Tom Rudd, a disabled queer punk poet takes on the challenges of the modern world

Tom Rudd (Anxious Anarchist Poetry) is a disabled nonbinary queer punk poet based in York who takes on the challenges of the modern world in their first poetry collection i am a thing of rough edges which explores everything from mental health to grief, identity to LGBTQ activism, and the importance of cuddles.

The collection of 30 poems comes at a time when issues of identity and mental health are at the forefront in society, and the demonstrates the role that art plays in navigating these complex areas. The book exposes the honest intricacies of living with mental health issues, and exposes how debilitating invisible illnesses can be. Passionate about intersectional activism, Tom’s poetry raises awareness of queerness and educates the reader on gender expression.

There’s a lack of frank discussion about queerness and mental health. People tend to dress it up and disguise things with metaphor and analogy. This book is intended to drive dialogue in a raw, honest way and hopefully, inspire others to address these components of themselves. It pulls no punches in its discussion of grief and love. It’s certainly not subtle. But neither is it polemical. This collection takes the reader on a journey to understand their own reactions, probing deep to explore the different topics of identity and illness in a way that is raw and emotional. 

Tom’s work focuses on the ideas of mental health, identity, grief and the importance of cuddles. Their mercenary style of poetry has led to them winning the Stanza Slam and being a runner up at the Your Place Slam.

Their passions include Dungeons & Dragons, hand holding and the destruction of capitalism. They are the creator and host of Sad Poets Doorstep Club: a mental health poetry night that seeks to promote marginalised poets and fight the stigma around mental illness; headlined by some of the UK’s most exciting emerging talent as well as established performers.

From making Charly Cox cry to having poems published in multiple zines and anthologies, Rudd has run amok in the Northern poetry scene and is now working on their debut poetry collection i am a thing of rough edges for Whisky & Beards Publishing.

What does short form poetry offer you?   

Short form poetry, for me, is a way to explore the depths of my emotions, my thoughts, and my direction. By limiting myself with short form constraints, I can only ever say what I truly mean. Don’t get me wrong, I love long form too! Particularly for its narrative structure but, personally, I like the fact that I have to really think about what is relevant to me, I really have to grip those words and wrestle them into place. 

You are the creator and host of Sad Poets Doorstep Club. Are poets sad?   

I believe, that to some extent, everyone has an element of sadness in them. Diminishing mental health is rife throughout every avenue of society, and I want to bring attention to this. By talking, expressing, and supporting our emotions through both art and conversation, we give those emotions room to breathe, and time to simply… exist. And you know what? That’s what they need. Sadness is an expression that something may be amiss, and we need to address that instead of locking it away like an unwanted gift. 

The name of my event is an inside joke between myself and a few poets in York. Eleanor, if you’re reading this, all this has spiralled because you forgot what a window ledge was. 

How does poetry help people with mental illness?   

It’s such a good way to vent, to get everything in your head down on paper, your phone, anywhere really, that way you can properly process what’s going on, have something concrete to show a professional, and share your experiences with others like you. What’s that great saying? “A problem shared is a problem halved”, and poetry, at its core, is a way to tell the world “I see you, and I am here”. 

Why have you chosen to use poetry as catharsis, rather than something else?   

Honestly? Poetry is my passion, I know that some people find their catharsis in bread making but for me, it’s telling a room full of people why Boris Johnson is a wanker through rhyme. With poetry, I can get everything out in a safe and constructive way, and then work through it to the point where I can share it. I’m a firm believer that poetry isn’t therapy, and if something is too raw to share, then you shouldn’t do it, for your safety and everyone else’s.

Is there a link between queerness and mental health?

There’s definitely a correlation between bullying, harassment, murder rates and queerness – the mental health link comes from there. Queerness was legalised inside of the last century, that is not a lot of time comparatively, and life as an openly queer person, in a predominantly straight society, is still riddled with hatred and ignorance from those that don’t get it. Some people are obsessed with telling the rest of the world what to do, how to live, etc. Being subject to the whims of bigots, especially those in power, comes with a lot of stress. Countries are once again outlawing homosexuality, look at Hungary and Ukraine as examples – we’ve still got a long way to go. Who wouldn’t be affected by that?

How did you come to terms with your sexual identity?

I’ve come out at least five times since the age of 16. That’s the age I started properly researching ‘gayness’, and at 16 I came out as gay when I realised a lot of what I felt lined up. I then came out as bisexual shortly after when I learnt what that was, and it took me until I was 21 until I had everything fairly nailed down. Loads of research, loads of hanging out with different people, listening to their stories, and lots of introspection. I now have a list of identifiers the length of my arm, and I’m now confident with myself as a queer person, which is quite a weight off my shoulders! 

Can poetry change the world? 

Yes – poetry is an act of revolution. The poet has always been on the periphery of social change, as a mouthpiece for the under-represented, the silenced, and the othered in society. We, as poets, have the power to unite people in a way that other mediums struggle to, paintings depict space, music depicts time, and poetry depicts emotion.  

What are your thoughts on the mental health system in the UK? Are we in crisis?  

It’s no secret that the NHS is struggling – underfunded, underpaid, overworked, and that’s only increased since the pandemic began. Private is also exclusive and expensive, which rules it out of consideration. If you need specialised help, you don’t have a lot of options, and will have to contend with long wait times, doctors that may not even believe you, or don’t understand what you’re dealing with. I’ve had friends laughed out of GP offices, be told they’re making it up, or just flat out that the doctor has no idea. More concrete mental health funding and training is sorely needed, which is why I support MQ, a mental health charity that conducts intensive clinical research.

Tell us about your rough edges?  

Haha, it’s quite an awkward question when phrased like that. The idea behind it is that I’m struggling with mental illness, and that it’s not pretty, but I’ve come so far already. If anyone else who is also struggling picks this book up, I want them to know that recovery isn’t linear, and your rough edges are nothing to be ashamed of. Building yourself back up takes time and energy, and that’s ok.

You’ve hit rock bottom. Can you share your story?  

I’ve been struggling with my mental health since around the time my grandad died, when I was 11. At the time I didn’t realise what was happening, I figured it was just grief, but… it never went away. It got worse, and I didn’t know what was happening or what to do so I did the stupidest possible thing – I bottled it up and tried to get on with life. But it kept building, and building, and only when I got to university, on a course I realised I didn’t want to do, did I realise what was happening – and then everything collapsed. I went off the deep end, became really suicidal, dropped out of uni, ended up homeless, and that’s when my feet touched the bottom. From there, I focused on one aspect of my life at a time: make sure I had a roof over my head, make sure I was fed and that I did something to mitigate what I was feeling, and that’s where poetry came in.

You’re passionate about intersectional activism. Can you explain why and how you do this?  

Intersectionality is the connecting of two or more axis of oppression. I am an intersectional person, being a disabled, queer, nonbinary person, and my feminism is intersectional – it includes trans people, POC and disabled people in that umbrella. A rising tide lifts all ships, I firmly believe that we need to work together to bring about lasting change and acceptance for all oppressed groups.

Which poets inspire you?  

My first real entry into spoken word, outside of the little open mic I got my start in, was Say Owt: a spoken word organisation in York run by Henry Raby, Stu Freestone, Hannah Davies and David Jarman; and it is a spectacle. The Say Owt Slam remains my firm favourite, and Henry in particular has been a massive inspiration to me, and a huge help in kickstarting my career. 

Have you always liked poetry or was it something you came to later on?  

I had studied poetry in secondary school, but nothing like the world I’m immersed in now. Honestly, I had no idea the spoken word scene existed until I thrust myself into it. I dived headfirst into performing and writing, learning all the while – I’m still learning now. 

Your career has moved fast. Is there an energy behind it?  

Yes, it’s called Alex Vellis. 

Honestly, I dived headfirst into the spoken word scene – I went to every event in York I could, I seized every opportunity with both hands. I was offered a slot opening for Outspoken Press around 6 months after I started, and I didn’t even hesitate. I was God awful, but I got to perform with Joelle Taylor, Harry Josephine Giles and Anthony Anaxagorou, which was a huge learning opportunity and all the motivation I needed to keep going and constantly improve. It was absolutely worth it, and Joelle even remembered me a few years later! Win win.

I first hired Alex as an editor to so I could go over my poems with a professional, but that soon spiralled into a great friendship and an amazing motivator: only a couple of months in, we switched gears from editing poems to preparing a manuscript, and Connor Sansby from Whisky & Beards offered me a publishing deal. I’m so incredibly proud of what me and Alex have made together, and I owe him so much for getting me to this point.

What gives you a kick about performing?

The thrill of being on a stage with a mic in my face and a crowd listening is something I’ve never felt before. I was a shy kid, public speaking was never my bag, but since I started performing poetry in earnest my confidence has been strapped to a rocket. Flexing these newfound muscles has been such a revelation in my life, I’ve made so many great friends, and I’m starting to make my mark. I never really knew what I was doing for the first two decades of my life, but I’m incredibly comfortable doing this, fingers crossed for many more years of performing.


Book available here

First published 2021

Copyedited by Jessica Taggart Rose

Edited by Alex Vellis and Whisky & Beards Publishing

Cover art by Atlas Berry

Printed in the U.K. by Cloc Book Print

This book has been produced using public funding by Arts Council England

Website: whiskyandbeards.co.uk/2021/02/18/tom-rudd

Facebook: @anxiousanarchistpoetry 

Twitter:  @stuffpunxdo

Instagram: @stuffpunxdo

Publisher details

Whisky & Beards Publishing is an author-centric poetry publishing house based, established in 2014. Whisky & Beards is dedicated to ensuring poets are paid properly for their work, through transparent practice and industry-leading royalty rates.

Whisky & Beards works by communicating with its poets, treating them as partners, not products. We believe in the rights of creators above all else, and that business needs creators, not the other way around.

We’re keen on innovation, taking advantage of a range of tools including print-on-demand platforms, pay-what-you-feel products and an internal development approach, helping poets become better artists. We’re not just a publishing house, but a collective, a coaching service, grantwriters and consultants, helping to push poetry in new, dynamic ways. 

Website: whiskyandbeards.co.uk 

Facebook: @whiskyandbeards 

Twitter: @WhiskyBeards 

Instagram: @whiskybeards 

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