The first time I saw Isaiah Hull, I was sat alone in the audience at Contact theatre, thinking about my uncle. My uncle was a great poet, and as I’d later find out, a source of inspiration for Isaiah too. It was the first solo spoken word event I’d been to and the poetry was moving, the performances raw. From that day, two, maybe three, years ago, I’d see Isaiah often. From small spoken words events in the basement of Solomons café, Withington, to more recent shows in Chorlton’s Morley Cheeks on a Tuesday night. Now, though, Isaiah is doing much more than the odd local show here and there.
Now he performs far and wide, from Ted talks, to the BBC to opening for Skepta. He often travels down to London to recite his poems, to bask in the brilliance of the capital’s many wordsmiths. When we met, in Manchester, we talked about how fast everything moves in London, how quickly you can get swept up with the masses. He shook his head and laughed. “Aw, London man. London is like Manchester on steroids, like Manchester times two.”
I had a copy of one of my uncle’s collections of poetry with me when Isaiah arrived, shuffling in from the darkness outside, straightening up in the warm glow of Grindsmith coffee shop. He was wearing a long black overcoat and ordered a hot chocolate. We sat in the corner, settled into low-built sofas. The waitress brought him a cappuccino.
If you ever meet Isaiah, you’ll notice the way his creativity consumes him. The way it overflows, in his speech, his gestures, his movements. Spilling over the way his cappuccino continually spilt and splashed onto his long black coat – he hardly even noticed. “When I’m not being creative, I’m lost.” He said with a shrug, his eyes focused ahead, before telling me about his most recent film project.
“Well, I’ve got this DSLR camera and every weekend I wanna film stuff. Shoot things as they happen, like visual images, natural filming and stuff.” I ask him what he means by natural filming and he goes into some detail about a group of squirrels in Alexandra Park, the way they move and the things they do; there is a poetry to his words even when he is just chatting.
This year he published his first collection of poetry, Nosebleeds. The poems are intense and, at times, uncomfortable; they are volatile yet calculated, stunning and transportive. They are synonymous with Isaiah. He handed me a copy of Nosebleeds to keep and I scanned through the poems with awe, fascinated by the explicit artwork throughout the collection.
We decided to swap books. I handed him my copy of my uncle’s collection and he hunched over it, inhaling the words like smoke. Smoking being something he hopes to give up in 2019. He muttered the titles of the poems, smiling. I asked him how he feels about poetry now, now that he’s moved on to film-making, as well as releasing a musical EP this July, as a prelude to Nosebleeds.
It’s as if he’s trying to master as much as he can, I said. He rocked back and forth, laughing, baring his teeth. “That’s exactly what I’m trying to do!” We both laugh. “But nah really, not that I’ve mastered poetry, but like, I don’t really read poetry anymore – at all.” The seriousness in his tone turns his body toward me as he says it, something he does often. “Poetry is like a separate muscle to me.” It’s something he can exercise whenever he wants, but clearly something that is flesh and bone to him, tangible.
Our drinks had gone cold but the sofa stayed warm, the conversation spilling over a little longer than I thought it would. We left Grindsmith as they started to lock up for the night, both of us turning left toward HOME, where Isaiah used to work as an usher. We talk as we walk, sharing stories about pets and siblings before he turns right under the archway, his silhouette highlighted by the fairy-lights scattered in the trees. I carried on towards my bus stop, eager to read the rest of Nosebleeds on my journey home.