Poetry Muse: Charlie Petch + Why I Was Late

April 6, 2022

Today on the blog we are joined by Charlie Petch, author of  Why I Was Late (Brick Books). Charlie Petch (they/them, he/him) is a disabled/queer/transmasculine multidisciplinary artist who resides in Tkaronto/Toronto. In our Q&A, Charlie shares a poem from his new collection, and shares how for this specific poem, his muse was Mike Tyson. 

See more details below

Who is your muse?

Being open to all that people are, is my muse. In this poetic offering, my muse is Mike Tyson.


Picture of Mike Tyson

Picture of Mike Tyson 


What inspired you when you started writing your poetry collection? And what is your creative process when you begin writing? 

I didn’t aim to have a collection really, as a spoken word/theatre artist I don’t usually envision my work statically on a page. I just kept adding to folders called “Manuscript (year)” and when a friend nudged me about where my collection was, I decided to see what I’d amassed at this point and found a full manuscript. I write most mornings, before the world seeps in, before the muses arrive, when I am at my most raw, open, and emotional. I believe writing is a muscle so my morning exercises include stretching, lifting weights and putting 26 letters together over and over again, in pleasing partnerships, and hoping they convey what I have in my head.


When did you start writing poetry and why did you choose to write poetry over other forms of literature?

I started writing stories when I was around 9 years old, but didn’t get into poetry really until I got a notebook at 16, and then the angst began ha ha. It really helped me to sort out my brain, though, being a trans person at that point of history, I felt there was a whole language I didn’t know, which was how I felt in my body. I think us non binary and trans people really have to do that extra searching, and that this is an art onto itself. I never stopped writing stories, novels or plays so I can’t claim to have held poetry up over all other forms of literature, but I do feel like poetry is the basis of all my other writing.


How would you describe your poetry collection?

Humourous, heartbreaking, transformative.


What advice would you give to aspiring poets?

Let yourself fail, let bad poems out of you so the great ones can find you. Believe that there is a little you in every audience, that needs to hear what you have to say.


Are there any poets or poetry collections that you admire? 

I really loved Hasan Namir’s War Torn, I also really enjoyed his newest Umbilical Cord, there’s so much glorious queerness, joy and deep pain that informs each carefully chosen word.


Does music inspire you when you start writing poetry? 

I absolutely love to write with music in the background. My upcoming spoken word theatre piece, “Daughter of Geppetto” was written while listening to Chopin’s nocturnes, as they were popular at the time of the original Pinocchio in 1880. The first poem in the 4 part show ended up lining up so perfectly with Chopin’s nocturne "Opus 9, No. 2," that I have kept it in the show. At this point I really believe that because I listened to it so much in the creation of the work, I wove the poem around it.


Poem from Why I Was Late


My First Lisping Hero


To be performed with ukulele fingerpicking


We called you champ.

Mike Tyson


when you and I open up our mouths

they turn into bull’s eyes

and we are silent in our defense

because words can be landmines


the first time I saw you

unabashed unapologetic on the


you became my first lisping hero


I imagined us in my playground  

bullies fleeing our earthquake footsteps


I tried to duck and dance like a butterfly Ali

you were no one’s punching bag
launched iron fists to the tune of thirty-eight arrests

before you hit age thirteen.


The boxing world plucked you from reform school

maybe you felt saved

I know how education can seem like the enemy

and for a boy targeted for his

high-pitched lispy voice

you probably felt relieved that the teacher

would never call on you again.


Your lisp never got better

your voice never dropped

you put up your dukes
gave up on language

and let your dreams narrow

Before your mom died

she gave you to

your boxing coach

Cus D’Amato

who polished you up like a

custom auto

but never could install any breaks


There were no bells in the bedrooms you strode into

no towels to be thrown in front of your thundering ways


Raised to be a wild animal

you look calmest wrestling with your Bengal tiger

even your friends say you belonged in a cage.


But Mike

you’re as used to betrayal as getting punched in the gut

I mean the man who could have protected you


when you were just two years old


there are no “s” sounds in “Dad”

you could have said it everyday

without the worry of retribution

Instead you shouted it into barrel chests

It bounced back with the blank stares of men

who love you

for your fists

and the bags of money they bring


Maybe what you needed

was a male embrace

not cut short by a bell


Now in the wake of Holyfield’s spat-out ear

your empire crumbles

your four-year-old daughter dies

your other children look at you in fear

and your beloved tiger

paces behind some stranger's bars


The television calls you a monster

speaks of your failures

your crimes

your legacy of violence



I like your new heavyweight fight

the one called Sobriety

as your daughter’s easy laughter

makes you champion

the father who’s there

the father who came back


I’ve written so many endings

to your poem   Mike

some were too kind

others damned you

but you grew

in love and recovery


Some humans are capable of so much

when we give them a chance

to get up off the mat


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Charlie Petch (they/them, he/him) is a disabled/queer/transmasculine multidisciplinary artist who resides in Tkaronto/Toronto. A poet, playwright, librettist, musician, lighting designer, and host, Petch was the 2017 Poet of Honour for SpeakNorth national festival, winner of the Golden Beret lifetime achievement in spoken word with The League of Canadian Poets (2020), and founder of Hot Damn it's a Queer Slam. Petch is a touring performer, as well as a mentor and workshop facilitator. They are launching "Daughter of Geppetto", a multimedia/dance/music/performance poetry piece with Wind in the Leaves in April 2022 , launched their full length poetry collection Why I Was Late with Brick Books which got a "Best of  2021" from The Walrus, and filmed their libretto "Medusa's Children" with Opera QTO.  They have been featured on CBC's Q, the Toronto International Festival of Authors, and were longlisted for the CBC Poetry Prize in 2021. Find out more at www.charliecpetch.com


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