The two Londoners exploring black girlhood in poetry collection BLAQUE

BLAQUE by Ashley Scantlebury

We caught up with poet and publisher Ashley Scantlebury and photographer Wayne Brathwaite to talk about their new collaboration, now in the shops, the poetry collection BLAQUE.

When did you first collaborate and how did your book come about?

Ashley: This is our first collaboration-

Wayne:  – And our last.

Ashley: Ha ha. Was it that bad?

Wayne: I’m joking. After working mostly with models and musicians, I was really open to getting involved in a more unique project. I’d been wanting to do something more artistic and impactful. Upon meeting Ashley, I knew that eventually we would go on to create something very interesting together.

Ashley: I write a lot of poetry to clear my head and relieve myself of particular thought processes or concerns, but I often don’t go on to do anything with them. So I decided to set myself the task of writing a collection that expressed some of my most intimate thoughts. The words just flew right out of me. As I write, I often visualise my poetry in my mind: the images, the sounds, the smells. I knew that I wanted to give my readers more than just words. It’s cheesy but I wanted to give them more of an experience.

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Is this book autobiographical in any sense?

Ashley: Very much so. Writing BLAQUE was a lot like therapy for me. Growing up I was a girl who struggled with her identity, mostly because of the cultural and social conventions surrounding race here in Britain.

Wayne: These concepts are tangible. We see them all around us.

Ashley: Yeah, these are real ‘Black Woman’ problems and I want to talk about them.

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Ashley, tell us about Shelf Collections, the publishing platform you’ve just set up?

I started an online magazine when I was at university. It was fairly successful and I guess that’s where my passion for sharing the work and stories of others started to grow. I know a lot of fantastic writers, artists and photographers who might otherwise never have been known or had their work appreciated. I wanted to change that. I started up Shelf Collections around 10 months ago. It’s an online publishing company, I publish online collections of thematic poetry, art and photography, which any person can produce work for. BLAQUE is our first printed publication. I figured I’d be the guinea pig and I’m now in a position to start publishing the work of others in print.

Can you tell us about the process of making poetry for you?

Writing poetry for me is like saying, ‘This is what is in my head. This is what I feel when I think of this or smell or see’. It is very much a way for me to express myself and come to understand my thought processes. Some of them surprise even me at times.

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Wayne, what’s it like producing photography for words?

Erm… It can be a challenge, but I think poetry and photography work quite well together. Often when you read, pictures come to mind. When you are dealing with metaphors in poetry, it is a lot easier to run with the images.

You’re a self-taught photographer. What led you down the path of photography?

Someone gave me a camera and that was it! Ha. I’m a creative person who is trying to learn as many things as possible. I’ve made a lot of music and written a lot of songs. This just seemed like the next thing that I wanted to do.

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Which poets and outlets inspire your work?

Ashley: The beautiful poetry and honest words of Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison. But mostly just traveling around London if I’m honest.

Wayne: I really love American Apparel’s photography. I’m inspired by a lot of great photographers – especially the more underground photographers whose work I see on Instagram.

What do you see yourself doing in the next 10 years?

Ashley: Lounging in a beach house next to a bookcase full of my books.

Wayne: Errm… Sitting in a sea of paintings and houseplants.

Ashley: I think as long as we’re still able to be creative we’d be happy with that.

What three words best describe this book?

Honest, unapologetic and necessary.

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Check out Wayne’s photography on his Instagram @shotbydk

And catch up with Ashley’s publishing house at shelfcollections.com

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