Meet Sonny Hall, the Model-Poet She Told You Not to Worry About
On a sunny Saturday afternoon last month, the model Sonny Hall was sitting at a big table in the back of Lucien, a scene-y French bistro in downtown Manhattan. About twenty copies of his poetry book, The Blues Comes With Good News, were stacked in front of him on the white paper tablecloth. The book had just been picked up by London’s Hodder & Stoughton—“Steven King’s publisher,” he noted, grinning—and he was trying to offload the last of the first editions he had self published in April, for $60 a pop.
Hall had announced the impromptu book signing last-minute on Instagram, and soon a group of assorted fashion types, literary college students, and absolutely besotted teenage girls hovered around the table. One man, who appeared to be on the front end of the millennial age spectrum, which made him the oldest person in the room by about a decade, summed up how many of them had found themselves there: “It was through social media. I guess Sonny was in my feed.” He asked Hall for a photo. “I was like, there are still young poets out in the world?”
Hall moves through life with an exceptionally carefree attitude, and dresses downright Dickensian, wearing slept-in Savile Row suits over wool vests, wingtips with holes worn through the soles, and assorted newsboy caps. He’s covered in spindly tattoos and antique gold jewelry, and holds a deep reverence for Pete Doherty and the Artful Dodger. (He is almost comically British.) He smokes cigarettes constantly, as if from an alternate universe where Juuls never existed.
Hall will tell you that he wasn’t always this light on his feet. Blues emerged from a diary the now-22-year-old started keeping in rehab a few years ago. It’s an unflinching confessional, containing 109 skeletal poems that confront addiction, death, heartbreak, and recovery. Most people who grow up being told they are beautiful carry a certain amount of nonchalance, but Hall’s bearing is that of a man who landed unscathed after being ejected from a car crash, and who fully embraces their sheer good luck for having done so. At Lucien—name-dropped in one of his poems—Hall greeted each attendee with a kiss on the cheek and questions about their lives, each his new “matey” or “bruvva.” The day before, when he was getting his photo taken behind the triumphal arch of the Manhattan Bridge, he hopped up on a railing that curved above the roadway of trucks zooming into Manhattan, and tiptoed across the precarious expanse for so long that I found myself wondering what I would tell his agent, Kate Moss (yes, that Kate Moss), if he fell.
Hall is circumspect when discussing the addiction problems that landed him in rehab at 18. But he has always been open about the event that spun him out of control and, in a tragic and perverse way, gave him his new lease on life.
Hall was adopted at the age of four, but maintained contact with his biological mother. When he was 17, she died of a heroin overdose. Hall, who had dropped out of fashion school in London the year before, threw himself into “oblivion, just 24/7 oblivion,” he recalled. He had been scouted as a model at that point, but couldn’t book jobs because nobody trusted him to show up to set sober. “It wasn’t a party life,” he said. “It was a torturous, dark existence. More and more, I knew where I was going to end up.” Before that day occurred, a family friend called him out of the blue. It was morning, and Hall, who was on his way to the pub, figured he had nothing better to do than take her up on an offer of a rehab retreat in Thailand.
In rehab, Hall discovered the collected journals of Pete Doherty, the infamously-unrepentant addict and Libertines frontman who had become his kindred spirit of sorts. “Pete, as a writer, was the first where when I read anything he said, I connected with it, because he’s English and he’s got that dandy kind of thing,” Hall said. Upon returning to London, Hall found that regularly writing helped him cope with the disorienting experience of sobriety, which he said made him “feel like a baby all over again.”
“Writing gave me this stepping stone to living and experiencing,” he said, “because everything that I see, feel, hear can go into it. It’s already rationalized. It makes life something that is worth feeling, because I know that I can create from it.”
If our insatiable hunger for beauty in the nineties and aughts saw the rise of the model-turned-actor, the bottomless pit of content that defines 2019 has given us the multihyphenate model-poet. Hall himself began posting photos of brooding verses scribbled into battered notebooks to Instagram in late 2017. “When I first put it out, I was fucking scared,” he said. “I was shittin’ myself.” But the initial response was encouraging—positive, even. Hall began leaning into the literary bent, posting photos of himself reading books and writing in his journal, videos where he smokes cigarettes and reads his poems. Those videos are now among his most-liked posts ever.
And not just because people love hot guys reading poetry. In the literary tradition of fellow Thai rehab alum and Doherty superfan Cat Marnell, Hall’s work is radically honest, darkly glamorous, and devourable as a result. One poem, “Parisian Lube,” is about Hall going full Lily Allen at Le Select in Paris. Others details illicit affairs with married women and drugged-out sexual encounters with past paramours.
You can sense Hall’s outsider status (and seemingly boundless confidence) on the page—many of Hall’s poems went straight from scribbles in his notebook, to Instagram, to the printing press. He readily admits that he doesn’t particularly care what iambic pentameter is, and hardly knew what a stanza was when he began putting pen to paper. The crowd at Lucien could not have cared less. “His whole aesthetic is very authentic and genuine,” said a Hofstra senior waiting to meet Hall. “I just feel like a lot of writers nowadays are very caged, and I feel like Sonny doesn’t have a filter. Which is what I’m very attracted to. It’s very real.”
“It’s almost like a guilt that I have,” Hall said, when I asked him about how he encountered the gate of the literary establishment and cut right through it. “I don’t know. I honestly don’t know how things work. I’ve only been writing for two years and all of a sudden this has happened. I feel guilty because there are so many great writers out there. But maybe down the line I could help in some way, give more people a voice.”
Over lunch at a nearby Chinatown cafe, the conversation turns to the family Hall has left, and his adoptive parents’ reaction to the bloodier details of his life exposed in his work. “They’ve given up now,” Hall replied, “but my mum and dad used to ask: when are you going to write a happy poem? At first I let that frustrate me, because I actually couldn’t. For me, sadness is so much within my work. When I’m happy, I’m just happy, there’s nothing to really say.”
Literary success aside, Hall has plenty of reasons to be happy. Soon after getting out of rehab, he starred in Christopher Bailey’s final Burberry campaign alongside Adwoa Aboah, then landed a role as Rita Ora’s paramour in her Let You Love Me music video, appeared on a few magazine covers, and got signed to Moss’s agency—a stamp of approval that means a Sonny Hall billboard is inevitably coming to a town near you.
With 127K followers and counting, Hall isn’t above using Instagram to sell books. It’s how he blew through 1,500 copies of the first edition in 6 months’ time. But he is too cool to abide by the Instagram Poet label. “Instagram is the one thing I really try to shy away from when I’m trying to evolve and grow, which is all the time. I’m present. I never get inspiration from Instagram,” he said. “Unless I’m slandering people,” he added. When I mentioned Rupi Kaur, the 25-year-old sensation whose gnomic Instagram poems have turned her into one of the best-selling poets of all time, Hall quickly cut me off. “I would rather top myself,” he said.
Source : Samuel Hine Link