An Interview with Bella Cox
Bella Cox has been living in London for just one year, which is almost hard to believe given how quickly she’s made her vibrant mark on London’s poetry and spoken word scene. Already, she is a member of Barbican Young Poets and the Roundhouse Collective, as well as hosting two monthly spoken word events, Speak= and Pen-Ting.
Her work, a colourful fusion of art, politics, and culture, is drawn from her experiences living in Kenya, South Africa, Spain and now London – where she has recently been nominated for the prestigious accolade of Young Peoples Poet Laureate.
“I have a very privileged position of seeing London with double vision – yes, as a foreigner, but now that it’s my home, as an inhabitant too.” Bella loves the “melting pot” that is London. “In one short walk you can come across 5 different races, or you can hear 6 different languages when you’re waiting at a bus stop for the bus – it’s incredible and I think it’s a beautiful thing.”
Less beautiful to Bella is London’s “huge classism issue, which is more complex than just racism. It’s a very capitalist society, and you can literally see the hierarchies of poverty and wealth.”
For Bella, poetry is a lens through which we can examine not only these external forces but our internal ones too – and often it’s the internal which needs to be looked at first, she says. Bella’s TEDx talk in Pretoria covers exactly this. “I talked there about how I can use what I write about to hold a mirror up to myself, to question and query who I am and how I can be better. It’s a vehicle to get things out there, so they can be looked at and properly examined.
“We need to do that work on ourselves and know ourselves as best as we possibly can, before we can start trying to save the world. A bunch of broken people trying to fix a broken world isn’t going to work. Everything is just shattered. But if we can all heal ourselves and create communities of centred human beings who are self-aware and conscious, and who are willing to try and be better and grow, then we can go some way to healing the world.
"Spoken word poetry gives rise to voices from all backgrounds and particularly allows space for more marginalised voices to be heard, and it’s amazing to see the positive ripple effect that that elevation can have.”
It’s the ability of poetry to start conversations, provoke questions and make connections that holds the power for Bella. She came out as bisexual at 21, which wasn’t an easy process. “I was terrified, but I don’t think I had fully engaged with what the connotations were, of coming out.” She remembers one friend asking her why she didn’t just stick with men, if she liked men too – “why make things harder for yourself?” Some former friends drifted away soon after Bella became open about her sexuality.
“I like to write poetry about my sexuality because it opens up the dialogue for other people to talk. It opens conversations. It’s good to excavate your secrets and talk about them – it’s quite healing.
“Poetry creates a space for dialogue, and because it is so youth driven, it’s starting conversations that are created and guided by a younger generation.”
It’s exactly these spaces and conversations that Bella is opening up in different arenas in London. At Speak=, a monthly event run by the London Queer Writers collective which she is part of, each open mic performer will receive advice and feedback to develop their craft. “Speak= is an event for empowerment, for LGBTQ voices, and to give a voice to the marginalised.”
Another of Bella’s teams, Pen-Ting, met at The Writing Room – a 6-week Apples and Snakes course – towards the end of 2017. Pen-Ting's monthly poetry and spoken word night injects the Poetry Café in Covent Garden with rap and hip hop influences.
“A poem is not an answer, it’s a question. And I think a lot of people use it in that way. I use spoken word like this, and I would like others to be able to do this as well.”
Bella Cox is an international performance poet, vocalist, writer and workshop facilitator now based in London. Her work often touches on topics such as gender and sexual identity, relationships and their consequences and the notion of belonging in an overtly politicised world. She is consistently developing her craft as a member of five esteemed UK poetry collectives including Barbican Young Poets and Roundhouse Poetry Collective.
Having performed in and around South Africa from early 2014, Bella won the title of Queen of the Mic for Word n Sound 2016-17, Africa's largest spoken word platform. In 2016, she gave her first TEDx talk and performance in Pretoria on the necessity of self-reflection through poetry. She now produces and hosts two monthly open mic nights; Speak= from London Queer Writers, and Pen-Ting, competes in various slams and was a quarter-finalist for Hammer & Tongue's National Slam at The Royal Albert Hall in January 2018.
Follow Bella on:
Facebook: @Bella Cox Performer