Charly Cox is a bestselling poet and mental health advocate. Her first published work, She Must Be Mad, quickly became the U.K.’s bestselling poetry debut of 2018, followed by Validate Me – a raw account of the highs and lows of a life lived online. Charly’s journey to critical acclaim is refreshingly different from the traditional literary route her peers pursued. From leaving school – crippled by anxiety and depression – to award-winning wordsmith, Charly’s poetry de-stigmatises mental health and eruditely captures what it means to be a woman in the modern world.
What inspired you to first put pen to paper?
I just – always have. There was never a time before writing other than perhaps when I didn’t know how to. I’ve kept a diary since I was four years old (as scintillating as you would imagine) and my Grandfather and I used to make up rhymes over the phone. I think writing poetry started as something I wanted to impress him with and then it became a bit of a lifeline. It’s wonderful to have a way to express yourself that has no rules. There is no right or wrong way to write a poem. There’s no bad poem. There are just ones you don’t agree with.
How did your writing evolve from a therapeutic outlet into a creative career?
I started sharing them with friends. I’d write poems on their birthday and then perform them at parties and when I was fed up with my last job they all said ‘...Why don’t you start showing other people your poetry?’. So I did. Thank god for the internet.
‘Poet’ is a magical job title! When did you first consider yourself one and how do you avoid the perils of validation and labelling?
Thank you! It’s fun, isn’t it? The term used to make me shudder, classic impostor syndrome. The writer and journalist Elizabeth Day interviewed me for her podcast How To Fail last year and she introduced me as a Poet and I thought ‘Well if HRH Day has said it, it must be true.’ The truth is though, the only real thing that makes anyone a Poet is that they write poetry. You could say you were on one tomorrow if you really wanted to, you’d just have to write a poem. I think the idea of creative labels needing to be earned is rubbish and a classist way of disabling creativity.
Your poetry is brutally honest, tackling themes such as coming of age, body image and mental illness. How does mining the past help you make sense of the future? Can you balance creative introspection with healthy mental well-being?
It’s great to be able to have such vulnerable insight into your past. You tend to only remember things in a very biased way – having your feelings documented ensures you have your own honest personal truth. I look at things I wrote years ago and have a greater sense of empathy for myself than I did at the time. It tends to be heartbreaking but it ensures the kindness I show to myself and others in the present or future is as stealthy as I wish it had been.
Spoken word and performance poetry is becoming more mainstream. How do you summon the courage to perform such personal compositions?
Humour! And remembering the personal is always the most universal. There is no overshare I’ve come across that has prompted hate from the audience. Not yet, anyway.