Monday, June 02, 2014

Writing process blog tour

Carrie Etter asked me to answer four questions about my writing process for a blog tour that appears to have started in Wales. I'm asking poet Lorna Thorpe and sculptor David Parfitt if they'll answer the same questions. All links at the end. 

What are you working on?

Poems about people who have died, continuing my collaboration with Jane Fordham -  extending our ideas on ancestor portraits - trying to write more expansively after the curtness of many of the Woman's Head as Jug poems. I am pleased to be writing again and broke through a barrier early this year when I finished a poem I'd been working on for 10 years. It's a short poem, but I had struggled so much with it, returning regularly, failing to make it happen. Now I have and it's released something psychologically, allowing me to write other poems about my father and my aunt, both dead. Really important friends, who shaped me, have died in the last couple of years. I have been writing poems about them too. 
Added to that, I have a short clutch of poems about South Africa which cross over with these elegies and trying to be more expansive, some poems about birds, and more about where I live in Brighton. What I've always been doing, although I am focusing more on death. 

How does your work differ from others of its genre?

Other people could answer that better than me. I see the similarities first - how many of us approach the same subject...and then I identify the differences in metaphors, language, how it's developed. 

Perhaps, compared to some, my language is simple and ordinary. I don't like poems to be crossword puzzles or case studies in the use of synonyms. I hope that simplicity and communicating a sense of the words, as spoken, are features of my poems. 

In Woman's Head as Jug I wrote a sequence about women's jobs - there aren't too many of those, I think. And a sequence about menopause. That's also fairly unusual. But those are distinctions only in theme/subject matter. I wrote a poem called The Kitchen Floor. It started as a manifesto but took on a happier life of its own. 

Why do you write what you do?

I began to write poetry again as an adult when I was working as a journalist. It was as far removed from journalism as I could get. The poems I write are suggested by circumstances, an image, a phrase or an obsession - generally one of those things is the seed and time is the compost.

Now I continue with poetry even though the journalism's a minor part of my freelance work, because I want to get better at it, experiment. It's satisfying when I can immerse myself in the process. At other times, the allotment is equally satisfying. They work together I think, along with the demands of earning a living and learning how to adapt to an emptying home. 

How does your writing process work?

I write sporadically and in bursts. I don't write everyday at the moment but I'm thinking of changing that. I need a routine and I used to have one. I don't quite know where it went - possibly in a three year block. That was a long one, although not as long as Michael Longley's! 

My writing process is defined by a continual struggle for mental space. I write best when I've had a couple of days doing nothing, or when I've been with Jane Fordham the visual artist I collaborate with, or when I'm away. Sometimes I struggle to convince myself that writing is worthwhile. Then I walk or dig. 

I write much better when I keep away from prize givings, ignore prize lists and the social side of poetry, all of which increase my anxiety terribly. I went to a launch once in London with a couple of friends. I'd been having a terrible time. I was with someone who'd started publishing poems a long time after me. We were standing side by side. This poet is much better known and I was asked - oh, do you write too? 

After that experience, I vowed to stay away from anything literary, other than readings and festivals like Aldeburgh - which gave my writing a fantastic boost. Too often literary events are the means for maintaining a status quo or a clique of like-minded and over-opinionated people. I've met some shockers and realised they were damaging my ability to write because they thrive on promoting fear, doubt, self-interest hierarchies. 

Kindness, friends, walking, gardening, my grown up children, some reliable work to pay the bills, generosity of spirit are important. I write better when I'm happy. 

I belong to two workshop groups, one in London and one in Brighton, which give great advice on drafts. I edit constantly and even if a poem's in a book I'll edit as I read it again. I'm trying to be more expansive now, though. Many of my short poems now feel a bit cryptic. I'm reading lots of American poets who are very good at being chatty. Reading, I should have said earlier, is fundamental to my writing.