Natasha Jane is a Creative Londoner who has found a unique place for poetry in her creative life.
I meet Natasha beneath Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square as we have arranged. But winter’s touch has already embedded itself within London’s air and we quickly take our interview to a nearby bookshop.
Natasha begins by telling me that her entrance into adulthood was marked by two desires: one to leave home and another to be creative. But, as she would find out, it took time for her to work out the relationship between the two.
Growing up in a small village in England’s dead centre — equidistant from the coast in every direction and an hour outside of London. She found it the perfect space to nurture her own early understanding of life by reading books and playing the guitar.
It also provided a creative sustenance that led her to pursue art throughout school. Through the medium of painting, Natasha was able to investigate her budding conceptual mind visually and grow a proficient vocabulary in languages of artistry. She advanced in art more than any other subject. By A Level, she was bouncing her ideas between English literature classes, where she studied the Romantics, and art classes, where she put her thoughts to paper.
But, naturally, she outgrew the place that had been instrumental in helping her artistic development. Her home, once a cocoon of creativity, no longer served a purpose for her artistic sensibility. By the age of 17, she had decided to leave. She took herself to the other side of the world: Sydney, Australia.
As Natasha would find, escapism and creativity have an intimate but complex relationship. Before long, the overwhelming sense of freedom subsided and her impulsive decision to move so far from home was met with not joy but frustration. She had not brought her guitar with her, nor did she have the opportunity to paint. There was something happening to her that was so consuming that she hadn’t been able to pay attention to the frustration: she had encountered her first love — though love became heartbreak when she returned to the UK to start university.
Natasha’s commencement of university was marred by her immediate transfer from English Literature, the programme of choice that appealed to her heart, to International Relations, a programme of reason that appealed to her head. While English Literature would have been a course in which she could study her passion, International Relations seemed to promise a more secure future. The academic work was tough because it was not her main passion. As so much of her identity had been tied to her love of English literature, she soon began asking herself the question: “Who am I?”
I don’t really know when it started. There was this point in second year of uni at which I realised that how I had been feeling — constantly unhappy — wasn’t normal. That’s how crazy it was: I didn’t realise that that wasn’t normal, as weird as that sounds, because it had been all that I had known for so long. I didn’t understand that I was feeling that way because it was just the norm.
“There are certain muscles in your back that if you strain or hurt them and they are extended and tensed for a long period of time, they forget how to contract because the brain thinks that’s normal. So you have to stick pins in them to send a message to the brain for them to contract again. It’s like that, but it’s a mood instead.”
Life, for Natasha, was not well-balanced. She had no time for creativity. Nor did it get any better by the start of second year.
Each summer, though, Natasha kept running. She went to India, Greece, and back to Australia. If her creativity found no medium throughout university life, it found even less on the road.
After uni, Natasha went to Kenya. There, she made a discovery. Interested in exploring mental health at a deeper level, she discovered a couple of creatives who were putting on poetry events around the theme. Before she knew it, she had written a poem and was performing it at the event.
The event would become a formative moment in her rebirth as a creative. Poetry has been her go-to outlet ever since.
Creative Londoners: How did you feel on your first attempt at spoken word?
Natasha Jane: I think when you’re in another country you have less inhibitions. You really don’t know anyone. And you have the magical passport of no-one knowing you. There’s something about being abroad that’s really fantasy-ish. So I did it.
I was s******* myself. I was so scared. But then once I’d done it I had such an adrenaline rush and I was really proud. I got the bug then.
This soon followed a wealth of further investigation into the medium’s contemporary iterations. She found affinities with poets such as Rupi Kaur, but also drew influence from singers such as Solange and rap artists such as Kendrick Lamar, Chance the Rapper and even some (though not all) Kanye West.
Creative Londoners: How do you feel in the process of writing a poem?
Natasha Jane: Sometimes I write in the heat of the moment: Imagine punching a boxing bag when you feel like you need to. Sometimes it takes more time: I put thoughts down and I read around and wait for more thoughts to come to me. Sometimes it is in the editing process that the rush comes: I know what I’m trying to say but I don’t know what the form is. So I write things down and I go back and cut it, pull meaning out of it.
When I first started writing poems, I dived in each time I sat down with the pen because the poems were so painful — it was a rush every time. My life’s in such a different place now. I need to make sure I don’t lose it. I write more when I’m sad; the more balanced I’m feeling the less I write. I need to learn to have a less crazy relationship with my work. I think I’d go insane without a creative outlet.
Creative Londoners: What is the purpose of poetry for you?
Natasha Jane: Poetry is meant to make you feel something. So much is happening in the world that causes so much pain and people don’t talk about it enough. There’s so much s*** going on. I think everyone’s a little bit on edge all the time. So if you read something that makes it feel like someone understands you, I think that’s nice; I think that’s quite powerful.
It’s not the same but the modern reincarnation of that — even meme culture — you see this thing that’s so relatable and it goes viral and everyone sees it. There’s a real link between certain types of memes and mental health, for example, whether they’re very cynical memes. They have this saying on them and people read it and think “this is exactly how I’m feeling”, and then send it their friends who are like “me too”.
My poetry is quite mental health focused. My chief agenda is to open people’s eyes to what it’s like in my head. A lot of people don’t know what it’s like unless they’ve been through it.
I think a slightly removed element of that also relates to poetry — not that I’m comparing my poetry to memes. I think it’s just to make you feel something, mixed in with a bit of escapism, and with the ability to make you think differently. I think a lot of what I’ve learned about life growing up is from books. There’s so much to be learned about the human condition, the way people think, understanding how to be empathetic, and putting yourself in someone else’s shoes by reading stories. Poetry is just another version of that.
Maybe it’s a healing thing as well. Poems help people understand each other. My poetry doesn’t really touch on these themes so much, but have you read The Good Immigrant? It’s a collection of short stories, and it’s amazing because it’s written from the point of view of people who would be considered immigrants. It shows people what it’s like to be in their shoes.
Creative Londoners: Who do you think you’d be if you’d continued with English Literature at university?
Natasha Jane: Maybe a more established poet, or someone working at a fashion magazine. I think that my joy in life is telling stories, or expressing stories. I used to do that with my art as well: when I painted I would have massive, conceptual things in my head, not just pictures.
Ultimately, the story finds itself up-to-date with Natasha back in the UK.
Creative Londoners: What brought you to London?
Natasha Jane: It’s quite a deep story. I’ve had depression for a long time. And I realised in a few therapy sessions that part of the cause of it was that I was always seeking security because home was quite difficult sometimes. Home is a weird place anyway, because there’s no real life there for me beyond my childhood. But there was always the stipulation that wherever I was going to be I would have to finance it — so either it would have to be paid for or I would have to earn money for it. I didn’t have all of that backing and didn’t feel I could ask for it. But I didn’t want to be at home because home was too difficult.
I burned out in year three of uni because I had been running for so long. I completely crashed. It was the hardest year. But that was also the year I started writing — it was part of the healing process. With the experience of hunting around the world for the ideal situation where I feel at home, where I feel safe, where I enjoy life, I’ve really thought about where I should live in the world, what makes me happy, and what kind of life I want. I’ve thought about it so much. In terms of job security and balancing my mental health, my job now has turned out to be the best of all world, for now, until I have more of a foundation.
There’s this thing you can do when you move around a lot. It’s understanding what’s in your suitcase. I don’t mean your suitcase as in that one bag of things you take no matter where you go, whether you’re going to uni, whether you’re going home or travelling. I’m talking about your mental suitcase. What do you need to be happy and survive all the time within yourself?
For me that means having friends nearby, having relationships that ground me, having a support network, going to the gym, knowing where certain things are and being OK in my environment, having money to sustain myself. Trying to find what fits that suitcase is part of what brought me here because there was just this constellation of right circumstances that ended me up here.
Having said that, I hate the weather.