Hi Claire. Congratulations on the recent publication of your second collection Astéronymes. The poems in this book, especially the second half, feel quite experimental. Would you say this is a fair way of describing them and do you think they are in dialogue with the earlier poems of The Shipwrecked House in any way?
I take that as a compliment, so thank you! As far as personal bars are set, I can’t imagine any poet sitting down to write with the thought ‘let’s write the same old thing’. But yes, I think there’s a through line you can see in both: a love of form, and of disrupting form, and playing with tropes that aren’t always associated with poetry.
I think the poems of The Shipwrecked House are more performative, whereas some of the poems I’m fondest of in Astéronymes can only really work on the page. At the same time, some concerns never quite go away.
I understand you’ve had a few launch events in London, Brighton, and Oxford alongside John McCullough to promote the new book. Is the immediacy of a poetry reading something that you enjoy and how valuable do you find the feedback you get from audience members and readers at these events?
I think poetry readings are underestimated as a form of poetry drafting. Many of the poems in Astéronymes have undergone audience testing, from New York to Cheltenham. There’s two components: reading out loud makes you realize where the potholes in your poetry are, and audience reactions to your reading put your poems in a new light. I’ve ditched poems after readings, but also newly appreciated others.
You are the founder of Sabotage Reviews which is still going strong after six years. Are there any particular highlights that stand out, or things you are especially proud of, from your time as curator there?
It’s probably too obvious an answer, but the Saboteur Awards are my yearly highlight. In the run up I tend to have second thoughts and worry about whether I have enough energy for it.
This all gets swept aside in the second voting stage, the shortlist, when voters leave comments as to why they think a particular work or person should win. It’s quite the tonic to witness such appreciation for indie literature.
I understand you took part in a challenge a couple of years ago to raise money for charity where you wrote 100 poems in a single day (kind of puts the NaPoWriMo challenge to shame). I’m curious just how difficult a task you found this to be and if any of the poems you wrote that day ended up getting re-worked into published poems or became springboards for other poems at a later date?
I ended up doing it twice, because I’m a sucker for punishment! One in November 2013, the next in August 2014 I believe. I did the first one to force myself out of a writer’s block.
It was definitely a draining experience, you have to be rather bloody minded to get through it – but social media definitely helped. A friend of mine described it as a type of ‘performance art’ because she enjoyed seeing people suggest prompts on Twitter followed by a poem a few minutes later.
Most were throwaway but I think I counted seven from those two-hundred that made it into Astéronymes. More importantly a couple of themes emerged from those write-a-thons that made the next direction to go into, poetry-wise, clearer.
What does the rest of the year hold for you in the world of poetry? Are there any dates in the diary you are especially looking forward to or goals you have set yourself?
I’m looking forward to returning to South Africa this summer to create an imaginary museum in collaboration with poets from the UK and South Africa.
On the writing front, I’ve set myself the challenge to try and create a piece of writing based on my Grandparents’ 4th International resistance cell in WW2 – still feeling my way around that one.
Finally, can you tell us a little about the poem you’ve submitted to Poetry Spotlight?
This is one of the more recent additions to the collection. I have quite a few poems inspired by standing stones in Astéronymes and realized that there were some very close to where I live, in Chipping Norton.
I wanted to write about them and kept getting annoyed at bystanders – until I realized that’s what interested me: how we perceive collectively and individually these stones, and project our own visions on them, while they have their own merry dance.
‘Like shaking hands with a ghost’ – Aubrey Burl, The Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland, and Brittany
Men come and stand in its centre:
stubbled, pocked, and pickled,
and interrupt my poem
about unknowable history. I choose a spot
where they’re out of sight.
They say that each time you blink
a stone will hide behind another
— the men cut
and paste, becoming slighter
their arms are full of peepholes.
I’ve been whispering with my men,
swallowed a tree,
There’s a spectator in my boot
that refuses to own up.
the grass here is the kind of green
that can only exist after rain,
or a monitor failure.