It’s a heavy mantle to bear, so understandable if anyone deserving to be called the voice of their generation baulks at the title and disavows it.

In the spirit of democracy, then, let’s share the burden and merely suggest 24-year-old poet Len Pennie as a Scot who could be one of the voices of her generation – a generation often assigned the letter Z, whose prospects and education have been wrecked by Brexit and COVID-19, and which is assailed on all sides by problems and challenges. Take your pick from: a housing crisis, a climate emergency, an epidemic of poor mental health, equally dismal career prospects, the all-pervasive culture wars, a corrosive social media landscape and a welfare state crumbling under attack from ideologues and rent-seekers. Oh, and inter-generational conflict on everything from the environment to how you define a woman.

Predictably enough given that list, Len Pennie could do without the hassle of the VOAG tag.

“I think it’s always a mistake to have a voice of a generation,” she says when I propose her for the role. “I think generations should have their own voice. Each person should feel emboldened and empowered to be able to tell their truth and tell their story … I think for too long people have looked at people as the voice of a generation, and it’s always a politician or a philosopher or a great thinker. For me, every person within a generation has a voice, and they should use it. The problem is not people speaking up, the problem is making space to listen to people.”

Thanks, but no thanks, in other words.

The space Pennie found in which to be listened to, and where she could speak up when she forced herself to do it, is social media. What she did there has turned her, like it or not, into a sort of Gen Z totem, at least in our northern latitudes.

Furloughed from her job during lockdown in 2020, she began posting a Scots word of the day as well as performing her own verse, also written mostly in Scots. She became an online sensation as a result and soon acquired a mantle she can’t shake off so easily: the TikTok poet.

“I was so low and depressed and I wasn’t getting out of bed or seeing any friends,” she says of that period. “I thought: ‘I need something to do, I need a task.’”

She laughs now at the fresh-faced, flame-haired ingenue she sees in those early clips and reels. “I don’t even recognise her. I was so anxious and small and I’m barely in the frame. I was so shy. It’s a different person.”

And was she surprised at the response to her home-made videos? Just a little.

“I wasn’t surprised that people would be interested in Scots, because I am of the mindset that everyone should be, but [that] people were interested in me and my work,” she says. “I’m still kind of shocked and I don’t think that’s ever going to go away, because while I am rebuilding my self-confidence and my self-esteem there is still that wee voice in my head that’s always saying: ‘I don’t think anyone actually likes you.’”

That rebuilding process she speaks about ties into the themes of many of her poems – difficult themes relating to what had been a difficult life until that point. She had suffered in an abusive relationship for a start and, though she escaped it, was beset by mental health problems. She had even considered killing herself – ‘suicidal ideation’ in the parlance.

“It’s not so much that I want to die,” she explains, as if inhabiting that dark place again. “It’s just that life is so hard and it’s so exhausting sometimes. And when you have mental illness, that exhaustion just saps the energy. Every day just feels like an effort. You’re presented with this option by an unhealthy mind which, in the moment, feels plausible and accessible and easy. It feels like: ‘Oh, this is a solution’.”

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“When I come out of that mindset and I’m no longer in that depressive period you think: ‘What was I doing?’ I look back and think: ‘Oh my goodness, how can I prevent this from happening?’ But then it happens again and again and again. And it’s this pattern. When you’re in it, you can’t see out of it – and when you’re out of it, you can’t see in it. You can’t fathom what was going on in your head.”

Now Pennie has a new space in which to speak and a new platform from which to discuss the issues which trouble her, though one which is as defiantly old tech. She is about to publish her first collection of verse.

“It’s quite surreal because I didn’t set out to write a book,” she says. “It wasn’t as if I had all the ideas at the start and was writing it with any kind of intention for it to be a book. I was just writing them as they come, you know. Sometimes they would be about mental illness or women’s rights or the Scots language or things like that.

“What connects all the pieces in the book is a desire for connection with people, whether it’s to address misogyny and the connections between men and women, or women and each other, or men and each other. Or the connections between a survivor of abuse and the self, or between a survivor and the abuser.”

Titled poyums – all lower case – it’s a selection of the verse Pennie has produced rather than her complete works to date. It includes poems such as opener Honey, written when she was “incredibly, incredibly depressed” having just left the abusive relationship; Civil War, now being studied in some Scottish schools; and closing poem I’m No Havin Children, her best known piece and a spiky and witty paean to the Scots tongue (“ma weans’ll be crabbit, no in a bad mood/and they’ll greet, no cry, when their day isnae good.”).

“The first poem in the collection is me looking inwards at myself and how I feel. The last piece is about looking outwards into the future and to the generations that will come, hopefully, after me, and how they’ll approach language.”

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She has said previously that she cried when she wrote some of these poems. Knowing that adds to their truth, gives them an in-the-moment emotional heft.

“Yeah, I use poetry as a way to process things and as a sort of a task,” she says when I ask about it. “I have to have a physical representation of how I’m feeling. For me, that’s the healthiest thing. And that’s not to say I can’t write when I’m happy, because I love writing when I’m happy. But the stuff that’s about mental illness happens when I’m mentally ill, because that’s when I’m ruminating on these topics. And that’s when I’m trying to condense a really nuanced idea. And having that thing to do, when I’m upset, is the best thing for me. They say idle hands are the Devil’s plaything, but for me an idle mind is the worst thing.”

Born and raised in Airdrie and now living in Stirlingshire following her graduation from St Andrews University, Pennie is talking to me via Zoom. I rather suspect she’s on her phone rather than a laptop, which is appropriate given how most people consume her work: she now has upwards of 1.2 million followers across all social media platforms. She is also a columnist on this newspaper and features as co-host of BBC Radio Scotland podcast House Of The Lion, a zip through the bloody history of medieval Scotland.

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The day we speak has seen news headlines dominated by two stories touching on themes she broaches in her work, namely violence against women and misogynist attitudes towards them. The first is an acid attack by a male assailant on a mother and her two children in London, the second a worrying study by King’s College London’s Policy Institute. It revealed an emerging gender divide among members of Gen Z on issues such as the benefits of feminism, phrases like ‘toxic masculinity’ and, because he’s never far from the surface when either term is used, disgraced social media personality Andrew Tate, currently awaiting trial in Romania. A quarter of UK males, the study found, think it’s harder to be a man than a woman, older men were more likely than their Gen Z counterparts to see feminism as positive, and 20% of those younger men who knew of Andrew Tate looked favourably on him, even now.

“Someone said the other day that Andrew Tate is so popular because he’s the only male role model that young men have. I think that’s absolute nonsense. I think Andrew Tate is so popular because he offers an easy way out, an explanation, a way for men to feel as though there is someone who understands them and understands their particular rejection, or the particular issues they’re facing.”

Practical help and support for young men is what’s needed, she says.

“I think there’s so many amazing wonderful, positive examples of masculinity and we should be inspiring young men with those sorts of things rather than ‘I’ve got a Bugatti and a Lamborghini and 100 million girlfriends.’”

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Of course when you raise your head above the parapet as Pennie has – on issues like this or many others – the trolls leave their burrows and take aim with their typing finger. She has suffered more than her fair share of online abuse, everything from sexual slurs and complaints about her "sinful cleavage" to politically charged comments underpinned by the perception that she must be in favour of Scottish independence.

Let’s clear that last one up for a start.

“I’ve not once spoken about my political beliefs when it comes to Scottish independence,” she says. “People make so many assumptions about me when it comes to politics and then they use those assumptions to insult me and ridicule me. If they see a Scots speaker and immediately project onto the Scots speaker all these assumptions and preconceived notions, that’s not my problem.”

But while her removing herself from social media entirely for a spell in 2021 was “massively over-reported” – it was only for a couple of days and she was in the middle of her finals at the time – the punches do land. Of course they do.

“People don’t realise that I’m actually a real person and I’m very open about my mental illness,” she says. “People don’t seem to put two and two together and realise that if 100 people are calling her nasty names, she’s not going to be mentally stable.”

Given that, I think I know the answer to my next question but I run with it anyway: would she ever consider politics? There is precedent, after all. The current President of Ireland, Michael D Higgins, is a published poet and Chilean Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda served in the country’s upper house, the Senate.

There’s a long pause before she answers. “I don’t think politics is cut out for me,” she replies finally, which is an interesting way of putting it. “I cannae thole liars and I cannae thole people who dart around the question and don’t answer it. I just think the priorities are all wrong when it comes to politics.”

But doesn’t she at least find it refreshing that so many younger women are making their mark in politics? People like Sanna Marin, 34 when she became Prime Minister of Finland, or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, just 29 when she was elected to the US House of Representatives.

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“I find their ability to persevere through the reaction they get refreshing,” she says. “I don’t find what they’re doing refreshing because the reason people haven’t been doing it is not because they don’t want to, it’s because of the misogynistic attitudes that preclude them from doing it.

“I mean look at our female politicians. Look at the way they’re masculinised. Look at the way they’re treated. Look at the way the response they get is completely disproportionate to their male counterparts. Being a female politician must be exhausting, the same way that being a female columnist is exhausting.”

Being a female poet should be less exhausting, I suppose. Though in Len Pennie’s restless, questing and demanding mind, there’s always another draining struggle just around the corner.

“Being able to say ‘OK, I didn’t get out of bed, but I did write a poem’ helps in a really weird way,” she tells me. “The deeper I delve into writing about trauma and writing about mental illness, the more it helps me connect with the parts of myself that trauma and mental illness isolates and cuts off.”

And hers is a mind that likes a task, remember. Good news for us, she has the smarts to spin those tasks into literary gold.

Poyums is published on February 22 (Canongate, £14.99)