Suzannah Evans, poet, Uncategorized

Guest Poet, Suzannah Evans

MY FACE (1)

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!
Thank you.

 

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

 

The Taste

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

Uncategorized

Into the Silence (or slaying vampires)

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I first met Kim Moore at a Poetry Business writing day about two years ago. Kim had arrived with a poem she had written on the train from Barrow on Furness where she now lives.  I’ll always remember the awed silence that followed Kim’s sharing of the poem during the workshop section of the day. The poem, later to appear in Kim’s first pamphlet, flowed so easily and naturally from one startlingly lucid image to the next.

I’ve met people who admire Kim’s work and more than one has mentioned that she is a natural, an instinctive poet. Whilst this is true I am keen to point out that she is extremely hard-working and dedicated. When I got to know Kim a little I found that she brings an intense focus to bear on whatever it is that she wishes to achieve, whether this be her music (Kim studied trumpet at The Royal College of Music) or, during her school days, her cross-country running.

Kim’s writing benefits from her energy and outlook, her constant reading and appreciation of others work.  As a figure on the poetry scene she impresses with her generosity and magnanimous attitude to others and her with her honesty and down to earth good humour.  I haven’t asked Kim for any poems to follow this interview as I would find it impossible to select a few favourites from her pamphlet due to its consistent quality. Instead, I’d like to recommend you buy a copy if you haven’t already.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Kim Moore

Hi Kim.  Your pamphlet  Smith/Doorstop Pamphlet  ‘If We could Speak Like Wolves’ has been extremely well received, being nominated for the Michael Marks award and gathering great reviews and recommendations. Has this helped you feel enabled more established as a writer? Also, along with the positive aspects of praise and recognition, were there any negatives?

Thanks Roy for saying this – yes, I feel very lucky to have had some lovely things said about the pamphlet, from writers whose work I greatly admire.  I don’t feel more established as a writer because of the pamphlet.  I see it as the start of a journey.  I do feel more confident in myself as a writer, and this has led to doing a lot more workshops and readings.  I can’t really think of any negatives that have come along with the pamphlet.  It’s been an overwhelmingly positive experience, right from the first moment when I got the phone call to say I’d won the competition. 

Tony Harrison once said ‘I hate everything about writing except doing it’.
In contrast you seem to enjoy, celebrate and embrace associated roles and aspects of poetry such as promoting the work of others on your blog and elsewhere. You also lead and attend workshops, perform regularly and write reviews.  I wonder if you find all these activities complementary, and if you sometimes feel a burden of responsibility to keep all these aspects of your writing life going simultaneously.

None of it feels like a burden, otherwise I wouldn’t do it!  I love going to poetry readings – for me, sad as this may sound, this is my social life!  The same goes for performing at poetry readings – maybe this is a left over from performing as a musician – but I love reading.  I’ve only just started writing reviews for magazines, but I enjoy the feeling of giving something back, and I like writing reviews because it forces me to slow down and think – sometimes I do everything at breakneck speed, including reading.  I enjoy planning workshops, because I learn something every time from running a workshop and I enjoy spending time with people who enjoy writing.  My blog has been going a year and a half – and the regular feature of a Sunday Poem from a poet whose work I’ve read that week or seen read is probably one of the best things I’ve done.  It ensures that I have to keep reading.  It means I get to say nice things to and about other poets without expecting or wanting anything back, and again, it forces me to slow down and think about why I like a particular poem.  Sometimes it feels like hard work because it is quite a time commitment, but that is only a fleeting feeling and it soon passes.  Most of the time I really enjoy it.  The main burden of responsibility I feel is keeping the music teacher side of my life going.  I have to put as much energy and time as I can spare into this side of my life, otherwise I feel that my pupils would be short-changed. 

On a related point, do you set aside time to write, or do your poem arrive as and when they arrive?

I don’t set aside time to write.  I read all the time – but I don’t have to set aside time to do this.  I have an innate fear of being bored and I carry a couple of poetry books with me everywhere I go.  Poems come from this – as and when they want to. 

I wonder if you could identify the qualities that make for a good workshop or residential course?

The tutor being organised.  The tutor wanting to be there, and a tutor that cares about people.  A tutor that remembers what it was like to starting out.  I think the whole atmosphere of a course/workshop is created by the tutor, in the same way the atmosphere in a lesson comes from the teacher.  And the tutor has to be enthusiastic about poetry of course.

One of the things I admire in your writing is that it can be , and is I think, appreciated and enjoyed by both the poetry establishment (by which I mean editors, completion judges, fellow poets) and by the generally ‘non-poetry reading’ public.  Is this something you consciously aim to achieve? Have you ever worried that your work might become ‘poetry written for poets’ and lose this quality?

I don’t consciously aim to achieve this – so it is nice of you to say so.  I write first drafts without really thinking, as quickly as I can.  When I’m editing then I suppose I am thinking about an audience, but only in that I want whatever the poem is trying to say to be understood.  I’m writing a sequence of poems at the minute about a relationship that is shadowed or haunted by domestic violence.  Part of me is very worried about how these poems will be perceived – I have been trying to write these poems for six years.  I think I’m finally getting somewhere now – and the only way I can progress with them is to push that conscious, evaluating part of the mind into silence so I can get on with the act of writing.

That’s a great answer Kim, thanks. Just a few more questions and then I’ll let you get back to the silence! When did you start writing poetry? What do you admire in others writing? Are there any influences on your work are you aware of? Has your motivation to write changed since you started writing?

I’ve always written poetry but I didn’t show anybody my writing until about five or six years ago when I joined a writing group in Ulverston.  I admire mystery in other people’s writing.  I admire poems that make me wish I’d written the poem.  My favourite poem at the minute is ‘The Visitation’ by Maitreyabandhu.  I think this poem is so poised, and perfectly balanced, and sure-footed.  That is the poem I wish I’d written!  My influences come from what I read, but also the poets and friends that I hang out with a lot.  I know that David Tait’s love poetry and Jennifer Copley’s surrealism have been huge influences on me.  My motivation has not changed since I started.   I still write when I feel like it, and read if I don’t.  And if I feel like doing neither, I watch Desperate Housewives or Buffy the Vampire Slayer…