As we celebrate International Women’s Day with a series of features, Women’s Editor Lara Edwards speaks to poet and spoken word performer Catrin Roberts to discover how her love of poetry has helped her overcome anxiety, conquer fear and open up incredible new opportunities, while also allowing her to champion and raise awareness on some of the issues that are closest to her heart.
Lara Edwards: Catrin thank you for joining me for this interview. It is a joy and a pleasure to speak to you. I’ve had the opportunity to work with you on numerous occasions and I have always been amazed by the strength and vulnerability of your pieces. Would you tell me when you first discovered poetry?
Catrin Roberts: I was 9 years old in primary school. Every year we’d have an Eisteddfod, we’d get to be creative, write stories and truly embrace ourselves. There was a poetry competition and I was going through a phase of being fascinated by nature. So my fake name was Squirrel. I came 2nd in that competition but I never stood up to say it was me cause I was too distracted talking to my classmates. Oops!
L Edwards: I am curious to know whether you were a reader as a child or whether you preferred other forms of creativity? If so what ways did you use to express yourself?
C: No, I was definitely not a reader as a child, my mum used to call me “dolly daydream” which probably explains how I was like as a child. I preferred drawing, painting, putting stories together with pictures. Very visual, practical, and hands-on.
L Edwards: Were people in your family supportive of your creative hobbies?
C: My mum used to paint and draw when I was a kid and I’ve still kept one of her paintings that she did for a competition so that definitely courage me to share even though she was quite reserved and critical about her artwork.
L Edwards: Do you write under an alias now? If not, is it difficult to write under your own name and was that a big decision to make?
C: No. I like to be authentic. It is difficult to write under my own name as my poetry entries are like diary pieces and I am very much exposing my heart and soul when sharing them which is a very scary thing to do. It was not a decision that was made a spur of the moment it was very, very gradual as I had to get to a point of self-acceptance and realizing well if people don’t like it then they don’t have to come on this journey with me, they can step off and that may come to people naturally but it took me a very long time to gain that confidence I have now. It sounds that even though you were not writing much that you were definitely expressing yourself in other mediums.
L.Edwards: I admire that you have grown in confidence and self-awareness. It is definitely an ongoing journey for us all. I was bullied for being a bookworm and not having the interests of my peers. How did you find school?
C: Hell on earth. I really struggled to fight my battles. I suppose it created interesting poetry and short stories. It shaped me to be who I am today, but I couldn’t wait to get out of there.
L.Edwards: You mention that even though school was unpleasant it helped shape you into the person you are today are you comfortable sharing how the school experience affected you?
C: So personally, I think secondary school really worsened my social anxiety. You feel you’re in a goldfish bowl and kids can be so cruel at times because of how young and fearful they are of what others think. Social anxiety is usually developed around 13-14. I’m very close to my cousin who is that age at the minute and I see so much of myself in her, it’s unbelievable but she is so self-aware and much further ahead in understanding others’ actions than I ever was.
It gave me fear granted, it interfered with my daily life so so much, however, it gave me the strength and courage to do things that others would find terrifying. It’s one of those things where because I’ve become so used to having to face fear head on that I don’t think about it anymore, as I had to force myself to do everyday things that others take for granted and don’t think about, for example even stepping into the school environment, eating in front of others. My social anxiety led me to stop eating altogether anywhere but home because I was on such high alert all the time and it made me very unhealthy.
L.Edwards: Would you say that you are a bilingual poet as you write in both English and Welsh, and what do you enjoy the most about writing in both languages?
C: Yes. I’d like to write more poems in Welsh, I really would. I love the way it sounds when I’m reading out loud. It’s more special than when I’m performing in the English language. I guess it’s because Welsh is at my core and is my native language and I’m a sucker for the “ll” “ch” “r” sounds, it’s different and I’ve always identified with different.
L.Edwards: You mention that the fear you had held you back. Would this be in regards to experiencing social anxiety? Would you be willing to share your experience with this condition?
C: Yes, 1000%. I did give quite a bit of insight into the last question about it. It is so horrible when it affects your everyday life when you can’t even do simple tasks anymore, you feel as though there’s something wrong with you and it’s very, very isolating until you find someone who is like you and you’re like “hey it’s not just me.”
If you want to know about social anxiety, bipolar, schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, etc.,you have to go out and do the research yourself, I feel they need to be brought to the surface more, especially when you’re a young teenager as you have no idea what anyone is feeling, and nobody has the ability to check and see inside someone’s mind. There are more resources available now you have YouTube and all sorts of ways you can research, but it’s very difficult if you don’t know what you’re looking for.
I ended up coming across the term “social anxiety” on Google by accident. I knew I had anxiety and would try and find ways to calm myself at night but I didn’t know that there was a name for what I was truly feeling. I think some children would find it a comfort as I did, others not so much so. There are children who may no longer be with us today because they felt misunderstood or strange and unaware of how common it truly is. I spent a decade in loneliness and believing and wanting to be everyone else, it was painful.
L.Edwards: Did your attitude towards poetry and words change as you grew older?
C: Yes. I wanted to do song-writing when I was young. I had a few confidence knocks which hindered my progress. I always knew my only enemy was my own fear as I was never able to fully embrace that side of me.
L Edwards: How was your childhood experience of writing? Were you quite creative?
C: I wrote a lot of short stories when I was a child. Poetry wasn’t a thing for me until my aunt died, she meant a lot to us as a family. She was my mum’s little sister, she had Down Syndrome, and experiencing grief as a child at 9 years old was very confusing. None of it felt real. I did not keep my short stories but I kept my poems.
After she died, I used to write her letters and leave them under the bed and hidden places for her, believing that she would come back to us and retrieve them as an angel. The letters disappeared so it must’ve been true. Only now it’s clear that my mum would be doing her cleaning to find stuffed letters down the back of the sofa.
L Edwards: When your aunt died, which is a traumatic event, did writing help you with helping to process the feelings and grief that you were experiencing?
C: Yes, it did. Very much so. I may not have realized it then but it helped me express how much I truly missed her. She was a ray of sunshine, but she had Down Syndrome and she may have felt isolated and different at times and I wouldn’t have known. 13 years later and I still grieve for her presence, sometimes unexpectedly.
L Edwards: Would you say that one of the themes of your work is an appreciation for the world around you and strong emotional experiences? Would you say that writing is a way to express your deepest fears and wishes?
C: I’ve never thought about it that way but yes. I’d say writing is a form of expressing the things I can’t always explain in words. Sometimes it’s easier to describe how you’re feeling when you’re not put on the spot and have to think about it. Letting it flow freely.
L.Edwards: What advice would you offer to someone struggling with fear, anxiety and grief?
C: You’re never alone, as much as you feel it, I can guarantee you that everyone has their own demons, burdens and secrets. We just deal with them in different ways.
L. Edwards: How has poetry helped you to overcome obstacles and fears?
C: Poetry and writing itself has opened another door for me that I didn’t think was there. It gave me the strength to go on stage in front of multiple people BY CHOICE, not obligation and the confidence truly radiated from me that night. Each performance and piece takes me from strength to strength. I feel the steps only go upwards from now on and after so many years of wishing, it’s all going to be so worth it.
L.Edwards: Would you say poetry has helped you during the lockdown?
C: Yes, it has helped. It’s a form of relief, a way to express myself when words aren’t enough. I’ve been trying to get over someone during this pandemic which has been challenging to say the least and although I’m in a relationship, I found that everything I ignored and pushed aside in the previous years, came back up and that’s a confusing and frustrating situation when you’re grieving over something that happened a long time ago that’s gone.
L.Edwards: How did your journey into spoken word begin? How did you gain the confidence to share personal pieces of poetry?
C: I was already vulnerable, I already felt my heart was on my sleeve and that feeling of being so exposed was already present. It was a feeling of ‘I’ve got nothing else to lose, I’m already terrified how worse could it get?’ I’m blessed enough to have two best friends who are super sassy and I can always count on both of them to put people in their places and tell them how it is. I feel we protect each other and don’t judge one another’s choices no matter how out of line or “wrong” it is, we accept one another and it’s how we managed a decade of friendship together. Our community and those who make a positive impact on my life definitely help to influence me.
L.Edwards: When you first began to share poetry you were sharing in a small group. What made you take that leap when sharing your work? Did the community help with that support?
C: Yes. I needed confidence and support and as a human being I still do as I don’t feel I’m at my highest potential of self, I still have a way to go. What made me take the leap was grief, in a strange way you’re all brought closer together and I think because I could see who was physically and emotionally there for me and feel all this love and support after we lost someone so close to our hearts. It made me feel safe and secure that no matter if I got any hate or criticism they would be there no matter what. It makes me smile to know how many people I could count on to defend me and have my back if I ever got into a situation where I was treated badly or unfairly.
L.Edwards: Catrin you have come a long way since the early days can you tell me about some of your achievements.
C: I’d say getting up in front of however many people were at that Open Mic was enough of an achievement for me personally. Voicebox would be pretty cool as a next step, just writing it out and getting thoughts down on paper is enough to keep me happy at the moment.
L.Edwards: There is something special about poetry when it is performed out loud. Would you agree?
C: I would agree, yes. I find how someone decides to deliver the context interesting, an artist wants to convey a mood, a feeling or atmosphere as does any form of art and a voice brings colour and clarity.
L.Edwards: When you perform spoken word poetry you have been working on context for your pieces. Do you think that this helps with stage fright and becoming more comfortable with the audience?
C: Stage fright and public speaking was always my mortal enemy yet my strange best friend, my love/hate relationship. I truly do love performing, I love acting, I love the concept of putting yourself in another’s pair of shoes and feeling what the character feels, dressing how they would dress and acting how they’d act for that one night. It’s a thrill. I wanted to pursue a career in creative arts for a long time as a child however I’m glad I took a different direction. It is definitely a hobby. My stage fright often gets in the way of my passions, my fears restrict my dreams at times, however, I’ve read so many books, watched so many videos and guidance from confidence coaching that it is all there. I can be what I want to be. I just need to finish this journey of confidence and acceptance first.
L.Edwards: What advice would you give to anybody wanting to write or perform poetry?
C: I first performed at an Open Mic Night and I’m the most petrified public speaker known to mankind! I’d say be your own person. Everyone has a different style and flair when it comes to writing. Take inspiration but don’t clone yourself to others, or you’re just going to end up setting yourself up for failure as your inauthenticity will show through your work.
L.Edwards: Catrin thank you so much for joining me. I admire your bravery and am looking forward to seeing where this journey takes you. Where can people find you and discover more about your work?
You can often find me posting my work via my Youtube platform and in community groups and hopefully at more open mics soon, and possibly some online.
You can head over to my YouTube channel called Catrin or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for any follow-up questions.