What is your current poetry diet?
I have to be honest; my current poetry diet is poor. A few years back when I was actively attending regular spoken word events, I would often buy the books poets were selling at events so much of what I was reading was performance based poetry, which I could ‘hear’ in the poet’s voice as I read. Even though I haven’t seen some of these poets for years I can still hear them clearly when I read their work. I haven’t bought many poetry books in recent years but people often buy collections for me and I enjoy reading both old and new poems I might not otherwise have discovered.
Lately, most of my poetry diet is consumed online. I might find a beautiful poem on one blog, which leads me to another, then another... Sometimes this motivates me to write more and others reading poetry is more of a beautiful way to procrastinate!
I am going to say William Blake, firstly because years ago (probably during my primary school years, although I don’t really remember), I read the below from the Augeries of Innocence,and found it resonated so much with me that I couldn’t get it out of my head:
“To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.”
This reminder that matter how insignificant things might appear to be, there is always more to be seen, if we look for it just felt so soothing to me (and still does), that it remained etched in my brain and now I couldn’t forget it if I tried. I also like the fact that Blake was unconventional, believing more in the freedom of the artist than in following the rules.
Who is your favorite living poet? Why?
This time last year, I would possibly have said Maya Angelou. As a child my poetry diet came from school and was limited. As I grew into my teens and started to read more widely, I discovered poetry that felt more accessible, more inspirational, more me. While my life path was very different, here was a Black woman talking about her life experiences in a way I could understand and connect with without having to decipher hidden meaning. She was, and remains, a big influence and inspiration to me.
So, of those alive today? Well, I’m not sure I could name one favourite as I like different styles of poetry depending on my mood.... But for ongoing inspiration I have to say Inua Ellams. I first saw him in 2004 (I think!) and was blown away. He seemed to have no idea of the extent of his talent at the time! I was so excited when he released Thirteen Fairy Negro Tales and have quietly followed his career since then from this sweet, unsure graphic and spoken word artist to internationally acclaimed poet, playwright and visual artist. He’s just amazing.
Should a reader have to work hard to understand the meaning of a poem?
Sometimes, a complex metaphor can be beautiful and I wonder whether, if I don’t ‘get’ a poem, perhaps it’s just not meant for me... Finding out more of the poet’s story can help with understanding but I have to admit that I do tend to prefer poems that are a little easier to digest. Perhaps that’s why I like spoken word, as the poet’s voice can add deeper meaning to a piece.
Personally, I try to write in a way that’s accessible to everyone (this piece; ‘Why I Write’ is typical of this style), even those who might say they don’t like poetry, because all my work (not just poetry, but in my other writing and coaching work) is about connecting with people... And the more people I can connect with through my words, the better! Obviously when I write bespoke poetry the way I write depends on the client and the audience though.
What does poetry mean to you?
I have recently been reading A General Theory of Love, which takes a scientific approach to explaining what love is. In it, they explain the working of the brain at a physical level, and how this relates to feelings. My favourite quote (so far) from this book is this:
“Poetry, a bridge between the neocortical and limbic brains, is simultaneously improbable and powerful.”
To me, this is another way of saying that poetry is somewhere between thought and feeling. For me, poetry is a feeling, a vision and/or a combination of these that comes out as words. Sometimes there is thought in the editing but in the writing, I’m simply transferring feelings (of my story, or someone else’s) onto paper. Reading or hearing poetry for me is the reverse of this. I used to think ‘Poetry in motion’ was actually ‘Poetry [is] emotion’. Now that makes perfect sense to me.