“I’ve never really seen myself as a writer, more somebody who happens to write. I didn’t grow up dreaming of being a poet. I always saw my body as a more likely avenue to success than my brain.”

I was good at football and running; I captained my Sunday League team and ran for my county. I didn’t massively excel in any academic subject, so I built my personality around sports. So even though writing is now a huge part of my daily life, I still something struggle to identify as a writer. Yet writing was always something I could do. It began when a couple of friends growing up noticed it first. I think we were writing silly raps in history class and one of them nodded and claimed something I’d written was pretty good.

From there, writing was something I occasionally did. They were neither raps nor poems, just things that rhymed and sometimes, I’d show my mates. They’d listen, nod, comment on how they liked it, and that was that. To be fair, I didn’t have any more ambition with it. I was happy with that relationship. I wrote to impress them, make them laugh, and occasionally make them sad. It wasn’t until I started working as a youth worker that I began to see it as a tool I could use.

One of my first jobs was to work with a group of lads from Saint Ann’s in Nottingham over the summer of 2013. It wasn’t the most challenging job in the world. I was 21, they were 16 going on 17, and were pretty much the same as my friends back at home. They relaxed by going on the Xbox, playing football, and writing songs or raps, which mainly took the mick out of each other. After our first day together, we found our similarities.

We spent the whole summer writing in the spaces between the organised activities the programme had organised. It was interesting watching the way the writing sessions developed. At first, they were full of bravado and didn’t dig beneath the surface but, slowly, more serious topics emerged as they became more comfortable with each other and me. By the end, we had covered deaths, close friends, relationships with the police, fears, and anxieties about the future, and raised money by spontaneously performing on buses around Nottingham.

The thing with creative writing sessions is they give people a space to breathe and open up. They build confidence, help articulate trauma, and help people realise who they are. They allow people to reflect on their world while giving them a platform to speak about it.

I’ve now run sessions in all scenarios. From youth centres in Moss Side, Moston, and Brinnington, to Pupil Referral Units, Homeless Centres, and with displaced young people across a few cities. I’ve even had the absolute pleasure of going out to Belfast and working in an ex-army base, where young people from both the Catholic and Protestant sides of the city came together and shared stories.

The more I ran these sessions, the more I fell in love with the art form. I began to meet actual poets – poets who read the stuff – Roma Havers in particular. Roma was the first person who took a keen interest in my poetry. We met through both Contact and Young Identity. I reached out to her in the first lockdown and sent her a few things I’d written. She liked them and told me that I should try and build them into a collection. So we met, via zoom, once every two weeks.

For the first time in my life I was in a session but not as the facilitator, and like the group of lads from Nottingham, the more we met, the more I began to reflect on different moments of my own life. Slowly themes began to emerge, such as class, masculinity and mental health. I wrote poems about religion, my relationship with this country, and my own body.

It’s a strange process building a collection. You begin to realise what makes you who you are and how often these events are totally out of your control. For example, my GCSEs were the same year of the financial crash. I can’t help but wonder how my grades and my friends’ grades were affected by the entire world economy crashing around us. Then, this affects the music you listen to and the culture you engage in. At that point, I was obsessed with British Hip Hop like Leaf Dog, Chester P, Speech Debelle and Ronnie Bosh. They all rap about being skint, lacking direction and feeling angry. It’s music that feels tied to the recession. These writers also introduced me to lyricism, rhyme, and metaphor. They played a crucial role in my development as a writer, and you can hear their influence throughout this collection.

With all this in mind, I’m sharing a poem called ‘Doglike’ with this article. It’s one of the first poems I wrote for this collection; it’s a true story based on a conversation I had with my childhood friend. It’s an honest piece about being caught in a challenging situation. It’s a piece where I reflect on my own privilege and how we used our bodies to build hierarchies when we were young. It looks at the difficult economic situation many people are forced to live under. But, most of all, I hope it’s a piece that shows something that I learned through my years working with young people; humans often aren’t their behaviour. We’re all much more complex than that.

Watch Doglike

Returning to his hometown after some time away, a young man catches up with an old friend and discovers just how different they’ve become in this spoken word film that explores how inequality stifles opportunity for many young men from working-class backgrounds.

New Creatives is supported by Arts Council England and BBC Arts

Writer / Director – Rory Aaron
Producer – Naomi Ayres
Director of Photography – Daniel McPake

About Rory

Rory is a published writer from Derby but based in Manchester. In 2020 he was part of the BBC New Creatives programme, during which he published his first poetry collection with Bearded Badger Publishing. He is currently being funded by Arts Council England for his second collection. Rory recently directed his first show, ‘The House Is On Fire,’ with Contact, and Derby Theatre has commissioned him to turn his long narrative poem ‘This Town’ into a show for spring 2023.

Follow Rory:

Instagram: @rory.aaron
Website: www.roryaaron.com