Interview with Oliver James Lomax

Ahead of Oliver's poetry performance at We Invented the Weekend, we had the chance to ask him some questions

oliver james lomax

Q: How were you first introduced to poetry? Did a particular poet inspire you?

A: It must have been 1995, studying Seamus Heaney at Secondary School. I remember my English Teacher Mrs Gaffney asking me to read out loud to the class his poem Mid-Term Break. I mumbled through it, embarrassed, my voice half-breaking at the time, but those ending lines did something to me emotionally that a piece of writing had never done before. The feeling and connection seemed to take over my whole body, that experience has never left me. Both ‘Death of a Naturalist’ and ‘North’ by Heaney remain some of my favourite collections of poetry.

As a teenager I became more than a little obsessed with Bob Dylan. Dylan references Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud in his song ‘You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go’. I was so curious when I heard this that I headed out to buy my first ever book of poems, ‘A Season in Hell’ by Rimbaud. It certainly illuminated those early days living on a Bolton Council Estate. It was inspiring and overwhelming to me that he had written those poems when he was maybe only fifteen or sixteen years old.


Q: When you arrive at a new idea, do you ever find that poetry, in its pithy precision, can be a difficult way of communicating your thoughts? Why did you choose the poetic format?

A: Almost never. Poetry has become something of a verdict for me. I believe I lost the power of choice a long time ago. Of course, there are times when writing the work, that it is more difficult to come to terms with the theme and find the resolve. But that is the beauty of the journey, I never really know where the poem is going to take me, and I embrace this. I have tried to paint and sing but both of those moments are best left unsolved.

“I believe the oldest known poetic text dates back almost 3000 years, and for me poetry is more relevant than ever, as the most immediate expression of someone’s truth.”


Q: Much of your work looks to broadening literature’s reach and reappropriating it as a form of expression for the people, by the people. Why do you feel this is important?

A: I’m honoured to be able to connect with so many amazing young people every year when delivering poetry workshops, and I believe through sharing our experiences and writing poems we create a map of empathy.

“I see first-hand how poetry creates a sense of community, improves wellbeing, and offers young people the opportunity to find their own voice in what is a very challenging world.”

I’m proud to deliver sessions in collaboration with The Working Class Movement Library – their rare and beautiful archive inspires unique creativity, and importantly has the power to raise their class consciousness. It’s a privilege to be a part of this poetic journey and see young people become empowered by language.


Q: The Northern landscape, belonging and identity, are themes that run throughout your work. Can you explain why this is a pulse of intrigue for you?

A. I suppose these are just the things and places that happened to me, all I can do is respond poetically. Anything written in the landscape of memory is written here, and I’m not sure if my poems have a destination other than a sense of belonging.

“The ruins of Ladyshore Colliery on the banks of the River Irwell close to my childhood home continue to be a rich mine of spiritual and poetic connection for me. I find a real sense of otherness and elsewhere as I wander the site and it has offered the beginnings to many poems.”

My Nan, Margaret, is a recurring presence in my work. Her love, humour, and sadly her passing through dementia, are themes explored in my latest collection, ‘Burial of The Cameo’. I write about many things, but she is often the anchor. When I open the dialogue with her memory, I feel I can write with such honesty and vulnerability, that the poetic landscape seems to become vast and limitless. As Borges said, “Being with you and not being with you is the only way I have to measure time.”


Q: And lastly, as a mentor, if you were to hand down a book of poems to a pupil, which Greater Manchester poet would you chose and why?

There are so many wonderful Greater Manchester poets to choose from, but I would have to say Clare Pollard. Her first collection of poetry the ‘Heavy-Petting Zoo’ was written whilst she was still at school, and her most recent book ‘The Untameables’ is such a beautiful thing. Claire is an astonishing poet and writer, and like myself, a native of Bolton.


Thank you to Oliver for taking the time to answer our questions. Oliver was interviewed by our Trustee, Charlotte Lanigan.

Oliver James Lomax will be performing some of his poems on Manchester Lit & Phil’s Poetry Boat Cruise at the We Invented the Weekend festival, 15-16 June 2024. Visit the festival’s website for more information.


oliver james lomax

Oliver James Lomax

Oliver James Lomax is a poet, educator, and trustee of the Working-Class Movement Library in Salford. He passionately believes in cultural equality and the power of the arts to enable everyone in society to have a voice. A regular performer on the spoken word scene here in Greater Manchester and beyond, Oliver informs us that his appearance on Manchester Lit & Phil’s Poetry Boat at We Invented the Weekend will be the first time he has done a set on a boat.

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