August 8, 2012 § Leave a comment
Amy Key interviewed by Sarah Lyamani
1. What was the first poem you read that really affected you or made a big impact?
The first poet I really enjoyed was E. E. Cummings – [in Just-] I loved the conjunction ‘puddlewonderful’ and it’s stayed with me ever since. But I must confess to not really reading poetry for pleasure (or at all) until I was in my mid-twenties. I read some Charles Bukowski because I had a crush on someone who was a big fan. It completely changed my view of what poetry was or could be. I joined Roddy Lumsden’s poetry class and was then introduced to two American poets – Brenda Shaughnessy and Chelsey Minnis. I’d say it was Minnis’s poem ‘Cherry’ that made me desperate to write poems and to write poems that made bleak subject matter beautiful.
2. How did you get your work published or heard? Did you confront any difficulties?
My first published poem appeared in Magma. I was lucky to be in a poetry class with David Boll, who occasionally edits the magazine. He enjoyed a poem I brought to the group and asked to publish it. I’m not sure I’d have had the confidence to submit poems for publication at that stage, and I’m still quite reticent to submit work to magazines as the turnaround times can be very long and I’m not an especially prolific writer. I tend to take commissions and be published that way. I’ve had my work knocked from magazines back a fair few times – I’ve always taken it as lightly as possible and now I look back on my early submissions I’m not surprised. I was in too much of a hurry to get my poems out of the door.
My first opportunity to read came at a night called ‘New Blood’ which was especially put together to promote new poets and was run by a young group of poets – Wayne Holloway-Smith, Ahren Warner, Inua Ellams and Adam O’Riordan. I was pretty terrified but after I read I wanted to get up and do it again. I didn’t encounter many difficulties in terms of getting poetry readings because London has a busy and varied scene – and there are lots of opportunities to read at open mic nights if you want to try out new work.
I found that there were and are lots of generous poets / teachers/ event organisers who always champion new poets – people like Roddy Lumsden, Tim Wells, Clare Pollard, Julia Bird, Tom Chivers spring to mind. And then there’s lots of new collaborative projects and events organised by people and groups like Claire Trévien, Chrissy Williams, Simon Barraclough, Alexander MacDonald, Fuselit and Clinic.
3. How do you support yourself financially so that you can write?
I’ve always worked full-time and at the moment I work as a civil servant. My parents struggled a lot with money when I was growing up because they were often on strike, subsequently I’ve always been terrified of being out of work and not being able to make ends meet. I never even considered post-graduate education. My trouble is sometimes my job can be all-consuming, and I don’t get the space to write.
4. How do you process and edit your poetry?
I don’t really have a process. I don’t sit down and think ‘I’ll now write’. I have to act on impulses or particular moods, so I probably write less poetry than my peers. I sometimes try to create an environment I know is conducive to writing (well for me at least…), for instance I’ll place objects around me that I have a particular connection with or affection for such as a dress or photo. I don’t do much editing once the poem is ‘complete’ but I won’t leave a line till I’m happy with it, so may go through 10 or 20 iterations of line before moving onto the next one.
5. Do you write because of sudden strong emotions? Where and when do you write? Is it immediate, or on reflection/from memory?
I’ve often found myself writing poems on my lunch break or on the bus. But mainly I write in bed when I’ve just woken up at the weekend, quite frequently with a slight hangover. It’s at that time I feel most connected to particular emotions or moods. I’m at my most reflective then. The actual content is often immediate or based on notes, draft emails I’ve sent myself, text messages. The other time I feel particularly engaged in writing poetry is often when I’m watching live music. I end up scribbling lines on my gig tickets.
6. ‘His is a Mystery of Cooling Towers’: how did you bring together the different ideas and inspirations in this poem?
This is an example of a very immediate poem – it came together intuitively. I wanted to pull together the exotic – igloos, sun-lit terraces, beautiful boys, with the peculiar and cold – cooling towers, algae, because I had feelings of conflict about someone I was attracted to. I wanted it to be a very concentrated poem, but relatively light and flirtatious, so the tone is breathy and confessional.
7. When considering 21st century society and you on a personal level, what is the art of poetry?
I’m not sure how to answer this question. For me poetry is a source of aggravation, pleasure, friendship, social gathering, anxiety, motivation and education.
8. To you as poet, what is language?
My attraction to language is less about being clever-clever and more about the sounds and music and mouth-feel of words. And this is what I want to communicate in my writing.
9. What advice would you give young writers to encourage them to write poetry?
Read as widely as you can. Try on new looks. Go and listen to poets perform. (I’ve been co-running The Shuffle poetry night for about four years now and it’s helped me meet loads of new people and understand more about what I like and don’t like.) Take a deep breath, don’t be shy. Invite people to comment on your work, listen and take things from them if you can, but don’t despair if they say stuff you don’t like. Believe in your poems. Keep writing.
10. What do you hope your legacy to British poetry will be?
I don’t have ambitions of a legacy. I’d like to write good poems and publish my work. I’d like the work to be enjoyed and read aloud in someone’s bathtub as they drink gin-fizz or take a long coach journey. I’d like to continue to put on poetry events and publish emerging poets’ work and have fun doing it.