Like Dorian Grey without a painting in the loft, Laura Potts’ poetry has the insight of twilight. Echoing the lyricism of Dylan Thomas, she has a strong connection to Wales’ best-known poet and worked at the Dylan Thomas Society’s Birthplace Museum in 2016. However, she is Wakefield born and bred and, whilst she has a lyricism worthy of comparison to Thomas, her evocation of people and places is unmistakably West Riding.
“I don’t think it’s possible to separate place from poetry, or from any other form of creativity, or from language at all. The words we use – their history, their semantics, their sounds – are markers of our place and our time, our class and our society, our ethics and our politics. I’ve never understood it any other way.
“I was born and brought up in West Yorkshire, and I still live there today. Most of my poems are set there. If I write about Ireland, or Italy, or even the moon, I still see parts of Yorkshire in those places. I can only ever articulate and understand the world around me through the filter of my own language. The world is only ever relative to home.”
Covid-19 has produced an outpouring of poetry online about the pandemic itself, much of it as uplifting as queuing outside Morrisons, but Laura took a different approach by consciously not writing at all.
“I’ve stepped off the wagon for a little while. For the most part, I’ve backed away from social media and reading the news. It’s a liberating feeling. After a period of absence from writing, I’ve returned to the page again. I needed to silence the world’s noise for a while. Now that I have, I’m writing again.
“For some time now I’ve been quite content to enjoy quiet time in itself. It’s a peaceful endeavour. I’ve been reading, which means letting my voice fill a room with song, and playing the piano in the evening hours. I’ve found, over time, that my work tends to grow naturally from both of those things. I think it’s made me question exactly that. What am I doing? What will I do tomorrow, or the day after that, or all the days to come?”
One incident sums up this strange period for Laura.
“I remember one night in April. We were in the throes of lockdown, and I had stayed awake into the tiny hours. It was raining. The street was so quiet, almost silent. I could hear sirens rising over the city. And I remember thinking, at that very moment at the window, that if I were lucky enough to survive this, I would learn to value my time. I would live my one wild life with more love for it than I had before.
“In creative terms, I’ve emptied my head. I’ve stopped subscribing to form and structure on a conscious level. I’m enjoying free verse and music, and I’ve allowed myself to embrace my synaesthesia for the first time. It feels honest and open. It’s quite a powerful state of mind.”
The ability to pause and reflect, and allow the reader to participate in that moment, is an aspect of poetry that is sometimes undervalued. The explosion of poetry and spoken word in recent years has opened up a world of expression to vast numbers of people, but the downside has been that devotees will spend a lot of time listening to someone shouting things they already agree with in a pub. Laura’s work is the kind that makes you want to hear it again so as not to miss anything, either live or on the page.
As befits a writer who takes her time over things, Laura is still to publish a collection of her work, though her work is published, almost weekly it seems, in magazines like Aesthetica, The Moth, Prole and Stand.
“Actually, I don’t have anything to plug! While it’s partly due to the current crisis, this is actually a position I’ve wanted to be in for a while. It’s good to step away from the world sometimes.
“I’m working on my first collection at the moment. I’ve been saying that for years, but I suppose it’s the reality of nursing a crucial part of yourself which is constantly in evolution. It will exist one day. It just isn’t ready yet.”