Matt Windle

Boxer and poet come face-to-face as Matt Windle talks about life inside the ring and as Birmingham’s Poet Laureate to David Johns

Never was the phrase ‘poetry in motion’ more apt than when talking about Matt Windle. The up-and-coming Birmingham boxer is also the city’s official Poet Laureate. If, like me, you didn’t know there was such a thing then you should also know that to win this literary title is almost as demanding as claiming a champion’s belt in the ring.

Matt, 26, started off 10 years ago by being Birmingham Junior Poet Laureate after he was pestered by his English teacher at Moseley School, Wake Green to enter for the competition. “The class was given the choice of writing an essay or a poem and, me being lazy, I thought it would be easier to write a few lines of a poem than do a long essay,” explains Matt. “The teacher was so impressed by my poem about homelessness that she said I should enter in for the Young Poet Laureate. I was 15 at the time in Year 10 and she kept asking me day after day if I had entered. I finally gave in and put in my entry, which had to be four poems, on the very last day possible.”


Matt was suitably amazed to be called to read his poems in front of a judging panel. “I didn’t really prepare properly because it was my first experience like that, so I didn’t get through,” he said. “But the following year, after working really hard on my poetry I won the competition and became Junior Poet Laureate.”

Fast forward nearly a decade and Matt is now the adult Birmingham Poet Laureate. The Laureate scheme has been going for 21 years and is now a joint venture between Birmingham Library and Writing West Midlands. Matt’s just in the first few months of a two-year term in the job which sees him record important or momentous events on the Birmingham scene in verse, write commissioned pieces of work and take his inspirational message and story out to local and national schools, universities, clubs, organisations, young offenders centres and charities through workshops, boxercise classes and other events. His number one priority is to use his poetry to show youngsters that no dream is impossible, all goals can be reached.

“Most kids have a preconceived idea that poetry and the Poet Laureate is for old people. Say Poet Laureate to them and they’ll think of someone who is dead, from history. They are amazed to see that it is someone of my age who is a professional boxer.”

The self-styled ‘Poet With Punch’ was first an amateur boxer who had more than 60 fights for Warley and Jewellery Quarter boxing clubs. In 2012 he became Birmingham Featherweight champion and the following year was Midland Central Area Bantamweight titleholder. In 2014 he won the Birmingham and Midland Flyweight title and was ranked in the UK’s top eight.


As we talked Matt was training at Henrietta Street Gym for his fifth fight to be held at Villa Park since turning professional. So far unbeaten in the ring, Matt is returning after a nasty back injury. He’s ranked number six in the UK in the eight-stone flyweight division and number 11 in Europe. His aim is to get a title fight within the year and go on to win the British title.

Matt’s love of boxing is total but as a youngster he kind of stumbled into the sport. “At primary school age I loved watching the WFF wrestling, but at senior school I grew out of that. I still enjoyed the combat aspect of sport though and in my teens I just wanted to box. I’m only 5ft 4in so I was never going to become a Usain Bolt or a top class footballer. But boxing is different.”

So, when it comes to ‘The Big Fight: The Crunch Match’ what’s it to be ultimately for Matt – boxing or poetry? “I suppose you could say that I’m a poet by day and a boxer by night. I am fiercely committed to both. I’m able to do my training without any impact from by poetry work,” he says


“On my boxing, I’m training hard for my latest fight. On my poetry, I am currently writing pieces for Birmingham Ladies FC. A couple of weeks ago I did a workshop for Amnesty International in Sutton Coldfield. I’ve also been involved with Remembrance Sunday and Holocaust Memorial. Today, I’ve been to Kidderminster to help sixth-formers that have just left school get more creative with their CVs to get a better chance of getting jobs.”

Matt admits that even if he proved good enough to become a world boxing champion, he will always have poetry in his life. “Poetry is my bread and butter for when I’m older, for the rest of my life. It provides me with a much better income than boxing. But boxing is always with me too. Wherever I am, I’ll walk around doing a bit of shadow boxing, throwing a few punches.”


An extract from City Me by Matt Windle, Birmingham Poet Laureate

Verbal material is stitched

And moulded by thoughts

As well as vocal chords

Caught strumming itself when the wind is still

But even when movement is minimal the wind is still…

A part of your enzyme

Every breath makes me try harder by ten times to not allow the gift of life to be simply sent by

We were all sent by someone

Or something

Not to be everlasting but to be temporary kings

Not to back down from challenges but to beat things

So that even a Queen couldn’t stop you

And if someone tries, let them know that we will, we will rock you

We could be the stars etched on to city streets

And morph in to the soul that helps the heart, beat

I’m not just a part of my city. My city is a part of me

I gave birth to this with dodgy dialect, bad behaviour and good luck

And I give many things but I will never give… up

I will never forget what made me

What participated in the evolution to man, from baby

My built up surroundings are a combination of sweet and savoury