August 8, 2012 § Leave a comment
Interview with Sophie Robinson by Ann-Mari Storebo
1. How long have you been writing poetry? What made you start?
I’ve been writing poetry on and off since I was about 8 years old. I had an anthology of poetry when I was young, which I used to read out loud to myself. I got obsessed with the rhythms. I wrote a lot of terrible, anxiety-ridden poetry when I was a teenager, and took up writing seriously as an undergraduate English student at University.
2. Which were the first poems to really inspire you? Why?
‘Spring & Fall’ by Gerard Manley Hopkins, when I was very young. I loved the rhythm of it, and learned it off by heart. As a young adult, the most important poems that have inspired the way I write are Frank O’Hara’s ‘Having a Coke with You’ and Denise Riley’s ‘Wherever You Are, Be Somewhere Else’. I’ve been really inspired by the innovative expressions of love and selfhood present in both, and the sense of intimacy with a reader created by the address in these poems,
3. How did you get your work published or heard?
My first poetry reading was Openned, a monthly event that was set up by poet and friend Steve Willey. We studied together, which is how I knew him. I got published as a result of editors and publishers hearing me read – it’s a small world, and I must say that the beginning of my publishing career was forged in the pub after readings. That’s not to say that the work itself didn’t have merit, but the work being given a hearing definitely relies on a network of fellow poets and friends. It’s a very supportive atmosphere.
4. Did you always know you wanted to be a poet? When did you start calling yourself a poet?
I’ve always enjoyed writing poetry, but never really considered myself to be a ‘poet’. I suppose I began calling myself a poet after my first book was out, and I began working in the world of poetry (in education and as a poet in residence).
5. Which poets inspire and/or influence your writing? What about other things?
Frank O’Hara, Denise Riley, Alice Notley, Caroline Bergvall, Bernadette Mayer, Mina Loy, Sappho. Film, theatre, visual arts, lovers, friends and the Internet.
6. How do you support yourself financially while writing? How do you find it?
I teach poetry at a few different universities, and run workshops at schools and in other community settings. I have also had a couple of residencies. I love teaching, and find it for the most part very rewarding and inspiring. I’ve enjoyed my residency at the V&A, and residencies are particularly valuable as they give me time to work on my writing.
7. Do you publish all the poems you write?
I usually publish what I write. Sometimes things get left behind either because I’m not sure about them or because I feel like I’ve exposed myself, or someone I know, too much in them. Sometimes I write poems specifically for one person and keep the poem between the two of us.
8. Was your blog a starting point for you when it comes to being noticed as a poet? Does it help you improve your work?
My blog was definitely important as a house for my work, especially when I first started writing. I don’t know how many people come to my work through it though – I don’t update it as much as I should, and I feel like people are more likely to be introduced to my poems through online magazines and anthologies.
I think that making work-in-progress public like that helps me to understand what does and doesn’t work about the poem. Also, with gaps between readings and publications, it’s nice to have a motivation to keep writing through a self-publishing tool like a blog.
9. Is there a particular process you use when writing poetry?
It depends on the poem. Sometimes it just comes out fully formed; sometimes it is developed over time from an initial phrase or idea and requires a lot of work and experimenting. I’ll often write the things I’d like to express and then change the language to create a more complex and original piece. Quite often all the language will change, whilst the themes and ideas stay the same. At other times I use a more rigid process, for example working with found text.
10. How do you decide that your poems are ready? Do you edit a lot?
I usually keep working on them, with breaks in between to sort of let them breathe, for a few days. After a certain point they just seem set in stone, and I can’t edit them anymore.
No, not too much. Sometimes I write a few drafts, and sometimes it just comes out first time and doesn’t get edited at all.
11. Does it bother you if people misinterpret you work?
It depends how they misinterpret it. Sometimes I feel that there’s no such thing as misinterpretation. On the other hand, if somebody read my work in a way that was incongruous with my politics and with the way I see the world (for example if my work were to be interpreted as racist or misogynist), then it would bother me.
12. You explore gender, sexuality and emotions in your poetry, what made you go in that direction?
It just came naturally to me. Being queer has always been something I’ve wanted to explore poetically. I’m also interested in filtering the world through love and through sexuality in my work. I think love poetry (or lust poetry) can be very political.
13. ‘Animal Hospital’: What did you think about while writing this poem?
I wrote it because I saw a dead animal in the road, and I was thinking about the layers of protection we surround ourselves with to pretend we, as people, are not expendable like that. I was also thinking about a relationship I was in at the time, wondering where it was going. It’s a poem about being scared of death and scared of the future.
14. What made you start writing ‘a’?
The sudden death of somebody I was very close to. I wanted to write an elegy for her, to memorialize her in that way.
15. What do you feel you can express through poetry?
The inexpressible. Complexity. Ten things at once. That’s why poetry lends itself so well to talking about love, or about strong belief, because it allows you to layer on all the complex and simultaneous thoughts and issues. You can express something without reducing it down to a cliché.
16. What is poetry to you?
It’s the way I think and feel.
17. Do you have any advice for young writers?
Read lots of poetry, go to poetry readings, write every day, start a blog, fall in love, look at lots of cool art.