South London born poet James Massiah is one of the most original talents working today. Little wonder, then, that he recently caught the eye of Barbour International as part of their “Badge of an Original” series. Debuting a bespoke piece of poetry that explores what it means to be a unique artist, we caught up with Massiah to discuss London, transformation and the power of staying – you guessed it – original. Check out the poem, and read the chat, below.
London is a consistent theme through your work, like it is in this poem. Have your surroundings always been a source of inspiration for you?
Yeah, definitely. Place isn’t always an essential part of the content or the themes of the poem but I guess in terms of the language I use, it’s very much London culture, London talk, London slang. The cultural references that come from having lived here my entire life, working here, playing here. Almost independent of whether or not I want it to, my poems are gonna feel like London.
What was it like to be approached by Barbour International for this project?
It’s an honour. It’s always an honour when someone approaches you to do what you love. I’m a fan of the brand. I sent them some pictures of me when I was quite a bit younger, wearing my first Barbour International jacket. It was a full circle moment. I think some of the older boys used to rock the wax ones and I’d always be waiting for my chance to get the hand-me-downs. So I’ve always been a big fan of the brand. It was an honour, definitely.
Did you use the brand’s history as inspiration for your poem?
For me it was fully my history of the brand. I wasn’t gonna tell any story that wasn’t my own. You know when I talk about the older boys and wanting to emulate them, those were some of the references about going up and down London. I’d do that in my Barbour International jacket, going up and down from this station to that station to get to gigs. It’s all my own story, relative to that.
Would you say the people around you often play a part in your writing process?
To an extent, yes. The people I interact and engage with: friends, London, enemies even [laughs]. It’s all feeding, all part of it, it all goes into the mix. When I’m trying to tell a story or evoke a feeling, I wanna do it in a way that’s humorous, original and innovative. I guess it’s not so much about them but trying to tell stories about our time together. Almost like a time capsule. That was my hope with the Barbour International poem – the hope that my friends would see that and remember that time we did that. They’re not the only inspiration but there definitely is a desire to cherish the moments we’ve had together and put them into these poems.
Your project with Barbour International is about being an original: do you ever find it difficult staying original?
No, not at all. My story is my story. Other people make poetry or music but the way that I do it is me. I think there’s some topics some people wouldn’t address or if they did, they wouldn’t write them in the way that I do. I spend a lot of time trying to find the best way to express my ideas. You know, some people say that when they see or hear a poem of mine, they know immediately because of the way that I’ve written or phrased it. So that’s not something I struggle with or get disillusioned by. People do emulate it and what not but I see that as a compliment over anything else. When someone sends me a poem and says: “Oh yeah, I wrote this one in your style,” it’s just a good thing to see. And I’ve been doing it for a long time now. You should hope that someone would have found their own way to express themselves and make their voice stand out and be an original.