Carole Bromley is a poet based in York. She has published two pamphlets and two full-length collections with smith|doorstop. Her poems have been widely published in magazines and individual poems have won or been placed in a number of poetry competitions.
She taught for many years as an English teacher in her home town of York before moving on to teach Creative Writing at York University’s Centre for Lifelong Learning.
She writes a regular poetry blog for the digital magazine YorkMix and is the judge for the York Literature Festival/YorkMix Poetry Competition.
Hi Carole. I hope you’re well. Thanks for taking the time to chat. Firstly, congratulations on the recent launch of your second full-length collection The Stonegate Devil. Can you tell us a bit more about it and how you feel it compares or indeed contrasts with your debut A Guided Tour of The Ice House?
Yes, I am very well thank you. I have been busy since October promoting my new book with readings all over the country. Although the collection shares some of the themes of the earlier book, I feel it is a bit of a departure as it not only reflects changes in my personal life since 2011 when A Guided Tour of the Ice House came out (for example, the loss of a close friend and of my mother, plus the arrival of several new grandchildren) but also contains a sequence of poems about my hometown York, as well as a number of poems drawing on my teaching experience at a school in York.
I understand you worked for some years as an English teacher. Having viewed it from an insider’s perspective, how well do you feel poetry is represented in the classroom these days? And what were your own experiences of teaching it?
I think a lot of teachers are very nervous of poetry and, given the choice, wouldn’t touch it with a bargepole. Because I was writing poetry myself it wasn’t a big step to encourage my pupils to do the same. I ran an after school poetry writing group with my sixth formers and took them every year on an Arvon course. I told the school this was an essential part of A Level English!
I also tended to choose 20th century poets to study with my exam groups if I could. Heaney and Hughes rather than the metaphysicals. I think poetry is fairly well represented in syllabuses. It’s just how you approach teaching it. You can kill it off or you can inspire a lifetime love of it. Probably there should be more emphasis on the teaching of poetry on PGCE courses.
You have enjoyed a great deal of success in entering your poems into competitions over the years (indeed your debut pamphlet Unscheduled Halt was a 2004/2005 winner in the Poetry Business competition). When you are entering competitions, do you tend to write material specifically for it or submit poems from your existing body of work? If so, what does your selection criteria tend to be?
It really does depend. I always have a folder of poems which I intend eventually to enter for competitions and when a deadline approaches and I know the judge’s work I choose three or four and send them off. I actually really like responding to a theme, so always enter competitions like Poetry on the Lake and Poetry News which have a set theme. In those cases I almost always write new poems.
For example I have a sonnet in the current issue of Poetry News because it was one of six winners of a competition for poems written in response to Shakespeare’s sonnets. Getting a poem into Magma is also a bit like a huge competition and they have a set theme. The current one is ‘risk’ and I have a poem on the shortlist for that.
You are also involved heavily with the poetry scene in York and currently judge the YorkMix poetry competition, which seems to be going from strength-to-strength each year. What is it you look for personally in a winning poem?
I have written a blog answering this question. It is a hard one to answer. The best way is to look at the poems which I have chosen in previous competitions. They do have some things in common. I tend to choose poems which move me in some way, either to tears or to laughter. I like traditional forms if they are done well. Often, though, they tend to be rather clunky so most of the winners will be in free verse, with perhaps a sprinkling of really good sonnets.
I think poetry is about honesty and I can tell when a poet is telling some kind of truth. I can also tell when they are trying too hard to write a ‘competition poem’. I dislike the neatness and predictability of those. I love to be surprised by a poem. It is a huge delight to find a poem among the hundreds entered (last year 1800) which is alive and kicking. You just know.
What does the rest of the year hold for you in the world of poetry? Are there any dates in the diary you are looking forward to or goals you have set yourself?
I will continue with my own writing, go on a couple of residential courses to spark new work and to find time and space for poetry. I will continue to be involved in Poetry Surgeries at York Explore for the Poetry Society and to be involved in York Explore’s wonderful new initiative, ‘Finding the Words‘ which introduces established poets as well as up and coming poets to audiences in York. I am also working on a collection of poems for children which is quite exciting.
Finally, can you tell us a bit about the poem you have submitted to Poetry Spotlight?
I chose this poem because it is about my feeling of sadness that I left a much-loved job in teaching, following a small stroke in 2000. In teaching you strike up unique relationships with pupils and the joy of sharing something you love (in this case, not poetry but drama) with a student is something very special.
In this instance I wrote in a fit of pique after a young man who had had a wonderful talent for acting failed to acknowledge me in a supermarket. He may not have seen me or he may have been embarrassed but I would have liked to hear what he’s doing now. I suspect drama is not part of it.
I showed the poem in an earlier draft to John Glenday at a poetry surgery in Edinburgh and he liked it and suggested a few edits which I felt made it ready for publication. Magma accepted it for publication and I enjoyed reading it at their launch in the Lit & Phil in Newcastle. Peter Sansom liked it too so it ended up in my new collection.
I’m not saying that you weren’t good
though it would serve you right
for the way you cut me dead in Waitrose,
you in your Armani suit. You saw me alright.
I haven’t changed that much in twenty years
though you have, Eddie. You have.
We used to say, Mrs G and I, that one day
you’d come back a Sir and tell the other kids
how the golden cloak was just the beginning.
I still have the homework you wrote
about how you couldn’t bear to take it off
and be just plain Edward again.