Born and raised east of Toronto, Canada, poet Mitchell Burke is in a class of his own. There is poetry and there is what bleeds from the hand of this man. Adamant to not share his age due to not wanting it change people's perception of him and his writing, Mitch writes of a life lived on the hard side of the tracks but it is that exact lifestyle that enables him to write so raw and powerful. I first followed Mitch when he was new to IG and I have watched him grow an audience of over 22K followers. Despite his popularity within the community, Mitch remains humble and completely devoted to his craft and passion for writing. Mitch allowed me the opportunity to sit down and ask him numerous questions on both his personal story as well as the journey he took when writing and releasing his debut poetry collection, The Corners of the Room. If I wasn't a fan of his before this interview, I most definitely am one now.
Check out part 1 of the February Author Spotlight interview where we get to know Mitch on a personal level and learn where his passion for writing all began.
Describe the first time you wrote a poem. How old were you? Do you remember where you were or what sparked you to do so?
The moment can’t be pinpointed to an exact age but I can make an educated guess that I was around 12 years old. I was able to recognize pain at that age or rather a way to deal with it. I remember being assigned a project in grade school that was to write a poem of your own. Yes, being young and ignorant to the topic I rolled my eyes and proceeded to force this meaningless word vomit onto paper but the feeling of the graphite pencil tip hitting the page like dragging linen over concrete, I remember the feeling it held in my stomach. It was like a switch was flicked on in my head and I never looked back. I dug into the words that my mind neglected to shove through my teeth and I haven’t looked back since.
What is it about poetry you love the most? What do you connect with the most in poetry?
I love the ambiguity of poetry and how every piece can be interpreted differently. Poetry gives me a beautiful insight into how everyone is drastically different but systematically the same. Attentiveness to poetry gives me hope for the future. I connect most with the way words can completely alter a person, for better or for worse, who cares? It shows that the portrayal of emotion can prevail over the hiding of it.
Describe your writing style. Do you prefer long/short form? Why?
My writing style is really dependant on what I’m writing about and my certain feelings towards the piece that I’m writing. My style is usually dark and ominous because that’s most of what is going on inside of my head. I’m not going to live in forgery because I think the world needs more positivity. I have written poems that are 3 lines, I have written poems that are 3 pages. I don’t think that the authenticity of poetry is directly related to the length of a piece. It’s more of paying attention to quality rather than the quantity everyone wants. It’s all about what comes out when you’re writing, be it long or concise!
Every writer has their own writing process, take us through yours. Do you write on your phone or by hand? Do you like to be in a specific environment and if so, describe the environment.
My writing process is all over the place, and extremely dependent on where my mind is at at the time of writing (though there are consistencies with it all). For example, I always write by hand first, then transfer it to a laser printer where I print on aged paper from antique novels and I usually have a drink nearby. I’ve become an addict to poetry, meaning that my mind never stops working towards writing. Everything I look at has a personified or metaphorical entrance to my mind. So if I’m out and about and don’t have anything to write on or with I use certain objects or smells to remind me of what sparked that immediate feeling to write. I tuck it in the back of my mind and wait until I’m home to pounce on the act. So all in all, when I feel it, I write it, the rest is just a product of circumstance.
Talk about a time or experience that made you fall into writing and it helped you heal or cope with the circumstance. What did being able to write mean to you in those moments?
I’m no stranger to death, my entire life goal thus far has not been to live, but to cope with loss. I have lost a lot of people close to me in a short time and at the beginning of it all I cornered myself with temporary vices to withhold the feeling of dealing with death, up until I started writing about it. In 2013 I lost an aunt that was like a second mother to me, to cancer. I had no idea what I was going to do without her, I had no idea what I was going to do to cope. Drink myself into a coma, get out of bed only to piss? Until I found myself behind the pen hours after her funeral. That specific piece is still, to this day one of the most meaningful and emotional pieces I have ever written. Being able to write, in these moments of loss saved me from traveling farther down a dark path or rather slowed my footsteps.
Is there anything or any experience you’ve lived through that you refuse to write about? Or that you refuse to share? Do you end up sharing all of the poetry you write (either through IG or your book) or do you save some for no eyes to ever see?
The two parts of that question go hand-in-hand. I have written about everything, no matter how hard, no matter how many tears I have to wipe away while writing, no matter how many times I have to stop and scream, no matter how hard pushing through the tremors and convulsions may be. I write about everything but the more personal the piece, and the harder is was the write, the less I want to share it. I have hundreds of pieces written in a notebook that no set of eyes other than my own will see.
When did you first make the jump to posting your poetry to social media? What was your intention or goal when you decided to create your account?
I’ve been writing for a long time and not only was it recently that I decided to show my work in its entirety. Instagram wasn’t the first social media platform that I used to publicize my writing. I originally had a twitter account years ago that I wrote under an anonymous alias “parallax”. Due to the character limit on there I found myself writing short, trite, meaningless quotes to please the audience I had. As soon as I recognized that I deleted my account and never went back to Twitter. Then, after that I took to a website called HelloPoetry. I then realized that the audience on this website wasn’t to the internet’s maximum potential and that’s when I thought of Instagram. My intention was never to gather a mass following, and it still isn’t, my intention is ambiguous, it has always been to release my mind from the things I can’t say and it has evolved as I published my work into relaying my problems to the reader to alleviate the feeling in others that they suffer alone. I’ve always been the kind of person to put another’s happiness ahead of my own; poetry is the fine medium in between selfishness and selflessness for me.
How long did it take you to grow your following? Do you find they are super engaged with you? Do you enjoy the popularity or is it true, more followers more problems?
I have had Instagram for roughly a year and I have 23,000 followers and I love each and every one of them. The engagement I have amongst them is like I’ve never seen. The “popularity” as you say, is nice but I really don’t care. Don’t mistaken that as cynical or unappreciative. I’d rather write to 1 person who genuinely gives a shit than opposed to 100k that don’t. I lucked out and have 23 thousand that do!
Do you think social media created a platform or paved a way for writers? If so, how? What are some positives and negatives about social media for writers?
I think this is where I become a tad cynical. There are ups and downs for mostly everything. I think that social media is incredible insofar as reaching an audience and getting the word out BUT I always look at is like this, if Bukowski, Plath, T.S Elliott, Keats, or any of the “greats” (for me at least) were on Instagram they wouldn’t be blasted with hundreds of thousands of followers. I feel like on the con side of social media lies the dumbing down of literature because of the obstruction it places on showing the entirety of poetry. I could go on forever, but hell, I’d bore everyone. Social media is good for exposure, bad for the future of it all.
How do you deal with the stress of the algorithm and things being made harder for poets to grow their following and engagement? What is one tip you can share that could maybe help someone with their own growth?
I think Instagram’s algorithm is garbage, for lack of a better term. Personally, there’s nothing I can do to circumvent the problems that the algorithm presents, so I kind of just post with my eyes closed and hope for the best. The best advice I can give for someone’s growth on Instagram, and the best way to dance around the algorithm is with originality. Find something that distinguishes you from the rest. Nowadays poetry has become sort of “cookie cutter” in the sense of originality, so the more “you” you can be the more people will look your way.
What kind of advice would you give to someone who just created their instagram and is looking to get into the poetry community? What do you wish someone would have told you when you first made your account?
The only advice I would give is basically what I mentioned above, stay true to your craft and be original. Not everyone is going to like or relate to your poetry. The numbers aren’t going to come overnight and your goal should be to reach the right people, not reach them all. I wish, when I first started my account, that I was told that relativity is not something you should force in poetry. Once your word starts to get out there the most important thing is to continue to write for yourself. As soon as you start to succumb to the numbers then your writing will lose it’s legitimacy.
What are your thoughts on the male poetry community? In a predominantly female community, do you find there is a camaraderie amongst the men?
I try to keep gender and poetry separate because I personally don’t write about anything of such topic but that doesn’t mean I don’t notice the diminishment of men in such a craft. There are certain aspects to male written poetry that is seldom found in the female side of things, that I can relate to and vice versa but I have found that the less I worry about relativity the more I can focus on the art. Many of my favorites on Instagram are men, and many of my favorites are women. Being apart of such a small section of poetry there is absolutely a camaraderie amongst us all. Unfortunately, it’s like finding a needle in a haystack but I have found a couple of needles and they’ll all amazing writers. Most of the fellow men I have followed on Instagram and I have become close personally because of the fact we have reached out to each other topically because there are so few of us left to converse with!
What advice would you give a young male writer who wants to start sharing his words on Instagram but is intimidated and/or embarrassed for others to read his work?
Publicizing your work cannot be forced. I withheld my poetry for 7 years and the only thing I can say is that I regret holding it back after the messages I have gotten saying that I have saved someone’s life or inspired them to write again, NOTHING compares to that. Embarrassment comes from the unfortunate societal stigma that poetry is girly and feminine, it’s bullshit, there is no gender specific proclamation to poetry. If you already WANT to start sharing your work, then there should be no obstacle. There’s a subconscious part of you that is already saying “I want people to see this”. Let go of the mindset that what other people think will bare weight on your confidence, ‘cause like I said: not everyone will like your work, go into it expecting that no one will and the appreciation will come coated in gold!
Who is one IG writer/poet that has really influenced you and has impacted either your life or just your writing style. Name a classic writer (dead or alive) that has done the same for you.
Naming one is like picking which of your children is your favourite haha. Each one influences different aspects to my writing! Liam Ryan (@itsliamryan) and I have become very close personally and with writing. Liam has changed my outlook on a lot of things, be it poetry and life. We have connected on a personal level after realizing how close we live to each other. He has shown me many different levels to writing and constantly sets the bar extremely high. Every poem he writes is inspirational to say the least. Charles Bukowski is a #1 for me, opinions on him differ throughout the writing community but mine is nothing but positivity and awe. The lifestyle Buk lived was a little different than mine but his poetry contains the most intriguing type of originality. His metaphors are second to none, and the content is enough to make you chew through your own cheek, raw and real. If you have never read him, please do. Some honourable mentions consist of: T.S Elliott, Frank Stanford, Sylvia Plath, Edgar Allan Poe, Hemmingway, Ezra Pound, and Walt Whitman.
What is poetry like in Canada as a whole and then in your city. Is there a big poetry/spoken word community that you know of? Is art positively accepted occupation for someone to have or is it frowned upon?
Poetry in Canada is amazing. I have met so many fellow writers on Instagram from here and their work is beautiful. Though I’m from a medium sized city, just east of Toronto, and there’s not much of an art mentality here. Very little spoken word and poetry reading opportunity (though I don’t do spoken word I appreciate it and I’d love to see more). But on the upside it’s not a long drive to where there is some. Like I said, there’s not much tangibility here to poetry but the acceptance is absolutely astounding. After I released my book, I realized that.
What do you want people to take away from reading your poetry? What is one emotion or feeling you want them to always remember you by?
That the shit they’re feeling, the knife in stomach, dark cloud bedroom, tight skin and slow flowing blood isn’t exclusive to them. There are so many people suffering with them. It doesn’t mean that everything will get better, I’m not here to force feed hope down their throat and I’m definitely not a savior cause I still need saving but I know what it’s like to feel like you’ve dug yourself a hole, I know what it’s like to feel like you have no one. All I want to do, while alleviating my loneliness through my writing, is let you know that suffering alone is a phrase no longer used. I don’t want to be remembered. I want to inspire the ones on the edge of the gun, to be remembered by doing great things, in a long life.
If you are not working or writing, where can one find you and what would you be doing? Do you have any other passions besides poetry?
Like I said earlier, poetry has formulated an addiction in me so it’s hard to completely remove myself from it but when I do I can find myself drumming. I’ve been drumming for roughly 16 years. I’ve played hockey my entire life, competitive up until a couple years ago and playing video games. My life has basically been summed up haha.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years? What do you want to be spending your time?
In 10 years? Sheesh.. I can’t even promise I’ll be living haha. But let’s say I survive up until then, I’d like to see myself pursuing writing as a career, living in a quaint modernized house in the woods with the love of my life.. a man can dream.
If you could tell your 15 year old self anything, what would you say to him?
You’ve already jumped, enjoy the fall.
stay tuned for part 2 of the February Spotlight Interview with Mitch which will be posted tomorrow! In part 2, Mitch gives an in depth look into his debut poetry collection, The Corner of the Room, and how he put together the largest poetry collection from an "IG poet" I've ever seen released!
have you just published and released a book? If so and are interested in doing an author spotlight, click the button below to send me a message. Please be sure to include your book title, its release date, and a link to check it out!
love & light,