Blog Interview: Patricia Foster McKenley

Patricia, thanks for agreeing to talk to us

How are you?

Awww, hi Del. I am really well and blessed, thanks. I really appreciate you wanting to interview me. Truly honoured; really humbled. I know we’ve been planning to do this interview for ages. So, yaaay. Finally! How are you?

I’m good! Not enjoying the cold London weather as is always the norm for November!

What inspired you to write your first poem?

Oh wow. I’m trying to think back now. When I started writing creatively, this was in primary school. I loved to tell a story. In secondary school, we read the poetry of Jamaican poet Louise Bennett and comedian Spike Milligan. I was so fascinated by the fact that Spike Milligan wrote poetry. At the time, way, way back in the…er…80s (sssshhhh, don’t tell anyone) I knew of him solely as a comedian, definitely not a poet. I also become more aware of the spoken word, when I listened to Craig Charles (of Red Dwarf and Coronation Street fame) recite his poetry in the early days of Channel Four. Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze, a Jamaican ‘dub’ poet, who also appeared on a Channel Four arts programme series, was another who had a huge impact on me. I recall saying to myself ‘I want to do what she is doing when I get older’. Thankfully, about twenty years later, I had the opportunity to host a poetry show Jean performed in, and shared with her (without gushing too much), that she had been one of my early inspirations and had led me to become a poet and performer.
Shortly after seeing these two mesmerising and articulate poets, verbalising their socio-economic experiences, and the politics surrounding the black communities I was also familiar with, I began to pen my own thoughts, feelings, experiences and used verse to tell my story. So, I can’t exactly remember when I wrote my first poem, but it was probably written when studying for my O’ Level or A’ Level in English Literature.

Do you have a spot that you like to go to get inspired?

Hmm. You know, I have a few favourite spots. I love nature, lush green parks, greenery, the woods. I often go for walks in these spaces, then receive intuitive prompts to write. I also love to go to The Poetry Library or the Royal Festival Hall on the Southbank, where I’ll do a bit of reading, which then generate poems, or I’ll produce a freewrite (also known as a stream of consciousness). The beach, when I’m by myself, is another favourite spot. Umm, the café at The Horniman Museum, or the Horniman Museum Gardens, or on many occasions, my local Sainsbury’s restaurant. Me, laptop and a cup of herbal tea!

You promote a healthy lifestyle both in mind and body, and have done for a long time. What are your main keys to this?

Thank you Del. Yes, I do. At primary school and at secondary school, I loved sports. In secondary school, I played every sport under the sun, including volleyball, netball, athletics, basketball, hockey and football. At uni, I played volleyball at national league level. I felt alive and vibrant when being active and participating in sport. I also watched what I ate, cut out red meat in my late teens and in my late twenties became a vegan. About two years prior to becoming a vegan, I had already cut out alcohol, tea and coffee. So for all of my adult life, I tried to live as clean a life as possible, to be intentional about being physically healthy and fit and began to make the links between how we use our bodies, what we put in our bodies and the impact this has on us mentally, spiritually, emotionally and physically. In 2012, I became a Level 2 qualified Reiki Practitioner, then in 2014 I qualified as a Life Coach. In 2015, I decided to combine these qualifications with my love for keeping fit, my teaching qualification, my digital expertise, my writing and vegan food knowledge to set up my Holistic well-being practice YouAreYOU.co.
Here I offer coaching, a space for healing, training, empowerment, personal development, support for creatives & artists with their work/life/health balance and I promote vegan and healthy food.
Throughout my life, I’ve been through a lot and seen a lot. A lot of personal pain, illness, hospitalisation, bereavement, disappointing life experiences, bullying. So I draw on these experiences to help others to heal, eat right and feel the best about who they are.

Lyrically, who are your favourite writers and why?

I would say Malika Booker, Roger Robinson, Dorothea Smartt, Kadija Sesay, and Kwame Dawes who have inspired me, mentored me and whom I have worked closely with. Also Scottish-Nigerian writer Jackie Kay, whose writing is searingly personal, autobiographical and moving, whom I have met. Jamaican writer and Dub poet Jean Binta Breeze, Chicago Poet Patricia Smith, US poet Sharon Olds and poet and host of Loose Muse Agnes Meadows as well. These poets highly resonate with me because of their strong narrative drive, their accounts of their cultural spaces and their beautiful lyricism throughout their texts, which is what I strive for in my own poetry.

What are you reading at the moment?

I am reading ‘The Purpose Driven Life’ by Rick Warren, to help me look at how my passions and creative gifts from God can help and assist others.

Tell us about sable poetry.

So, the Sable Poetry you refer to is Sable LitMag, a literary magazine started by award-winning poet, literary activist, editor and my mentor Kadija Sesay (also known as Kadija George). She approached me in 2014 to become Sable Litmag’s first Poet-in-Residence, which I humbly and happily accepted. Was truly humbled and so shocked. Such a huge honour. Sable LitMag is a publication which creates a space to publish poetry and creative writing by writers of colour. My role was to host their monthly reading series, invite poets to read at the reading event, develop my first chapbook of poetry and perform at the Mboka Literature Festival in Gambia (2017). It was such a gratifying and fantastic experience.

Which writers should we be watching out for?

Wow! There are so many to mention. But a few who are under 35 and already doing great things, especially with their published work, are Warsan Shire, whose poetry was used in Beyoncé’s Lemonade visual album, Kayo Chingonyi, Selina Nwulu (former young poet laureate), Miriam Nash and Canadian poet Rupi Kaur.

You have performed many events and festivals what’s been one that’s a highlight for you?

Gosh! There have been a few, so I’ll have to share more than one. Sorry!
I’ve been really fortunate since 2001 to have read and performed poetry across London, the UK and internationally. My first major poetry booking, back in 2002 was as a part of the Malika’s Poetry Kitchen collective, for the Apples and Snakes’ show ‘New Shoots’, which was at the Battersea Arts Centre. It was completely sold out! Couldn’t believe it!
Uhm, another highlight was again, representing Malika’s Poetry Kitchen with fellow member Nick Makoha. We performed alongside UK MC Breis and US poet/performer/musician Sharrif Simmons on the ‘Double Talk’ Tour of Amsterdam and Antwerp, back in January 2007. We shared the bill, no less, with US hip hop artists Dead Prez and legendary rapper Special Ed! And we’re all on this huge A1 or A0 poster, which was posted around the streets of Amsterdam! So cool!

What’s next for you?

Ooh, well. I’m so excited to share that I recently had a poem selected to appear in the new poetry anthology ‘Filigree’, which showcases contemporary Black British poetry. The anthology is currently touring and I was invited to read at the Ilkley Literature Festival In Yorkshire, in October 2018, which was such a fantastic and memorable experience.
Filigree also has its official launch on Friday 23 November 2018, at King’s College London, which I’m really looking forward to participating in. In January 2019, I’ll be participating again at the Mboka Festival, Gambia, as a Poet and workshop facilitator. I’m also soon to release my new short collection of poetry, also known as a chapbook.



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Twitter: @ms_p_foster

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