- Photography by Mr Serge Leblon
- Styling by Mr Dan May, Style Director, MR PORTER
- Words by Mr Tom M Ford, Features Writer, MR PORTER
"I occupy two highly improbable worlds," says Mr Max Wallis - nursing a pint in an East London pub, a few days after our coastal shoot. "However, I'm in a lovely position where people are interested in both." A published poet-come-model, the 23-year-old is on a mission. Having released his first critically acclaimed poetry collection Modern Love, he wants to modernise the medium with his latest project - filmed poems inspired by modelling. "The traditional method of publishing is not fast enough for me," he says. "I want to forge my own future."
Completing his first work aged eight (on the contentious subject of mangetout), the London-based wordsmith wrote tirelessly, despite living among a family of scientists. "My grandad invented the wires for Cern," he offers, absentmindedly. Heading to Manchester University to study biology - which he excelled at - he soon swapped for a creative writing Masters, and signed up to a young poet scheme at the Barbican in London. After showing some poems to his mentor, Modern Love was published in 2011 by flipped eye. It was shortlisted for the Polari First Book Prize in 2012.
With the collection charting a modern sex- and text-filled love affair, he wanted his work to be up to the minute from day one. "Someone said I used language that didn't actually exist 10 years ago," he says of his insightful collection. "Writers are scared of putting in modern elements, but if you're writing about now - you have to mention things like mobile phones."
Someone said I used language that didn't actually exist 10 years ago, but if you're writing about now - you have to mention things like mobile phones
Despite poetry being his first passion, modelling has been a welcome addition to his career. After friends sent in his picture, he was signed up by agencies such as Q in New York and Independent Men in Milan. He completed his first season on the catwalks in Paris earlier this year and has a major billboard campaign dropping this spring. Instead of it being a distraction, Mr Wallis has used this contrasting arena as a foil for his poems. "Even in modelling there's poetry. A review for a show I saw referred to things like the 'origami of the dresses'. It's interesting to look at the concealment of language," he says. When pitching his concept for sponsoring from the Arts Council, he knew he was on to something and had a ready bank of material to utilise. "I'm interesting at the moment because they haven't read poetry about modelling. I knew this couple - the girl was a model. They broke up, the girl skyrocketed, and she was on every surface in New York, and the guy had to see that. The poems are about that - falling in love in this ridiculous world."
By insisting his new work be on a digital platform, Mr Wallis wants to help build an alternative method of consuming poetry. He doesn't question the quality of contemporary work, but thinks it can be published faster, and heard by more people. "The biggest growth of posting literature online is in poetry. People like poetry and read it but it's seen as niche and dry - so I'm interested in how you get it wet! How do you get Joe Bloggs involved? I'm purposely not going through normal channels. I'm interested in how you attack new people... so to speak." Poetry can be seen as a dated form of expression, yet, as Mr Wallis points out, it is an ideal literary form in a world obsessed with brevity. "You're dealing with people who scroll through Facebook feeds. No one has time any more. Poetry is just bite-size chunks, and with a 30-second video [like "As in Those Slow Moments", above], someone can open it, and as they cogitate whether to close it, it's already half way through." Getting people to experience poems without even realising it? You have to admire his desire.
People like poetry and read it but it's seen as niche and dry - I'm interested in how you attack new people...
With the likes of Harper's Bazaar publishing his videos - "Time Zones Apart" is online now - and his written work receiving plaudits from Faber favourite Mr Sam Riviere and more, Mr Wallis has successfully piqued the interest of both the fashion and literary worlds.
As he finishes his drink, he ponders the broader benefits of his work. It becomes clear that the exposure one associates with modelling undoubtedly spurs on his writing. "It'd be lovely to have about 85 poems in all different markets. Then you've got yourself appearing all around the globe." Considering the campaign he has coming out in spring - whether it's billboards or poetry videos - one feels he'll enjoy attention in whichever world he chooses.
Mr Wallis' upcoming children's book, Jack Frost & the Swans, is currently under review. He is also judging the young poetry competition for The London Magazine. Find out more here