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Writing with Kids:
In conversation with Apollo,
Foyle Young Poet 2015 :
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Writing with Kids:
In conversation with Apollo,
Foyle Young Poet 2015

Apollo recently had a name change because, ‘my legal name was gendered and therefore inapplicable.’ Apollo also uses the widely recognised gender neutral ‘they’ and ‘their’ instead of ‘he’ or she.’ Finding your identity through the stormy seas of adolescence is a real challenge but one that Apollo has embraced with courage and authenticity.

Although of Russian origin, Apollo now lives in Farnborough, UK, and attends Wellington College where we met through the Creative Writing Society. Apollo has been writing with me for three years and is one of the most original young writers I know.

Apollo is currently working on a prequel of their first novel, Beneath The Cobblestones, as well as ‘a ton of random poetry I touch base on from time to time.’ To use Apollo’s own words: ‘I am an artist, feminist, and parent to a growing collection of succulents.’ The themes of witchcraft and space exploration are a common theme within their poetry and they hope to one day complete a poetic anthology of their works.

Here is a little insight into Apollo’s world:

Which three words would you use to describe yourself?

Stranger. Explorer. Supernova.

How would you describe your writing style?

Something that happened as an unsuccessful experiment and evolved to become it’s own species. It combines the scientific and the spiritual until you can’t tell one from the other and collages all this with real life.

What do you love most about writing?

I prefer poetry over prose because it doesn’t have to be written in words widely understood. It can be shaped into whatever the writer wants it to convey.

What do you find hardest about writing?

Finding the will to keep going when your soul’s been written out and your mind is blank.

Tell us a bit more about what inspired you to write the poem, which won the Foyle Poetry Competition 2015?

I’m often inspired by others’ ideas; you could even call me a thief in the trade. There was a poem by Tomaz Salamun that I copied the style of, and wrote something about myself and the person I was back then.

How did you feel when you heard you had won the competition and what was the award ceremony like?

I wasn’t having the best of days when I got the call. Needless to say that the day was dramatically improved, but I did spill tea all over myself in surprise. The ceremony itself was amazing and terrifying, with a plateful of chicken nuggets that I conveniently hoarded, and so many amazing people to meet.

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The dress Apollo made for the ceremony – one of many talents!

What next? What are you ambitions for the future?

I plan to focus on performance/slam poetry, and attempt to enter competitions such as this one. This is one of the first things I did in the sphere and it was a surprise to have won, and this fuels my confidence to expand my career as a poet.

How did you start writing and what or who has been the greatest influence in your writing life?

The English language was what first made me think in verse. I could never get into writing in my native language, Russian, but as soon as I became fluent in English I found the language fluid and malleable, and discovered the ability to do what I wished with the words.

I enjoyed the unruliness of the language and the amount of puns you can fit into a single sentence.

Throughout my writing life I have looked up to the Romantic era for poetic inspiration, as well as more contemporary works. I was always attracted to darker poetry, and attempted to include the darkness of human nature in mine.

You wrote your award-winning poem on an Arvon Schools Course. Tell us a bit about what makes Arvon special and what it means to you.

Arvon’s natural surroundings and the emotional rawness I experience when I go on courses can almost be addictive. There is a certain freedom that a human soul experiences when you’re at an Arvon course, and there is a freedom you seldom get anywhere else, both physically and spiritually. Besides, they stock amazing tea.

If you could choose a superpower, what would it be?

The ability to shapeshift or wings of some kind. They are two separate freedoms: on of personal expression, the other a physical manifestation of being free. But at the same time I lean towards something subtle that won’t put me in charge of saving the world. Such as the ability to be a walking wifi rooter, or be able to stop little kids from crying instantly.

Which fictional character would you most like to meet?

Blue Sargent from The Raven Cycle, because her attitude to fashion (non-existent and DIY to the core) is very similar to mine, and every other woman in her household is a practicing psychic, a field I am interested in. Also, Grantaire from Les Miserables (I am obsessed with this work of fiction) simply to give him a hug.

Do you have any writing tics that you’re forever editing out?

My inconsistency in writing, and a habit to doodle on all my sheets of poetry I happen to write.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

I wish there was a different answer, but procrastination and schoolwork seems to be the answer here. Procrastination includes music, straying to songwriting, art, my succulents and my witchcraft. Sometimes I involve myself in social justice rants.

What are you reading at the moment?

The Raven Cycle series by Maggie Stiefvater. I’m on the second book, The Dream Thieves.

What’s the most important lesson life has taught you?

Never judge anyone. Ever. And never stop practicing.

What song or piece of music would you choose as the theme tune to your life?

Highway To Hell by ACDC, a well known classic that I never feel brave enough to embody. And, since I never leave musicals out of my daily life, Who Will Love Me As I Am from Side Show.

Where do you write?

Everywhere and anywhere, most often behind the maths textbook.

What or who inspires you?

Humanity and their perseverance with the world. And space.

When were you happiest?

Alone with nature.

What three tips would you give young writers starting out?

  • Stop making excuses.
  • Take a notebook and write.
  • Don’t edit. Stop that right now.
  • What you gotta do is get yourself some tea and sit down and write. Once you start, it all gets easier.

(I think that’s four Apollo, but I’ll forgive you as you’re so inspiring!).

 

Here is the wonderful poem which won Apollo, Foyle Young Poet of 2015

 

. . . _ _ _ . . .
 
By Apollo
 
Arina Petrova is a hypothesis.
She is stardust. Melted chocolate.
She dances on the dark side of the moon.
She is a monster, a Dragon,
A story to scare,
To inspire.
She bathes in fire, forged
From an erupting volcano
On Jupiter.
Maybe, she should be admired,
Taken to a photo booth and savored for
Eternity on glossy paper, with
Her own fingerprints scattered in mazes
Across its drying surface.
Possibly she should be studied in a lab,
Examined, taken apart,
So that every bone, every droplet, every inkling
Of her body can be translated into Morse code. Or her soul.
Life is short, a blink, a Nano-second, and the body is worthless.
She is the Universe compressed into
One tiny speck, a tiny speck so large
It can take up lifetimes,
Pulsing, breathing,
Uncontrollable, non-existent,
Vulnerable, yet powerful.
She rides a surfboard in Solar Storms,
Catching dreams among the voids, and gets back home
In time for her fifth cup of peppermint tea.
She paints pictures
Upon her body with a blade,
Her fingers stained with
Vermillion ink. She lives
Inside her head, and sings
In the shower. Her hair is plaited with
Fragments of an exploded Nebula.
She untangles the knots, then
Walks the World barefoot.
And people shout, “We know her! Arina Petrova,
The one with voices in her head.”
She is bursting with color, and
The freedom is unbearable.
So cold. So broken. So ordinary.
A Supernova. A sliver of dying eternity.

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Here is Apollo’s first novel, self-bound. Next stop, Waterstones!