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john clifford

Performance image of John Clifford

John Clifford is one of the most affable men in poetry. Always available with a smile and kind words, you will most often find him gracing the stage across some of Manchester's most prestigious spoken word events. Writing about life, nature, love, grief and the human condition, his lived experiences flow into poetry and prose like a stream of consciousness laced with gold. We are proud to welcome John to the Written Off family - let's get to know a little more about him in advance of his collection, Tell Us What We Are:

Can you describe your work in five words?
 

  • Connecting

  • Affecting

  • Poignant

  • Personal

  • Fragments

 

What is the background to this collection? What’s the story behind it?

 

The collection is a mixture of pieces I wrote from 2018 up to 2022, covering everything from feelings for my home and belonging, to grief and love, the yearning for distant things, bodies, politics, ghosts, and hunky Greeks (mythical ones! Not that kind of book sadly). When I put it together, I was working with a lot of material I'd written through the first two years of the pandemic and the measures we had in England; at the time I thought I'd managed to keep the COVID stuff in there pretty minimal. Looking at it now, though, it's clear that what I chose to include reflects my emotional response to the pandemic at that time and what I was yearning for. This is the collection of someone reaching for emotional connections.

 

How would you describe yourself as an artist?

 

I'm a storyteller. I think poems are incredible for allowing people to tell really impactful stories in a medium that's both lyrical and quick. Writing or performing, I try to convey mine well enough that people can find something of themselves in my work or find that they relate to me in an unexpected way. No matter the topic, whether its spoken or written, whatever - if I manage to achieve that, I feel like an artist; otherwise, I don't feel like one at all.

As a Manchester resident, what do you love most about the Manchester spoken-word scene?

 

The variety and quality of spoken word in and around this city is stunning; you never get bored going to events. There are all sorts of people bringing their words as well. It feels like a space where locals can easily come and be represented by their art, when sharing through other mediums can be more difficult or even inaccessible. This sounds kinda trite but it's true - the scene in Manchester has shown me how much art everyone has in them. It's magic; when you go and hear these pieces it's like everyone's opening up different parts of their lives and inviting you in for a few minutes at a time. 

Who are your biggest influences?

 

That's difficult! There's influence in terms of what goes into my pieces and in terms of my style of writing/performing. For the former, it's the people I love: friends and family. They're the ones who have taught me who I am, about where I'm from, what's important, what's beautiful, what I cherish and what I hate. For the latter, it's a mixture of poets. I love the writing of Jorge Luis Borges, Eavan Boland and Seamus Heaney, but my stuff is more influenced by the poets I get to see on stage today. People like T.M/O, Romina Ramos, Cookie Love, Joy France... I'll stop, but there are dozens!

 

 

We have to ask this one now; it’s become our trademark. What do you have on your chips? Come on; we won’t judge. Much.

 

Proper chip shop chips, salt, and enough vinegar that the smell from the bag can clear your sinuses. Heaven. (Editor note: this is the perfect response. Bravo.)

What do you think drives people to create poetry, and what do you think of the current boom in spoken word and poetry writing?

People want to hear others and be heard. Poetry is a free way of doing that in every sense. I think many people getting into it are finding out that poetry today is very different to what we got taught in school; it reflects who we are now and what we find funny, inspiring, moving. That's an exciting thing to be a part of.

Which poem do you wish you had written and why?

 

This Be The Verse by Philip Larkin. It was my dad's favourite.

 

 

What do you hope to achieve with your poetry?

 

I think I mostly answered this in the artist question! I'll add one more thing: book sales.

 

You’re known to many as one of the nicest blokes on the scene. Why do you think you’ve got that moniker?

 

I'm laughing trying to answer this question because I don't think there's a way to do it without sounding like a dick. I don't know. Things are hard for everyone at the moment, why not be nice? People on the scene inspire me, least I can do in return is be decent!

Tell Us What We Are arrived April 2023, and is available to buy now. 

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