Black and white photo of Rachel McCrum

Tell us a little bit about yourself, your current ideas and interests.

I'm a poet and performer, originally from Northern Ireland, who has lived in New Zealand, Manchester, Belfast and Edinburgh. I've been living in Scotland for six years, which has seen some deep political changes, particularly around the ideas of national identity: from the Scottish independence referendum to the recent, disastrous EU referendum. We're still reeling a little from this, and the dust has not settled yet.

Coming from Northern Ireland, the idea of national identity – a fear of nationalism, of colonialism, of that insidious belief that someone is better than someone else just because of where they were born – is a big one for me. My writing in the past few years has grappled with ideas of home, of leaving, of identity. Now, it's moving more towards an exploration of how we claim space – emotional, artistic, physical, aural – in the places that we are. How we can belong: the rights that we have to belong somewhere, the responsibilities that go with that, Ideas of compassion, empathy, understanding.

I've been incredibly fortunate in the past few years to have travelled widely with poetry – I've performed and taught in Greece, South Africa, Haiti and Montreal, and worked with poets in different languages. I absolutely believe in the power of poetry and performance in giving voice to those who are silenced, and in connecting people, as people, with hearts and minds and souls, from every part of the earth.

Poetry helps us speak, and poetry helps us listen.

Do you believe that your environment impacts your writing? And, how so?

Oh, absolutely! The physical environment itself...that informs your understanding of space, of sound, of light, of how you move in the world. I grew by the sea, and that language informs huge amounts of how I write: the first words you learn are how to describe the things around you. That vocabulary is in your bones. The political, social, cultural environment...that's what you care about. That's what affects your life, your family, your friends, your folk. Even if you move from it, those concerns are somewhere held in you. And the literary environment; I think most people read at least some of the literature that will have come from the place that you are. And that informs you too, even in ways you're not aware of.

And then to move away, and see that environment from a distance, and to try and understand a new one...I think you carry both with you. You're held somewhere on the tightrope – or tripwire – between them.

Can language shape the direction of a poem?

I think it can direct the shape of a poem, if that's not too cute. Poetry, to me, is always aural – even if we write it without ever speaking it, we can hear it somewhere deep in the inner ear. The rhythms and cadences of our own language create the shape of the poem. You can see this across all literature – formally, how particular poetic forms (haiku in Japan; englyns in Welsh; the structure of Old English verse like Beowulf) use the syllables of language to create aural, emotional effect.

What are some of the connections between Quebec and Scotland literature/poetry scenes?

I'm still learning about the Quebec scene, and looking forward to seeing more. I think one thing that I've noticed is that it feels like artists own the poetry more here. There is a habit of self deprecation in the Scottish spoken word scene sometimes – an undercutting of seriousness of self, before the poem has even begun. Or folk apologise for the poem, the performance, themselves. This can be funny as hell, reflective of a dry, wry sense of humour but it can also verge on cynical, sometimes.

I like the sincerity that I've seen here.