Maria Taylor was born in 1978 and is a poet, reviewer and author of short stories. She is Greek Cypriot in origin and was raised in London before moving to the midlands. Her poetry has been widely published in magazines including The North, The Rialto, Iota and New Walk. Maria’s reviews have appeared in the TLS and Sphinx. She is co-editor of Hearing Voices magazine, and she has taught and mentored a number of young poets including Jessica Mayhew who was recently shortlisted for the Melita Hume poetry prize.
Her debut collection Melanchrini (Nine Arches Press, 2012) has received praise from David Morley and Peter Sansom among others, and was recently shortlisted for the Michael Murphy Memorial Prize.
Hi Maria. Congratulations on the short-listing of your book. I thought it was one of the best publications of last year. Your poems have been described as confident and assured, but l wonder if the recognition of your book has contributed to your own sense of confidence and belief in your work. Also, do you feel a little more ‘established’ and able to reflect back on your journey up to this point?
Firstly, Roy, thanks very much. Glad you enjoyed the book. I think recognition is rather good, but I’m not always sure what recognition means in a wider sense. Poetry is quite a small world and it feels as if we’re all trying, as poets, to aim for the same things. I think the most important thing is the writing and that you’re writing material you’re happy with. Sometimes you write a poem quickly and at other times you draft and draft like a lunatic. I like what Ted Hughes said in ‘Poetry in the Making’ that individual poems are like little animals with their own characters and temperaments. Some of my own poems feel different to each other.
The main thing is to keep writing over time and keep pushing. With this (and a lot of perseverance) come the good things; the publications and so on. I was really pleased with the short listing for the Michael Murphy Memorial Prize. There are swings and roundabouts in writing, but that felt very special indeed. It does make the hours spent writing and drafting worthwhile and it was great to be on a list with some impressive poets. I am not sure what being established means though; does it make you Carol Ann Duffy? Does Carol Ann Duffy wake up in the morning and think ‘oh I’m established now, I’ll stay in bed’ or is she always thinking of the next poem?
I know that you have studied and teach creative writing and that your review work also means you read widely. Are there any poets who you might cite as influential in your own poetry?
I have a lovely bilingual edition of Cavafy’s poems which I keep returning to over and over again. Sometimes when I want to write and I feel there’s too much going on I turn to a poem and literally just copy it out, in Greek that is. It’s the language I was brought up with and it settles my head into writing. Having another language gives me an alternative to much of the contemporary poetry that monopolises my house, as do novels and non-fiction texts.
I love Allison McVety’s work and keep both of her collections by the bed. I keep lots of book by the bed. For the curious, at the moment there are books here by John Siddique, Paul Muldoon, Fiona Moore, Sarah James, Suzannah Evans, Matt Merritt, and a copy of ‘Under The Radar’ and ‘Poetry Review.’ I’ve loved reading Kathryn Simmonds and John McCullough too. Also there are a great many local poets who read at various events near me I always look forward to hearing. Especially at the Shindig in Leicester. Not least yourself, Roy! Maybe I don’t have ‘favourite’ poets as such, but I do have poets who I admire and were very important at different stages of my life. I can (just about) whittle these down to Tennyson, Cavafy (as I’ve mentioned), Sylvia Plath, Wordsworth, Eavan Boland and Frank O’Hara at his best is special to me.
That’s really interesting; that you copy out Cavafy in Greek to settle you into writing .Thank you for sharing that with us.
One of the central questions I’ve been asking the poets I’ve interviewed for this series is what motivates you to write? Do you think your motivation has changed and will change, or do you think it remains essentially the same?
To want to write a poem is to feel an inexplicable urge to capture something, be it a memory, observation or something you want to work with and explore. Sometimes I get this strange urge to write and I have no idea why but I have to grab a notebook and just bloody well get on with it. Then comes the drafting, which can feel like a Sudoku puzzle, seeing if all the bits fit together. I think there’s an optimum draft at this stage and knowing when to stop is as important and starting a poem. The thing that will change and has changed will be that I’ll have periods when I write less. I need to read as a reader more, not as a poet. Otherwise I lose sight of what works well in a poem. It can be hard to read your own work objectively and that’s why a lot of people pass poems around friends, editors and writing groups. You might not want to hear it, but you need to hear it.
I do think this is an interesting question. When I started writing seriously again four years ago, after a very long hiatus, I was writing partly for my own entertainment. I wasn’t an experimental poet as such, but I was experimenting with words and taking pleasure in seeing where an idea could go. Then I would read a remarkable poem. I remember at the time enjoying ‘The Black Lace Fan My Mother Gave Me’ by Eavan Boland and ‘Rising Damp’ by U. A. Fanthorpe and just being overwhelmed by how good they were and wondered how I could ever go about writing like that and maybe I could at least try.
I know that you have both taught and attended workshops. Have you found these to be useful in prompting your own work? What elements do you think make for a good workshop?
I often go to the Poetry Business writing days when I can and attend the odd random workshop here and there. My notebooks are full of unfinished poems and it would be good to have the time to draft some of these properly or be able to explore them further in a workshop setting. One of the things I’ve most enjoyed is meeting people who feel as seriously about poetry as I do and will also spend hours of their life reading, writing and drafting. Even if I don’t get much out of a workshop I do feel as if the experience will have helped to concentrate my thoughts and occasionally I’ve written stuff I’m really pleased with a few days after a workshop. They have always been good experiences and one day I’d like to go on a residential maybe.
When people come to a workshop I think they’re hoping to surprise themselves, to write from some unexplored part of themselves. It’s good to be in a different environment and most of all I like feeling as if I’m still a student, with more to learn.
Do you have any advice for poets at any early stage in their career?
Yes. Don’t worry about the idea of a ‘book’ and needing a publisher for your book of poems, especially if you haven’t got enough anyway. Keep writing, reading, learning and sending out. Involve yourself in local poetry events, take a keen interest in what’s going on around you. It’s very difficult to face rejection and sometimes you might feel like giving up, but see this as a necessary, albeit frustrating part of what you do. There are a lot of opportunities out there for new poets. In a way I’m sorry not to be such a ‘new’ poet anymore.
Be patient with your work, if you’re writing good poems and they’re getting widely published you’ll get a book out there with someone eventually. If that’s want you want. But enjoy the writing process and spend time writing, reading and editing. That kind of enthusiasm is priceless and gets you places.
If you could put on your editors and publishers hat for a moment, I wonder if you could talk a little about the work you have done for Crystal Clear (publishers of pamphlets and of Hearing Voices Magazine.) Is there anything you have learnt that has helped you in your own writing, or are the two roles pretty much separate? Any advice for would be magazine editors?
It’s bloody hard work editing a magazine. It can be rewarding though and it was great to discover some fabulous poets through the submission process like Nichola Deane and Steve Ely amongst others. I’ve edited a few of the issues, two of which were with my husband Jonathan Taylor. I have to say we didn’t always agree on the poems!
Editing is a very worthwhile thing to do in terms of learning about what works well in a poem and what doesn’t. I read the submissions very carefully and loved the feeling of finding poems which leapt out from the page. I didn’t enjoy the rejection process, but I learnt that rejection is also governed by so many things, not just a weaker poem, but a lot of other things. For instance, how the poem fits in the magazine both according to content and space. It’s an incredibly subjective business as well. We look to editors to make good choices on our behalf. If you wish to edit a magazine be prepared for floods of poems and needing to deal with them carefully and as swiftly as you can. It makes it harder to find time for your own work. I am definitely more sympathetic towards editors now, well most of the time.
Les Murray has said that poetry is a zoo in which you keep demons and angels. Would you agree, or perhaps you might like to offer another description?
Well I’d agree with Les Murray, but I can also offer another way of looking at things. I once had a chat with the very talented Ian Parks about how what poetry meant to us. We came to the conclusion that poetry was a place for exploring the things you couldn’t talk about or mention in everyday situations. It was about saying what was difficult or even impossible to discuss. If the poet can do this well it’s possible a perfect stranger will read a poem and feel a connection. I’d go with that.
Thanks for the questions, Roy! It was great fun answering them.
Thank you Maria.
3 poems by Maria Taylor
Our children are only a blueprint. We imagine their milky bodies
flickering in a sonogram. We unpack our cases. They’re hiding
under our crisp bed in the hotel. The sun sinks into a cocktail glass.
Mouth the Spanish word for blood, think out loud: there will be
so many things to learn. Drink one guilty mouthful; let bubbles
fizz between your teeth. Mark this occasion of knowing in silence.
You no longer recognise the tilted face on the curve of your glass.
A History of Screaming
In this instance, we’ll consider fear,
how it lives in the throat,
how an actress feels its pull,
even before it makes itself heard.
Let me refer to King Kong,
you know the film, recollect
the ape’s giant bald palm
entering Ms. Darrow’s lit room.
Apes, even apes made of fiction,
have instincts; leathery maps
on their palms and soles
instruct their movements.
It’s okay. Ms. Darrow was taught
how to scream by her director,
she has learnt how to imitate fear
even with an absence of monsters.
Now it’s between her and the ape,
the script has lost its words,
it’s all about the perfect little O
of her mouth, a flatlining voice,
shrillness, preternatural fear,
as her bed is pulled and tilted
towards the ape’s grasping fist,
as a director’s voice echoes,
‘You’re helpless, Ann, helpless.’
I found him in a fishpond at a lonely end of the park.
His eyes reeled me in, under curdled waves. I felt a hook
pierce at my throat’s flesh.
I scooped up his thrashing body, carrying him to my bath.
I sang him underwater lullabies, but his tail stayed fixed.
A fin twitched in place of toes.
Nothing I gave pleased him; roll-mops, fish-sticks, cockles.
Soon, he outgrew my bath, water flowed over the edge
in hot, melancholy sobs.
My tame life was murder for him. He trilled and clicked
in a wild ocean tongue. Another world demanded him
full of reefs, corals, anemones.
He didn’t even wave goodbye. I avoided the park, the pond.
I went over to the library, read books about old romantics
who’d lost mermen, like me.
These women grew old while lovers grew young; taunted
by names writ in water. Somewhere, we must all be weeping,
in bathrooms, or alone at the bay.