An interview with Angela Graham

Ahead of the launch of her debut short story collection A City Burning, we interview Angela Graham to find out more about the book and what inspires her.

In the twenty-six stories in A City Burning, set in Wales, Northern Ireland and Italy, children and adults face, in the flames of personal tragedy, moments of potential transformation. On the threshold of their futures each must make a choice: how to live in this new ‘now’. With a virtuoso control of tone, by turns elegiac, comic, lyrical, philosophical, A City Burning examines power of all types. The result is a deeply human book full of hauntingly memorable characters and narratives.

What is the meaning behind the title A City Burning?

In the opening story, ‘The Road’, a young girl witnesses her city blazing. She understands that this is a sign of the collapse of the status quo, of all the usual certainties. She is confronted with the need to react to this new situation. What values should guide her in this choice? I realised that this story encapsulates the theme of many stories in the collection – witnessing major change and having to work out a response. It seemed a fitting title for the book.

There is a theme of change in this collection, what, if anything, do you hope the reader can take away from this underlying message?

I haven’t thought in terms of such a message – at least, not while I was writing the stories. It wasn’t until late in the day that I saw that facing change was a link between them, and it took someone else, an editor, to point that out. In an important sense, I had to understand my own work from a more objective perspective. I’d like readers to recognise that ‘the given’ (whether positive or negative) can break down in very noticeable and in very subtle ways. One person sees a city burning, another sees some detail in a single photograph that opens their eyes. Usually, I believe few such opportunities for perception appear out of the blue. We have usually been sensitized to a shift in circumstances but we may be unwilling or unable to respond at an earlier point.

I’ve just looked up the etymology of ‘catastrophe’. The word comes from kata- ‘down’ + strophē ‘turning’. I imagine that as the point at which a wheel, goes into its irreversible downward momentum. We have watched the wheel move upwards and we know something has to give but we are not always prepared for it.

Words Flowering at Ty Newydd

There are a lot of different settings and ideas conveyed in these stories. Where do you draw your inspiration from?

Anywhere that’ll have me! To give an example, the story, ‘Life-Task’ which is set in northern Italy at the end of the Second World War came to me because a person who had just retuned from Italy recounted a story she’d been told by someone who’d had it from someone who’d heard it from the actual protagonist. It must have been brilliantly told originally to be so vivid (after passing through several tellings in this way) for it to reach me so powerfully that I could see the events as the story was shared with me. I went home and wrote it down. Of course, it helped that I had, for completely other reasons, been doing research into post-war Italy, had read Italian novels on the subject, and taken a particular interest in what happened in northern Italy when the Germans (the allies of the Italians) had been defeated. And, in writing a story, one has to aim for a satisfying balance between all the elements. This may introduce material which is not part of ‘the original’.

Do any of the stories draw on personal experience?

This is a book of fiction. It’s not memoir or autobiography. It’s all made up. But it’s true to experience, my own and that of many others.

Coasteering near Dunluce Castle, Co. Antrim

You engage with a number of different languages in the book including Ulster Scots in the story ‘Coasteering’. Why was it important for you to foreground these languages in the collection?

I have always been interested in languages and I’ve worked in Wales for a long time, a country where two languages are in use alongside each other. I learned Welsh as soon as I moved to Wales when I married a Welshman. In Northern Ireland I had much experience of the link between language and identity; even nuances of accent, in a city such as Belfast, are sifted for meaning. Whenever a chance has presented itself to get involved with a language I’ve tried to take it. For example, I did a crash-course in Romanian as part of the writing of a screenplay set in that country and it made a big difference, when I was researching there, that I could follow what people were saying. I learned Italian by ear when I was a teenager and, again, I wrote a screenplay, set in Puglia. Most of the time, people are pleased that one has made an effort to allow them to stay in the language in which they are most comfortable, most ‘themselves’.

In regards to Ulster Scots, that fascinates me. I have written the first draft of a novel in which two major characters are Ulster Scots-speakers and language, including Irish, is key to the book. Clashes over language and culture are deep-rooted in Northern Ireland but there is also great potential to overcome seeing language as an obstacle. I’ve worked with a number of Ulster Scots writers. My father’s family are Ulster Scots. It’s important to me that Ulster Scots takes its place in contemporary literary fiction.

Words from Ulster Scots displayed at the Seamus Heaney Centre, Bellaghy

What is your favourite story and why?

The Road. In its 800-or-so words I’d like to think it pushes that wheel up out of catastrophe; gives it a push into an upward turn.

You’ve added some new stories based on the pandemic in the last few months. Why did you decide to write about it and were they hard to write?

They were not hard to write in that I was fuelled by indignation at the plight of low-paid workers whose interests were not given proper consideration. I have personal experience of the ‘worlds’ of both stories and I felt able to depict them forcefully. I checked out facts, naturally, but the internal impetus was immediate. Once again, it seemed to me, the people who are considered ‘least’ in our society − least important, least powerful − were receiving least attention, whereas if their needs were a priority we’d have a better balanced society in which to live.

You turned to writing full time a few years ago. How did you first get into writing and what has it been like working up to publication of your debut collection during the pandemic?

I committed solely to writing because I was busy with media work and I felt the need to sharpen my focus. Writing is what I have always done, since I was about six years old. My first poem was published in a mainstream magazine when I was seven and I wasn’t one bit surprised at the time. I knew that was what magazines were for – publishing stuff. I had a very child-like view of things. Of course. Very naïve. It’s by no means easy to get work published. And that’s a good sign – there are so many exceptionally talented writers.

I’ve always written but usually for the screen. I’ve done journalism and radio work and non-fiction tv tie-in work and poetry. A City Burning is my first chance to pull a substantial amount of fictional material together into a coherent whole.

Once I’d negotiated the early days of the pandemic – the practicalities − the pandemic (because I was lucky to stay well) made no great difference to the practice of writing at a desk. There were fewer distractions. But there was no access to libraries and I had planned to do an in situ major piece of writing for a month and the restrictions made that impossible. I had to re-invent the form of the work. It’s a book on my childhood in Belfast, partially supported by a Support for the Individual Artist Programme award from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and the National Lottery.

Acquiring a cover photo was hard in the circumstances. It would have been lovely to have had the launch I had been hoping for in Belfast’s No Alibis bookstore and I would have had a small one in Ballycastle, County Antrim which is where I’ve spent lockdown. Ballycastle Library is accepting a copy of the book, I’m pleased to say. Filming and editing a promotional video had to be done by ingenious means by my director husband, John Geraint. Sending paper proofs back and forth was interesting because of blips in the postal service. But the attention from Seren’s staff has been the key thing and that was undiminished.

Angela Graham on Ballycastle Beach, Co. Antrim

A City Burning is available on the Seren website £9.99

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Join us tonight for the virtual launch of A City Burning which starts at 7pm. Angela will be in conversation with Phil George and there will be readings from the book by Viviana Fiorentino, Liam Logan and Geraint Lewis.

Lucy Gannon introduces The Amazingly Astonishing Story

Award-winning TV writer Lucy Gannon introduces her new memoir The Amazingly Astonishing Story which is published today.

By turns laugh out loud funny and deeply sad, The Amazingly Astonishing Story is a frank and surprising look into a child’s tumultuous mind, a classic story of a working-class girl growing up in the 60s. Her Catholic upbringing, a father torn between daughter and new wife, her irreverent imagination and determination to enjoy life, mean this really is an amazing story (including meeting the Beatles).

“The saddest, happiest, funniest book I’ve read for ages” – Dawn French

“In her own real life story she excels herself… she’ll have you in tears, barking in anger, and laughing out loud in the space of one beautifully crafted sentence.” – Kevin Whateley

One of the questions writers grow used to, and tired of, and flummoxed by, is “What makes a writer?” and another one is “Where do you get your ideas from?”

The answers I give are usually apologetic shrugs followed by lame and unsatisfactory suggestions, because both those questions are unanswerable. Until now. From now on, in answer, I can point to this book and say “I think the clues are in there.”

This book tells, of course, just the beginning of a long and eventful life. It’s a start, you could say.

Dickens was onto something when he said “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” That’s life. And my life has been an adventure from first cry right through to now and Covid, losing my mother at 7, living through a crash landing at Orly Airport, nearly drowning in the Med, surviving a boating disaster in one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, coming off a motorbike on an icy road, spending  Christmas Eve in a small tent in a gale on Beachy Head, going through a divorce, being broke, marrying again, becoming a Mum, winning The Richard Burton Drama Award, being widowed at 43, and going on from there to have a successful and happy career as a dramatist.

This morning, at 71 years old,  I stood on the beach, deafened by the roar of the wind, under a wild and beautiful sky, and it was as if I saw myself, on this small stretch of sand, on the edge of an ocean, and then as if I saw beyond and beyond – to the billions of stars and suns and moons and the wildness of the cosmos. My eyes saw waves and sky and wheeling gulls, but my mind saw everything.  My wonderful mind. Your wonderful mind. Our minds, eh? They reach out to each other. That’s what this book does. It reaches out. I hope it finds you.

I wrote it for many reasons, but the essential hope was that it would show that from the coldest of beginnings, life can spin into something rich and warm and wonderful. To say that there is more to every life than whatever we are going through at this moment, that the future can be tumultuous and exciting, and even that in the  middle of loneliness or need , we all have wonderful internal worlds, we can carry on a funny, loving conversation within our own minds, we can reach out and sense the eternal and the wonderful life force. We can meet that life force. We can meet God.

A rich life is made up of the best and the worst, both the greatest joy and the deepest sorrow. I am very, very blessed to have had both in great big spadefuls and I wouldn’t change a single day or hour of it, and I wouldn’t miss out on  meeting any of the rich characters in all the crazy episodes along the way.  

So, should I have called this memoir “The making of a writer”?

Maybe.

Lucy Gannon

The Amazingly Astonishing Story is available on the Seren website: £12.99

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Join us for the virtual launch on Tuesday 17th November from 7pm. Register for FREE via Eventbrite https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/125903521823.

An Interview with Euron Griffith

When he smiled it really did feel as if the chilly Caernarfonshire wind had stopped for a few seconds and as if the place had suddenly got warmer.

When Miriam fell in love with Padraig life seemed simple. But soon she discovered that love is a treacherous business. Everything changed when she met Daniel. She was taken down an unexpected path which would dictate and dominate the rest of her life.

Spanning three generations of a North Wales family in a Welsh-speaking community, Miriam, Daniel and Me is an absorbing and compelling story of family discord, political turmoil, poetry, jealousy…and football.

Miriam, Daniel and Me is the first novel in English by Welsh author Euron Griffith. In this interview, Euron tells us what inspired the novel and discusses what its like to bring a book out during a global pandemic. Scroll to the bottom to see the details of the virtual launch taking place this Thursday (30th July).

What was the inspiration behind Miriam, Daniel and Me?

Believe it or not, initially this was going to be a book about my lifelong obsession with the Beatles – a kind of ‘music memoir’ of how the band’s music reflected incidents in my own life. This seemed to make some kind of sense since I’d already written a short story collection called The Beatles in Tonypandy (which was a satirical fantasy on what ‘happened’ when the band moved to South Wales and took up pigeon fancying in 1967!) and so I wanted to write about them in a more personal and less surreal way. It soon became clear to me, however, that I was becoming more interested in the context of the piece – that is, my own experiences of my upbringing and my family history – than I was in the Fab Four’s peripheral and distant part in it. I found that the concept was becoming laboured and that I wasn’t making it come alive for myself and, therefore, it probably wasn’t going to work for anyone reading it. So the Beatles were soon rejected in a cruel, Decca-like fashion!

There were parts of my family history that I only had a vague knowledge of – my paternal grandfather for instance, whom I had never met because he died before I was born. I remember my granny and my dad telling me the story of how he had died suddenly in his chair after returning from the quarry one night but that was all I knew. I filled in the blanks myself – guessing here and there as to how things might have happened. The same was true of my mum. She had fallen in love with an Irishman before she met my dad but I didn’t know the whole story. As a kid I recall my maternal grandad showing me little bits of electrical handiwork this Irishman had constructed – little light switches etc. – so I knew he’d been an electrician and I’d seen photos of him so I knew he had red hair…but nothing much else. Only tantalizing fragments.

Once I’d stumbled across a photo of my mum walking down a street with him and, on the back, someone had written ‘Dublin’. She must have really loved him to go there for a visit. Especially in those days when travel wasn’t such a common thing. So here I did the same as I did with the story of my paternal grandad – I just tried to fill in the gaps. To make sense of it all. It soon grew into something of an obsession and, slowly, I saw that there was a novel brewing here. I weaved in my dad’s experiences as a poet and a goalie – how he had been invited for a trial with a big club once (in real life it was Bolton Wanderers but I changed it to Preston North End in this book…not entirely sure why to be honest!). Now, as I stand back and look at the finished piece, I can see that the overarching theme seems to be the notion of chance, often driven by love or passion, and of how it can affect the course of our lives.

The story is told through the eyes of multiple characters, particularly by three generations of Miriam and Daniel’s family. How is this inter-generational perspective important to the story?

The flippant answer would be that I get bored quite easily and I like to allow myself to dive into different characters and styles of narrative. But there is a more stylistic reason for it too. I love the way classic Victorian fiction such as Wuthering Heights and The Woman in White utilize a playful and effective way of presenting events through different viewpoints. I was also influenced in this by the films of Kurosawa and Quentin Tarantino. I was keen to hurl the reader back and forth without always giving an initial indication of when something was happening in ‘linear’ time because I thought it would heighten the dramatic effect. I suppose a simple example of this would be the rat poison incident (no spoilers!). The novel began with Miriam and Daniel’s story but, around this, there gradually grew the context of their lives- what happened before and what happened after (with the unnamed son). I played with time more outrageously in my last Welsh language novel Tri Deg Tri about a hitman where chapters were numbered in relation to the sequence of the central character’s ‘kills’ rather than to chronology. So I have form! Some readers found it puzzling but more, so I’m told, found it exhilarating!

My other challenge here – admittedly rather grand and insurmountable – was to try to write a kind of Welsh ‘bildungsroman’ – the story of a family and personal development featuring several characters. I was introduced to Buddenbrooks as a student and Thomas Mann’s masterpiece has stayed with me over the years. It certainly influenced me more strongly as this novel developed and the overall shape became clearer. Needless to say I could never come close to such a perfect piece of art but it gave me something to aim for! Aim high. Always aim high…

You build a clear picture of village life in 1950s and 60s Gwynedd by bringing in other members of the community and the events affecting their lives, namely the investiture of Prince Charles. Why was it important to you to bring this to life in Miriam, Daniel and Me?

It was a matter of context. Of filling in the canvas and making the whole world more real and multi-layered. I am a keen painter and there is a clear link, I reckon, between visual art and writing. Paul Klee once said that he liked ‘taking a line for a walk’ and that’s how writing begins for me. A line followed by another and, gradually (if you’re lucky), a world forms – a picture. Then it’s a matter of filling in the details. Picasso once said that the most difficult part of any painting was knowing when to stop. He was obviously right (when was Picasso wrong about anything??). In my own case I only recognise when to stop when it comes to re-writing. The first draft is always a sketch. I really don’t think you know what the book is until you’ve stepped back and studied the overall shape and pattern. It needs time. Re-writes. This novel went through at least three major re-writes! Curiously perhaps, this novel was also mainly written in London so there was an extra layer of distance there. James Joyce once said that he had to move to Zurich to write about Dublin. He wasn’t wrong about much either…

The book is coming out in very different circumstances to those any of us could have imagined but the BBC reported last week that Brits have been buying more books during lockdown. What makes Miriam, Daniel and Me a good lockdown read? What do you hope readers will take away from reading it?

Books and records are an obsession for me and if people are reading more and listening to more music then, in my world, that’s a good thing. Online trading is obviously booming in both these markets but I do worry about the wider context of physical retail – not only from the perspective of people’s livelihoods but also from a rather more selfish one. I really find wandering through shops and cities soothing and exciting so, in lockdown, I miss the bustle of the high street – the sights and sounds. When I was in London I would often hop on a bus in the afternoons and go to the middle of Piccadilly Circus and then wander around Soho just to soak up the atmosphere and work out things in my head to do with this novel and with other matters. I’m hopeful that things will return to normal soon.

In terms of what people will take away from this book there is the obvious factor of enjoyment of course but one of the reasons I wrote this book in English was because I don’t think north Wales and the ‘north Welsh experience’ has been explored as often in English language fiction as its southern counterpart. Most people when they think of Wales think rugby and the valleys but this is not strictly accurate. Rugby meant nothing to me when I was growing up and still doesn’t. Indeed, I vividly remember our PE teacher damning it as ‘a game for fat boys who are too slow for football’! My world when growing up was formed by television, football and pop music – the Monkees, The Man from UNCLE, Leeds United, Thunderbirds and Monty Python. Not by chapel or the Eisteddfod or Gareth Edwards. I never ‘got’ Shirley Bassey or Max Boyce and there were no coal mines in my part of Wales. I’m not entirely sure what ‘Wales’ is. My guess is that there are at least twenty versions of it and I didn’t think the story of mine had been told.

We’re hosting an online launch for the book later this week. What can attendees expect at the event?

Well Jon Gower is a perceptive reader and I’m intrigued to know what he thinks of the novel. He always has an interesting perspective on things. I’m thrilled that Rakie Ayola has agreed to read a few passages from the novel. She is such a brilliant actor. Hopefully the conversation and the readings will stimulate all the many thousands tuning in via Zoom to buy the novel and send it to the top of the Sunday Times best seller chart…

Finally, a question lots of writers have probably been asked recently, but have you found lockdown a particularly creative time? Is there anything you’re currently working on?

Writing never stops for me. After finishing this novel I immediately returned to a manuscript I started ten years ago and have been working on intermittently since then. I finally finished it just before last Christmas. It’s a peculiar, surreal ‘historical’ novel based on the adventures of a gentleman traveller. Influenced by ‘Don Quixote’ and more modern pieces such as ‘Life of Pi’ it features a man mistaken for Jesus, a three-legged cat, a serial killer and cannibalism. So it couldn’t be more different to Miriam, Daniel and Me! It’s called The Confession of Hilary Durwood. Since lockdown I’ve started another novel. I was up to 40,000 words before realising that it wasn’t much good so I scrapped it and started again. It’s much better now.

Before Covid struck I played regularly in my band Six Sided Men but, naturally, all that is on hold now. But I’ve been writing tons of songs and recording them myself on my little portastudio (driving my wife mad in the process as we have inadequate soundproofing!). I’m currently recording some Christmas songs I’ve written and will include these on a CD for friends when the season for merriment arrives…

I’ve also been painting and drawing. So yes. A worrying time in many ways. But I can’t say it’s been entirely unproductive…

 

Miriam, Daniel and Me is available now from Seren: £9.99

Join us for the virtual book launch – Thursday 30th July, 7:30pm. Euron will be in conversation with Jon Gower and actress Rackie Ayola will be reading excerpts from the book. Email sarahjohnson@serenbooks.com for the link. Full details here.

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Guest Post: Peter Finch – Walking in a Lockdown

This morning, to celebrate National Walking Month, we have a guest post from avid walker and author of Walking Cardiff Peter Finch. He tells us what walking in a lockdown looks like for him when separated from his fellow wanderer John Briggs and how it is affecting work on their next project.

Walking in a Lockdown

Out, up the hill, it’s always the same hill.  Weave into the road to avoid the next guy.  Smile.  Sometimes they smile back.  Climb.  Runners pass, headphoned, sneaking up behind silently and then zooming on in a rush of huff and sweat.  Advice I’ve read tells me that being laterally near a runner isn’t too bad.  It’s getting caught in the slipstream you need to avoid.  How do I police this?  I’m thinking of adopting a Friar Tuck walking pole.  Thrash it about.  Make myself utterly anti-social but certainly safe.

On the way back down, with the on a clear day splendid views of the city’s high-rise and the sea beyond, I try to imagine myself elsewhere.   Walking the Valleys again. The follow on project to Walking Cardiff.  Writing such a book during lockdown, getting there by Google but pretending it’s real, is akin to studying Macbeth through Coles Notes and never reading the actual text.  Not that we are without some touch of genuine experience.  Both John Briggs, my fellow Valleys wanderer, and I have walked Valley landscape and township extensively together in planned excursion.  We’ve also done this individually in swift half days to scope a place out -a couple of hours rambling Ponty looking for traces of Dr William Price and Iolo Morgannwg and a few more in Ron Berry’s Blaen Cwm checking out the entrance to the Rhondda tunnel and the end of the world streets Charlie Burton painted so well.

We’ve walked these places historically – mine often recalled through fog – a reading with Mike Jenkins at the Imp in Merthyr, as a child accompanying my father to work in Ystrad Mynach,  to one of Harri Webb’s legendary parties at Garth Newydd.  John’s have usually been done through actual photographs.  He’s sent me a great thirty-year spread of black and white coal pits taken across the whole Valley landscape, a detailed set of Merthyr Tydfil done one Christmas in 2014, and then, his piece de résistance, shots taken on a Literary Tour (which, under the auspices of Academi, I organised but, for unfathomable reasons now, did not go on) in the company of Daniel Williams and Nigel Jenkins to look for traces of Idris Davies in the valley top town of Rhymney.

 

Rhymney was the place we were right in the middle of exploring when the virus struck and our ability to walk freely was rudely curtailed.  I’d walked around the centre on my own – found the Idris Davies plaque on the house where he died, seen the Michael Disley statue of the miner and the steelworker back to back over one of Pete Seeger’s Bells of Rhymney and had a cup of tea and a piece of doorstep toast in the café with no windows on the High Street.  Looking later at John’s pics, taken in 2011, that statue looks bright and new.  It looked stained and neglected when I passed.

John had one well up on me.  He’d also visited the actual Davies grave in Rhymney Cemetery and stood listening to Nigel’s sonorous voice recite extracts from Gwalia Deserta.  Idris Davies, the people’s poet, the miner who could rhyme and make memorable our collective fears and aspirations.  His Maggie Fach and 1926 I’d help turn into poster poems, famous throughout Welsh bedsits for a whole generation, back in the 70s.  It was good to trail in his wake.

South of Rhymney station was a place where neither John nor I had yet ventured.  Here was land once occupied by Bute’s great Egyptian-styled Union ironworks but now vacant and worn.  On it  stood the operation of K J Services Ltd.  This presented the world with the greatest assemblage of broken, bust and otherwise abandoned mechanical diggers and JCBs anyone could imagine. Running for miles.  Visible from space.  There’s a YouTube tour, I discovered, and an overhead walkthrough available on Google Earth.  That’s all we have for now as the virus chases our tails.  When it’s dead John and I will visit in person.   For all this virtual stuff, Zoom meetings, Skype chats, Facetimes, Houseparty romps and desk research until my eyes ache you just cannot do without first person.  Don’t let anyone say different.

Peter Finch

28/04/2020

Photographs taken by John Briggs.

 

Walking Cardiff is available on the Seren website £14.99

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An Interview with André Mangeot

Resonant, complex, rich in heft and texture, these are mature poems that grapple with serious themes. Beautifully crafted, and partly inspired by the poet’s love of the Brecon Beacons and Snowdonia, they address the natural world, its endangerment and other pressing global issues from multiple perspectives, and with great lyrical power.

‘A thought-provoking book for turbulent times.’
– Matthew Caley

André Mangeot’s new collection Blood Rain confronts the degradation of the planet and individual lives and choices with a steely lyrical grace. In this interview, he discusses the relationship between nature and poetry and our own connection to the natural world.

Blood Rain features poems set in a variety of geographic and historic locations with several of them focusing on Welsh landscapes. What is the importance of these poems within the collection and what is your connection to them?

It’s often said that landscape is a character in itself and it’s true that location is often my starting-point. This is probably most evident in my books of short stories, True North and A Little Javanese, where almost all are set in different countries and an evocative urban or rural landscape is as vital in bringing the story to life as authentic protagonists. In Blood Rain, with one of its key themes being challenges to the planet, including the natural world, there are a number of poems set in locations that I know and value (North Wales, the Lake District, North Devon) – and habitats which are threatened in one way or another.  But ‘setting’ is equally important for poems set further afield or in other times (the trenches in WW1, occupied Europe in WWII, Romania under Ceaușescu) that touch on another form of ever-present threat – our propensity for violence and conflict.

Nature is a theme that runs deeply through the collection. What is the connection between nature and your poetry and what does poetry bring to your experience of nature?

I’ve always felt more comfortable at a distance from cities and the urban environment – though for much of the time they’re unavoidable, of course. And for now I do live in a city, so the contrast between noise/pollution/crowds and most rural settings makes time in the latter all the more special and vivid. Nature clearly works on the senses, on the unconscious, before any poem begins to emerge and evolve.  Thereafter, crafting a poem forces one to focus ever more closely on detail – both what’s being examined and for word-choices, imagery, form etc.

The poems in Blood Rain are often concerned with ideas of balance, particularly a sense of ‘counterpoise’- giving and taking between humans and nature. What role do exchange, and economy of nature and things play in the poems?

Ideally, any natural exchange between man and nature would be reciprocal and unthreatening. But we as a species have so clearly overstepped the mark – due to a frightening combination of arrogance, ignorance and greed, aided by globalisation – that almost everything is now scarily out of kilter. Levels of comparative wealth and poverty across the globe; degree and frequency of extreme/destructive weather patterns; competition for fertile and habitable land. It’s almost as if, because man has ridden roughshod over natural laws for so long, nature is now fighting back, reasserting itself, proving who has ultimate control.

What do the shifts between nature, war, and family mean to you? Does the quoted ‘warlikeness’ carry throughout the poems, even those not concerned with war itself?

Everything we know is connected, part of a larger, possibly infinite eco-system: each individual to their immediate family and community, the nation, wider world, the cosmos etc.  The natural world is no different: amoebas, plankton, myriads of insects are just the base of a survival chain essential for millions of species – including mankind.  In the natural world we’re used to considering the fight for survival as commonplace; now, perhaps for the first time, reality is dawning that we as a species are in the fight too, and that no law precludes our own extinction.  As far as ‘warlikeness’ goes as a human characteristic, I don’t want to overstate it, but I can see the same kind of mirroring of relationship conflicts within families (three or four poems in the book address mine with my late father, for example) with how resentments and misunderstandings on a national or global scale can escalate into something far more serious.

The title poem refers to the natural phenomena of ‘blood rain’ as ‘an augury of rust’. How would you describe the relationship between poetry and omens or symbols in the natural world?

Our response to poetry, literature – indeed, many things we encounter daily – is largely determined by past experience and the particular memories and sensations these things conjure up, positive or negative.  So this inbuilt, often unconscious association will determine different responses to the same word, phrase or image from one person to the next.  To me this is what’s so exciting about sending a new piece of work out into the world: not simply the act of connecting with others but the certainty that no two people will respond to a poem or sequence the same; each will bring their own experience, tastes and prejudices to it.  Some will find symbols or omens, but almost for sure in different places and forms.  But to return specifically to nature – full of wonder and terror in equal measure – all I’d say is that I’ve tried to keep this ambivalence constantly in mind.

What message do you hope readers will take away from reading the collection? Do you feel this message has become even more poignant amidst the situation we currently find ourselves in?

I didn’t set out to deliver any particular message, and would be hesitant about any collection that did. Blood Rain is just one person’s response to/meditation on current times that are clearly troubling and uncertain for many.  Covid-19 arrived after this sequence was written and published, but has simply underlined the global connection between us, and is a stark reminder of our vulnerability, no different to any other species.

 

Blood Rain is available on the Seren website: £9.99

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‘No Far Shore’: An Interview with Anne-Marie Fyfe

No Far Shore  by Anne-Marie Fyfe is no ordinary exploration of coastlines. She combines travel writing, history, memoir and poetry in an intriguing meditation on the sea, the land, and the maps, lighthouses, islands, north, journeys and other things which mark them. In the process, she also looks at the work of a number of writers for whom the coast has been influential including Elizabeth Bishop, Herman Melville and Virginia Wolf.

In this interview she tells us more about why she moved away from poetry in this exploration and how the book developed during her journey.

You write that the collection takes ‘no settled form’, and it is written in a mixture of poetry, prose and music. How do you think this enriched the story you were telling?

It wasn’t so much a means of enriching the story, as recognising that unsettledness of form – like the unpredictability of coastal seas – was a way of exploring the story in all its depths. Having published  five collections of often strange & slightly surreal poetry, I’d let much remain beneath the surface. It isn’t just that poetry allows one to avoid explaining – it had also allowed me to avoid exploring. Since I’ve been teaching poetry & creative non-fiction in the US, I’ve been struck by how much hybridity of form, mixing traditions, crossing boundaries, offers certain writers not just a new aesthetic, but precise metaphors for subject matter. And it seemed that, for me, setting out into new forms paralleled setting out into the unknown waters of a deeper narrative.

What commonalities would you say that the writer and sea fearer share? Why do you think literature has such an enduring romantic association with the sea?

I’m not sure it’s specific to writers. So many creatives, whatever their artform, music, film-making, painting, etc, feel the need to grapple with the sea. We have to face its threats & dangers if our options aren’t to narrow down into one safe piece of dry land; & its vastness, its distant horizons have always been somehow magnetic. My puzzle wasn’t just why so many writers are drawn to the sea, or why I’m particularly drawn to those writers, but why so many sea-farers & those who spent childhoods by the sea, went on to become writers.

In the collection, you discuss the idea of ‘journeying map-less’, arriving somewhere without expectation. How much direction would you say you have when you begin writing?

I can answer that with Bob Dylan’s line about No Direction Home, or TS Eliot’s idea that all our exploring will lead us back to where we started and that we’ll know the place for the first time. I guess the book was always going to come full circle, back to Cushendall (where I grew up) after the actual journey (Felixstowe, Orkney, Barra, Hook, Swansea, Martha’s Vineyard, North Haven, Maine, Nova Scotia & on to Cape Breton), after the literary journey, exploring coastal writers’ lives. And, of course, after the emotional journey into my own & my own people’s sea-girt pasts. But I didn’t set out knowing what I would find in terms of ‘understanding’ other writers’ passions, or knowing how my family’s story would fall into place.

No Far Shore is filled with meditations on horizons and edges, which seem symbolic of knowledge and certainty. How do you explain both the thrill and fear that seem embedded in self-discovery?

It’s knowledge & un-certainty really: we know when we’re leaving behind the familiar & trying to map the unknown. The two defining edges are the near edge, shoreline/tideline/coastline, between known & unknown, & the illusory far edge. The horizon appears geometrically straight but actually curves horizontally, as well as falling away from us into the distance & off the edge of the known world. So there is No Far Shore in one sense.  And when I lead workshops entitled Edge of the Depths as I’ve done all along the coastlines I’ve travelled, I’m thinking of both near & far ‘edges’.

As for ‘self-discovery’, in a sense that Joseph Conrad would recognise as clearly as TS Eliot, all voyages are self-discovery &, as with any other journey, excitement & dread are involved.

In some senses it’s been the opposite of write about what you know. It’s rather write because you don’t know! The act of bringing together memory, myth, fact, history, poetic fragments, snatched thoughts, conversations, the act of writing it, is less about retelling & more about exploring.

No Far Shore is peppered with references to mythology. In what ways do you think the sea/or a sea-faring journey reflects aspects of human identity? What can we learn about ourselves from looking to the land and seascapes around us?

In a way all our sources, literary, cultural, historical, local, & family, are what shapes us growing up. So Treasure Island & Greek myth &, say, news reports of a local shipwreck in the years before I was born, stories from local fishermen, conversations on a family car journey, all have equal status: what they all do evidence, though, is the looming presence, since the earliest times, of the sea in our geographic & psychological mindscapes. What we learn from those stories, & from simply gazing at oceans & horizons, is more complex than simply longing, aspiration or awe. Which is what the journey & the book taught me, & is the book’s hesitant conclusion.

You cite Elizabeth Bishop’s value of ‘aloneness’ and write of your own desire to discover that ‘other self, deep down’. How do you think the figurative journey through poetry and the physical journey across the sea, differ in unearthing the ‘other self’? How would you define the ‘other self’?

I’d long cherished Bishop’s ‘aloneness’ remarks as touching on something both positive & negative in my own feelings about coasts, isolation & home. Finding or not finding a ‘far shore’, finding the ‘other self’, is simply the long journey towards understanding oneself: an understanding that I’m sure, for some, could be found simply by reading, writing, & contemplating. But for me that understanding required the physical journey, going back to coasts, headlands & harbours, gazing at islands & lighthouses & horizons that Bishop, Woolf, MacNeice, Melville, Tove Jansson & so many more had gazed upon: the difference between ‘research’ at one’s writing-desk & an actual ‘quest’, an ‘odyssey’ perhaps.

You talk about the ‘lure’ and ‘lore of islands’, that ‘Island is illusion’. How influential is the concept of intangibility over your poetry and prose?

On islands/isolation, of course, I’m playing with words & concepts, & while the idea of the desert island in children’s literature always fascinated me, islands can be isolated from the world & yet be some of the most closely-knit, supportive places to live. Like Barra in the Outer Hebrides where my McNeil family originated. Like North Haven in Maine, where I found one of Elizabeth Bishop’s holiday homes: it’s an island outsiders love for its remoteness, its escape from the busy world (unlike, say, fashionable Martha’s Vineyard & Nantucket) and that year-rounders, conversely, love for its close community & family ties.

I’ve lived happily with intangibility & a certain evasiveness in poetry that’s never seemed difficult, just a little strange, perhaps, oblique or mysterious. But this new strategy of combining, around each coastal theme, poetry fragments, observations, reflection, memories, facts & – as you’ve mentioned – myth, creates much more tangibility. It’s an approach that allows the reader many different ways of joining me on the journey.

What was your favourite place to visit during the travels that inspired this collection?

Difficult to weigh up, favourite-wise, the tranquility of blue harbours at Loch Eireboll, Fresgoe in Caithness, Fethard in County Wexford, or Lubec on the US/Canada border, against the magic of a moon-silvered midnight in the Western Isles. But the most important times for me were the nights spent in Elizabeth Bishop’s childhood home in Nova Scotia, which were pivotal in my thinking not just about her life, but about my mother’s, and my own.

Although the text predominately explores themes of isolation and solitude, it also demonstrates remarkable ties of connection between literature, people, home and place. Would you say we can only understand our ‘aloneness’ by understanding the ways in which we are connected to others?

The ’story’, the exploration, unfolds to show that a desire for solitude can arise from the need, not to imagine an elsewhere, or a future, but for sufficient remoteness from the world to allow us to recapture, momentarily, a vanished past, to spend time in the imagination with people who mattered to us and whose memory is often lost in the noise & busyness of the world. Oddly that desire to be alone with one’s reflections isn’t inconsistent with the desire, as a writer, to share one’s solitary, personal reflections with the wider world in poetry, novels, or books like this.

You end the collection with a coastal soundscape, which among many things, consists of Morse code and music. What inspired you to end the collection this way? How do the visual and audible aids capture what you were trying to convey in a way that poetry and prose alone could not?

Having set out with a sense that many different literary & oral forms of communication have a place in understanding what makes us who we are, I was also aware that – although Yeats says words alone are certain good – there were other forms of communication jostling for attention throughout the essays/chapters: sea sounds, wireless experiments, songs my mother sang, radio waves, lighthouse signals, Mayday messages, a ringing telephone, even car headlights on a coast road… all part of a visual & aural picture that would bring together the various strands, the interwoven stories, the literal & metaphorical journeys.

No Far Shore: Charting Unknown Waters is available on the Seren website: £9.99

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Katrina Naomi shares her poetry advice

This week’s poetry advice blog comes from Katrina Naomi author of The Way the Crocodile Taught Me. Katrina is a poet, tutor, critic, mentor and translator who lives in Cornwall. Her poetry has appeared on Radio 4’s Front Row and Poetry Please, BBC TV’s Spotlight and is currently included in London’s Poems on the Underground. Her next collection is forthcoming in 2020.

The Way the Crocodile Taught Me Katrina NaomiThe Way the Crocodile Taught Me, is a vibrant, heartfelt and tragi-comic collection of poetry. With warmth, flair and a certain ferocious wit, Naomi tears into her subject matter: a childhood fraught with family dislocation, upsets and even occasional violence, and finds, through her art, moments of grace, humour and redemption. It will delight people who know Naomi’s work and undoubtedly win new fans for her courageous and unabashedly entertaining poems.

What first drew you to poetry?

I came to poetry by mistake. I was trying to write about something I really cared about and found that I’d written a poem.

Where do you look to for inspiration?

Art, walking, film and other poets.

What poets or writers inspire you?

There’s so many! One poet who always inspires me is Peter Redgrove.

How do you balance writing poetry with working? If you write full time, what made you decide to do so?

I do write full time, I found that when I was working in my former human rights job, that I was spending longer and longer lunch breaks writing poems. Something had to give. I thought I’d take voluntary redundancy and see if I could get anywhere with my poetry. That year I won a poetry competition and was published soon afterwards. So I’ve kept going.

How do you prepare yourself before sitting down to write?

I usually read another poetry collection for about 20 minutes, or I copy out a poem that I really admire. This gets me to slow down and really look and think.

What methods do you use to overcome feeling disheartened or to keep positive?

I talk to my partner or close friends when I’ve had a disappointment. Also, I often write about the disappointment and see if I can turn it into some other beast. That helps!

 

Katrina’s collection The Way the Crocodile Taught Me is available on the Seren website: £9.99

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‘Footnotes to Water’: An Interview with Zoë Skoulding

Zoë Skoulding is a poet, critic and translator who has lived in north Wales since 1991. She is the author of a number of poetry collections including The Museum of Disappearing Sounds (Seren), which was shortlisted for the Ted Hughes Award, and Remains of a Future City (Seren), which was long-listed for Wales Book of the Year. In 2018 she was a recipient of the Cholmondeley Award from the Society of Authors for her contribution to poetry.

Her new collection Footnotes to Water follows two forgotten rivers and tracks the literary hoofprints of sheep through Welsh mountains. In these journeys she reveals urban and rural locales as sites of lively interconnection, exploring the ways in which place shapes and is shaped by language. In this interview she gives us a deeper insight into these connections and tells us about some of the processes behind her poetry.

Water can quite literally reflect us, and the symbol of the river features heavily throughout the collection. Why do you think water is so expressive of identity?

I’m more interested in water that is hidden, or that has disappeared, than in reflective surfaces. I don’t think water necessarily expresses identity at all, though it does tend to be a central concern of Welsh writing – there’s Tryweryn, of course, with the idea of loss of language and identity. I was drawn to the Adda in Bangor because it seemed to be the shape of a void I noticed in the city, but it’s not just about language – it’s also about an economic logic that destroys a community’s relationship with itself and its non-human surroundings. On the other hand, water is what connects us to each other and to the rest of the physical world, so it’s a way of thinking about new kinds of belonging.

You use the Welsh language throughout certain poems, although you write primarily in English. Why is that?

I can’t write in Welsh, but in writing about Bangor I wanted to reflect my experience of hearing the city, which is that Welsh is a constant, if fragmentary presence, and one I value. The occasional Welsh phrases are all quotation because my relationship to Welsh is that it lives in my ears, but not in my mouth. One day that may be different, but for now this is the best way I can respond to where I am.

Is this a collection to be read aloud? How could speaking the poems affect our understanding of them?

For me, reading and writing poetry is very much about the sound and weight of words, whether they are sounded aloud or voiced in the head, so sound and meaning are always intricately connected.

The collection brims with varying experimental forms. Can breaking form challenge our conceptions of the world around us?

I like having a constraint to work against, so the book begins and ends with sonnet sequences, although they might not be immediately recognisable as such. In both cases, I was thinking about the form of a river, and the shape that gives it pressure and movement. In the first poem there’s a seven-syllable line, which is more common in Welsh poetry than in English, and it has the effect of wrong-footing the expected rhythm. In many of the forms I used I was trying to find ways of tripping up my expectations of a very familiar city.

In the collection, you seem inspired by the landscape, letters, news reports, and the literature and voices of others. What inspired you the most? Is there somewhere you often look to for inspiration when beginning to write?

I walk and I read, and in some ways these can be quite similar kinds of exploration. ‘Heft’ is about both of those things at once, a journey though text and landscape.

In the poem, ‘Walking the Adda: A Collaboration’ you incorporate ‘comments made on and after public walks’. How did you approach incorporating the voices of others into your work? Would you say the role of voice is particularly important to this collection?

This was a joint project with the artist Ben Stammers in which we walked the route of the underground river with anyone who wanted to join us. At the end, people added their comments anonymously to a giant map he’d drawn, and these are what I have quoted – so although there are a few spoken comments there as well, most were written down. I arranged them as a prose poem, continuous but with multiple voices. The sense of listening to a place composed of many voices is central to my understanding of cities.

How would you describe the poems’ function as footnotes alongside Ben Stammers’ visual art?

I don’t think they really work in this way as I was not interpreting his photographs. Most of the time we made parallel, separate explorations of the route of the river and what we could discover about it. We did have some very useful conversations though, and Ben’s expert knowledge of birds certainly informs ‘Gull Song’.

You play with the idea of bodies, whether the ceaseless flow of the body of water reflected in the form, the female body in ‘Teint’, or the physical body threatened by flood, disease or pollution. Would you say the collection aims to subvert the boundaries between the human body and the elemental world?

Given the current ecological crisis it’s important to challenge the belief that humans are somehow separate or aloof from the material world. What if we could imagine human existence as a footnote to water, a co-incidental life form existing alongside many others? At the same time, of course I can’t completely sustain this view because my perspective is human, and I’m also concerned that human bodies are not all treated equally, as is revealed by the story of any city. When I write I try to make new paths of connection in language so that different relationships might be possible.

 

Footnotes to Water is available on the Seren website: £9.99

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Don’t miss the launch of Footnotes to Water taking place at 8pm on Thursday 14th November at the Aulkland Arms in Menai Bridge. Zoë will be joined by guest readers Fiona Cameron, Peter Hughes, Rhys Trimble and Lee Duggan plus there will be music from The Groceries (Alan Holmes). Find the full details on our website.

Claire Williamson shares her poetry advice

This week’s poetry advice blog comes from Claire Williamson author of Visiting the Minotaur. Claire specialises in nurturing creative writing, both as craft and for wellbeing. She is also a member of Bristol based poetry group The Spoke.

Visiting the Minotaur Claire WilliamsonClaire’s collection Visiting the Minotaur was published by Seren in 2018. In this inventive and intensely felt collection, the poet enters a labyrinth of her own complicated family history, a history beset with secrets and lies, in order to come to terms with her own identity.  She borrows from myths, histories, careful observations of nature, and of city life, in order to fashion her artful meditations on experience and mortality.

 

What first drew you to poetry? 

Foraging in my grandmother’s bookshelves and finding an illustrated anthology of children’s poems. I memorised ‘Three Ducks on a Pond’ and used to enjoy reciting it to myself. 

Where do you look to for inspiration? 

Inside – thoughts and feelings – and outside – the natural and built environment. An emotion or idea usually catches an image or a concept. I’m lucky that I don’t struggle for inspiration.  

What poets or writers inspire you? 

T.S.Eliot was one of my first loves and continues to bring energy, so many years later. I read a lot of contemporary poets. I enjoy Poetry Wales; it’s always a surprise what you’ll find between the covers! 

What does poetry mean to you? 

Poetry has been threaded throughout my life, a companion and a safety net in difficult times – both writing and reading. It belongs to everyone and I enjoy it in the broadest sense, culturally and geographically. 

How do you balance writing poetry with working? If you write full time, what made you decide to do so? 

I’m an academic three days a week for the MSc in Creative Writing for Therapeutic Purposes at Metanoia Institute, and I work freelance on writing projects the rest of the time; at the moment I’m working with Welsh National Opera, Fresh Arts at Southmead Hospital and mentoring individuals. Poetry comes up through the cracks and especially if I sit down to write.  

Do you have a writing routine? What is it? 

I’m writing a novel for a doctorate at the moment which I sit down to work on after the children are in bed, which is the quietest time of the day. Poetry is more spontaneous; an image or phrase will start to pester me like a persistent fly. 

How do you prepare yourself before sitting down to write? 

I don’t particularly set aside time at the moment, although I am familiar with needing to do so and to either be relaxed or ‘in flow’, as described in John Cleese’s ‘Open Mode’I’ve trained myself to write even when the house is a complete mess. Most likely, I might be working on something academic and suddenly I’ve opened a new document and out pops a first draft. If I had all the time in the world, without interruption, I’d journal first thing, leading into poetry writing. 

What advice would you give to poets looking to get their work published? 

Workshop your poems with other writers you respect. Enter competitions, send to magazines. Collect twenty of your best poems to put towards pamphlet competitions and publishers. Work your way to a first collection.  

Is it important to build a reputation by submitting to competitions, magazines and journals? 

It turns out to be, yes, although I resisted it for a long time; I was surprised how suddenly relieved I felt at the Bridport prize that I hadn’t been kidding myself I could write and that was about fifteen years after I started to take it seriously; it is easy to feel a fraudConversely, often a performance poet’s trade is their words and style of delivery, and paid gigs to turn up to and present. However some performance poems translate brilliantly to the page and are also great to read.  

Do you have any tips for submitting poems to publishers or magazines? 

Go to the library and read samples of magazines/books, or order back copies, or subscribe before sending in your work.  

What methods do you use to overcome feeling disheartened or to keep positive? 

Treat ‘sending out’ as an administrative task; if the poems return, send them on their merry way again. Commune with other writers and share information and plans. The poetry world isn’t always fair and certainly has its darlings. Be patient, your day will come! 

Do you have any other advice for fellow poets? 

Take risks, it isn’t always the poems you think are the competition winners that win the competitions. Persevere with the craft, sharing with fellow poets and buy books! 

 

Claire’s collection Visiting the Minotaur is available on the Seren website: £9.99

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Deryn Rees-Jones shares her poetry advice

It was announced earlier today that Deryn Rees-Jones’ new collection Erato has been shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize 2019. It therefore felt only fitting that this week’s poetry advice blog came from her.

Named after the Greek muse of lyric poetry, Erato combines documentary-style prose narratives with the passionate lyric poetry for which Rees-Jones is renowned. Here, however, as she experiments with form, particularly the sonnet, Rees-Jones asks questions about the value of the poet and poetry itself. What is the difference, she asks in one poem, between a sigh and a song? Erato’s themes are manifold but particularly focus on personal loss, desire and recovery, in the context of a world in which wars and displacement of people has become a terrifying norm.

 

What first drew you to poetry?

As a child in primary school we were expected to write at least a poem a week. Each poem then had to be illustrated. I took these tasks very seriously and wonder if my interest in the relationship between text and image stems from there.

Where do you look to for inspiration?

The origins of that word inspiration are interesting, aren’t they, that idea of inhalation, but one that originated in the idea of bringing something divine into the human body. I have recently been working on an exhibition with the artist Charlotte Hodes. She has made a sequence of four images, now engraved on glass, with my captions – heat, heart, in-breath, unfurls. Glass is one of those transformative materials, which I have become fascinated by. I’m thinking about it a great deal, and in my mind it also connects with something that has also preoccupied me in the past — snow. I’m interested more generally in heat, in the idea of fire as a metaphor for the creative process. Those captions on glass, which evolved from our shared working and thinking, are a shorthand for ideas I have explored a little more relentlessy in Erato. I continue this thinking about creativity in a book length lyric essay – Fires — that will be published in November with Shoestring.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What poets or writers inspire you?

My work as an editor at Pavilion is a huge privilege, seeing books as they develop, working with closely with poets. I learn a lot from seeing that process, and from the close reading that demands. Current poetry books I am reading – Bhanu Kapil’s The Vertical Interrogation of Strangers, Mei-mei Berssenbruge’s Hello, the Roses. I read a lot of books about psychoanalysis as a theory but also as a practice, and I have also just started reading two quite different but enjoyable and wise books, Mary Midgley’s autobiography The Owl of Minvera, and Rosi Braidotti’s new book, Posthuman Knowledge.

What does poetry mean to you?

I have a bit of a bee in my bonnet at the moment about the way poetry sometimes gets claimed as this universal panacea or in some way becomes fetishized. Poetry is a very important and particular process, but it’s deeply connected to other things that its processes allows – thinking in deep ways, feeling, paying attention, engaging with a community of thinkers and readers, being in the world. I honour the process and the pleasures and excitement poetry brings. But I am impatient when poetry somehow becomes separated from those other processes of which it is a part, and then gets reduced to a commodity.

How do you balance writing poetry with working? If you write full time, what made you decide to do so?

I have a full and busy life, and I’m starting to trust a bit more that the method I seem to have developed over the years, of setting other critical writing alongside my creative work, is a useful synergy. I don’t feel the need to separate that process.

Do you have a writing routine? What is it?

I have lots of routines, most of which include the balance of full-time work in the university and childcare. School drop-off and pick up times, walking the dog are all structures built in to the day. I was recently on an extended period of study leave and I tried to work for three intense hours writing every morning in the local café. That time was ringfenced for critical writing and research, but poems inevitably creep in. If you parent small children on your own, life can feel very closed down in terms of the freedom to simply leave the house, take a walk, run out for groceries, have some time alone with friends. That has changed a great deal now and I am valuing the new freedoms but also, as I look back, valuing that enforced quietness and what it asked of me. I don’t have a specific writing routine when it comes to poetry, but the other routines mean there might be space when I need it.

How do you prepare yourself before sitting down to write?

I don’t. It’s more organic than that. You could say that even though I’m not writing, in notebooks, of which I have many, or on screen, that I am writing all the time, because writing is much more than sitting down and putting marks on the page.

What advice would you give to poets looking to get their work published?

Concentrate on the poems, read – what is being published now, but also engage with poems that have come before. Read internationally. Having a sense of what poetry means in cultures that are not your own is really important; understanding a poetic history as well as a context is really important.

Is it important to build a reputation by submitting to competitions, magazines and journals?

For some poets it might be, it’s one route. I’m more interested in that process as a testing ground for readership and the poem than I am in the idea of reputation.

Do you have any tips for submitting poems to publishers or magazines?

Write your best poem in the best way you can. It’s going back to the idea of seeing publication as a testing ground. Not all the poems in a book work on their own, but can be vital when assembling a book. Keep a humble and critical judgement. Leave poems alone for a while. Trust that editors, who are usually poets, have a good sense of what is working or not in a poem.

What methods do you use to overcome feeling disheartened or to keep positive?

We live in an age of soundbites, some of which are directed at least in a superficial way, at improving our mental health. Of course we all have feelings when work is returned or doesn’t appear to have been read after publication. Poets need readers, and it can be painful not to feel heard or relevant or understood, but processing that part of your professional life is also part of life. I’m more interested in the life part  — how to live ethically, and joyfully, than some sense that we can guard against difficulty or pain without seeing that as part of a bigger process.

Do you have any other advice for fellow poets?

I wouldn’t presume!

 

Erato is available on the Seren website: £9.99

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