The Kids Are All Right: Interview With U.K. National Youth Slam Champion Ollie O'Neill

I met Ollie O'Neill at Listen Softly London, a live poetry event hosted by British poet Dominic Stevenson. Ollie is an eighteen year old slam poet from London, and is the U.K. National Youth Slam Champion (SLAMbassadors). She's an avid feminist and general loud mouth, which was just one of the things that attracted me to her. In fact, Ollie is doing it. She's on fire and I hope she keeps burning it up. Hey, the kids are all right.

Loren Kleinman (LK): You're young and prolific. How would your friends describe you in 20 words or less? How would they describe your writing style?

Ollie O'Neill (OO): "Ollie has a way of addressing extremely sensitive and personal issues in her poetry, and always manages to include a slight element of "f*ck you."'

LK: What sort of poetry are you most attracted to? Why?

OO: This probably sounds like a cliché, but I am most attracted to real poetry -- poetry you can really feel is based off of genuine emotion and honest experiences, especially when it comes to performance poetry, because it gives the audience a lot more room to interact with what is being said.

LK: The last time I saw you read was in London. You have a mix between rap and performance poetry. Talk about your writing style and your process.

OO: I really wish I could say that I have a particular method for writing poetry or drafting ideas but I write incredibly messily. If I sit down with the intention to write a poem the chances are it just won't happen. A lot of the time I think of one line and that one line will stick with me sometimes for weeks until I suddenly know what else I want to write, which annoyingly is often in a class or on some mode of public transport, so a lot of my ideas are half in notebooks and half in my phone, or on my laptop, and I then have to sit down eventually and merge them all together. I also speak a lot of my stuff out loud to see if it fits or whether it works which probably makes me look crazy on the bus.

LK: Who are some of your favorite writers or performers today? Why?

OO: My favorite performance poets would have to be Jeanann Verlee, Kate Tempest, Rudy Francisco and Joelle Taylor. All of these poets and their poems speak to me on a personal level, in particular the three women, as I love the way performance poetry is increasingly a platform for female voices. As well as being an incredible poet, Joelle Taylor has been endlessly supportive of me throughout my journey and I cannot thank her enough.

LK: Some of the themes that you bring up in your work have to do with building awareness of the LGBT community. What motivated you to write about these themes? And how are you inspiring youths to be themselves through your writing?

I was extremely fortunate in that family or friends never shunned me because of my sexuality. However that being said, it is a common misconception that there is no a longer a stigma attached to being LGBT -- although there has been a shift in attitudes we in no way live in a post homophobic society, and I believe one of the most important tools in fighting discrimination is for older LGBT people to provide the youth (both queer and heterosexual) with accessible role models so that a more positive outlook can be created for future generations.

LK: Do you consider yourself indie? Why? Why not?

OO: I can't lie, I had to go on Urban Dictionary to find out what that means... I don't think so? Am I?

LK: If you were stranded on a deserted island, who would you want for company?

OO: Definitely my girlfriend Talia -- she's the brains of the operation and I think I'd last all of about five minutes without her.

For more Ollie, watch her live on YouTube.