It made me realise that poetry can make a difference; that it can be relevant and was worth pursuing.” This was when Bellamacina began to take it seriously.
From here followed her first collection of poems in 2011, titled Kaleidoscope, a Young Poet Laureate nomination in 2014, and an edit of contemporary British love poetry, published in 2015 by Faber & Faber. But the latter didn’t sit particularly easily with Bellamacina. In fact it made her angry (here comes the inner anarchist). In her mind, large publishing houses were resting on their laurels and perpetuating what she describes as “deckchairs-in-Sussex-type poetry” rather than actively seeking out new talent. For this reason Bellamacina, along with her partner and fellow poet Robert Montgomery, established the New River Press, a platform for poets with activist leanings, who want to use poetry to engage in wider conversations with people (particularly, young people) about everything from politics to feminism.
“We were thinking about how to make poetry accessible,” she explains. “We thought back to our 18 year old selves; the point where a lot of potential poets give up because they become distracted by other things, or embarrassed. So we started New River Press as a way to challenge that; an outlet that publishes really contemporary poems, written by poets ranging in age from 21 to 75, using the language of today and addressing issues that are topical and relevant to our generation. If I’d had that platform at 16 years old, I’d have felt inspired.”
And so Bellamacina’s latest volume Perishing Tame is being published as part of a New River Press collective of work, from which live performances and readings will be given at everywhere from Keats House in London to Shakespeare & Co in Paris by way of LA’s Chateau Marmont, and sold through outlets including Urban Outfitters and Rough Trade. “I’ve been writing this volume for three years, so it covers lots of issues. It has come out of rage, heartache, pain, injustice… but also euphoria.” One of the main subjects is pregnancy (Bellamacina and Montgomery have a 10 month old son, Lorca) because Bellamacina felt that, although there is a lot of (sometimes patronising) literature about how to bring up a baby, there wasn’t much out there about how it feels emotionally to be growing one. “I describe it as a kind of Stockholm Syndrome… you fall in love with your captor! You don’t know them yet, but it’s still so incredibly intoxicating and powerful. It’s a feeling of being so taken by, and so out of control with, this love, and one that you just have to give in to.”
Surrealist influences from Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath also loom large in the volume in the form of dreamlike poems including Nature Crawling Back, as well as (at the other end of the spectrum) political musings on the current refugee crisis, in works like Jungle and Refugees Are More Than Real Tourists.
But in true millennial style, Bellamacina isn’t limiting herself to just one medium. While poetry is her true love, (a recent poem, Missing Europe, made it into four publications within days of her posting it on Instagram) she’s also been dabbling in documentary filmmaking. “I’ve always been interested in film [she had a cameo in Harry Potter And The Goblet of Fire], and I think you can make a huge impact with documentary making. It’s something I’d like to explore more because it’s the only other medium I’ve found that allows you to be as true to the subject as possible.”
Bellamacina’s first foray into moving images was via writing and directing a short film called Ezra Pound: The Last Cantos, which featured Pound’s 90 year old daughter, and covered the poet’s life and work. (It aired, incidentally, at the aforementioned expletive-soaked National Poetry Day celebrations.) More recently, Bellamacina enlisted heavyweights including Irvine Welsh and Stephen Fry to feature in a film about the rise and slow freefall of British public libraries called The Safe House: A Decline of Ideas, which explores why such an important British institution is in decline in today’s society.
In Bellamacina’s mind, documentary-making does the same job as poetry in terms of starting conversations, challenging perceptions and generally causing a little disruption for the greater good. It’s an intelligent, implementable kind of creativity that’s easy for so many people to get on board with.
Who gives a fuck? We most certainly do.
by Greta Bellamacina
I made up our bed, a clean wedding
Thought I would find you in it
Thought we had the same eroding mouths.
When you swallowed my language
I didn’t care because the secrets of my past
Were yours too and I counted how many women I could be.
I felt lighter than all the metal flags between us
The ones that made up our alibi stars,
Day cleaning arrows breaking up miles and the value of chickens.
And below we were their immigrant lovers
Marching paradise futures,
Steps on a ticket, all the same.
And we laughed at the reality TV government,
Until we could no longer understand why
We were both missing.
by Greta Bellamacina