August 13, 2012 § 1 Comment
Interview with Abi Curtis by Francesca D’Aiuto
1. Did you always want to be a poet? When did you know you wanted to be? When did you start calling yourself a poet?
I always enjoyed writing as a child, and carried on as I got older. I mostly wrote fiction, but got more into poetry when I took an MA at Exeter University with the poet Andy Brown. I became very interested in the possibilities of poetic form at that point, and I was introduced to lots of contemporary poets. I don’t call myself a ‘poet’ as I don’t see being a poet as an identity. I see it as an activity. It’s not a profession as such to me – my job is being a university lecturer.
2. How did you get your work published or heard? Did you confront any difficulties?
It takes a while and lots of rejections. And of course I still get lots of rejections from magazines etc. It really helped me to do an MA because I learned about how to present work to magazines and journals. It’s really important to read contemporary poetry if you want to write it and be published. You become part of a community, in a sense. I started getting published in small magazines and in anthologies at first. I was then really lucky to win an Eric Gregory Award from the Society of Authors for poets under 30. This helped a lot. Then I published a pamphlet with Tall Lighthouse who began running the Pilot Series, again for young poets. The editor was Roddy Lumsden, who has really supported me since that point. After this, I entered Salt Publishing’s Crashaw Prize and was lucky enough to be one of the winners. The prize was publication of a full collection. I’m now publishing my second collection with them (July 2012). So, competitions have been great for me. I also can’t praise independent publishers enough when it comes to supporting poetry.
3. Which other poets inspire and/or influence your writing?
There are a lot, and it changes all the time. I really love Alice Oswald, and I have read all of her work. She does something very new and fresh with language. I also admire Jo Shapcott. Mark Waldron is great because his work is funny and affecting, and Antony Dunn, whose work is really polished, clever and subtle. I think Ted Hughes’ work is amazing. He was able to capture things to their core. Great poems give the reader an experience, rather than a sense of being distanced from a closed-off object.
4. Does it irritate you when people misinterpret your poetry?
No. I’m sure my poetry is not for everyone. People who like it gain different things from it. Once it’s out there in the world, you can’t be too precious about it.
5. What do you think about free verse vs. verse forms?
I think that there’s a misconception about the ‘freeness’ of free verse. It needs to be controlled in all sorts of subtle ways for it to work. So I guess I’m saying there is no such thing as free verse! But I love form, actually, I think it can be liberating creatively. Solving the ‘puzzle’ of a form and working with it to create content can lead to all sorts of wonderful unexpected effects. Writing a poem should be a challenge, and the tension in the challenge is what creates the energy of the poem.
6. What advice would you give to young writers to encourage them to write poetry?
Try to write regularly, practising makes you better at most things and poetry is no exception. Read lots of contemporary poetry – journals such as Magma are very accessible and give a good range of what is out there. Enter competitions and send things to journals, and don’t worry about rejection, don’t take it personally. Read and perform your work at poetry nights. It gets you in touch with your local poetic community, and that’s the kind of environment that poets make their fans.
7. Do you think poetry is a dying art?
Not at all. People will always want to read and write poems. You just need to look at how many poetry nights there is each week in cities like London and Bristol. It might not be huge numbers of people, but there are lots of people writing and reading poems. Younger people seem to be especially enthusiastic at the moment. Check out the Salt Book of Younger Poets, for example, Or the Foyle Young Poets Award. I think poetry is thriving.
8. What can you express in poetry that you can’t in any other literary or art form?
I don’t think it’s a question of what, but how. Poetry expresses things differently. Perhaps it pays more attention to the music of language, to the materiality of words themselves. But that’s not to say other forms of writing cannot do these things.
9. Bruise: Can you retrace your thought process when writing and/ or editing this poem?
It came from a real life experience. I did fall over and I had a massive bruise on my thigh. It was completely black. I thought it would be good to turn that negative experience into something creative. I was interested in how the bruise gradually changed colour, and started the poem exploring the imagery of that. The ending was an unexpected part of the composition process; it came from that complete concentration on the subject matter. That’s the wonderful thing about the writing process – letting it surprise you.
10. What is poetry-both in contemporary society and for your personally?
Poetry has all sorts of potentially subversive power, but lots of writing does. I think it is especially interested in the possibilities of language. For myself, I enjoy writing poetry because I enjoy playing around with language – with imagery, rhythm, form. I like the idea of capturing something through language, or of creating something new – an experience for the reader.