An Interview With Josh Seigal

An interview by Sophie Jones.

Joshua Seigal is a London based poet, performing in schools, libraries, museums, bookshops, and festivals, and leading workshops with children nationwide. He has held residencies at various schools, while also writing and performing for adults, in comedy, spoken word, and variety nights. He is set to appear at So: To Speak 2018 Small Press Showcase event with Burning Eye Books, publisher of his first  poetry collection for adults, Advice for a Young Skydiver. Read a review of the collection here >

I spoke to him this week about Advice for a Young Skydiver and the transition from writing for children to writing for adults, but he assures me that there hadn’t “really been a transition, I have always written adults’ and children’s poems alongside one another. Actually, I was attracted to poetry in part via my interest in stand-up comedy, and my first attempts at poetry writing were for an adult audience.” After a couple of years on the open mic circuit he found that his “often very playful and whimsical” writing appealed adults as well as children. “I never set out to write for children,” he clarifies, but when his sister invited him to read his poems to her class, “the response I got blew me away. I thought, for the first and perhaps only time in my life, that this was something I was genuinely good at. I also believe that core themes such as loneliness apply to both adults and kids. Any adult who thinks children don’t acutely feel these kinds of emotions is patronising and misguided. I try to tap into themes and emotions that are universal, whether you are an adult or a child.”

With thematic similarities in his poetry for adults and for children, I ask if there are also any similarities in purpose. His school workshops, from which he gets 95% of his income as a “kids’ poet,” work towards developing literacy and communication skills. The poems themselves, however, intend to “get kids both laughing and thinking. I suppose, that that is pretty much my aim for my adult poems too.”

Whoever he’s writing for, Seigal’s poems are primarily for performance. Advice for a Young Skydiver is his first written collection of adult poetry, previously existing only on the open mic circuit. However, one of the main aims of publisher Burning Eye Books is to dispel the assumption that performance poetry does not transfer well to page, so I ask Seigal about his motivations for developing his comedy performance pieces into a written collection. “Partly it’s an ego/vanity thing,” but it is also a way to share some of the work from his MA in Creative Writing at Goldsmiths, and to act as merchandise that could be sold “for a tiny profit” at gigs. Mainly it’s that he’s “proud of that little body of work, and it would be nice if one or two other people got a chance to read it.” So who is the ideal reader/audience for Joshua Seigal?  “Anyone who is a human being who speaks English, although I enjoy performing for dogs too.” So if you’re an English-speaker, or a dog, you’ll be a perfect fit for the Small Press Showcase taking place on 3rd November at John Hansard Gallery. Tickets are available here.