Blake Auden Answers the Famous Proust Questionnaire and More…
Nobody understands heartache and loss better than British self-published poet Blake Auden, who informs you tersely, in one sentence “what a fragile, dying thing love turned out to be.” His verses are the quintessence of melancholy, and have the uncanny ability to penetrate the soul and reach our emotional core.
Since the start of 2019, Auden has turned truth-telling confessions into handwritten verses—accompanied by the intentional use of white space between words and pages to represent a sense of isolation that lingers after a heartbreak. For a good part of Auden’s life, this yearning has contributed to his anxiety, which has plagued him for several years. To combat these feelings of apprehension, Auden has a wolf boldly tattooed on his hand—a metaphorical symbol of his anxiety to visually remind him that acceptance is better than suppression. Although writing about his feelings may not necessarily be cathartic all the time, Auden isn’t afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve. Which explains why his honest and deeply explorative poetry has amassed a following of 152,000 fans on Instagram.
These past few years have been somewhat of an Indian summer for this lyricist. Currently on the third print run of his debut collection, Tell the Birds She’s Gone, the littérateur has also recently released his second book, Beekeeper, which is garnering rave reviews. Here we delve into Auden’s inner psyche and find out just how much he is willing to open up.
High Net Worth: What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Blake Auden: My happiness comes from people and my dogs. If those I love are happy and healthy, then I think that’s enough for me.
What is your greatest fear?
Being forgotten, or living a life with no meaning.
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
I worry far too much.
What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Cruelty, lack of empathy, apathy, intolerance.
Which living person do you most admire?
My parents. They’re the strongest people I know.
What is your greatest extravagance?
What is your current state of mind?
Anxious—partly because of the pandemic and the US election (even though I live in the UK).
What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Patriotism. I’m very proud to be British, but I think that national pride can be exploited or redirected to dangerous ideologies far too easily.
Which living person do you most despise?
‘Despise’ is a very strong word. I don’t think I truly despise anyone, but I have a hard time finding redeeming qualities in those who are deeply intolerant, or people who are cruel to animals.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
In my poetry, I use ‘by which I mean’ too often. In everyday life, I probably say ‘are the dogs okay’ and ‘sorry’ more than I should.
What or who is the greatest love of your life?
This is a tricky one. I’m going to be diplomatic and say every dog I’ve ever met. Or Manchester City.
When and where were you happiest?
On a holiday in Florida with someone that I love more than myself. Oh, and every single Christmas with my family.
Which talent would you most like to have?
I wish I could sit down and be able to play something beautiful on the piano.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I would be less anxious, and stop worrying constantly about things nobody else worries about.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
I don’t think anything I’ve done up to this point is worth being called an achievement—not one that should be preceded by the word ‘great’.
What is your most treasured possession?
There are a lot of things that have meaning to me, but I don’t have an attachment to any possession (that I wouldn’t be able to get over) should I lose it. The things I treasure most are moments, and people.
What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
Real loneliness. I can’t imagine how it must feel to live your life alone and it’s something I hope I never have to experience.
Who are your favourite writers?
Ocean Vuong, Ada Limon, Malcolm Gladwell.
Who is your favourite hero of fiction?
Maximus from Gladiator. Or Joel from The Last of Us.
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Who are your heroes in real life?
My mother and father. They have been through more than I can possibly articulate, and have remained the kindest, most joyful people I’ve ever known. They have supported every decision I’ve ever made, taught me how to navigate the world and they possess a strength that I can only wish I had.
What is your greatest regret?
I am made of regret, so it’s honestly difficult to choose. I guess, waiting until I was in my 30’s to find the bravery to try and be a writer.
What is your motto?
There is a poem by James Elroy Flecker that contains the line: ‘Always a little further.’ I think that would be my motto, along with “This Too Shall Pass,” which comes from medieval Persian Sufi poetry.
As an independent author, it must have been difficult at the start to gain recognition. What challenges did you face and how did you amass a following?
I get asked this a lot. It’s always difficult starting out because it can be demoralising if you’re publishing work you’re proud of and yet nobody is interacting with it. This was probably the main challenge—keeping up the momentum and my enthusiasm even when very few people were reading my work. From the beginning, I decided I was going to publish every single day, no matter what. A lot of people seem to stop and start, like publish several times a day and then not post anything new for weeks. I honestly believe my consistency in publishing has helped me to establish an initial audience, and to keep me writing every day. The rest of it is a combination of authenticity, honesty, being picked up by larger accounts, engaging constantly (I still reply to every comment) and a big slice of luck.
Your debut poetry collection Tell the Birds She’s Gone has sold out three print runs. What do you think is the biggest reason for its success?
The truth is, I don’t know. I’m still surprised every time someone orders a copy, and I don’t think I’ll ever stop being grateful for that. If I had to give you an answer, I think it comes down to being open and honest. I write about everything I feel, even when it’s deeply personal or doesn’t paint me in the best light. I think people connect with that and appreciate the way I talk honestly about mental health, loss and heartbreak.
You have mentioned that you suffered from anxiety for most of your adult life. Do you regard poetry as a form of catharsis? Or has helped you heal or transform darkness to light?
I’m not sure I’d say there’s a real catharsis in the process of writing these poems. They force me to revisit really difficult moments; to hold on to pain rather than letting it go. Perhaps there is some healing in thinking about this stuff, but I wouldn’t say I use it as a tool for improving my mental health. For me, the pay-off comes from seeing how people react to the work. Knowing the poetry and the commentary I publish on social media is helping people to heal their own wounds, or providing comfort to people who are suffering, really makes a difference to me personally. I get a lot of messages from people saying I’ve helped them come to terms with their own issues, or encouraged them to talk about mental health with their families or to seek out help; every day they make me feel like I’m doing something meaningful—something important.
How would you describe your signature style as a poet?
It is honest and deeply explorative poetry. The poems can be pretty raw, but I think honesty is the most important part for me. Hopefully, this resonates with the reader.
You just released your second book Beekeeper, which does address mental health issues. Apart from that, what makes it different from the first?
The first book is about a single relationship, from beginning to end. It’s about the joy of meeting someone new, the strains of a relationship between two troubled souls, and the pain in trying to come to terms with it ending. The second book covers a much wider range of subjects, but at its core, it’s about me; the beekeeper. The book still has poems about heartbreak, loss and letting go, but there are also poems about hope, about overcoming anxiety and about living in a world that you struggle to understand. Mental health is a major focus of Beekeeper, and it’s a topic I’ve been trying to talk about more consistently over the last year. I genuinely believe there’s been a really positive shift in public awareness and the perception of mental health. But there’s always more to be done, and I’m proud to be a small contributor to that.
How has Covid-19 changed your life as an artist, and do you reckon that it has impacted your work in any way?
2020 has been a tough year for everyone. I’m quite lucky to work from home and continue creating during the entire lockdown period. So it hasn’t changed my artistic life dramatically—if anything, it’s afforded me more time to really focus on the writing. I do think Covid-19 has impacted my work in some ways, though. I’ve actually written a short collection of lockdown poems, which I hope to publish in one form or another next year. The pandemic has simultaneously shown me how important poetry is to me, and how in the grand scheme of things, it means nothing at all because health is what matters in a time like this. I have a newfound admiration for the incredible men and women that make up our health service and the world’s key workers. I don’t know where we’d be without these amazing, selfless and hugely dedicated people.