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  • Writer's pictureLiam Xavier

Words & Origins: Hannah Murray & The Poetic Journey to Emotional Acceptance

Updated: Apr 11

Whenever I start a new series or project, I generally begin by involving my friends or peers to start it off. There's something special and more relaxed about opening it up with recognisable faces and established, contextual insights, before broadening it further.

That being said, Words & Origins is a new blogged interview series featuring a variety of creative voices talking about the behind-the-scenes experiences surrounding their bodies of work. In this, the first of many, I speak to one of my best friends and fellow poet Hannah Murray about her new book 'Mellow is the Melody'.

It's 22:42 and like the late-night writers we are, sleep is an allergy and so we've just spoken about my initial thoughts, about an obsession with using the word 'incendiary' in the one poem I got to help out with pre-publication and that one of my favourites from the book 'took forever to edit FYI jesus christ'. Having gotten over this initial post-read excitement, we dive into the conversation as I ask her to voice note her thoughts:

Liam Xavier: Forgetting that I've now read the book, had some insights and just focussing on if the book was just for your eyes only, what does Mellow is the Melody mean to you?

Hannah Murray: It means a lot to me because it feels like it's a tapestry - I think that's the word I want - of my life over 5 years that's kind of documenting all these things I've encountered or struggled or learned about myself and about how to cope with things. In that sense, it's kind of a way to look at my own life and what I've overcome.

LX: What does it mean to take something that personal and put it into other people's hands? How does that feel and how do you tackle the vulnerability of sharing poems that are quite deep and dark at points?

HM: So for the first part of your question, [...] it's incredibly intimidating to share something so personal, but I almost look at it as me writing this poem has helped me process those feelings and emotions and that could be something that is quite a hard topic [...] to talk about or to feel that way. Writing that and sharing that with somebody else could then allow them to process that feeling and feel better about it or make them see something from a different angle and understand themselves better. As scary as it is, it can be quite a freeing thing because you're allowing yourself to be seen and it's in your own words, so you're being perceived by people in a way that feels honest to you. I hope some of my poems do help people in some way - not necessarily saying it's going to change their lives - I hope it can help them see they're not the only ones experiencing that.

For the second bit, it is very scary to share the things that are more about struggles and are deep and darker at points: it makes you feel naked. The fact that you're putting them into words onto paper in a book that other people can see, you feel very exposed. I don't know if I do tackle it, I think I just kind of do it. But there's also a part of me that''s almost like I'm not aware people are reading it, like actually reading it....because I can't see them doing it, I find it less scary. But I always get nervous posting those types of poems, even on my Instagram and having that feedback there, so putting it in a book form is kind of a similar experience but there's also a barrier because I cant actually see people reading it, which makes me feel better. But I like the fact they'll be able to read it without me standing there, influencing that decision.

LX: Once you've got the poems out, you then need to figure out how to pick which poems you want to keep, which to get rid of and MITM is split into sections so what goes into that process of fine-tuning it for consumption?

HM: So [...] I selected all the poems I felt matched the overall theme and then I left it for a while and worked on some other things. When I came back to it, I was like 'I think I need to split this up[...] there needs to be some kind of thread to follow through the book that is a journey'. I didn't originally have section names, I just had the kind of words I associated with it or feelings. For instance, the first section was like a blue section so that was all gonna be poems about struggling and the sadder ones were going to go in that. My process of putting everything together was over a very long time, so there were lots of times where I came away from it for like a month or a couple of weeks and then I'd go back to it. I was revising poems, I was editing, and picking which ones I wanted to keep. There were a couple I took out and then put back in, so it took me a while to get it how it is now but essentially the criteria were that they had to fit the exact emotion, colour and vibe basically of that section and if it didn't, it had to move or it had to go.

LX: There's kinda like a business aspect to producing a book (feel free to disagree) compared to the emotionality of writing it. Do you ever struggle with that side of creating a book?

HM: I'm not sure if this answers the question, but I feel some poems were too personal to me, to other people in my life, that were too specific for the reader to relate to them. So I didn't think I could put that in because it wouldn't quite fit with the journey when other people read it. If I'm reading it's gonna make sense to me but I didn't think that would translate to anyone else. I guess because I'm coming from a self-publishing aspect, there's less criteria of what I need to meet, so it can be more what I want it to be, there's less restrictions on it. I don't know that I majorly considered it in a business aspect, it was more just whether I felt the poems would be relatable to the reader and whether the ones I'd put in there were too personal to me - that, I feel, was the main dilemma and there were some I just wasn't prepared to share.

LX: Not only do you have sections, but you have illustrations alongside them. In an ideal world, what do you want the reader to take from their experience through those specific sections individually and (separately) what was the idea behind the illustrations/why were they important to you?

HM: I'm quite a visual person so when I have an idea for a book, it has a certain feel to me; certain colours or associations. It can be a song or a film, anything really. So when I started sectioning it, each had its own very distinct feeling and that's why I had, in my promotions on Instagram, colour palettes and playlists that were assigned to each section because it was very important to me to convey that those things are what that section is.

So I wanted to have illustrations to be able to link all of those things into that section as the cover of it and I'm a very visual person so when I look at those illustrations, I know what that section is and it gives you a feel for what it is. I wanted the book to be a journey and I feel the illustrations also show that journey because it changes throughout and matches the section titles. I didn't just want to have a book full of poems that weren't distinguishable from one another and [...] I liked the idea of sectioning it off into 4 bits where you could decide to revisit that section today because that's what you're feeling, so Into The Blue is when you're struggling, or if you need a pick me up, you'd read something from Along The Pathways because that's when you're starting to find hope. I do think we're always cycling between all these parts of the book and you're never gonna stay in one, you're always going to move between them all so I thought it was important to show them as separate individual parts that were distinct, that you'd be able to go back to.

I also want to add that I got asked if the girl in the illustration is me and she isn't [...] I just had this image of what the girl looked like going through this journey, I imposed myself on her but she isn't me. It's her journey through this so I wanted her in each section to show the change that she goes through with the poems and where she eventually ends and I wanted to incorporate nature in that because that's what I write about a lot [...] I can see me in the girl, but I didn't want the girl to be me, I just wanted a girl.

While answering this question, I can hear the flicking of book pages in between her words, a separate punctuation to each point, and ask her if she's reading the book as she's speaking.

Having chided me for questioning her methods, we now move onto a follow-up point:

LX: Is there a reason you didn't want it (the girl) to be you?

HM: I don't actually know, I was just like 'I don't want it to be me'. I had an image in my head when I was describing what I wanted to the artist (Rein G) and that's what I had. I think maybe it's linked to the fact that, yes, these poems are mine, my emotions, my experiences and stuff but wanting to have a slight separation so that other people would be able to see themselves in it. I know most people aren't gonna know what I look like but I just liked the idea of it not being me, and also it's probably because I'm quite self-conscious, believe it or not. So having me in the book... even putting the author's image at the back was quite scary so I wouldn't want to have artist images of me in the book, so yeah.

LX: One thing I noticed is that sometimes poets and writers have their favoured length. I enjoy writing longer sweeping ones because it's where I feel comfortable but there are plenty of people in our community who are best at micropoetry. But you have poems like Tomorrow's and Yesterday's and How To Bribe Yourself which both pack a punch but in completely different lengths, T&Y'S just 4 lines. Was that variation important and do you enjoy both?

HM: I very much enjoy both short-form and long-form. I don't think I consistently write in one more than the other, in my notebooks I've got ones that are really short, really long ones, middle ones, all over the place. I definitely enjoy writing both, and sometimes I feel the short ones don't need to be added to, like... I was discussing it with one of my friends - [here she takes a brief hesitant breath as she realises] - which was you... that sometimes I just think of a line and that's just how it stays and those tend to be my little short ones, there'll just be lines that I randomly think of and I'm just like ' i like that' and I write it in my notes, sometimes I leave it as it is and sometimes I try to add bits to it and am like 'no it works good on its own'. So I just write what comes naturally whether that's an essay of a poem or something that's like a little quote. I also think the variation to me was important because I like to have little breaks so I like having a couple of short ones and then a longer one rather than lots of long ones back to back.

Here, I add my own point about how the variation in poem length helps to keep retention because, as a reader, you get the chance to read something quick in one moment and then invest in the next.

HM: Yeah, it's kind of like Instagram. If you're reading short things all the time, your attention span is gonna become smaller and I genuinely think that's impacted my reading; I like having breaks, like when I read books I like having small chapters because it feels like I get a reward, I'm reading, I'm making more progress [as she says these points, she is spitting the words out in-between laughs], but yeah, important I think to have a mixture of both because I find it a bit daunting if a whole poetry book is these big pieces, but yeah, just me?

Following on from my point about retention, before she answered the above response, I also asked an, admittedly, tricky question about whether her Gen Z identification and its culture, passion and excitement played a part in the creation of the book. As a 1995 baby (me) and a 1998 baby (Han), we've often spoken about this in-between point between millennial culture and Gen Z culture and while just at the start point of it, Hannah very much identifies with this cultural generation so it felt like an interesting point to approach:

HM: ooooh, I don't know if I know how to answer this...I think I've got that kind of thing where I need to do it just for me rather than anyone else....I'm trying to think of how it compares to other generations. Maybe it's more free-spirited and more wholehearted because, in that sense, I'm quite passionate about what I write and what I create and how excited and invested I became in the promotional campaign and how it would look on my Instagram. But it plays into my writing because I feel I'm very....but I don't know because I feel like other generations do the same... i love that question Liam, but I don't know how to answer it [...] i mean if we're talking about acceptance, I genuinely think Gen Z is more open to mental health so that definitely played a role in how I approached this book, even since i started writing some of the poems in the book which was 2019, there's definitely been a change in attitude within myself and other people with how mental health issues are treated and seen and spoken about. Like Gen Z is 100% more open about it, they play with it almost in their content, you have comedy made from it, it's not taking a negative experience of it, they're just making their experience relatable to other people. I just do that but with poems.

Still interested in this complicated line of questioning, I asked her specifically about a recent moment where she told me how much she'd accepted being a part of Gen Z culture and I asked her to expand on what that particular acceptance meant i.e. what separates Gen Z from other identities.

HM: I think that was more because there were so many negative connotations around Gen Z, with like stuff like Tidepods, and all that online. But I feel like I've become more accepting of it because I've seen different sides to it that resonates more with me and appeal more to me and it's very much this community of "the world is kind of a bit messed up and we're just all battling through it every day and we all have these similar struggles and we all have these things going on with our mental health and we're all openly discussing it with one another and giving advice or saying 'that's how I feel' 'oh I feel like that too'" so there's definitely a big sense of community in it. It's kind of like this freeness in identity, they're a lot more comfortable in their own skin and expressing that to other people and that's something that's taken a long time to learn, like even in the smallest ways of fashion and wearing what I want to wear rather than what I think is mass appealing or on trend, I'm wearing this because I feel comfortable in it, I feel confident in it. I think that's a big thing in Gen Z, it's about being true to yourself... I could also be talking a load of crap right now so it could resonate with anyone, maybe it's just a post-covid thing that's affecting everyone rather than it just being a Gen Z thing but I've got to incorporate that because it's my age group.

While it might have taken a little while to figure out exactly how to answer my question about Gen Z, it felt necessary. It is true that, perhaps, the generational lines are slightly thinner and more blurred since covid, but there is a freeness and emphasis on identity that I think is true of the Gen Z priorities. This is pretty central to Hannah's new book and so it's interesting to hear how that comes about in her response to the Gen Z suggestion. Whether a post-covid internal realisation, a gen-z specific trait or a combination of both, it's a feeling that permeates through Mellow is the Melody and, as Hannah says, is a journey of going through the motions and presents itself as a bible to return to when in associative moods.

You can currently buy both the Kindle and Paperback versions on Amazon:

And for more about Hannah, you can follow her Instagram & TikTok: @hmurraypoetry.

Follow to keep track of the next Words & Origins which will be featuring Libby Jenner!


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