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EMMA CONALLY-BARKLEM

Emma Conally-Barklem sits outdoors

IG: @emmaliveyoga
Photo by Dr Zuzana Bajuszova

Emma Conally-Barklem is Northern and proud. Gaining a reputation across social media for her YouTube yoga sessions, brilliant and inclusive open-mic and her deeply personal, hugely relatable poetry, her star continues to rise as she releases her first collection, The Ridings. Named after one of the most beautiful parts of the UK, it is a collection that focuses on family, personal connections and how deeply-held emotions can be evoked, provoked and held by beautiful scenery.

Writing about love, loss, grief and pride, yogi Emma's work is poignant and bitter-sweet: she is not afraid to wear her heart on her sleeve, and it shows, as her work digs into your chest and tugs on your heartstrings in the best possible way.

Read on to learn more about Emma, and more about The Ridings:

Can you describe your work in five words?
 

  • Varied

  • Intuitive

  • Lyrical

  • Raw

  • Emotive

You practise yoga and deliver sessions both online and in-person. Does your yoga practice cross over into your poetry, or vice-versa?

My yoga practice has become an integral part of who I am so influences every aspect of my life including my poetry. I have written a full collection of yoga poetry which I will return to at some point. In terms of my teaching, I read my poetry at the end of my classes, and I have also been told I teach in a poetic way! Poetry is self-expression, limitlessness, creativity and deals with matters of the soul which could equally be a description of the heart of yoga.

Your upcoming chapbook is called The Ridings. For those not geographically-minded, what does this title mean?

 

The Ridings refers to the North, South, East and West Ridings of Yorkshire as they were known before Margaret Thatcher took it upon herself to carve up the counties in the nineteen eighties. It is a way of reclaiming something which has passed as well as being a celebration of all things Yorkshire, where I am from. There is an old map of The Ridings of Yorkshire at the top of the stairs in my parents’ house. My mum framed and hung it, so it is a reference to that as many of the poems are about my mum and family.


 

On your social media feeds, you promote the understanding, acknowledgement and acceptance of grief as an integral part of life. Can you explain a little more about this and why it means so much to you?

My mum and grandma were the two pivotal figures in my life and the only family members I was close to. My grandma died in 2012 and my mum died in 2018. This was a fundamental, and frankly, catastrophic loss in my life which changed everything for me. I had grieved the loss of my grandma but didn’t really face the death of my mum until the first lockdown when everything stopped, and I had to stop too.

 

I realised the unhelpful ways society deals with grief had helped lead me into a state of staying busy, trying to be strong and shutting down strong emotions. My back health had been terrible despite the yoga and I found myself in hospital unable to walk. I recovered from this but it took a while for the penny to drop that the unexpressed grief and back health were connected.

 

During the lockdown I joined IG and connected with the online grief community which gave me the strength to seek help in the form of therapy. Therapy lead to a great unlocking and I wrote my first poem in twenty years, so far the writing hasn’t stopped! I am now pretty evangelical about normalising conversations around mental health and grief, challenging the unhelpful grief myths and supporting people where I can through my yoga for grief classes, lives and podcasts and of course through my grief memoir which will be published in 2024.


 

Who are your biggest influences when writing poetry?

For the first collection it was all about processing the past, personal histories, formative landscapes and the deep grief for my mum’s death. I think my style is an amalgamation of my working-class background, my education (I have an MA in Victorian Literature), and my past life as a lecturer in English. I am a voracious reader, so this also plays its part. As a teacher, I was lucky enough to see some of the great poets and writers perform such as Carol Ann Duffy performing ‘Meantime’ and ‘The World’s Wife’, Simon Armitage performing everything, I saw Jackie Kay years ago in Bradford Central Library with just two other people there. We had a chat, and she signed her collection, ‘Why Don’t You Stop Talking’ for me. In the recent past, I have seen Dr John Cooper-Clarke perform and was laughing like a drain. He is razor-sharp, eloquent and firmly rooted in his humble beginnings which of course I admire.

 

You are quite new to the poetry performance scene – what has been your best experience so far?

My best experience has been meeting inspiring poets in the IG community and performing my poetry for the first time. Call me naïve, but it hadn’t occurred to me that in writing poetry I would actually be required to perform it! I am more of a reader than a performer, but I am enjoying the new challenge and seeing all the possibilities of poetry in performance.

 

You are an incredible cheerleader for poets and writers online. Who are your ‘ones to watch’?

 

Wow, so many. I am drawn to the writers who fly under the radar and usually have no idea how talented they are. One is a friend, Penpen Carpio @penpen_pens who inspired the titles of two of the poems in The Ridings. His poetry blows me away with his takes on the human condition. He is also incredibly kind and humble. I love the dark power of Carly @surgeons_girl poetry, @twilightsiesta brave, raw, sensual LGBTQIA writing, he is anonymous based on his geographical location. I could name so many, but finally James @biblio.obscura who blew me away with his live performance. I think he is a true wordsmith.

 

Which is your favourite poem from The Ridings, and why?

Ooooh, like choosing your favourite child! Actually, it takes me a while to be happy with what I’ve written and some I would still like to tinker with in hindsight! If I had to choose, it would be ‘Home Fires’ as it was my first published poem, I wrote it in tears, in pain and it came out in a rush. It also depicts the landscape where I am from and a precious memory of walks with my mum in Bronte country.

 

 

What would you like people to take away from your poetry and words?

I’m not sure I would like to be prescriptive about that as I know as a reader, we get different things from poems but I would like people to feel something; a rawness conjoining of joy and pain beneath a Yorkshire sky.

What do you have on top of your chips (this is *very* important)?

 

The big question! I’m not even going to dress this up so to speak haha! It has to be mayo, a filthy delicious hangover from my student days which I reinstated blissfully during the pandemic and haven’t looked back since!

The Ridings is now available for purchase.

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