A skateboarder, a poet, Mat Lloyd’s book
As a skate store the plethora of products tends to make you lose sight of what brand is which and what are they trying to achieve within skateboarding. The humble amount of publications we’ve began to amass makes me think otherwise, local publishers Red Fez put out Jono Coote’s travel diary, Karl Watson’s second children’s book sits by Thrasher and Lauren Mudge’s Rolling With The Girl’s zine takes a space next to the super popular ‘Disposable’. Print certainly isn't dead and the makers are publishing what they love.
Diving into the mix of published works by skateboarders in the shop is Mat Lloyd’s ‘What You Missed’ a poetry book which spans self-doubt, skateboarding and forgiving yourself for regrets. Our normal routine of talking Vans quick-strikes and Half Cabs was flipped onto the 'why poetry' conversation which you can read below.
A big thanks to Mat for not only speaking so openly about his work but for also sending me a copy to interrogate.
Who are you, Mat Lloyd the poet? The skateboarder? Or more Mat who skates and does poetry. Is there any part of you that identifies with one more than the other?
Wow, I’ve never been asked that before and I need to take a minute to think. I’m neither more of one than the other, both occupy my mind in equal measures. I grew up skating and writing both from quite an early age so they’ve both always been part of my being in a sense. I think of myself, not as someone who skateboards but as someone who is a skateboarder and that’s the same way as the poetry side, I am a poet.
What’s the deal with Poetry culture? Do you all treat it like a skate session with stanza’s instead of slash grinds?
Hahaha like anything there’s lots of different types of poetry and spoken word out there. Lots of different; gathering, groups, cliques, open mic nights, slams and showcases. In many ways, just like the crew I skate with there are a number of poets out there who I have known for years who I hold in high regard as friends.
When did you first discover poetry, from your previous work, it seems as if your affinity for Hip-Hop would come into it?
Yeah, definitely heavily influenced by hip hop, but that’s not to say I’m a rapper. I got into NWA when I was eleven or twelve then KRS-One & BDP, Ice-T, Public Enemy, Cube, Cypress Hill and the deeper I got into Hip-Hop the more interested I got in the art of writing rhymes. Hip-Hop talked about things and people I’d never heard of and opened my eyes to other music genres, leading me to discovering artists like Gil Scott Heron whose music and poetry blew my tiny young mind.
Can we talk What You Missed, what led you to choosing this as your titular work?
Over the years I’ve been on and off the poetry/spoken word scene for a long time, and got to share the stage with some incredible artists along the way. For many years I’ve worked with numerous publishers doing gigs supporting other artists, donating my work to books and anthologies but when it came to putting out my own work I could never seem to get it over the line. For years it was like they liked me performing in front of a crowd at a show or festival but never fully had my back. People would always ask if I had a book to sell and well I didn’t. So back in 2008/2009 I put my own book together ‘Demo Tape’ and started selling it at gigs. It felt great and taught me a lot about the changing landscape and gatekeepers in publishing.
When Carl Mynott the head of Stour Valley Publishing reached out and we finally had a chat (over zoom), he just seemed like a nice person and that goes a long way. We mulled over ideas and I thought a sort of ‘best of’ would be a great idea and Carl agreed. The title ‘What You Missed’ is sort of a tongue in cheek way of saying ‘You have no idea who I am but I’ve been around a long time and that’s OK’.
Could you talk us through a piece that's inside the book?
My favourite piece in the book is ‘No Regrets’ as it’s a poem that helped me drag myself out of a long period of self-doubt and also a kind of ‘I’m sorry letter’ to my mum for being such a fucking pain in the arse! It always goes down well in front of a crowd and people like to talk to me about their own experiences. It’s basically a piece about all the dumb shit that I’ve done and continue to do in my life that wakes me up in a cold sweat at 3am. It's about the acceptance that it’s happened, all you can do is learn from it and move on.
Skateboarders have a personality trait that leans them towards headache inducing perfectionism, does this process apply to any of your written work? I can imagine you re-re-reading then re-re-editing lines until it feels right.
Ooooh yes, but I am lucky, I have a very understanding and honest partner who listens to many of my first drafts, I’ve also got a few mates I can call on if I need an honest opinion. I remember being asked to write a piece about ‘A Tribe Called Quest’ for a VANS x Tribe launch a few years back and I really was falling apart so I rang Nick Grove (now head of Dickies) and read it down the phone to him! He loved it and that helped me finish the piece in time for the launch. You’ve met Nick right, if he thought it was garbage he would have said as much and not held back!
From the cover of your new book the design invokes some seriousness to the body of work but within it ‘design wise’ you’ve taken a lot of ideas one would tend to find with zine culture, was it a conscious effort to keep things flowing differently than published poetry books?
It all stems from a conversation I had for the first episode of my podcast ‘The Skateboarder And…’ back in 2015ish with Ben Gore who’s a skater, photographer and artist who talked about putting on his own shows and creating zines. Around the same time I’d been asked to write a piece for a video project called ‘A Guide to Cracks and Curbs: London’ which would go on to feature; Sam Murgatroyd, Helena Long, Charlie Radford, and Amy Ram. I was coming out of another long period of self-doubt and anxiety about my work and writing about skateboarding for me is like writing a love poem, that shits hard (which is why I don’t write love poems). The final video was beautiful and got me hyped on writing and performing again. My newly rekindled passion and the conversations with Ben inspired me to put together a poetry collection called ‘The Cracks and Curbs EP’ that was designed to look and feel like a skate zine but was actually a poetry book in disguise. It even came in a sealed baggie with stickers.
When I put it up for sale the response blew me away, I’d made my money back on the first day of release and by the second day I’d sold all the first run, 200 copies. It’s no mean feat to put your work out there, it’s really scary, ‘will people like it’ and ‘will they buy it?’ but it was the best thing I’ve done for myself as an artist. To date I’ve put out quite a few and as my books got out there, other poets, artists & creatives (many of whom do skate) reached out to share work or just chat about the process and one of them was skater and poet Tony Wood who’d recently been published via Stour Valley Publishing. Tony reached out to me and it turns out Carl Mynott the Boss at SVP was a fan.
Carl and I eventually linked up over zoom, as you do and like I said, he was into the idea of a sort of ‘Best Of’. I wanted the book to be a reflection of my work past and present and I think it reflects that. I do think the inclusion of artwork and its look and feel make it stand out from traditional poetry books. It’s a thing of beauty.. but I’m biased.
Was there a poem that spoke to you and made you want to do it? Did you find yourself imitating any particular work before you found a voice?
Probably the moment I heard ‘The Revolution will not be Televised’ by Gil Scott Heron which was originally written as a spoken word piece. Listening to hip hop had led me to Gil and hearing that tune for the first time made me really think about what I was writing. Until then I was writing simple rhymes imitating the rappers I was currently listening to and after listening to Gil I began writing more about my own experiences.
Years and years later when I began performing on stage I remember listening to a lot of other poets and feeling like ‘damn they all have a certain style’ and mine seemed to be all over the place. I remember emailing the poet Ray Hollingsworth who used to put his email address as the back of his books and asking him what I needed to do. He wrote back and basically told me not to change, to let a poem come out as it wants to, don’t force it. I am forever grateful for that email.
Are there any other established poets in your scene who skate? I can imagine there being a crazy eclectic mix of wordsmiths.
Oooh mate there’s loads you only have to pick up a copy of Sara Prinsloo’s amazing ‘It’s Okay Zine’ or Claire Alleaume’s ‘Two Set Mag’ to find lots of awesome skaters who are also poets from around the world. Racking my brain right now there’s UK legend Olly Todd, Tony Wood, Alex Vellis, even Mike Vallely and the Gonz have had a poetry book or two out. It always amazes me how many diverse talents we have as part of our culture.
Whilst I’ve got you do you have any book recommendations?
If we are talking just poetry books, anything Benjamin Zephania, Saul Williams, John Cooper Clarke or Bukowski have put out! I’m a huge fan of Thom Gunn too, mate there’s so much out there, also check out Kirsty Allisons ‘Now is Now’, Chip Hamer’s ‘A Class Act’, Samantha King Holmes ‘Don’t Tell Me Not to Ask Why’ and Tony Woods ‘Coping Mechanism’ (I wrote the intro for that one). If you’re totally new to poetry, maybe start with a newish anthology featuring loads of different poets and work out what you’re into. Also there’s this bloke called Mat Lloyd, he’s got a book out, I heard it’s pretty good…..
Images provided by Mat with credit