After her father’s murder, Arch Hades fled St Petersburg for England. Boarding school, a young marriage and divorce have all given her ample material for her wildly popular and successful poetry
Below is an extract from the full feature.
You may have already heard of 28-year-old poet Arch Hades. If you haven’t, however, you’ll find her best work not on bookshelves but on her Instagram feed, where she publishes poems almost daily for her followers – a whopping one million of them.
Hades is part of a new, modern school of literature: the Instapoets. Writers such as Hades, Rupi Kaur and Lang Leav have shot to fame with their shareable, likeable snip-pets of verse, self-published on social media. And these are no penniless artists – soaring follower counts have led to book deals, with the Instapoets topping best-seller lists. Still, the Instapoet title does annoy Hades.
Thankfully, she says, ‘it fell away quite quickly – now, people just call me a poet’. She waves a hand dismissively. ‘But anyway,’ she adds, ‘I’ve always been breaking free of labels.’
That includes her name: she goes by the classically influenced pseudonym Arch Hades professionally, but it’s not her real name (she has legally changed it multiple times). Hades’s unsettled identity is understandable. Her father’s murder put an end to her childhood in St Petersburg. Her family moved to Knightsbridge, and Hades suddenly found herself at the heart of British upper-crust society. She was swiftly enrolled at Hill House (alumni include Prince Charles), before moving on to the prestigious boarding school Wycombe Abbey. (These days, she parties with the Leigh-Pembertons and the artist Thomas Hjelm.) Marriage and divorce came before she’d turned 25; a burgeoning poetry career and a first published collection at 27.
Sitting upright on a chair in her exquisitely designed Kensington flat, calmly sipping a glass of water, Hades is cool and collected. She’s wearing all black (long sleeves and a high neck – to cover a few youthful tattoos, she tells me) and her blonde hair is smoothed back into a simple ponytail, revealing a cluster of diamonds in each ear.
She is formal but friendly, speaking at top speed but in an unusually high register – in more than an hour, no ‘ums’, ‘ahs’ or ‘likes’ creep into her speech. To say she’s hard to make out would be an understatement.
Hades was born in Russia, which she describes as a ‘total mob state. In the beginning, my family had nothing… the powerful elite gave themselves whatever they wanted. Everybody else was very much powerless.’ When Hades’s father began to make a name for himself with a successful shipping business, his card was marked by the state. ‘At one point he really tried to stand up to them,’ says Hades. ‘He wanted to make a change. Unfortunately, he was murdered for it. They do what they want, they take what they want…’ She tails off, shaking her head.
An eight-year-old Hades fled to London with the rest of her family. Her nom de plume is no mere affectation: ‘As quasi-refugees, we had to change our names, go through all kinds of processes,’ she explains, ‘just because my family don’t want to take any risks.’
The only problem when she arrived in Britain? She didn’t speak a word of English. ‘It was absolutely debilitating – I remember trying to learn and sitting there with children’s books that didn’t feel right to me. The other [children] didn’t want anything to do with me. For years, they referred to me as “the Russian”.’
Her brother and sister went to equally smart schools – though the siblings were split up for safety. It wasn’t all bad: Hades made a few good friends in her teens and developed an ear for poetry – particularly the classics – while taking refuge in the school library. Byron, especially, still influences Hades today: her five-year-old corgi (who himself has nearly 8,000 followers on Instagram) is named after him.
She spends her spare time tearing through books and has eclectic taste – Goethe, Virginia Woolf, Somerset Maugham and the cult Slovenian philosopher Zizek are among her favourites. Before the coronavirus lockdowns, her life in London was bustling – dinner at Akira in Kensington or 34 Mayfair, then negronis at home. But now she seems content with the slower pace and afternoons arranged around dog walks. She is a keen (and very good) photographer, too, and took the picture on the cover of her latest poetry collection.