When you talk about the children you’d rather have
with the future instead of my body –
the mirror, the basin, the walls
go. I feel the black-pink dark
of a shutting rose.
Blank knocking of spines in the night, back to back. I told you
I shake in the fridge-pods of alien beds, featureless
sides fusing in thickscum, spawnmist:
what my face asked of you
was lost in it.
In this occasional series Ink Sweat & Tears talks to practicing writers about their process.
1. Where do you write? (do you have an office, room, bus journey that you find yourself and your writing?)
I like to be outside and I like to be moving. But when I’m making notes it’s often without a notebook. It’s important for me not to carry pen and paper around with me constantly like a hopeful little talisman, self-consciously thinking ‘poetry, poetry’ whenever I see something beautiful or overhear a peculiar conversation. For me, that’s how things get forced and familiar. I want occurrences to settle with me in life before they cement into a literary idea, and I think I become way too conscious of experience in the context of poetry if I’m making notes as I go about my day. There’s a stagnancy to that. It deadens experience too fast and therefore limits what you can actually write about it because you’ve already established an event as an idea. Kind of like thinking ‘ha, that was great. I can’t wait to tweet about that when I get home’: the presence of the moment is over as soon as your mind tries to freeze it. I think I’m always thinking of poetry dormantly though – perhaps I’m lucky to possess the capacity for storing details that I can then take back to a quiet room and write down after I’ve lived another day, letting things reappear to me naturally as I write rather than seizing on a desperate detail that I have to wedge in.
2. How do you write? (into a notebook or straight onto a computer?)
I was advised by Lavinia Greenlaw last year to write your poems by hand in a notebook: ‘it should be difficult, the process should be long’, she told me. And I agree. I think typing straight onto a computer can often make you feel, because the text is perfect (the straight lines, the flawless eligibility) that what you’ve written is also that distinct. In my scrawl every word matters. Nothing is automatic. I think… I did that. I made that shape. Nothing did that for me. Why did I do it? I question less on a screen. I think I trust it more than I trust myself, so I think less deeply.
2. Roughly how much time do you spend each week on creative writing related activities? (writing, editing, correspondence & submissions)
At the moment I’m studying for an MA in Poetry at UEA, so a great deal of my time is spent reading and annotating the work of fellow students as well as developing my own writing. It’s a wonderful experience. Each week we receive a batch from a mixture of classmates – always so rich and eclectic – and I never anticipated how invested I’d become in the growth of this writing. I love the workshop process. It’s such a positive environment, and the feedback I’ve received since September has been consistently helpful. Time management is a severe issue for me: I need to see the skeletal finger of a Deadline beckoning before I can wrench myself away from Gilmore Girls, so if there’s ever a lull in workload I’d like to think more about submissions. Certainly.
3. What time of day do you usually write?
I like the night. I like the night a lot. There have been some rare occasions where I’ve made ragged attempts to fall out of bed onto my yoga mat (developing this new one-move sequence I call ‘unconscious child’s pose’) before pretending to enjoy some acrid green tea as an accompaniment to the cleansing morning flow writing process. It never works. I feel too purposeful.
Writing when I can’t sleep is the best. That’s when things are stopping me from shutting down and I want to know why. I want to explore and resolve these issues with the background of a whole day behind me. Plus I always feel strange, alone, dark, sexy. Burn some candles. Put on some ‘weed track’ I found on ‘the other side of YouTube’.
4. What does it feel like to write? At times it has been vital, cathartic. That was when I was very unhappy, and although I feel like poetry ‘saved’ me, I can’t honestly say that it saved my poetry. It often seemed like there was a black line drawn underneath every piece I wrote, seeming to say ‘this can go no further’. I’d made up my mind that there was nothing that fascinated me more than nothing itself, so my work couldn’t expand beyond that oblivion I wanted so much. I’m not ashamed of the poetry I wrote around that time at all. It was honest and bare and not without subtlety, but I couldn’t push it any deeper. There’s definitely something to be taken from Anne Sexton’s naked poetry, a woman I admire endlessly for her sexual and emotional courage. But now I feel more connected to Louise Gluck or Mary Oliver, softly coming out of it, being able to view a fiercely difficult time with the steadiness of the present. Things make much more sense now.
6. Are there any stimuli that will usually trigger you into writing?
I like dreams. I like the furtive, unspoken, secret taboo world beyond expression. I like reaching for things we can’t possibly know and then finding a place for language within what language can’t express. It’s not really possible, and I like seeing the limit, the yearning, the frustration in my work – I think it keeps it active and open. I’m scared of stagnancy and cliché. Shit scared.
Also women. I like women talking unashamedly about being women. Blood and tears and holes (and why not ink and sweat while we’re at it?)
7. What are you working on now?
My next MA submission! Don’t remind me!
And as you are a recipient of the Ink Sweat & Tears Poetry Writing Scholarship, we thought we’d add an eighth…
8. How has the scholarship affected your writing?
I feel a tremendous freedom. I really do. I think it’s every writer and academic’s vision of near-perfection to have the space and time to focus on their work without constantly having to panic about how they’re ‘supporting themselves in the meantime’. The feedback I’ve received over the course of this term has mainly been ‘hey, Kate, your writing should not be tamed, don’t let anyone tame it’. I think this has a great deal to do with the fact that I feel so unencumbered, that I have so much time to read badass and highly imaginative female authors I never would have heard of before, like all the women in Arielle Greenberg and Lara Glenum’s Gurlesque anthology, Eileen Myles, Ariana Reines, Anne Carson, Emily Berry, C.D Wright and so many more. I’m so thankful to Kate Birch at Ink, Sweat and Tears for providing me with this opportunity and, without doubt, my favourite ever academic year. What could be better than poetry in the name of fluids?