Show 022: August 2009

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I’ve had a busy month or two working up and down the country and in schools. This is the time of year that I can write full time and also start reading the books for the festival season in October. I’ve also been looking at all the entries to the poetry competition and they were a great selection; I would like to mention particularly entries from Penny Broadhurst, Jamie McGarry, Adam Lowe, Charlotte Gann, Kath Osgerby and Paul Askew. So good were the poems that I’m probably going to make another spot later in the year to showcase some of them.

The winning entry is this month’s poem of the month and I read it at the end of this show.

Book review

A Game of Hide and Seek
This month I read Elizabeth Taylor’s A Game of Hide and Seek. Elizabeth Taylor [probably suffering a little from having a film star namesake] was writing about a certain type of rural and middle class life, particularly in the 1950s. Virago rediscovered her about thirty years ago when they started publishing forgotten or overlooked female writers. A touching and moving book in which one of the main characters, the husband, is reading Persuasion by Jane Austen. It made me realise that Elizabeth Taylor was writing a twentieth century version of Persuasion; the whole marriage market as it was in the middle of the twentieth century. I went on immediately to read the Jane Austen novel again. Reading the two together was a great reading experience.


Here follows an edited extract of an interview with poet Sarah Corbett whose third collection of poetry Other Beasts is published by Seren.
Sarah Corbett

I was one of those children who wrote stories and made books about of them; it was drawing that I did all the time. I had a good A level teacher who called me ‘the Bard’ and I hadn’t thought of myself as a writer until then. I had earlier encounters with poetry that were almost visionary; poetry and poets seemed to be up there with the gods. I started writing out of the blue when I was at university; it felt very much gifted to me.

By the times I was writing the poems for The Red Wardrobe I had come back from travelling in Europe. I was loaned a house in Ilkley for six months and I wrote every day and I started sending poems out to poetry magazines. I had a few poems published and then I went on an Arvon course and met poet Susan Wicks who encouraged me to apply for an Eric Gregory award.

My time in Ilkley was a very interior time; I was writing about my childhood. I was walking every day and it was the first time I could throw away my asthma drugs, be on my own and write without time restrictions, to produce the work and to concentrate. I grew up in North Wales and in countryside. I spent most of my early life just wandering in woods and fields. Nature is where all my imagery comes from.

The Witch Bag collection focused on a period from miscarriage through a relationship to divorce, birth of a child and death of my father. Many rites of passage then.

In Other Beasts I make a conscious attempt to think about narrative voices in preparation for a much grander narrative project, with a natural turning away from childhood and teenage years and finding a different way of using ‘the self’ at the service of other stories. Confessional poetry can be very narrow.

An element of my writing is the sense of belonging; I feel like an exile in my country as if I don’t belong anywhere specifically. I’m published by a Welsh publisher and I spent my childhood on Wales but I don’t belong. I feel like an earthling.

I’m doing a Ph.D in creative writing at Manchester University; I’m writing a verse novel. The whole piece is in my head; it originated in three dreams which connected with something my father told me about himself. They became fully formed in my head. There’s always a narrative in my work. It’s great fun and very freeing, you have a big canvas and characters, so you can move away from the self. Les Murray said, about his verse novel Fredy Neptune, how great it was being free from being in the world of poetry and the rules of versification.

You make up your own rules.

The verse novel has come back as the this new genre of poetry; it’s always been there but it’s come back as this new thing, having a conversation with the novel, and you can indulge in character and plot. Mine is macabre, it’s Gothic and surreal.

I like the idea that writing something like this won’t always succeed, and if that bit doesn’t work at least it’s trying something different. The feedback I’m getting is that it’s just a damned good read.

Poem of the Month

This month’s poem of the month is called With Thanks to Gill Scott by Adam Lowe. I chose this poem because it’s full of feeling and beautifully written.