I’ve been a fan of award-winning Scottish poet Michael Pedersen ever since we shared a stage at the now defunct Hell Fire Club for a Word Christchurch event. Despite a particularly drunk heckler, Michael managed to hold the audience as he talked in his thick accent about love, sex and oysters. I remember being struck by the powerful images he created with such simple language.
The 35-year-old is returning to Aotearoa this month, hitting the road with yours truly and Australian poet, Omar Musa, to traverse the country performing poetry. I caught up with Michael ahead of the tour to talk influences, inspiration and being self-taught.
Finding his own path
The more traditional poetry Michael was taught at school failed to spark his interest until later in life, and to this day he remains largely self-taught. “I’ve read an abundant number of poetry books from across the globe—contemporary to centuries back—and discussed and debated work that resonated for me and why, but that’s as scholarly as I’ve been in the field.”
Michael’s real introduction to poetry came after he found a book by fellow Scottish poet, Tom Buchan, in his mother’s bookshelf.
“It blew my socks off,” Michaell says. “It was profane, political and perverse at the same time as being hilarious and philosophical—like nothing I’d ever read.” Not only did the subject matter and tone of Buchan’s work resonate with him, but he found they had a shared geography, too. Tom Buchan had been a resident of Portobello—the same coastal suburb in Edinburgh where Michael had attended high school—and had written many of the poems in this book there.
“It was profane, political and perverse at the same time as being hilarious and philosophical—like nothing I’d ever read.”
“It was perfectly possible we spotted the same rogue seagull or submarine emerging from the Firth of Forth,” Michael muses. “Less whimsically put, we might have ended up next to each other in the queue for the chippy or waiting on a free pisser. So Tom made the poet not a fictional beast but a shitting, pissing, wayward wandering human in my crash path.”
Michael Pedersen on stage
Collectives, troupes and promoting others
One thing that struck me about Micheal’s poetry when I saw him live was its originality, both in terms of the writing and his delivery. His poetry is lyrical without following a meter and the cadence of his voice rises and falls as he belts out the lines. I asked him about his influences and how he came up with his unique style.
“Bouncing my own ideas off the books I loved will always be a trigger. I was a big fantasy literature zealot growing into my adult bones.”
“Fucking things up and concocting elaborate ways of apologising was a big one for me. Still is,” he says. “The poem being an opportunity to present the version of reality that was intended from the outset—an offering to mollify mis-timed conversations and botched batches.”
He says the literature he grew up with is another big influence on his work. “Bouncing my own ideas off the books I loved will always be a trigger. I was a big fantasy literature zealot growing into my adult bones—Tolkien and Mervyn Peake especially. Then moving onto Utopia and Dystopia in the words of George Orwell and Aldous Huxley.”
As well as working on his own creative pursuits, Michael has been helping to promote other artists through his Neu! Reekie! project, which he describes as a “literary collective, events troupe, micro-publishing house, record label and beyond.” Over the last nine years they’ve been busy putting on award-winning events in Scotland and around the world and working with names like Margaret Atwood, Akala, and Mark Cousins.
“Each event is curated as much like a theatre show or exhibition as it is an arts showcase. So, maybe a pastiche of each or maybe nowt too much like any of them. We host takeovers for National Galleries, National Museums and major arts festivals as well as plugging away at our more experimental core shows.”
Heart for Aotearoa
Michael says he’s looking forward to exploring more of Aotearoa on his second trip to our shores.
“Oh yeah, I gobbled up that first visit and am chuffed cherry red to be coming back. I marvelled at the landscape the whole way and found time to canter off into some hills during a tour of the stunning Boneline Vineyard… Many of my favourite things about Scotland are true too of New Zealand; these lumps of rock share synergies and both boast a bounding beauty.”
Catch Michael with Dominic Hoey and Omar Musa on their New Zealand Tour, starting November 8th.
Featherston- Royal Hotel. 8th Nov - Tickets
Wellington - LitCrawl, Caroline. 9th Nov (pay at the door)
Nelson - Deville. 13th Nov - Tickets
Takaka - Mussel Inn. 14th Nov - Tickets
Christchurch - Cassels Blue Smoke. 15th Nov - Tickets
Auckland - Wine Cellar. 16th Nov - Tickets