The Dance Interview Series with Iona Lee

Jade Mitchell : If you could begin this interview, what question would you ask yourself?

Iona Lee : Fancy a pint?

Jade Mitchell : When did you initially begin writing poetry?

Iona Lee : Hmmm. I think I started writing poems when I was around seven. I’ve always loved stories and the different ways they can be told and so I was always writing, creating characters, reading and making plays that I would put on for my long-suffering parents. I once created an opera to the soundtrack of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, which is over an hour long I believe. Not sure how my parents made it through that one. Being something of a jack of all trades I perhaps contented myself with being a master of none. Time passing has led to greater specialisation however, so doing the poetry thing predominantly is a recent development. At my first tentative foray in to performance poetry there was amongst the audience an established performance poet, Salena Godden, who was kind enough to encourage me and become something of a mentor. This spurred me on to greater efforts and attempting to improve and write more and be generally better.

Jade Mitchell : How did you get into performance poetry, particularly in the Scottish scene? Would you say that performance poetry has influenced your writing processes and if so, how?

Iona Lee : I used to be a dancer and had just suffered a hope-of-a-career ending injury and was somewhat lost for what to do next. I was taking a year out, not to “find myself” in South East Asia or do anything particularly helpful, but to earn some money and work out what I might want to do with my life. I can’t really remember what exactly made me sign up for the open mic slot at Inky Fingers in Edinburgh, but I did, and here we are. I was seventeen at the time and was pleased to discover that you don’t get your age checked in pubs if you are there to read poetry. Aside from booze, everyone is very welcoming and I felt at once part of something. Becoming what one might call a performance poet has certainly changed my writing process. It’s slowed it down for one. Before, I wrote entirely for myself, for my own amusement or my own satisfaction. As one gains some kind of reputation one feels a duty, not only to one’s own expectations but to those of one’s audience. I try my best to not let it affect my writing but I must admit I do have a few more insecurities now. I worry about coming across as clichéd and not being fresh or honestly “myself”. Everyone is their own worst critic of course. You discard something in a self-indulgent grump and rediscover it in a drawer a few months later, and it is never as bad as you had decided that it was.

Jade Mitchell : Speaking of performance poetry, you recently won the Scottish Slam Championships of 2016, with poems such as “It Was Summer Outside” and “A Nice Quiet Life”. How did you find preparing for the slam and are you looking forward to competing in Paris this year?

Iona Lee : I had a rigorous routine of jogging, cold baths and summoning the ghost of Henry Irving. No, to be honest I just kind of turned up. I had no expectations having only done one slam before. I was very nervous though, not least because my poetry is not typical of the sort of thing you get in slam competitions. The standard was very high, there’s a lot of great poetry being written in Scotland right now, so to have won was a lovely honour. I’ve not been so very confident about my work of late and so winning was a nice “It’s okay, you’re doing okay”. Very excited for Paris, but I am full of trepidation.

We were women

and women were

cocaine, jazz,


We were the new craze.

And there was so much

still to find out,

out of my mind on love

for that room

and that moment

and that you.

—from “It Was Summer Outside”

Jade Mitchell : Not only do you perform poetry, but you are currently within your second year at the Glasgow School of Art. Is art a major influence of your poetic work?

Iona Lee : Probably the other way around. I use poetry in my art a lot and illustrate my own stories whenever I can, but as I said earlier, I have tended to be a jack of all trades. I don’t see that this is necessarily a weakness; to be able to write, perform and illustrate my work across a variety of media might well be an ambition. I should probably write about art more; write about literature and politics and society more. I’m still pretty young however and so I find it much easier to write about myself as a means of talking about more universal subjects. I’m very aware that I don’t really know much about anything yet and I still have so much of life to take in and experience and I always want to be honest so I write about what I know that I know.

Click here to watch on Vimeo

Jade Mitchell : Do you believe that you have evolved within your own creative processes as both a poet and an artist since your origins?

Iona Lee : Of course, but as the creative type you are never content. You are constantly striving to be better and do better and do more and do it persuasively. As an art student one is always subject to criticism, as a performer one is always offering oneself up for criticism. It can feed one’s self doubt, but encourages one’s attempts to improve. I have a lot of ups and downs. I have amazing insight and talent on Monday and then wake up to find that I am William McGonagall on Tuesday. To use a big word, it is Sisyphean, but very good fun.

Jade Mitchell : What would you believe to be the biggest achievement so far of your poetry career?

Iona Lee : Writing poetry.


Ripped untimely from her mother’s womb, Iona has been late for most things ever since the 23rd of February 1996 though she has managed this deadline. An only child, she would often create and draw characters that she might spend the day with (she still does it, but now it’s a bit weird because she’s technically an adult). Currently an illustration student at the Glasgow School of Art, her poetry is a distraction from her studies. She recently won the title of Scottish Slam Champion. She does not know yet exactly what she will end up doing, but looks forward to a life of general creativity and little money. 

Contributing Editor

Jade Mitchell is an 18 year old poet / writer who resides near Glasgow, Scotland. Her work has been featured in The Grind Journal, Inky Paper and Ink Scotland. Aside from working on her writing and poetry, you can find her listening to Lorde and reading every poem she can find in sight.