Henry Stone is taking this generation by storm, from his poetic influence, to speaking publicly about mental health. He is an awesome guy who is so genuine with everything he has to offer the world. His words are so powerful and his gift is surely a blessing from above. I was super excited to talk to him about his story, here’s how it went:
I first saw your piece on YouTube, you did a piece called The Boy. And of course, I loved it! And if this is your first time on my blog, you must know that I have the biggest weakness for spoken word and all types of poetry. I literally love it to the core of me, there’s nothing better than watching a piece of spoken word, and seeing the poet’s feelings and emotions unravel in front of you. What made you start writing and then chose to do spoken word? I feel like you must have some balls, excuse my French everybody (laughs) to get up in front of people and just do it. Were you always this confident, or was it a learning process?
If I’m being totally honest I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was a kid. It was the only thing I was good at. When I was in primary school, I had dangerously low self-esteem, as a result I’d tell lies to get people’s attention. At first, they were white lies, but then they got more complex and elaborate. So I guess that was pretty good training.
Another thing I was good at was withdrawing into myself. I found it hard to connect with other kids but when I hit eleven I discovered novels and by God did I fall in love. I’d get immersed in novels by authors such as Anthony Horowitz and co. Storytelling was catharsis for me from an early age, so even when I started poetry I guess I always had inner confidence I could excel at it. I’ve certainly doubted if I could have a career from it (even though mine is still burgeoning!) and even in my ability to deliver. But I’ve never doubted my talent to tell a story. As you can see I had a lot of practice with the lies (laughs).
So obviously in secondary school it became clear to me and my teachers I had a real knack for putting words together. I wouldn’t say I was the best (of course I was!) but I did have a gift for it. So I’ve always had that confidence from a young age.
Yet even then there was a learning curve. I didn’t hate poetry growing up, but it was most certainly a chore in school. While the poems in those anthologies you, me and everyone else read at school were great, they did little to excite the boy in me raised on an estate in South London.
But when I hit university everything changed. In my first week, I saw a poet called Chozen perform at a fresher’s week event. When he got onstage I rolled my eyes: Fam, this dude is really gonna spit about sunflowers and f*cking clouds? Give over. But he started speaking and I was hooked, man. Like I was sucked into the vortex and so was the crowd. His words had energy, he talked about growing up in the “endz”. He did it with swagger and confidence. Plus, he got lots of female attention, so that was definitely incentive (laughs). But seriously, he did it in a way that was so mesmerising, so unique. So… cool. I didn’t know poetry could do that before. I’m not exaggerating. That single moment changed my life. I’m serious. I fell in love with poetry. I promised myself in that moment, that whatever he did to the crowd that day, I would also learn how to do it myself someday.
But then I realised something. I had a new love for this “spoken word” stuff but I didn’t actually know how to do it. So I wrote some pretty horrible poems that were like two-thousand words long. My word, they were awful. I had no idea what I was doing. They were all over the place. So I studied rappers like Eminem and J.Cole. George the Poet too. I’d search their lyrics and break down how they rhymed syllables and how they told stories and such and that’s when I started making progress. I then wrote my first “real” poem and performed it a few days later at some dinghy pub in London Bridge. And while I was sh*t scared to perform (I even forgot my lines onstage) I was always sure my words could have an impact. Storytelling was the only thing I had on everyone else I knew, so I had belief I could use it well, but boy have I had to learn some stuff along the way. Too much to cram in one interview, maybe the next one though (laughs). But that’s why it’s called craft. It has to be learned and honed. And that takes time.
Wow, this answer is really long.
I love long answers so don’t even worry about it (laughs). So, let’s get into ‘ The Boy’ what was the inspiration behind the lyrics? And I picked out when you said, “he can’t afford the map to success” and “ he looked at his mums bank account and only saw minus numbers” ; like when I heard that I was like WOW. The struggle is real (laughs), I’m not even laughing because it’s funny, I’m laughing because not being where you wanna be and trying to make it, but not having the finances to back you is just so stressful. What are your views in terms of ambition and striving to get what you want, regardless? Is money really the key to all things?
Money can enable you to do amazing things. Money can ensure your family never suffer or have to want for anything. It can be used to help those less fortunate than you are. If the capitalist structure we live in was capitalism without greed, the world would be an awesome place. So absolutely am I doing what I can do to make a living out of it. Not just so I can benefit, but so that I can use that to help causes that concern me. I want to set up a foundation that tackles Christian persecution, kids who have mental illness and homelessness in the UK someday soon. Only money can enable that. So I have to get the poetry to pop.
That being said, I have such joy and emotional release when I write a poem. I sometimes (okay, all the time) feel like no one really understands me and writing poetry is my communication. Where I can cast out all my pain and anguish. Where I can be bullish and confident. Where I can say straight up that someone pissed me off or tell someone I care about they mean the world to me. And to have that ability is priceless. So whatever happens, I’ll be sure to write poetry for the rest of my life, regardless of finance.
Its so important to do things you love in this life, nothing else matters. It’s not easy, but its worth it. “Criminal obsession with clinical depression”. That’s a deep combination, almost lethal. I also saw on your Instagram that you teamed up with @Zinc.Online regarding male mental health. And you quoted some figures, you said that as a black man you are 17% more likely to suffer from a mental health issue than a white person. And then you also mention the cliché’s that people use in this society, the terms “man up” and “why are you being so emotional for?”. These are the kind of things men of all races and ethnicities must deal with, so what does it mean for a man to ‘man up’ or even exercise the belief that he is more than the oppression of his mind, heart and spirit?
Damn, that’s a really good question, fam. I can tell you’re really good at keeping up a blog.
I think the key thing for men in the UK and the wider world is that it’s okay to feel pain and sadness. Redefining masculinity for me is important. Not totally redefining, but certainly a little. I’ve seen with my own eyes what happens when a male isn’t allowed to fail. Where success is the only option. It works for some, but it can tear other people apart. There’s nothing wrong with failing as long as you fail forward. It happened to me and it can have devastating consequences. There is nothing wrong with things going to absolute tits and being in a place of despair. There is a problem with staying there and marrying it, however.
We haven’t equipped the men of this generation to deal with failure, low self-esteem and other ailments because when they’re faced with a problem that can’t be fixed with the strength of their back, the might of their fist and the work of their hands, we tell them to just to ‘man up’ and deal with it. That line of thought is literally killing people.
It’s dangerous to tell someone to deal with a problem they’re not equipped for. Mental illness as a whole has increased by 600% since the year 2000. It’s a staggering rise. With that being said, there’s an air of hyper-masculinity which ensures you keep up a façade of strength even when you’re crumbling inside. We need to make a safe space it’s okay for men to express their feelings. That’s the definition of “manning up” for me. To be able to say what you think and how you feel regardless of external influence and potential shame.
I love when you say, “Our lives must improve, despite the up and down trends”, because I immediately thought of how IMAGE is such a big thing for this generation. Everybody is trying to prove themselves to people who don’t care, or would rather see them at their lowest. It’s really sad (laughs), like it is to think that you are trying to prove you live a certain life, or have these materialistic possessions to people who don’t even know your name. It’s ridiculous when you think about it. What are your views on how things can change, and do you think social media has a negative/positive effect on the way we portray ourselves and our lives?
I wrote this a few years in a poem back:
It never seems to sink in.
It never seems to sink in…
That these Twitter bad boys are only G’s
Until you holla them on LinkedIn.
I stand by that statement today. There’s an obscene pressure to project your desired reality to the world as opposed to the actual one you live in day by day. And as with a lot of things, it stems from insecurity and a desire to impress your peers who probably don’t think about you in their spare time anyway. Your friends and the people you commune with too. This is dangerous. When we engage with people online we tend to witness the fruits of their labour as opposed to the arduous process it took to attain their goal. Because Instagram and Twitter feign intimacy, people think that having a six-pack or the body of a goddess is easily attainable. When actually, that person had to kill themselves in the gym and sacrifice junk food. We are the Instagram Kids; we like to capture moments on our phones because real cameras are expensive. We also enjoy putting filters on things. To make things seem so wonderful even when we feel like killing ourselves. Because we all are depressed about the world we inherited from the economic downturn, the failed promises the government gave us on student loans and the corruption exposed in the political expenses scandal and News of the World phone hacking disgrace.
The only way I see this changing is making people realise that it’s okay to look horrible sometimes. It’s alright if your skin isn’t popping right now. Or that life is straight up shit. It will sooner down the line. There’s nothing wrong with having rough seasons… your character wouldn’t be developed without it. I’m not saying it’s okay to be overwhelmed by it. But if you are, that’s nothing to be ashamed of. It happens. Life happens. You get broke. You get rich. Nigerian boys like me will break your heart. It’s the way it goes sometimes. But the important thing is overcoming. That’s why I wrote ‘The Boy’.
And to whoever is reading I tell you this: I know the last few months have gotten difficult for you. And maybe you lost your way a little. Perhaps you thought you couldn’t achieve all that is expected of you because it’s genuinely frightening. Things didn’t go to plan and now it’s all gone a little pear-shaped.
But you’ve made it this far, right? Take stock. You overcame some CRAZY things to get here. It’d be an awful shame for you to quit now. I had to retake university TWICE because clinical depression ruined my life. And as much I sometimes wanna quit. As perilously close to the suicidal edge I’ve walked, I’m still here. Apparently, I’ve touched some hearts along the way. And I’m humbled God could trust and use me like that. And if an arrogant little bugger like me, with too much to say can still hang in there, hoping and praying for a better tomorrow, I’m sure someone as cool as you will just fine.
Amen to that! Your life and your craft is a living testimony, for sure.What is next for you and how can we stay connected to you?
Well I took a break from the game for the reasons I’ve said above but I’m back now. You could even say I’m starting from scratch. I’m currently working on a short film that explores masculinity. It’s headed by a brilliant photographer named Johnny Fonseca. I’m also speaking on a panel regarding mental illness on June 11th. And I’ve started work on an EP. And you’ll defo see some stuff from me over the next few months and you can follow that @HenryStoneUK on Twitter and Instagram.
But yeah, thanks for speaking Ree x
Check out Henry Stone on Lucrative Lyrics here: