I wanted to be knocked off-balance to feel the tide
in my stomach, turning; the white foam and salt,
the grit of it. I wanted the dark and the light, wanted
the sun flexing on the horizon and her shadows,
the contrast hard as pavement and clipped birds’ calls.
I needed the sting of commuter hours,
to be reminded how it feels to bury my knees in sand,
leave my tongue in the moon, growing cold.
You laughed when my hands bruised. I drank the fog
and pretended it was sea.
Tell me who you are and where you reside on this planet?
I’m a poet and an artist. I grew up in London and in the South East corner of England and I’ve recently returned to London where I’m still adjusting to city life.
I remember books being a big part of my childhood and I always remember bedtime stories with my Dad. I have always written. I remember writing my first book at the age of 6 or 7 – a story about Mr Bear and his family in which they fall down a hole, end up in Australia, and then can’t find their way home. I came to poetry relatively late in life. I was exposed to it in my teens but never really started writing it until I was in my early 20s.
What is it, to be a poet in this age, in this time?
Poetry and art have always had a place in changing attitudes, questioning the norm and changing the world from the inside out. Essentially, a poet’s job is to observe and report back. For me, poetry is always about reflection and refraction; it is observation, distilled. It’s about presenting a viewpoint, then questioning it and we all have different ways of doing that.
I’ve been asked a few times whether my poetry is political. I argue that all poetry, all art, is political. Because we all have an opinion about art – we know what we like, what we hate, what connects with us and what doesn’t. It’s those conversations with our families, our friends and our neighbours, which in turn inspire more questions, and an opportunity to listen to different viewpoints and different truths than our own. And that might just lead to change. Change in ourselves, translates to change in our communities, which, over time, translates to change on a much bigger scale. I don’t think we have an obligation to be outwardly political, or indeed anything, other than observers and reflectors of the world around us. That’s more than enough.
What do you expect from life?
I try to expect less and less from life as I get older. I’ve realised that life is as much about rolling with the tides as it is about carving out a path and there’s a balance to be struck between the two.
Increasingly, I try to appreciate the small things as well as the big things. Life is full of little, fleeting moments that come knitted together, often in a chaotic sort of way. It’s easy to miss stuff if you’re not paying attention or distracted by other things.
These days I live a relatively quiet life. I am naturally solitary, but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the fellowship of other people. I love going to see live music and going to bars and going out to readings. But I also love pottering around in my kitchen or reading in my armchair. Balancing it all is the hard part!
Who is your muse?
Landscape has always been important for me. I use location a lot in my work because, for me, the architecture and archaeology of a space is all part of the physical and emotional reaction to it. I write very much from the internal, but knowing that it is intrinsically linked to the external and I like the interplay between the two.
The good thing about landscape as a muse is that it is always there. It is a constant. I love going out for a walk with my camera and taking lots of pictures. Looking through the viewfinder of my SLR helps isolate things that would otherwise fade in to the background and helps me to look at things from a different perspective.
I find it both painful and liberating to write. Is this a similar experience for you?
I think it was Hemingway who once said “write hard and true about what hurts”. I write very personally, because it’s the only way I can write and be authentic. And authenticity is important. Readers see through it pretty quick if it’s not and to be frank, what’s the point of creating anything if it is not rooted in something.
All writing requires a level of vulnerability and openness, and that can be painful at times. Most of my work has an edge of melancholy to it and often deals with strong imagery and emotion. Part of poetry is an attempt to articulate the inexpressible. In abstracting and refracting observances from the world, we can say things in ways that other writing doesn’t allow us to, which means that we can deal with tough subjects in ways we otherwise couldn’t in other forms. Poetry can be really freeing in that sense.
I think it’s important to be free to write about any aspect of life that inspires you, whether that’s the painful or the strange or the beautiful or the funny or the just plain absurd. Poetry is a great way of exploring and making sense of the world we’re in, and while we might not do either fully, it’s a great place to start.
Do you use emotion for inspiration?
I write from the inside out, so emotion is a big part of my work. It can be tough but I also have no other way of writing. I’m fascinated by people (with a degree in Psychology, that’s not really a surprise) and so I get really caught up in behaviour and reactions. The mechanics of emotion are a constant source of inspiration and a constant focus of my work.
Where in your mind do you go to write?
For me, writing is a solitary thing. I have to have physical space to write. I have a desk in the corner of my little flat that is a designated writing space and I try to use it as much as I can.
Drafts come at inconvenient times – like on trains on the way to the day job, or just as I’m drifting off to sleep, or on a Sunday afternoon when I’m doing the ironing – so I write when and where I can a lot of the time.
I always write drafts with a fountain pen, in a notebook. I have several fountain pens, some of them new, some of them vintage. I’m excited by them as objects as well as what they have the power to do. I like the feel of ink on paper and writing and that it is slower than typing and that gives my brain more time to think around things and develop ideas.
What poet or poem has most influenced you?
Music has always been a huge part of my life. I love the intricacy of music, all the different ways of expressing emotion in sound, the pace. And I love lyrics. Music is the first form of poetry I fell in love with and my love for lyricism led me in many ways to pursue poetry.
My revelation moment in poetry was reading Pablo Neruda’s “The Poet’s Obligation” when I was about 19 or 20. It suddenly made sense to me, not just on a head level, but in a heart level.
Since then, I have been influenced by so many poets and writers.I read constantly. Right now, I’m enjoying going back to some old favourites, as well as discovering new voices. I bought the Penguin Book of Contemporary British Poetry (published 1982) in a charity shop recently and keep going back to it again and again.
There are some incredible writers writing right now, and so much work being produced that it is impossible to keep up with it all. Britain has a great poetry magazine scene though, and I love picking up a magazine or journal and not knowing what gems I’m about to uncover. There’s new poetry and new voices all the time and that’s really exciting.
Where have you been published?
I’ve been published in several magazines online and in print mostly in the UK, but also in USA and Canada. My debut collection, The Girl in the Dog-tooth Coat, was published in July 2015 by Bare Fiction.
Book available from: Bare Fiction