Today is National Poetry Day, which means there are events happening up and down the country celebrating poetry. Not only that, but this year it is National Poetry Day’s 25th Anniversary. We’re joining in the fun by sharing some thoughts and advice from our poets, starting with Philip Gross. Keep your eyes on the blog over the next few weeks for more interviews like this one. Why limit the sharing to just one day?
What first drew you to poetry?
Words that snagged in my head and kept on echoing, even though I didn’t understand them, in the normal sense.
Where do you look to for inspiration?
The page, the pen, the act of doing it.
What poets or writers inspire you?
Inspire? Not sure that is a useful word for me. But lots of writers – WS Graham, Louise Gluck, Paul Celan, to name a few quite different ones – remind me of the size and scope, the sheer possibility, of the space of poetry.
What does poetry mean to you?
Words in a conversation with, sometimes dancing with, silence.
How do you balance writing poetry with working? If you write full time, what made you decide to do so?
If I’d been a novelist (as opposed to a poet who has sometimes written novels) I might have needed to write full time. As a poet, I seem to need the back and forth, the constant friction, with the world and people. True, a lot of my work has been to do with writing. But it has been the human content I most needed. That and a living wage, of course.
Do you have a writing routine? What is it?
Always have a notebook with me. Be on standby. Grab the moments when they jump up, and I can. That doesn’t sound much like ‘routine’, does it? But it is a kind of discipline.
How do you prepare yourself before sitting down to write?
Far from ‘preparing myself’, catching myself off guard is a good way to start.
What advice would you give to poets looking to get their work published?
Send work to places that publish things you really want to read. And don’t see publication as an end in itself. It’s a means to an end – discovering a space or spaces where your work will be heard, where some people will ‘get’ you. That isn’t the same as praise (though, let’s be honest, praise feels nice. In moderation.)
Is it important to build a reputation by submitting to competitions, magazines and journals?
Yes, unless you’re a performer mainly, in person or through the media. (Including social media…? I know I shouldn’t judge them on their tendency to creepy clannishness and opinioneering, the ruthless celebrity, and the breeding of trolls. I want to see an online poetry world, with publication and performance spaces, new multi-artform opportunities and interactivity with readers, that will prove my misgivings wrong.)
Do you have any tips for submitting poems to publishers or magazines?
Know the magazine or publisher and its culture, so you don’t come at it like a cold call. Do your homework. Many editors have strong aesthetic preferences and opinions, and have ways to make them known. Don’t be obsequious or chummy in your approach. And remember that the way to book publishing tends to be through building a track record of some kind.
What methods do you use to overcome feeling disheartened or to keep positive?
When flattered by success, as much as when dejected by rejection, keep asking: If I was on a desert island, with no way to write except on sand the tide will sweep clean… what would I still write, then?
Do you have any other advice for fellow poets?
We are different. We are meant to be different. Celebrate that. Don’t critique in ways that really mean ‘Well, if I were you, I would…’
There are so many of us, relative to the number of readers, let alone buyers, of poetry. See it as your job to bring new readers in to reading poetry of all kinds… not only your own or your friends’.
A Fold in the River is the fruit of collaboration between T.S. Eliot prize-winning poet Philip Gross and the visual artist Valerie Coffin Price. Philip Gross once lived on the banks of the River Taff in Wales and his journals are the source for the powerful poems. Valerie Coffin Price revisited the walking route along the river and evolved the beautiful prints and drawings that accompany them.