The series of interviews published on this blog last month proved to be very popular. I really enjoyed thinking of questions and was rewarded with some brilliant and enlightening responses from Matt Merritt, Ian Parks, Rebecca Bird, Maria Taylor and Jodie Hollander. If you haven’t read these yet then do have a look. There are more interviews with contemporary poets and publishers coming up , but while the next batch is cooking I thought I’d post my own brief responses to two questions I was asked yesterday by my publisher’s publicity officer, Michelle Rose. I’ve lengthened my responses slightly for this post.
Michelle’s questions were
Could you tell me about your collection? What inspired it? What are your influences?
This is my first full collection so it contains a selection from all the poems that I’d written up to the date I had to submit the manuscript to the printer. I started seriously focusing on poetry about eight years ago. When I say focusing, I mean reading and writing and re-drafting to the point of obsession. Prior to that I had always written the odd poem, but I hadn’t read a great deal and I was completely unaware of the contemporary poetry scene or the world of small magazines. Then in 2009 I sent my first poems out. One of the first I sent was published by the magazine The Rialto, another was chosen for publication in an online Guardian work shop. Another came third in the Ledbury Poetry prize.
I started going to readings and meeting people, some of whom later became my friends. I kept on submitting poems and having a number published. In 2011 I felt I had enough for a pamphlet. This seemed the next logical step so I entered and was fortunate to win the Crystal Clear Pamphlet competition. Part of the prize was getting editorial advice from the poet Wayne Burrows.
Wayne helped me weed out the weaker poems and tighten up the stronger ones.
The pamphlet got good reviews, and John Lucas of Shoestring Press wrote to tell me he had enjoyed the collection and to ask if I had any more work as he would like to publish a full collection. I was delighted, and began the process of looking at my work again and selecting possible poems.
I rewrote several and received astute advice from John and from a couple of poetry friends. I was writing a lot of new poems at the time I was assembling the manuscript, so quite a few of those got in, including the title poem, The Sun Bathers. It was written on a train ride back from Sheffield. I’d wondered into the Graves Gallery and found an exhibition of the work of the artist Leonard Beaumont. I bought a post card of one of his images it’s a 1932 lino cut in the Vortic style. It’s of two girls on a beach and it’s called ‘Sun Bathers.’ The poem was inspired by that image: it speculates on who these girls might be, how their parent’s lives might have been disrupted or destroyed by war and the way in which their own lives will soon be disrupted by another war. One theme of my writing has always been concerned with the impact on individuals of war.
Other poems are inspired by an interest in nature and trying to capture some of its transience and beauty. Also, with some time distance between my time as a Coronary Care nurse and the present, I was able to write one or two poems about my experiences there. Other poems are about my family and others about historical figures. Some are vivid childhood recollections of emotion. There is a short sequence of poems about Leonardo Da Vinci which comes from a much longer sequence. These are the poems I decided to keep.
I had another ten or twenty new poems I liked, but was advised to keep these for a second book, which was good advice. It’s great to have some new poems in the bag so to speak, and not to feel I’m starting from scratch.
As for influences on my poetry, I think I’ve assimilated ideas from everywhere including film, music, art, novels. I admire lots of poets but it is very hard to say how directly my own work has been influenced. Other people may find it easier to identify similarities between my work and that of other poets. I’ve had some very flattering comparisons made; I’ve been delighted that one or two people have mentioned Edward Thomas. But I’ve only read a few poems by Thomas so I don’t know if he has influenced me directly. The poets I enjoy tend to display mastery of control and balance and a lack of excess or extraneous words. A list would have to include Seamus Heaney, Ted Hughes, Paul Farley, Robin Robertson, Jean Sprackland, Dannie Abse. I’m also a fan of Clare Pollard, Kim Moore and Maria Taylor, all for different reasons.
The Sun Bathers will be published in November 2013.