Many will have encountered artist, writer and performer Leyla Josephine’s work in the realm of performance: all mic and stage, lilt and rhythm, personality and performance, candid and controlled. In this bold move to the page Leyla plays with this migration from public to private with (aptly named) In Public / In Private, a book of poems that the poet has prescribed is best read in bed with a cup of tea on a Sunday.
The dedication is the first poem to kick off the collection: ‘We will never merge completely / but this is pretty close’, articulating a theme that is revisited in different guises and flavours throughout the collection. Some dressed in stilettos and fur at a funeral, others undone and overdone, love-drunk and giddy on the floor after a night out.
There is something that feels so universal in the specificities of this work, namely the most intimate pieces, like ‘the finish line’, ‘Funeral and First Love’. Perhaps that is because this writer shares many demographics with Leyla; queer, check; cis woman, check, etc.
But maybe there is something to be said about things moving in circles, about how a description can be needle in a haystack specific that it somehow becomes universal, belonging to everyone. ‘Pebbledash bum’, and ‘I have an urge to shave my head / so more people ask me why I have a shaved head’ are excellent examples of these universal specifities. And who hasn’t wanted to ask John Berger ‘if a woman cums alone, does a tree fall in a forest?’ – serious question.
Poetry is a way of communicating, a way of connecting with someone else, of feeling seen and heard in some small, quiet and ambiguous way. It’s the reason many of us make art, even when it lands us in our overdrafts and on our asses. That kind of connection, or rather semblance of one, is a high that Leyla rides with a grace that is equal parts gutting and gorgeous. And it’s so hard to look away, even when the lines ring so true you realise you’re holding your breath, hoping to ‘Distract me from this cage, this sad meat sack of mine.’
In short, In Public / In Private is silly and sublime, hot and heartbreaking, a spectacular dance of dualities, and endlessly devourable; a high worth the hangover.
Go on, ‘stick your finger in the goo’ and get yourself a copy of In Public / In Private, published by Burning Eye Books