An Interview with Poet Superstar HLR by Stephen J. Golds

Punk Noir Magazine

This time last year, I was trying to talk the editor of an Indie Crime Press into letting me put together a poetry chapbook series.

I wanted to put out a chapbook a month. These wouldn’t be your stapled together convenience store photocopier variety of chapbooks either. They would be top of the range booklets by some of the best indie poets around.

The editor was sold and I started putting out calls for submissions. Within a couple of months I had about a hundred. A few were great. A lot were… not to my individual taste. But the series was taking shape.

Nothing had really blown my head back until one morning riding a crowded subway to work I checked my email. A submission caught my eye. A poetry collection by a woman calling herself HLR.

I opened the attachment and started reading.

And she floored me from the very first page. Page One.

I got off the train at the next stop, and had to sit down. I read until I realized I was late for work.

I think many editors have a moment where they read the work of a writer and just know, just instinctively know, this person is destined for great things. HLR didn’t just blow my head back. Her words knocked my head clean off.

I went on to publish the chapbook and the rest they say is History.

I still believe it’s one of the best, most important collections of poetry I’ve ever read. Probably ever will read.

HLR has soul, guts and heart and it is all there on every single page. Dripping from every single damn word.

In case your wondering, the name of the chapbook is HISTORY OF PRESENT COMPLAINT and if you haven’t read it yet, I really don’t know what else I can do for you.

You can take a dying horse to water but you can’t make it drink.

Anyway, back to why you clicked on this link…

HLR was kind enough to give me some of her time to answer questions for the Punk Noir readers.

Can you tell our readers a little bit about how you got started in the Literature scene?

Ooooof errrrmmmmm. Well. In April 2012 I was looking for a new personal creative project and heard about NaPoWriMo, so on a whim I started a WordPress blog to share my 30 poems in 30 days. I’d always written privately, since I was a kid (I kept detailed journals about what was happening to me to be used as evidence when needed), and only ever sold a poem or article or story when I needed the money: other than that, I never shared my writing. But on my blog I began posting regular diary-style entries that described the madnesses of my life in real time, as well as my poems and stories and artwork. I shared my whole life there, my fucked-up reality documented in its rawest form, unedited, not for any reason other than to simply to ‘get it all out of me’ and keep a record of all the badness; people came for my NaPo efforts and or came for the prose poem that went viral but then, to my utter surprise, hundreds of them stayed for the person who wrote the poems.

After a few successful years with my personal blog, a poet I love, B, started a ground-breaking literary collective called Hijacked Amygdala and wanted me in: I was a resident writer at HA from its inception in 2016, posting brand new writing every Friday until I bowed out last year, so lots of people know me from HA too. I’ve met the most incredible people through my blog, some of them were there from the start, they’ve ‘witnessed’ my life play out from aged 19 and been there through it all – they’re my first and best readers and mean everything to me.

I kept my blog religiously until last year when I joined social media after 5 years in self-imposed isolation and decided that I had to stop hiding and make an effort to be present, to connect with humans. Then I discovered the writing community on Twitter and saw how many poets there are (!) and how many lit mags (!!) and how many opportunities (!!!)and was shocked. The old-school traditional ways in which I’d had all my work published since I was 10 til I was 26 suddenly went out of the window: I wanted to grab every opportunity I’d been missing and suss out how to be a pro-active modern poet, so I started submitting in earnest. I had more work accepted for publication in January 2020 than I had had published in 5 years. But the rules… unpublished… no previously published work… I’ve had to stop sharing my work on my blog so that it’s eligible to be submitted to mags and entered into comps. I miss my blog, I miss the community there. My poor neglected blog! I need to revive it for sure.

I am shit at social media but joining Twitter is also one of the best things I’ve ever done: I’ve met so many people (a lot of whom are writers, poets, artists too) who have completely changed my life. History of Present Complaint is only out in the world because someone retweeted Close to the Bone’s open call and I was drunk and took a chance and sent the manuscript to you, Steve! The online writing community, at WordPress and on Twitter, has been the greatest support to me personally and professionally. I pinch myself often, like, I can’t believe how lucky I am. I’m still very much a shadow on the edge of ‘the scene’ but now I know there is one, and it’s thriving.

You’re best known for your poetry collection History of Present Complaint. How did that collection come into fruition and what were your inspirations for that collection?

HoPC was put together during Lockdown 1 last year. It was inspired by the psychotic episode I had in September 2019, during which I was involuntarily sectioned under the Mental Health Act. After that, I was released back into the ‘care of the community’ but received zero care or support – this life-changing traumatic thing had happened to me and I was just left with the fallout, with no recovery plan or therapy or treatment or anything at all, so I did what I have always done to cope, to survive: I wrote it all out of me.

What advice would you give to up and coming indie authors?

Keep diaries/journals/notebooks for yourself, writing privately, with no audience in mind, no agenda other than to be honest with your self; you can pull words or ideas or sentences out of them later if you feel obliged or uninspired, mine your raw material for diamonds – you’ll be surprised when a forgotten diary entry from a decade ago becomes an award-winning poem.

Also, don’t just write what people expect from you. Don’t allow yourself to be pigeonholed. Don’t limit yourself. Fuck genres and categories and neat boxes and tradition. Do whatever the fuck you want, but do it your way with yourbrain and your soul, or don’t do it at all.

What are your plans for the future?

It’s impossible for me to plan anything because my illnessescompletely dictate my life. ‘Future’ is the full stop that I’ll put at the end of this sentence. But… full-length prosetrycollection #2 is my current personal project. I’ve got a clear vision for it which I’m focusing on every day, I’m excited about it, I just need to be well enough to really write the thing, to turn my notes and drafts and ancient blog posts and diary entries into the book that it deserves to be.

What is an issue you care about deeply?

Fighting for access to proper, safe, free, specialised treatment and consistent help and support for the severely mentally ill(who have historically been and still are systematically and horrifically failed by the NHS, social services and the British government).

What novel are you reading now?

I’ve just finished Story of the Eye and am about to start Ways of Living by Gemma Seltzer – Influx Press have been putting out some brilliant books by women writers lately (The Service, Boy Parts). I’ve got an 18-hour round bus trip at the end of the month to go and visit my Dad’s grave for the first time since pre-pandemic, and I’ll be taking Chris Kelso’s Dregs trilogy and The Art of Joy by Goliarda Sapienza with me for the ride – all 1277 pages of ‘em!

What music are you listening to now?

Right now? I’m having an Immortal Technique day.Revolutionary Vols I and II. He’s a pure poet, an absolute truth-teller, he educates through his art (taught me so much about politics when I was a kid who knew nothing of the world outside of grimy north London). His metaphors are some of the most impactful I’ve ever heard. He’s a master storyteller (‘Dance with the Devil’ still shakes me to my core 15 years after I first listened to it, and ‘You Never Know’ will always be personally special to me), and when I’m tired of fighting and feel like a failure, Technique always serves me wisdom – today I was bolstered by ‘Positive Balance’ from Vol I and ‘Leaving the Past’ from Vol II.

What did you last eat?

A raspberry jam doughnut! The other day an old pal reminded me of when we were kids and there was a bet on who could eat a sugar-coated jam doughnut without licking their lips, andthe conversation had me craving doughnuts ALL WEEK so today I finally went out and got one 😀 (I won the bet – £15 and a ten-bag of weed. How’d I do it? Used a knife and fork. You can have that one for free x)

If you could go on a drinking binge with 5 writers alive or dead who would you choose?

Jean Rhys. Cesare Pavese. Clarice Lispector. Eminem (he’s apoet, don’t @ me). My Dad.

What would you like written on your gravestone?

“Let it never be said that she didn’t try”


HLR (she/her) writes poetry and short prose about living with chronic mental illness, trauma, and grief. Her work has been published by or is forthcoming with Misery Tourism, SCAB Magazine, Sledgehammer Lit, andEmerge Literary Journal. HLR is the winner of The Desmond O’Grady International Poetry Prize 2021. She is the author of prosetry collection History of Present Complaint (Close to the Bone) and micro-chap Portrait of the Poet as a Hot Mess (Ghost City Press). HLR lives in north London where she was born and raised. Twitter: @HLRwriter / / IG:hel.rol

History of Present Complaint: US / UK
Portrait of the Poet as a Hot Mess:

Stephen J. Golds

Stephen J. Golds was born in North London, U.K, but has lived in Japan for most of his adult life.

He writes primarily in the noir and dirty realism genres and is the co-editor of Punk Noir Magazine.

He enjoys spending time with his daughters, reading books, traveling the world, boxing and listening to old Soul LPs. His books are Say Goodbye When I’m Gone, I’ll Pray When I’m Dying, Always the Dead, Poems for Ghosts in Empty Tenement Windows I Thought I Saw Once, Cut-throat & Tongue-tied, Bullet Riddled & Gun Shy and the story and poetry collection Love Like Bleeding Out With an Empty Gun in Your Hand.