Olly Todd has ridden for Slam for a long time now, ever since moving to London. Whether filming for the seminal Landscape video ‘Portraits’, jetting off regularly to California for Stereo, gathering footage for Josh Stewart masterpieces or busy in the city streets as a Palace pro, Slam has been a part of his journey as it has changed and evolved. Toddy visits have brightened our days on many occasions and we were lucky enough to receive one today. He came by to sign copies of his book Odeum Spotlights which was just published by Rough Trade books. Keen to support our team in whatever way we can, we decided we would expand our inventory and include this new publication. We also caught up with Olly in this interview about his writing process, where it all began, how this new book came about and more…
When did you first gravitate towards poetry as an outlet?
I was always interested in English Language as a subject at school and, having chosen it for A Levels, enjoyed the creative writing side of it. This led to me writing a few bits in my free time, and ultimately informed what I chose to do at University. So I’d say it was while at Uni (in Liverpool) when I gravitated towards poetry.
Who would you cite as an early influence?
Being in Liverpool, I was keen to get a sense of the city through its literature, and discovered the Mersey Sound poets: Roger McGough, Brian Patten and Adrian Henri. I thought their stuff was great.
Many people will be unaware that you write poetry. It’s something you have managed to keep separate from your life as a skateboarder until now! How does it feel now that this book is out there? Is it liberating in a way?
Yeah, I suppose I’ve kept the two worlds separate. Not for any reason really other than I suppose I didn’t want to distract from my image as a sponsored skater or whatever. Also, socially I’m not very vocal about myself in general, so probably just didn’t mention it much. Yeah it is liberating in a way; having something to promote I guess makes it more relevant to talk about.
How did this release come about?
I’d been working on a group of poems with the aim of trying to get something pamphlet-length published. Just before Christmas last year I heard about Rough Trade’s plans to launch a literary imprint of their operation. I chatted to them about submitting something, and thankfully they were kind enough to accept. It’s so rad, and fitting, because of Slam and Rough Trade’s shared history. My pamphlet is number 12 in a series called Rough Trade Editions. The series features fiction, photography, poetry and more, and includes some amazing authors like Jon Savage, Selena Godden and Joe Dunthorne so it’s a real privilege to be a part of.
You were writing a lot and sitting on work when you first became part of a community of other writers. How long ago was it that you met this crew and began embarking on projects with them?
Yeah I was writing and pretty much just putting the poems in a desk drawer. Although I did once make a little photocopied zine of them at a Kinkos in LA. Stuart Hammond saw a copy, which led to him bringing me along to a poetry reading at a pub in New Cross. There I met Rachael Allen and Sam Buchan-Watts, Goldsmiths under-grads at the time and editors of the Clinic Presents anthology series. They were super pro-actively putting on poetry readings and events around South London. It was my first introduction to any kind of literary community; they’d ask me to read at their events, and were kind enough to publish a few of my poems in their earlier anthologies. This was about 2010 when we met I guess.
After meeting that collective of different authors and poets you also began to do readings. Do you remember your first poetry reading? How was it?
Summer’s evening, New Cross, Amersham Arms upstairs room. Absolutely terrifying.
How many would you say you have done? Does it get easier?
I probably only ended up doing about six or seven. In my experience, it got progressively more difficult, so I kinda quit doing it. The main reason I agreed to do it in the first place was because I was scared of it, and wanted to overcome that fear. But I’m the most reluctant public reader. I genuinely write for the page, not the stage. It’s the same as skating. It’s cool to film videos and stuff, but I’d much rather not skate in front of people.
What other poets from that group should we look out for?
Rachael Allen, Sam Buchan-Watts, Sophie Collins, Jack Underwood, Harriet Moore. Some of the raddest British poets in the game right now.
Will you be doing any readings to support this release?
I’m afraid so – gritted teeth emoji.
Your day job involves copywriting. How would you say this effects writing for leisure when you have free time?
It’s not ideal. While the stuff I write for work is commercial and obviously very different to what I choose to write for myself, it sometimes feels like my daily allowance of writing resources has been used up by the time I get home. Plus I’m staring at the screen all day, so the last thing I want to do is do that all evening too, but I find time on the weekends and stuff.
Do you find yourself churning out work or is inspiration sporadic?
‘The ball kicked in from somewhere’, to paraphrase Seamus Heaney’s description of receiving ideas for poems, is pretty much on the money I’d say. But then again, John Cooper Clark says inspiration is for amateurs. So a bit of both is probably the right balance.
Does having a skateboarder’s brain benefit writing in any way?
I’d like to think so. There are parallels I reckon. Mainly in how you choose to curate: the tricks you choose to put together in a line; the words or sentences you choose to put together in a poem or piece of writing.
For a time you were writing thought to page, without notes, onto your typewriter before owning any kind of iOS device. Is the typewriter still part of your process?
Not any more sadly. I was given a typewriter as a gift, and found it worked really well for my process at the time. This was back before they became a must-have trendy accessory, and you could pick them up super cheap in second hand shops and stuff. So rather than travel around with mine, I’d sometimes buy second hand typewriters on skate trips and leave them wherever I was staying. I was a late adopter of technology, but I did eventually get a laptop which is way more convenient – saves me a lot of money on tip-ex too.
We are looking forward to reading your new work. Is there a space in time/event or specific influence which connects all of the poems?
No real connective thread other than general themes of memory and place, but sort of reimagined.
Can you give us the name of any poets we should check out who you think are masters of the craft?
There are so many, but August Kleinzahler, Frank O’Hara, Frederick Seidel, Michael Hofmann, Alice Oswald, Lemn Sissay, Clare Pollard are some of my faves.
Can we expect this relationship with Rough Trade Books to blossom into more published work in the future?
I’d be stoked if it did.
Do you have advice for anyone out there who is inclined to write and pursue their hobby as you have done?
Like so many things, I guess it’s just about putting the time in. Sit down and write. But also read as much as you can, especially contemporary authors, but also from different eras and countries. Go to local events and meet other writers. See if you can join a workshop group where you can peer-review your work. Check if your local library runs workshops or maybe even set up your own with friends.
We have a limited number of copies of Odeum Spotlight for sale signed by Olly Todd himself. Get your copy HERE