August 11, 2012 § Leave a comment
Interview with Greta Stoddart by Kezia Locke
1. What was the first poem you read? How did it affect you?
I read ‘Musee des Beaux Arts’ by W.H. Auden when I was studying English A level and was struck by how it seemed to express something that I had often felt but so beautifully and persuasively. I saw, and heard, how you might be able to say what you thought in a kind of written down speech, that it was possible to write around a thought.
2. Do you think that your education has affected the way you write?
That’s hard to say. Education happens over many years and you change and your circumstances change, I was lucky enough to have Philip Pullman as my class teacher when I was young – I loved how he taught us, he’d come in and just talk, no books, a wonderful stream of stuff that’d sweep us away into imaginary worlds. He knew how to tap into the way our minds naturally, playfully, worked. It was like he’d never lost that.
3. At what point do you decide that a given poem is finished?
I think I just feel it. It’s like a door softly closing. Like it’s saying you can go now. You don’t need to keep coming in here anymore.
4. What advice would you give young writers to encourage them to write poetry?
Do real poets need encouraging? I don’t know. You either are drawn to using language for your thoughts and feelings or not. Writing’s a compulsion. That’s how I feel it. I never chose to write poetry. I certainly was never encouraged.
5. How do you find teaching a poetry class? Is it rewarding?
I enjoy teaching. I have to earn a living and that is the best and most pleasurable way I have found so far. It can be rewarding – especially with those students who really do want to learn and ask questions, who are passionate about it. But I do find it tiring. Ted Hughes said “Teaching does not stop you writing but it stops – douses the illumination at its source.” Sometimes I feel that.
6. Do you have a particular process when you write?
A line can come to me when I’m out and about or when I’m reading or writing or just staring into space. When I feel a sort of quickening of the imagination, I write it down. A few days – or years! – later I’ll write around that line and see what it wants to tell me.
7. Which setting do you find more inspirational, the country or the city?
I left London for Devon 5 years ago. I love living in the country. But where I live doesn’t determine whether I write more or better. It might make me write a little bit differently perhaps but I’m really not sure. It feels deeper than that.
8. What is poetry – both in contemporary society and for you personally?
I find questions like this hard. I find my mind scrabbling around trying to come up with a distinct, water-tight, elegant answer. I don’t think I want to do that. Or can do that! I do find myself wondering what it means to most people these days. Not much, I suspect. There is that turning to poetry when people have to get through some kind of pain or loss. That says something, doesn’t it? I just happen to need it all the time! I need to read and write poems. Poems help me live; they help me feel connected to the world, and to the mystery of it.