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elspeth wilson

Headshot of Elspeth Wilson

Elspeth Wilson is an incredibly talented creative, writing poetry that will pull on your heartstrings and make you want to grab the nearest person available for a de-brief and an in-depth analysis session. Her words are often poignant, sometimes sting like a slap and always, always leave you chomping at the bit to see what she has to say next.  Much of their work considers how we as humans live in our bodies and how we make them homes.

Her collection, Too Hot to Sleep, is available now and explores the way we inhabit our bodies from the perspective of a queer, disabled, neurodivergent artist. 

We sat down with Elspeth for a short chat about the collection and to learn a bit more about her:

Can you describe your work in five words?

  • Intimate

  • Poppy

  • Defiant

  • Embodied

  • Hopeful 

What compels you to write about the things you write about?​


When I was growing up, I never realised you could write poetry about things like the Sims or Twilight or Vampire Diaries or Riverdale. Poetry felt inaccessible and like it was restricted to certain topics. One of the great joys of my life has been discovering how untrue that is, and the huge range of fantastic contemporary poets out there. In all honesty, reading others' work and being involved in the poetry community compels me to write — for me, poetry is relational. It's a way of forging solidarity and relationships, and having conversations, particularly about things that might be hard to talk about or articulate in other ways. On that note, one of the things that spurs me on to write is exploring the everyday, the mundane things that make up so much of the joys and background to life. For me, this can be the best way into difficult things I want to write about and explore for myself, such as the way we carry trauma in the body and climate grief.

What are your passions in life?

Very often, you'll find me in or near the sea. I will basically swim any chance I get. It soothes all kinds of pain for me, and it ends up flowing into my writing a lot, too. At the cosier end of the spectrum, I absolutely love teen dramas, playing the Sims (both of which I write a lot of poetry about in this pamphlet!) and reading. I'm also incredibly passionate about justice and care for animals — I volunteer as a guinea pig fosterer for a vegan animal rescue, and my dream is to rescue all kinds of animals!


You are all the way up in Scotland – what do you have on your chips?

A very classic combo of a little bit of salt and lots of ketchup.


Which poem do you wish you’d written?

There's so many I admire hugely but one of the most perfect poems I've ever encountered is Backwards by Warsan Shire. I read it again and again. It's not a poem I could ever have written, for many different reasons, but I feel like I learn so much about craft and form every time I read it. I also love The Orange by Wendy Cope and often bring it to workshops I facilitate — it's such a hopeful poem that is beautifully simple but has a great hinterland. I'd love to write a poem that can bring joy to people like that!


Following on from that, who would you name as your influences?

Hera Lindsay Bird is a huge influence on me. There are so many poets I admire but Hera really showed me the ways you can have fun with poetry which was so missing from the way I was taught about poetry at school! Her poem I knew I loved you when you showed me your Minecraft world is a poem I always wish I'd written, as is Pyramid Scheme! Stephen Sexton similarly taught me a lot about the ways poetry can be written about and through games, and how we can live so many emotions through different worlds.

My friends Aoife and Rachel are other poets who have really influenced me with their process and their writing. I also like to read a lot of novels in verse and hybrid work — poets like Nikita Gill, Elizabeth Acevedo, Dean Atta, Ilya Kaminsky and Yrsa Daley-Ward have all influenced me in terms of challenging and enhancing my thinking on what poetry can do and be and how it can tell stories.  


What is your process when writing a piece of poetry? Do you fly by the seat of your pants, or are you a more considered writer?

I often write poems in the notes on my phone when I'm on the bus, out walking or in workshops, so often the initial stage is quick and organic but after that I'm a big editor. I believe that editing is writing and the majority of my poems go through multiple different drafts. I also read them aloud so that my brain can edit for me without me having to overthink it.


My friend Rachel Lewis is a fantastic poet and has taught me to find the joy and fun in editing. That said, sometimes a poem does just fly out in a form that feels right to me and I can usually tell that straight away — that's what happened with Wildfires burn across Australia as Edward Cullen takes his top off for the twentieth time which forms part of this collection.


What can we expect from your forthcoming collection of poetry? How do you hope the reader will feel?

An exploration of growing up in an often-unfriendly world through the vector of pop culture. The work moves through themes of nostalgia and fragility whilst keeping an eye on different futures. I hope the reader will have a sense of joy co-existing alongside everyday traumas, and I hope they will feel like they are part of a conversation about how we find that joy in the gaps and how we live in our bodies.


I've written from my own experience of growing up, in an intimate, specific way but I want people to be able to relate to, and sense, the hope that exists within the work, even when the poems are about things that should never have happened. 


What statement or saying do you like to live by?

There is a Maya Angelou quote I have on a print in my room which is "I've learned that no matter what happens, or how bad it seems today, life does go on and will be better tomorrow." It's not saccharine but it's part of a longer quote I find very hopeful and beautiful which ends with her famous advice about people forgetting what might say but never forgetting how you made them feel.


Who do you write for and why?

Primarily, I write for myself as a way of processing, experiencing and thinking about the world. So much of what I write will never be published. For the writing that is published, I hope to write for other neurodivergent people, other queer people, other neurodivergent queer people, people who love pop culture, people who are as into teen dramas as me, survivors of sexual violence, people who never got poetry at school, people who've been led to believe that poetry is at a remove from our lives. I also hope that I'm writing for people who I haven't yet considered — so much of the poetry that has moved me was written by people from entirely different backgrounds, identities and experiences from me and yet I found so much to relate to within it. That's the beauty about poetry - it houses the universal within the specific.


Too Hot to Sleep is now available for purchase (and was nominated for Book of the Year in the Scottish Book Awards 2023!)

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