Interview: Leyla Josephine, ‘You need to really take the audience on a journey’

Leyla Josephine is a performance poet, theatre maker, screenwriter, facilitator and project leader. 

She has had poems featured in The National, The Scotsman, The Guardian, Huffington Post, Upworthy, BBC Scotland, BBC Radio 4, BBC Social and Gutter magazine.

In 2022 she received funding from John Mather’s Rising Star award and developed a new play with National Theatre of Scotland, and her book In Public/In Private was published in October 2022.

She has also released a live album Archive:Live! which is available on all streaming sites. 

This year she performs at Glastonbury Festival and we caught up with her to talk about her performances, her book and the importance of performance. 

Q&A with Leyla Josephine

How does it feel to be performing on the Poetry&Words stage at this year’s Glastonbury Festival?

I’ve never been to Glastonbury before so I’m super excited. I don’t have any expectations of what the gig will be like but just to be amongst the buzz of it all is so so thrilling! I can’t wait. It will be really cool to be representing Scotland.

What can you tell us about your debut poetry collection In Public/In Private, released last year?

In Public/In Private came about because I’m interested in whether a poem can act as a gate between an inner and outer world. The collection is a lot about longing; longing for connection, attention, understanding. I want to tell people what my experience of life is so I don’t feel so alone. I’m not sure I’ve worked it all out and have answers but I feel like it was a solid attempt. I was always being asked why I was drawn to write about my own life experiences – honestly, I never knew how to write about anything else!

You’ve also released a live album – how important is that performance aspect to your poetry?

I was a performer first, so that has always been the root of my work and I arrived at poetry and spoken word because it was a really fast way of getting my thoughts out there. With the album I wanted to figure out a way of documenting my work that still kept the liveness that spoken word nights generate. The album, Archive:Live!, was an attempt at that. I think it captures the buzz of the event. You can stream it on all platforms now!

Will playing to a festival crowd change how you approach your performance?

Absolutely, there’s always a few people rough as hell or coming up in a corner. I think you’ve got to bring even more presence and wit. I think you need to really take the audience on a journey in order to capture them and keep them engaged – especially when there is so much other stuff going on.

Will you have a chance to check out any of the acts across the festival and is there anything you’re looking forward to seeing?

I can’t wait to see Iona Lee and Travis Alabanza at the Poetry&Words stage. I’m a big big Elton John fan so to see him will be a dream come true! I’m most looking forward to wandering around and finding all the hidden surprises I’ve heard exist at Glastonbury. I’m sure I’ll be collecting stories and poems as I go….

Leyla Josephine plays Poetry&Words at Glastonbury Festival on Friday and Saturday.

Find more about Leyla here