Seven Questions

In this series Ink Sweat & Tears talks to practicing writers about their process.

1. Where do you write?

Mainly in my head. My poems are at least half-made before I begin physically writing.  My best ideas always come when I give myself some thinking time, so usually occur whilst walking; in a deep, hot bath; lying in bed or swimming in London Fields Lido.

2. How do you write?

Once the poem is ready to be put down, I type directly onto my laptop. I try to save drafts, although I’m not as conscientious as I should be.

3. Roughly how much time do you spend each week on creative writing related activities?

Well, I’m freelance, so it varies, but basically most of it.  During term-time I teach writing 11 hours a week, and with preparation, that’s about 16 hours – plus all the travelling across London.  On top of that there are school visits, translations, readings, bits of journalism, mentoring sessions, commissions, admin, events to organize.  I’ve just been editing Magma 50, so that’s been at least day a week for about four months. I’m currently out of term for a month, and am spending a week of that teaching an Arvon course in Devon, another learning vocal techniques at Cove Park, and a third working on a translation project in Hungary.  With all the travelling I do, I also read about two books a week.

I realize I’m very lucky, but it’s quite hard to make a living. At least half of the invitations I get to read, write poems, edit, travel etc are unpaid – and they’re often the ones I want to do (all my work for Magma is unpaid, for example).  And it’s hard to find time to actually write in this blizzard of work. I mainly write in the summer, when there’s a bit of a gap in my schedule.  Aside from three commissioned poems I haven’t written anything else yet this year.

4. What time of day do you usually write?

Any, as long as it’s after 10am – it takes me a while to come round. Although in the evening with a glass of red wine is probably best.

5. What does it feel like to write?

I’ve always found it very easy. I’m usually euphoric when I’m writing. I always think I’m writing something brilliant! It’s only afterwards that wears off… And I love how absorbing it is. You can move words around for what feels like no time at all, and then you look up and the sky has gone dark and four hours have passed.  Even when I’ve been worried or depressed or grieving, I will have completely forgotten about that for four hours.

6. Are there any stimuli that will usually trigger you into writing?

Big personal events, obviously – I guess I’m known for being confessional.  New experiences.  Travel.  Other writers often inspire me. For my new book, Changeling, it was getting into folk music, and then ballads, and then Yeats. Philosophy inspires me.  When I read Hannah Arendt there was a shift in my work, and a lot of the new work is about politics, power – good and evil.  Recently I’ve reading Simone Weil and Karen Armstrong and contemplating mysticism and the universe…

7. What are you working on now?

Promoting the new book, Changeling.  Getting into short stories – I have been guest-editing fiction for Horizon Review and tentatively having a go at them myself.  I’ve also nearly completed a new translation of Ovid’s Heroides. Which translates as Heroines. I’m very excited about that – hoping to finish it as soon as I get some time!

*Clare Pollard's fourth Bloodaxe Books collection is The Changeling.  She is an editor for Magma and co-editor, with James Byrne, of the anthology Voice Recognition: 21 poets for the 21st century (Bloodaxe Books, 2009).