Poetry Profile – Harula Ladd
Harula Ladd is a popular performance poet on the South West arts scene. A firm advocate of the therapeutic nature of poetry, she set up the Postal Poetry Library during lockdown to help keep people connected. A hugely empathic poet, she can spin you a poem out of thin air in minutes to make you feel seen and heard. I caught up with her to talk all things poetry and find out how the last 18 months had been for her and what lies ahead now that life is stirring again.
Could you introduce yourself? How would you describe your work?
My work has been called tender and emotionally intelligent. I write quite lyrically I think. It’s heartfelt. Maybe too earnest at times!
Are there particular themes that you find yourself returning to?
Nature is a big influence; birds, the sky, the elements; the first collection I put together, back in 2019 was called Ignite. Death seems to show up quite often too. Questions! My work is full of questions! And food!
How did you come to writing? Why?
I read a lot as a child, so I think that writing came out of that. I wrote a lot of stories and kept a journal. Poetry started to come in my early teens. I’m the third of four siblings. It was a busy, noisy house and we travelled quite a bit, so writing was a way of trying to process my experience. I spent my first years on Crete; my mother is Dutch with an Indonesian grandmother, so I was exposed to different languages from an early age. I’m fascinated by language and communication. I’ve written plays, and poetry for children too.
What is poetry?
For one, I’d say it’s an anti-anaesthetic. Words have the power to un-numb the reader. I find that exciting. It’s also art; a creative, personal response to an experience the writer has, or imagines, or wants to explore. I love this Leonardo Da Vinci quote, “Poetry is painting that is felt, rather than seen.” Poetry is a touchstone. It’s helped me through this crazy time, and other tough times, in a way nothing else has or can, both reading other people’s poetry, and writing it myself.
Does poetry have a function? What do you think it might be?
Yes, I think it does. Several. I think it helps people express and feel ‘the big stuff’ by helping them step back from their own personal experience and acknowledge its universality. Poetry is often shared at funerals, weddings, anniversaries, community occasions. I think poetry also serves to inspire debate and conversation, whether that’s on a topical social issue, or something more personal. I sometimes write on-the-spot poems, on any topic, in three minutes. What fascinates me is that the poem is often just the start. I often end up deep in conversation with the person I’ve written it for. These people are usually strangers, and yet, poetry has connected us. At a time when many feel disconnected, for a variety of reasons, that’s an important function.
What makes a ‘good’ poem?
Any poem that makes me feel something, draws an emotional response of some kind, is ‘good’ as far as I’m concerned. Personally, I love poems that are so clear and strong in their structure that they hold you through the experience until you reach the end and you’re like – what was that?!
Have you had to overcome any barriers to write – internal or external?
External? Not really. Internal? All the time. Nothing new – it’s the whole, is this/am I worthy, good enough etc. Also, there are times when a subject, an experience, is so emotionally charged that I might start writing and then find I can’t handle it yet. I’m still experimenting. I don’t think I have full trust in myself as a poet yet. Maybe that’s a good thing though, and not a barrier.
Has anybody helped you along the way? Has anybody inspired you?
Oh so, so, so, many people! My family have always been supportive, and shown an interest. I feel incredibly held by the local open mic scene here in the South West, and have met some fantastic poets who have been a huge encouragement and motivation. Individuals? Liv Torc, Tim King, Chris White. Well known poets that I love include Roger Robinson, Mary Oliver, Pascale Petit. In terms of performance, I owe a huge debt to Helen Yeomans, the leader of a local choir, who has twice commissioned me to write poetry to perform alongside the choir, Glorious Chorus. An incredible experience, every time.
Is there a piece of advice that somebody has given you that has been particularly helpful? Do you have your own that you pass on?
Jackie Juno, once told me to get out of my own way, to let my work speak for itself. It’s so true, though not always easy to do. Advice I would give? Write, read, create, just do it! Don’t start with expectations, start with fun, enjoy it! You can hone, craft, edit after. And I’m a big fan of morning pages. Thank you Julia Cameron for The Artist’s Way!
Do you have a favourite word or words?
Not really, or perhaps many. Magic, Alchemy, Beauty…big uncontainable words. Freedom! And Metamorphosis just sounds so good!
Is there a difference between poetry and spoken word? Does it matter?
I think the fact that this is being debated is an indication of how vibrant the scene is right now and that’s positive. Personally, no, I don’t think there’s a distinct definitive difference. Does it matter? To some people, a lot, apparently. To me? Not especially.
What makes a good performance? Do you enjoy performing?
I love performing! A good performance? When a performer is comfortable up there (even if that means being comfortable with their discomfort), they acknowledge and read their audience, and – cliché alert – are authentic. It needs to be real and unforced.
How are you finding 2021? Have the restrictions affected your creativity?
I have continued to write. I haven’t struggled for ideas, but sometimes I don’t know when to stop and acknowledge – this is just writing something out of me, it doesn’t need to be a poem. Online performances have been a great way to keep the scene alive and I’m grateful for Zoom, although live events are now popping up all over the place which is exciting. Frankly, writing and creativity have been instrumental in helping me remain sane and functioning. It’s that simple and fundamental.
Do you have any creative projects you’re working on at the moment? What comes next?
I started a Postal Poetry Library on Jan 1st this year which has grown from 40 to almost 200 books, and has been a joy for me, readers and the poets! I’ve been displaying a Poem of the Week, from submissions by local poets, in a local bookshop since last October (National Poetry Day) and love walking past anonymously and seeing people stop and read, take photos. I’m also part of an artist development program, Spork Up!, funded by Arts Council England, which began last September, and we continue to work together. There’s now a new cohort too, thanks to the fabulous Chris White! In fact we have a gig in Bristol in a couple of weeks, and will be in Cornwall for Halloween! Most recently I was thrilled to be part of Wave Seven on iambapoet.com and earlier this year I was part of a mentorship program for poets who wanted to develop their skills in writing for children which I loved, and would like to continue working on.
Tell us a joke
I’m TERRIBLE at telling jokes!
Tell us a secret
Cat, dog or reptile?
Dog for sure.
Listen to Harula read on iamb ~ poetry seen and heard
Find Harula’s book Ignite (lulu.com)