Suzannah Evans is a poet, creative writing teacher, tutor and mentor based in Sheffield.
Her poetry has been widely published in magazines including Magma, The Rialto, The North, Poetry Review and The London Magazine.
Her pamphlet Confusion Species was a winner in the 2011 Poetry Business Book and Pamphlet Competition, and in 2013 she received the Andrew Waterhouse Award from New Writing North.
She has taught courses for The Poetry School and workshops for Museums Sheffield, Leeds Museums and at the Stanley and Audrey Burton Gallery at Leeds University. She has also been mentoring poets to develop their work since 2013. She also works as Production Manager for The Poetry Business, which is where I first met her during a writing day I attended in around 2011. I subsequently had the great pleasure of meeting up for a few coffees and poetry chats with Suzannah at Sheffield Hallam University, where she had recently completed an MA and where I was studying for mine.
Hi Suzannah, thank you for agreeing to be interviewed.
Hello! It is nice to be asked, thank you.
I wondered if I could start by asking you when and how you got into poetry, and when you began to send your own work out for publication.
I wrote poetry when I was at school – I went to a high school that nurtured creative writers very well. We went on a trip to Ty Newydd when I was 17 and I’ve written poetry ever since then really, although with some long breaks. I didn’t start to do proper sending out until some time later than that, when I was about 25. I got my first poem published in a magazine called Libertine which I don’t think is going any more. It was about some trees being cut down in Kidderminster.
You are a creative writing teacher and mentor. How did you first come to these roles? Were you nervous when you delivered your first workshop?
The workshop teaching came about through a project I did while on my MA at Sheffield Hallam. I met Layla Bloom, who is the curator at the Stanley and Audrey Burton Gallery in Leeds and she seemed to think I was trustworthy, so I ran three workshops on various themes over the summer and they’ve asked me back periodically ever since. I’ve since run workshops for Leeds Museums, Experience Barnsley and Museums Sheffield, so museum-based creative writing does seem to be a bit of a specialty now. I also teach online courses for the Poetry School and they’re great as you get to know the work of your group really well over the course and I always miss them when they’re over.
I applied for a job as a mentor with Writing Yorkshire in 2013 and was trained and matched with my first mentee, an excellent Barnsley poet named Kay Buckley. Writing Yorkshire sadly no longer exist but I’ve since done freelance mentoring work with a few more poets. I love mentoring because of the sense of progress you feel as someone starts to gain confidence in their writing, and when they win something or have a poem published it’s an amazing feeling.
What insights have you gained from working at The Poetry Business? Do you think you would ever be tempted to set up your own publishing venture?
I have learned a lot from working at The Poetry Business – my job is the production of books and pamphlets and The North Magazine so I’ve learned more about different kinds of paper and how to laminate it than I ever thought I’d need, and quite a lot about design and the technical side of things. If someone could teach me an infallible method of proofreading where you never miss any mistakes that would be the icing on the cake.
I think setting up a publisher would definitely be harder now than it was 30 years ago when the Poetry Business started out. Having said that there are some wonderful newer small publishers around such as Valley Press, The Emma Press and Longbarrow Press who produce really interesting, innovative stuff and have an admirable passion for what they do. I don’t know if I have that drive at the moment but that’s not to say I never will.
Would you be able to say a little about what you are working on? Anything else you would like to mention?
I’ve written a LOT of poems about the end of the world – I think it’s a rich theme for poetry, particularly in these times of climate change and conflict. I also think there is something almost preparatory about my desire to write this sequence, as if I am testing possible survival scenarios through poetry! I realise this makes me sound like something of a doom-monger. But it’s not like I have a house full of canned goods or anything.
I have been writing steadily for the past couple of years and I am hoping to publish some more of it soon. I have difficulty saying when things are finished. I have considerable anxiety about reviews. But I keep writing, and hope to overcome those things.
I hope you do too, as I’m looking forward to your book!
A Contingency Plan
What if we’re apart when the asteroid comes,
or the magnetic storm that shuts off the power?
You could be waiting for a train as the sun’s bulb
flickers out, high above the glass-panelled roof.
I’ll be at work. We’ll lose the phone lines,
the door-entry system will go haywire.
I will eat from the vending machine,
drink from the competition cupboard
and sleep on nylon carpet with my colleagues
all of us three-weeks unwashed. Stay where you are –
I’ll abseil down eight floors on a rope
fashioned from the supply of festive tinsel,
loot M&S, steal a bike and make for the M1
forty miles of silence and abandoned cars
so we can witness the collapse of civilisation
with a picnic of high-end tins
so I can lie in your arms on a rooftop,
our dirty faces lit by fires.
Originally published in Magma Issue 56
Once every mouthful of your soup would have been stung
with the taste of spoon; lost now, but at a guess
the metal-cold of Don-water meeting Sheaf-water
in the great drain below the city of cutlery
or the rain that slips down the windows of the Industrial Museum
while a razormaker puts steel to stone on repeat.
It’s the song in the mouths of fish swimming upstream,
flashing their knives in five rivers.
The taste of grit-salt mixed with four-day snow
on Blake Street. A dark pint at the end of the day
or the blood that drips from bust noses onto tarmac
after chucking-out time at the Three Cranes.
It’s a lick, when no-one’s looking, of the English Heritage plaque
on the house of Harry Brearley. The relish.
Originally published in The Rialto Issue 82