Poet and musician, James Massiah, has made a name for himself with his unique blend of wordplay, music, and lyrical mastery. His work is both thought-provoking and emotive and revolves around themes such as identity, philosophy, ethics, and sexuality. His body of work has received critical acclaim and has been featured in various publications including The Guardian and VICE. In between writing his new book, we sat down with him to hear about what in London has recently provided inspiration.
What was it that first made you want to become a poet?
I always loved poetry as a child. Reading, writing and reciting a lot, both in church and school. I suppose in the way that most are introduced to poetry at a young age, only I never parted ways with it.
I think my favourite of recent times may well be the performance at The Barbican with Speaker’s Corner Quartet. It was a huge ensemble performance with everyone featured on their album from; Coby Sey to Lea Sen to Sampha to Tirzah and Mica Levi. I remember feeling quite overwhelmed by the scale of it all and then settling into it once I was a few lines in, looking up and seeing the receptive, smiling faces in the audience and then back at the Quartet and feeling like we were all in it together. Westminster Abbey was special too, I’ll never forget that performance.
Which poets have been your greatest influence?
Gertrude Stein. EE Cummings. Emily Dickinson. Mutabaruka. Benjamin Zephaniah. Roger McGough. Allen Ginsberg. Aleister Crowley.
What has been your favourite commission to date?
Being asked to write a poem for King Charles’ 70th birthday was quite something.
If you were asked to write a poem about Soho, what buildings, restaurants, or cultural locations would you mention and why?
I’ve written many poems in and about Soho over the years. I worked there in my late teens and used to perform on a weekly basis there for years. It’s a very special place to me and I imagine it’s the same for a lot of actors, writers, poets and comics. Carnaby Street, Wardour Street, Golden Square, the alleyway between Wardour and Dean Street. Long live Princi! Long live Jerk City!
What have you got coming up next?
I’m writing a book at the moment. A non-fiction text that will read as a collection of essays on various topics with some poetry too. I’ve also just had my new record mastered, True Romance, a follow-up to my last official solo release all the way back in 2019, so very excited about that. I wrote the record and produced the tracks. It’s deeply personal and feels like a great achievement when I consider all the humps and bumps along the way. I’ve also been running this project called Adult Entertainment, which is sort of just a poetry night but is also starting to feel more and more like real community (read as: secret society) as time progresses. I am really looking forward to seeing what we’re able to do with that in the new year.
In the London poetry scene, who do you look up to and why?
Kae Tempest is an incredible writer and an incredible performer but above all that, they’re also really caring, really interested in the well-being of peers and younger poets on their way up through the scene. I’ve had some truly memorable interactions with them over the years and I always leave feeling wiser or more inspired. I could say much of the same for Isaiah Hull, a poet from Manchester who I only met recently, but in the same way feel deeply inspired by their work, the way the carry themselves and the care they show for other writers and musicians around in the scene. Such people are of vital importance and I truly value poets who can offer new insights into ways or reading and ease of writing, but also, into ways of living.