young london poet greta bellamacina is on a mission to save britain’s libraries
We meet poet and model Greta Bellamacina.
Obsessed with poetry as a young girl and encouraged to put pen to paper by her musician father, it wasn't long before Greta Bellamacina started writing poetry of her own. In 2011, the ex-RADA student released a limited edition collection of poetry entitled Kaleidoscope, and was shortlisted for the Young Poet Laureate of London two years later. Since then her work has been featured in numerous magazines, from Vogue to Interview, Lula to Harper's Bazaar, while in 2013 she edited a collection of poetry called Nature's Jewels, in collaboration with MACK publishers. Presently poetry editor of Champ magazine, Greta has just finished editing A Collection of Contemporary British Love Poetry, in collaboration with Fortnum & Mason, a comprehensive study of the many facets of love, and the feelings we associate with it, featuring work from Wendy Cope, Amy Blakemore and Annie Freud. She is currently working on a collection of poetry with artist/poet Robert Montgomery as well as a project she holds very dear to her heart: saving Britain's libraries. Introducing Greta Bellamacina.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Camden - I think there was a kind of madness of soul growing up around that area.
When did you first become interested in poetry?
My father is a musician and would endlessly play melodies on the piano and encourage me to write the lyrics, but they were always more like poems. I don't think I really became interested in it properly until I was at school - I remember being really drawn to Lord Byron's epic poem Don Juan.
Was there a standout poem or poet that made you want to write your own?
Growing up I read a lot of poets like Anne Sexton, Phillip Larkin, and Ted Hughes. I think I was drawn to their open despair, humanity and unapologetic verse. I would also buy CDs just to read the lyrics in the jacket cover - a sort of talking word poetry. But I now feel connected to more metaphysical poets like Alice Oswald and Octavio Paz who have a way of looking at landscape as a continuous home - I am interested in this idea more and more.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
Drifting. I interviewed John Cooper Clarke last week for the documentary I am currently making and he mentioned that the "point of a poet is to be idle." I think just kicking things around and being unknowing leads to great inspiration.
What poem do you read when you feel sad?
Over the summer I was shown the poem Free Union, by Surrealist poet André Breton. It starts "My wife whose hair is a brush fire / whose thoughts are summer lighting..."
What's the greatest love poem of all time?
Lovesong, by Ted Hughes. The idea of love being a ghost, which haunts us all to our bones and dreams without a face. I also think Stag's Leap by Sharon Old is an epic love poem to her ex-husband. A brave and muffled account of love - truly beautiful.
How did the Collection of Contemporary British Love Poetry come about?
I was performing at various literary festivals last summer. I ended up ranting about wanting to edit a collection of contemporary British love poems at Port Eliot festival to Ewan Venters one night, as I'd noticed there weren't any. I think we should support and promote contemporary poetry, it seems absurd not too.
Tell me a bit about the Save the British Libraries initiative, how you got involved with it and what it means to you?
Growing up I would always use the local library to study and escape, with its kind of gentle safety. Over the past few years I have been deeply saddened by the cuts that are causing some libraries to shut down. I decided I wanted to make a 30-minute documentary about why we should keep the local British library - and offer some solutions. I have had some amazing support from Stephen Fry to William Sieghart.
Tell me a bit about the poetry book you're doing with Robert Montgomery? Do you write together? If so, how did you reconcile your styles of writing, thinking and working?
We started writing together a while ago and decided our styles seemed to compliment each other. The poems all come back round to the idea of being British, the night buses going round the circus squares of London, the left-over mornings of the week, and the BT privatisation.
What advice would you give to aspiring poets?
I would say, you've got to be self-published. I think the internet has helped to make poetry more democratic with an open audience. Also I think poetry exists in many different mediums and it's about finding your authentic voice through any one of them.
Do you use the publicity you get from being a model to promote your poetry or do you see both modelling and writing poetry as part of the same creative outlet?
I think fashion, like art and music, are connected to statements. I think you should use all forms of creativity to say something and connect them as much as possible because it challenges the medium.
What are you working on at the moment?
Finishing the documentary. I am about to go up to Scotland to film the first library built in Britain by Scottish miners. Libraries are like churches for people, in all seasons of hell.
Photography Jacob Perlmutter
Text Tish Weinstock