Claire Trévien

February 11, 2013 § Leave a comment

Interview with Claire Trévien by Diane Tingley.

Claire’s website.

1) When did you first start to call yourself a poet?

I started calling myself a poet towards my second year as an undergrad at university. Some university magazines and anthologies had published my work and I’d found the courage to sign up to David Morley’s module The Practice of Poetry for the following year. I had been writing poetry for four years by then, but it wasn’t something I admitted to many people. I had been part of an online community of poets for several years by then however, and one of my mentors on it had been encouraging me to own up to the title for some time. It’s still not something I’m 100% comfortable telling strangers.

2) Who inspires you?

Plenty of people, top of the list for going out of their way to create exciting projects: Sophie Mayer, Amy Key, Sarah Crewe, Kirsten Irving, Jon Stone, Tom Chivers, Tori Truslow, Emily Hasler, … the list could go on for some time. More personally, my mother and sisters are inspirations to me for being strong independent and passionate people. There’s no way I could have aspired to an uncreative life with them in my life.

3) In September (2012) Fiona Sampson suggested in an article for The Spectator that if we want more people to read poetry, we need more precise criticism: signposts. Is this at all the raison d’etre of Sabotage?

In part, the idea behind Sabotage is to review what isn’t usually reviewed (or at least not on an equal par with the attention novels and full-poetry collections get). It brings attention to small-budget creations, but also refuses to mollycoddle them. This does lead to some difficulties, I know that James Webster, the editor of everything to do with performed poetry, struggles to find people willing to review spoken word nights. This is because would-be reviewers are often performers themselves and don’t want to be critical of their peers. It’s harder to hide from your subject’s ire if they’re in the same room as you!

4) Is editing a review journal helpful to your own poetry: why?

Not directly, if anything too much reviewing can be stifling to my writing, which is why I’ve taken a step back from it lately, I’m much happier editing than reviewing at the moment. The problem is that it takes more time away from my writing, and my free time is a precious commodity at the moment.

5) Do you have anything which you wish you could share with everyone about how to edit their poetry?

Not really, there are no hard and fast rules. There are perils to over-editing poetry, and letting too many outside voices influence your work, but at the same time your first draft is never going to be good enough, no matter what your brain tries to tell you during that moment of elation, and it’s useful to have someone who understands your work to pull you back from the brink. It’s always worth giving poems resting time, and return to them with fresh eyes – seek opinions, yes, but satisfy your own high standards first.

6) Do you identify with feminism? Does this affect your writing?

I am a feminist so it must feed into my work on some level, just like being white, female, Anglo-Breton, 27 years old, alive, … probably filters into my poetry in ways that I can’t necessarily decipher. I have made attempts to be more overtly militant in my poetry but I’ve rarely been satisfied with my efforts. Fortunately, there is no lack of poets who do it much better, check out Sophie Mayer and Sarah Crewe’s Binders Full of Women for plenty of examples or Lucy Ayrton’s Lullabies to Make your Children Cry which has a lot of fun taking fairy tales apart.

7) Do your think that there are more or less opportunities for female poets in the spoken or written word scenes?

I think that poets who identify as female are still under-represented on the page and stage. It’s often dispiriting to open a magazine or attend an open mic and find that women make up barely a quarter of contributors. Vida publishes statistics regularly, the 2011 one is here and I expect the 2012 one will be out soon. The figures are very revealing showing that in most mainstream magazines women are not only less published, but also less likely to be reviewed. Plenty of writers have speculated more intelligently than I could on why this could be, certainly it seems that women submit less to magazines and will put themselves forward less to sign up to, say, a slam; but these things work both ways and if a magazine or event is not getting enough contributions from women then it has to take a hard-look at itself and evaluate what it is doing that is putting them off. When it comes to a curated poetry evening (or an edited anthology that commissions authors) there is less of an excuse, I organized a reading series in Beaconsfield last year and was always careful to invite two female and two male poets to read – it’s not that hard, there are so many talented female poets to choose from!

On a more positive note, the majority of movers and shakers of my generation of poets are women creating their own opportunities. This is always an option of course, if there isn’t a scene out there for you: make one. Check out Mark Burnhope, Sophie Mayer and Daniel Sluman’s poets against ATOS project for instance.

8) How far can a poem travel, and do you think that paying poets might be related to this – or not?

Finished poems and poets are independent entities. Once a poem has been released into the world, the poet loses control of it. I don’t think this is related to paying poets or not. How much money is put into the business of publishing and promoting the poem plays a part in its reach, though that is not always necessarily the case.


Tracy Ryan

September 3, 2012 § 1 Comment

Interview with Tracy Ryan by Aaron Tilson-Brown

Tracy’s shared blog.

1. In a personal perspective on the subject, what does poetry mean to you?

For me, poetry is a way of making sense of the world, and of language. That’s both for reading and for writing it. Life would seem very much the poorer to me without it.

2. When did you first realise that poetry was the path you wanted to pursue?

I loved reading poetry from early childhood, but it wasn’t until about age 16 that it “clicked” for me as what I wanted to do. My school literature teacher took our class to see a “moved reading” of the poems that were set for the exam syllabus, both Australian and British poems. This was done by professional actors in a theatre in the city. I was so overwhelmed by the power of the performance of these texts that I thought: there could be nothing better to want to do than write poems.

3. What kind of message are you trying to convey to your readers through your poetry?

There’s not always a message intended on my part, though at the most basic level it’s often the sharing of an experience, a way of saying: look at this, hear this! The message aspect depends on the particular work: it varies from poem to poem, book to book. I’ve no doubt the compulsion behind the poems is to value the world and experience because of the pressure of mortality, so perhaps that’s the nearest I get to message.

4. Do you have any particular quirks or rituals which aid you in writing your poetry?

Yes. I can’t write with other people around; I have to be alone. At a pinch, I can write “alone” in an anonymous crowd, say, on a train or in a café. But not in a room with people I know. So, ideal for me is a small, silent room with no neighbours. This can be hard to achieve! No other quirks or rituals, though.

5. Do you have a preferred style to write in or do you prefer to write in a variety of styles?

I don’t have a preferred style — it is decided by the nature of the material that suggests itself. I write in both so-called free verse and in metrical verse. Sometimes prose-poems too.

6. What do you derive your inspiration from in order to write your poetry?

Anything at all. But typically, it might be an oddity of language, or an image. My poems draw a lot on personal experience (though not usually “confessional”; I think that is a misused term) and on memory; sometimes on other people’s experience, within limits. Sometimes the stories that go with a particular place will provoke a poem about it, though I am not a poet of place. Sometimes it’s from reading, or from a work of art (rarely), or especially from listening to a favourite musician/songwriter. Occasionally from news stories or observing people’s behaviour. I imagine these sources are much the same as for other poets, though some are more strongly inspired by one thing than another.

7. What other poet or even any other figure throughout time has been the most inspirational to you?

This is too hard to limit to one: there are so many. Poets: Shakespeare, John Donne, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Emily Dickinson, Emily Brontë, Thomas Hardy, Rainer Maria Rilke, Sylvia Plath. But also in addition to poets: Mary Wollstonecraft, Stendhal, the Brontës generally, and the short-story writer Katherine Mansfield. This is only a small sample, but certainly what I would always return to, again and again.

8. Aside from poetry, do you pursue any other creative paths or avenues?

Yes, I have also published novels. I used to play musical instruments when I was young but that has lapsed completely — a musical background does affect the approach to poetry, though.

9.) If you could, what change would you want to see in the world made through your poetry?

I am sceptical that my poetry could make a change in the world! But I do believe poetry can have an effect on individuals (and in some contexts, on a larger scale). I would like it to give some kind of enrichment to someone somewhere.

10. What advice would you give to any aspiring poet to achieve success from your own experiences?

Don’t “aspire” — just write. That’s all you need to do. That, and have a thick skin and a stubborn faith in your own capacities, so that you don’t give up just because of rejection.

Jon Stone

August 15, 2012 § Leave a comment

Interview with Jon Stone by Daniel Lule

Jon’s Fuselit blog.

1. What was the first poem that you read?

Well it’s very hard to remember because I did read a lot of poems when I was young. But the first memorable poem that felt like a contemporary one would have been out of the Bloodaxe book a ‘New Poetry, studied at A Level was Glyn Maxwell’s ‘Love Made Yeah’ which I didn’t understand at all but still liked it.

2. When did you start writing poetry?

Not long after the Maxwell poem, as a teenager, but there was a second serious start in my third year at the University. I slowed down on writing prose and decided to focus on using the medium of poetry.

3. Did you want to be a poet or when did you know that you wanted to be?

I still don’t know whether I want to be, I have always wanted to be a writer. To write things, and at some point I started transitioning to feeling like the things i wanted to write about were best expressed in poetry. The idea of being a poet is slightly off putting in a way because it’s got the kind of connotations of being very wasteful, lying around and full of emotions and things like that. Or the negative stereotype is that you are just an academic who writes for other academics who wants to be mysterious and profound which am not attracted to.

4. What is your favourite form or mode of poetry: to read, write or perform?

I like all the three but writing is more kind of extreme. It can be something i really love doing sometimes or when am having difficult with it can be really something I hate. Reading is just pleasurable and performing is something am still training at, I started doing it only four years ago.

5. Did your education affect the way you write?

Most certainly, it’s really hard to say how but I don’t know how I’d have written if I was educated differently. It must have affected me in different ways which are hard to pin down.

6. Do you have any regrets as a writer?

I guess when I have some time and I don’t write I ask myself the next day ‘why didn’t I?’.

7. How do you manage to support yourself so as to write?

I have a job as a court editor. I am teamed up with a stenographer who will be writing what people would be saying in court and I will be editing it in real time making everything is accurate. I like it because it’s technically self employed I get to chose what time I work. So that gives me freedom to write although it’s hard work. I also take on copy writing work small publications like sites something I intend to resort to for a living.

8. Which poets inspire you and influence your writing?

Loads of them but Glyn Maxwell is one of them because of his style of writing. W.N. Herbert is another who writes in a very modern voice at the same time as using old forms.

9. How do you think your writing has started since you started?

It has but hard to say how, I think I have got much less self conscious about sounding serious with what I write early on you tend to sound serious.

10. So how much does publishability affect what you write?

Again, I got much looser on that. I just managed to get a poem accepted in Poetry Review without submitting it yet. I have work published in various places, and it’s got to a stage where me and Kirsty run our publication. We do our own magazines and run a small press.

So it’s less of an issue if I failed to find someone to publish a piece of work, We have just enough audience to put it out to and give it a chance of being read. So am not worried about publishability essentially.

11. How do you see your work as different from other contemporary poets?

I am not alone in this but I don’t tend to stick to the same style or mainstream spectrum.

12. Is it fair to suggest that when poets find their voice on the spectrum and stick to that, they are playing safe?

I think there can be an element of that but I wouldn’t want to say all poets may be some poets. There is a sense of hitting the same ball at the same distance.

13. How have you approached your current project?

We have our press, under the editorship of Dr. Fulminare our mascot character. We came up with the idea of focussing on a subject rather than a poet. So we approach poets and say to them here is an idea would you like to contribute to it. Which they have, an example is the Birdbook which is meant to come out every year for four years. And different ideas at Sidekick Books are on the website. This way we can enter a new audience of people not in poetry but interested in a subject.

14. Is strong emotion needed to write a good poem?

No, I don’t think so. It’s one of the things you can write about.

15. At what point do you decide that a poem is finished?

It’s very difficult, sometimes I read it and say to myself it’s finished but most of the time it’s got to do with the deadline.

16. Your poem ‘1910’ starts like you were telling a story. Why is that?

I was trying to capture the idea of the character at that moment he was so famous. I had an idea of the shape of this poem in mind and was carrying it through.

17. Jon, why Christina Lindberg ‘College?’

I was fascinated with her at the time, I can’t remember how I found out about her but I did. I wanted to focus on such a character as Christina Lindberg who became famous of doing the kind of films she did.

18. What is poetry?

A basic tool that empowers response.

19. What is language?

if I could sit down for an hour I could come up with a perfect answer.

20. Is poetry a dying art?

No! It’s an inviting art.

21. Any advice for upcoming writers?

Keep writing. It’s not about status.

Mohan Rana

August 15, 2012 § Leave a comment

Interview with Mohan Rana by Bakaji Balekelayi

Mohan’s website.

1. What was the first poem you read and how did it affect you?

In the winter of 1981 while sitting on a garden bench in my school grounds I noticed a discarded paper bag which had held roasted groundnuts. Out of curiosity I picked up the bag and noticed it was made out a recycled poetry book. I realized at that moment there was a way of reading language; it was the beginning of my new linguistic relationship with everything in the world.

2. Did you always want to be a poet and when did you start calling yourself one?

I had no such ambition I wasn’t looking for the poetry it found me I feel everything that is happening right now even what I am saying is happening in a poem.

3. Where and when do you write, especially when writing about strong emotions is it immediate or on reflection from memory?

I don’t have a where and when as far as the act of writing is concerned it can be on a train or on the kitchen table. I jot lines down on anything I can lay my hands on which could be a diary, paper napkin, the back of a receipt or an envelope to rediscover them later when they are formed into poems.

4. What advice would you give young writers to encourage them to write poetry?

Be aware all the time and stay awake even in your dreams and learn to write silence on the blank paper.

5. In your poem ‘After Midnight’ how did you bring together the different ideas and inspirations in this poem?

This poem is based on the idea of the ‘cyclical nature of reality’ I believe the future has already happened we just don’t remember that past at any given present time as stated in the poem
“Am I living this life for the first time? Or repeating it, forgetting as I live the first moment of breath every time”
The rest of the poem weaves around itself, conversations with oneself about reality the cosmos and love.

6. At what point do you decide that a given poem is finished?

The decision is not mine to make I feel at times as if I am playing the role of a midwife; I might be responsible for the physical aspect of a poem, its beginning and end. The guidance to end the verse comes from the poem itself, just as the given poem decides when to take birth

7. What is poetry both in contemporary society and for you personally?

Each society has its own definition and attaches value to poetry it derives from history, culture, politics, economy and individual freedom prevailing in that society.When considering my personal feelings on poetry first and foremost I am a reader the writing process is a method of decoding a poem from the language of poetry into Hindi . I am not sure what the real language of ‘the poem’ is I play a role of translator poetry is outside the geography of maps. It can change lives, it can empower the individual with a language to make sense of this ever –transient reality in which surprise is the only certainty.

8. Which other poets inspire and influence your writing?

Those whose words resonate with my own experience include the poets of the Upanishads , 8th century Chinese poets like Li Bai and Du Fu, the medieval mystic poet Kabir, the modern Hindi poet Agyeya, the Portuguese poet Pessoa and the Argentinean poet Borges my reading of poets is eclectic.

9. Is there any other particular Indian poet that you see potential or yourself in and why?

Naming one or two is not the answer , there are many it is difficult for a mirror to see itself and I can say I have not seen a mirror yet , as I believe to write a poem even one life is not enough.

Seni Seneviratne

August 15, 2012 § Leave a comment

Interview with Seni Seneviratne by Lakeshia Sterling-Henry

Seni’s website.

1. What made or inspired you to start writing poetry?

I was very interested particularly in war poetry. So I used to find poets I liked and copy them out into a book.  I actually still have them, all sorts of handwritten poems that I really liked. I guess I started writing poetry just for myself really, you know issues to do with growing up, identity and I never showed my poetry really to anyone they were just really personal. It was only really later, probably in the late 80’s, that I started to show my stuff to somebody else, there were a couple of other women and we started to show each other our work. So yeah I could say I got into it from a very personal route I would say – a way of expressing myself and how I was feeling. That was kind of the way I wanted to do it.

2. How old were you when you first started writing poetry? Starting form a young age at school you mentioned above, that must have been very difficult, from being at such a young age? Did you have other friend’s that liked to write as well or was it something that u liked to do on your own?

I first started writing poetry when I was at school, and I enjoyed reading poetry, and I also studied English literature at my secondary school, so I guess it was then that I started writing. I just used to write in not so much as a journal but a diary and I used to write lots of things like how I was feeling and all the sort of teenage angst. And I just sort of ended up writing it in poetry form really, was just how it happened wasn’t planned that way or anything. They weren’t crafted poems they were just out on the page as you feel it, but I think having this notebook where I have all these poems that I liked and there was also that series of books called Penguin Modern Poets, I have quite a few copies of those.  Looking at the dates in there and seeing how long ago I got them made me realise I was into writing from school. I didn’t get into poetry from studying it just came naturally to me.

3. As a young girl did you ever show your poetry to anyone like family or friends to see their reactions to your writing? What was the first thing you ever showed anyone, and what did it feel like?

As a young girl I never showed my poetry to anyone it was always for me and nothing else, I think the first time I showed anyone my work was when I came together with two other Asian women and we made a booklet.  Though before that a poem of mine was published in the school magazine but that was anonymously.

Who did you appeal your poetry at? What type of people did you want your poetry to affect or reach out to?

The first thing I published was in 1989, and was with two other women and we got funding from Sheffield library, and published a book together that had photography and poems from the three of us. After that I began sending work into different publications to be published in anthologies so I have lots of different work published in different anthologies in this country and in Canada, just sending things off asking for submission. But I did not do my own full collection until 2007, so it was a long time before I published a sole collection.

My most successful poem before I was published would have to be a poem actually from my first collection, which is called Cinnamon Roots. It was written in 1992, and was in response to the “celebrations” about Christopher Columbus. It was published in various anthologies and was the inspiration for the title of my first collection.

My poems don’t really appeal to just one genre or type of person its actually quite broad I get different people coming up to me saying how they love and connect with my poetry.

5. What was it like to be commended by the judges in The Forward Poetry Prize 2007?

My publishers submitted my collection and there is a category for single poems, and any poems that stand out in the collections that are submitted are considered.  And to see my poem in the Forward Poetry Prize 2007 anthology was amazing you know, it felt like such an honour and was a wonderful surprise.

6. In 2008 when you were selected to take part in The Complete Works A National Development Programme for advanced black and Asian poets, what did it mean to you as a Sri Lankan poet?

I was very, very pleased to get selected for it, I applied for it the application is done like most competitions, and so your work is submitted and its done anonymously so they select you purely on your writing talent. It felt like a good boost or acknowledgement, as I was shortlisted purely for my work. It came at a good time for me as I was starting to think of beginning a second collection. It was a fantastic project like doing a funded MA. There were seminars and I was provided with a mentor, Mimi Khalvati.

7. I’ve read that you do creative writing workshops in schools and colleges, do you think that it helps to see children and young adults that are interested in poetry and to have you help them with various issues and writing skills?

When I was a school we didn’t have visiting writers doing workshops for us and I would have loved to have had something like that.  What’s really exciting when you go into a school, particularly with the younger the children is their excitement and enthusiasm.   To take hold of that enthusiasm for language that they have at such a young age, and to encourage them to do more with it at their age is vital.

8. What was it like travelling to Cape Town and writing with artist there? What experiences did you gain? And did any of these influence your poems?

Quite a few of the poems in my second collection I wrote in Cape Town, and one of the issues I was writing about and talking about there was about trauma and poetry and poetry and witness, so in a way it linked with some of the themes in my collection. It was interesting working with visual artists, and I got into painting while I was over there through the work that I was doing.

9. When your collection was published – Wild Cinnamon And Winter Skin – how did that feel? To know you had accomplished something that could in turn affect and be read worldwide.  How long did it take you to compose the collection, and what was your inspiration?

It was a great feeling having that first collection come out, it was like bringing something out in the word that I had nurtured and know that it was able to reach places I could never reach physcally.   A good thing about getting published is that it not only changes the perception of yourself, it changes the way people see you as well. It’s quite exciting too having the Internet as your able to Google and see how far its travelled in the world!

Wild Cinnamon and Winter Skin was a gathering of poems from the previous 20 years all in one collection really so I suppose it has taken that long for me to compose in a way. I decided that I wanted to work on a collection in 2004 so from then to 2007 was how long it took me to get everything together. I wrote a lot of new poems in that time so that became new material for the collection and made it a mix of old and new poems.

10. Being of mixed heritage did that contribute to your work in any way? Did it make you want to write from different prospective such as a Sri Lankan prospective or and English prospective?

Being of mixed heritage influenced me as a person, growing up in Leeds in the 50’s and 60’s in an environment that was predominantly white.  It shaped who I was and I think though racist attitudes and prejudice had a negative impact, the fact that I didn’t fit easily into any one category became in a way a gift for me.  The notion of not fitting into anything easily became a positive thing for me and especially as an artist.  I never take the easy way out, I take the hard route, the one that presents the most challenges.  I have come to celebrate my difference really and for me it’s a good thing, and it helps me as a writer.

11. What difficulties/ obstacles did you face when starting out at a young age with writing poetry?

I think the best support that I had was myself.  I believed in myself and believed in what I wanted to do and what I wanted to achieve.  I had got to appoint in my writing career where, although I had a lot of work published, I didn’t have my own collection and began to think it might be too late to do that.  But I am glad that I got the support to work on it.   There are always going to be times as a writer when you doubt yourself.  It’s important to develop self-confidence and not to sit back and think you have achieved everything you can but to have the confidence to keep going, keep creating.

Saradha Soobrayen

August 13, 2012 § Leave a comment

Interview with Saradha Soobrayen by Shanice Brown

Author Page – Poetcasting

1. When did you know you wanted to be a poet? When did you start calling yourself a poet?

I didn’t have a clear sense of knowing or wanting to be a poet… I was very drawn to music in particular the hymns we sang in school assembly. Quite early on I found I had a particular affinity to imaginative writing and reveled in expanding my vocabulary. I wrote both short stories and poems and I continued working in a variety of forms within a Creative Arts Degree.

I went on to attend poetry courses after wanting to write better prose and soon became captivated by the possibilities of poetry. I fell deeply in love with the process of writing poems. I am still exploring language and form. I feel a bit ambivalent about calling myself a poet. In readings I am introduced as a poet. I build rooms with words and I inhabit the primeval sense of the ‘Poet’ as a ‘Maker’.

2. What do you enjoy most about being a poet?

I think I do enjoy the quietness of writing and that gradual sense of getting closer and closer to the poem. I like being with a poem, tending to it. I find writing is hard work but I like the struggle. I love getting lost in language and being continuously surprised by the strength endurance of poetry. I like how the lines can sometimes speak back to you. I enjoy revisiting poems and finding new things; hidden doors and passages that might lead to surprising thoughts and imagery.

3. How did you get your first piece published, did you confront any difficulties?

I was fortunate in that I was invited to submit early poems to anthologies and magazines because the work fitted a particular theme or the poems were simply wanted.

Any difficulties have been to do with how to resist being categorized by race or sexuality or gender; how to continue to write unhindered after publication; how to regain a sense of private purpose and maintain the quietness; how to resist demand and wait until the poems are fully dressed and themselves, able to exist and breathe unaided.

Poetry is a slow art form with immeasurable rewards. I’ve made insightful connections with writers and readers who in turn have cared about the poems as much as I have and that has made publication worthwhile and more containable.

4. Is there a particular process you use when writing poetry?

I have been recently re-reading Stephen Spender’s essay on ‘The Making of a Poem’. I share his view that concentration is quite central to writing poetry, alongside memory, faith, and song. My own process is varied and enigmatic and ongoing and resists disclosure. I have a sense of my methods, which is mostly preverbal. The proof as they say is in the pudding…in the poems themselves, which act as a form of witness, a testament to process. The act of engaging whole-heartedly and mindfully in the creative process is one of the most satisfying and sacred parts of writing poetry.

5. How do you avoid clichés?

I avoid dismissing clichés too soon and question why certain words, phrases, metaphors are deemed so. Clichés were once valuable parts of our language that held an intrinsic place in literature serving as a valuable currency for someone in a particular time and space.

I like to get to the source of a cliché to see what else is lurking nearby that I might use. I tend to trust my own emotional barometer to guide me towards adopting a freshness of language and an immediacy of words. I need to be moved and taken somewhere new in my own work and in other people’s work, with or without clichés.

6. Before you finish a poem, do you read out loud? Give it to somebody else to read?

I draft the poem in my head and by hand and I read aloud. I share drafts during different stages of rewriting and reimagining the poem.

7. Does it irritate you when someone misinterprets your work?

We each bring our selves to the poem, our interests and biases. We are each entitled to our own discovery of the poem. There is a degree of ambiguity to my writing which is counter balanced by a degree of emotional integrity. I hope the poems resonate far beyond any grasping for a definitive meaning.

8. I love the poem ‘Like cold air passing through lips’ how did you bring this poem together? What were your inspirations for this poem?

I was influenced by the letters of Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West; the quality of the imagery and intimacy of their words. I began to write around their lines, shaping new phrases over a 2-year period, which finally became the poem ‘On the Water Meadows’ which Peter Forbes once described as ‘a narrative of sound’. I remember being struck by the music of an unused left over line of mine ‘journey, draining, geranium’ and I felt compelled to build a world around that phrase.

9.  Do you remember your thought process when editing this poem? How did you decide it was finished?

‘Like Cold Air Passing Through Lips’ was written line-by-line, listening and waiting for an unexplainable kind of accuracy. I felt the poem pulling towards a kind of completion. A sense of letting go within the poem itself, it was like the poem was letting go of me:

‘my ear as dumb as corn and too far gone

to catch your heart closing like a gate behind me.’

10. What do you feel you can express in poetry that you can’t in other art / literary forms?

I am yet to explore fully the potential of other literary /art forms but within poetry I can express deeply embedded states: wholeness, brokenness, and complexities.

11. What do you hope your legacy to British poetry will be?   

I hope the work is remembered and forgotten and rediscovered when it is most needed.

Michael Schmidt

August 11, 2012 § 1 Comment

Interview with Michael Schmidt by Steffy Ubah.

1. Could you please tell me a little bit about yourself?

I was born in Mexico, DF in 1947 and grew up there. I am a literary historian, translator, fiction writer and poet.

2. When did you realize that poetry was what you aspired to do?

When I was a boy in Mexico I fell in love with English poetry and started reading and writing when I was about six. I started writing verses when I was six. My first piece of writing which actually was a poem, it was probably when I was twelve and went away to school in the States.

3. What was the first poem you ever wrote?

I have no recollection. At one stage when I was eight I wrote a sonnet for every red letter day in the calendar and sent the book to my grandmother. The first poem I remember was a William Carlos Williams-like poem about
a spider.

4. What is your own definition of poetry?

Like Frank O’Hara, I shy away from definitions because as soon as you define you limit, restrict and, more importantly, you predetermine the space and structure that poems can occupy.

5. Where is your creativity and work inspired from and what does it mean to you?

You keep using the singular, as though there is a direct correlation between a where and a what and a poem. I am stimulated by earlier poetry and as a writer I have gone through numerous apprenticeships. That’s what poets do
generally, I think, from the 14th to the 21st centuries. I tend to be stimulated by formal challenges, syllabics, the avoidance of the iambic foot, etc. I believe a fascination with language, how it works and what it can do, is more important in the long term than subject matter. As soon as a poem has a subject it begins to want to have a use.

6. What poets do you personally like and which of these have inspired you?

If you go to the Carcanet Press website you will find about 1000 poets I like. Among those I publish, especially, Sisson, Davie, Ashbery, O’Hara. Among those I don’t publish (I am speaking of the twentieth and the present centuries,
not the earlier centuries where there are many of my very favorite poets) Wallace Stevens, Elizabeth Bishop, Keith Douglas.

7. What is one of your favorite works that you have done?

A poem called ‘The Resurrection of the Body’

8. Was that your greatest accomplishment as a poet?

Yes, it is.

9. What skill are needed to write a poem?

It depends on the poem, doesn’t it. A poet like Williams or Creeley will have different skills, irreconcilably different skills, from a poet like Larkin or Bishop.

10. What objects, people or surroundings bring you to peace while writing?

Usually if I write I do so when I should be doing something else; repose I do not find conducive to writing, and the peace comes when the poem is written, not before.

11. A a writer, what process do you partake before beginning to write any creative piece?

I don’t have a ritual. I write very infrequently when I have an idea or a commission.

12. Your work has been described as having “a strong sense of internationalism and cultural ‘connectedness’.” Why?

Because I am not British and because for me the great Anglo-American Modernists still speak most lucidly, and Britain is an increasingly narrow space.

13. You are a publisher of Carcanet and editor of the long running magazine PN review. Your editorial seems to be skeptical about poets that serve the market rather than the muse. Could you please expand?

There is today, as never in the past, a market for poetry, largely educational in nature, and poets can write for that market. The teaching of creative writing has raised the level of plausibility among would-be poets who learn the tricks
that entice editors without ever mastering the art of poetry which is not a commercial art, as fiction can be. The poet who sells out to audience and market can make a living, but in the end finds making poetry no more than a sort of copywriting.

14. What would you advise to an aspiring poet?

Read, read out of your period, back to the beginning, and out of your comfort zones. Read and imitate the great poets for a while, play with words, sentences, paragraphs, stanzas.

15. Are you currently working on any new projects?

A history of the Novel in English I have been working on for the last eight years.

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