Maria Taylor is a poet and editor who lives in Leicestershire. Her poems have appeared in a variety of print and online magazines.
Hi Maria. Thanks for taking the time to chat. Congratulations on the publication of the Crystal Voices anthology last year, which you edited and collated, in celebration of Crystal Clear Creators turning ten. Can you tell us a bit more about your involvement with the imprint and do you have any abiding memories or particular highlights from that period looking back?
Hi, thanks very much for inviting me! We did some fun things, including a short-lived audio drama broadcast over the web called ‘The Willows.’ That was around ten years ago, and it was very big in Finland apparently.
Aside from that, I think my favourite moment for CCC was when we launched the six pamphlets in 2012. These featured work by Roy Marshall, Charles Lauder Jr, Jessica Mayhew, Andrew ‘MulletProof’ Graves, Aly Stoneman and Hannah Stevens. I also enjoyed editing the occasional issue of Hearing Voices and teaching workshops.
I’m quite interested in editing again in the future. If I did, it would probably be under a different imprint, so watch this space. I think there’s always a need for it as long as there are enthused readers. There are so many inspiring and tireless editors out there. I look at what people like Jane Commane and Nell Nelson have achieved and I’m amazed by their tenacity and dedication.
It’s not easy and we all know about the money side, but it can be very rewarding. It would be great to support poets in the future, both new and established, and of course those somewhere in the long middle bit!
Since your debut full-length collection Melanchrini in 2012, your poems have continued to appear in various magazines and anthologies. I’m curious if you feel the poems you have been writing in more recent years are starting to come together into a new collection and, if so, in what way they are a continuation of or departure from the poems in Melanchrini?
I’m taking my time with a second collection, although I have a pamphlet out with HappenStance scheduled for later on in the year and I’m very excited about that. It’s kind of hard to answer this question because I feel so close to my own work, but since 2012 I’ve been writing in a varied way.
I’ve written a great deal of lyric poetry, as well as trying out more risky but enjoyable things with form. Some of it’s still biographical, some of it’s surreal. Often it’s a mixture of both. At times neither. I don’t have a plan, an idea pops into my head and I go off and write a poem. Sometimes this might happen at a desk, but it often happens while I’m wandering about somewhere and haven’t got a pen.
An editor once told me you need to know who you are as a poet. This is tricky for me to answer. I’m a poet based in the Midlands with a mostly London upbringing who is Cypriot in origin. I sometimes write biographical material and sometimes I don’t. The bottom line is I want to try and surprise myself and keep things as fresh as possible.
My aim for assembling a future collection is to have lots of individual poems to choose from and to see if I can make connections between them. I want to challenge myself by having a more interesting structure for a collection than simply say, have 50 plus poems randomly in a book with a title.
I once heard Kei Miller say he’d have an idea for a book or a title and then go ahead and write the thing. That’s amazing, but I don’t think I work like that. There are some great collections out there which achieve so much. A successful collection is a little world in itself.
You also published Poetry Bingo Cards with HappenStance Press a few years ago. The game looks like a fun and slightly tongue-in-cheek way to engage with poetry. Can you tell us a bit more about the genesis of the idea and how the project came about?
It started off as a joke. I was corresponding with Nell Nelson, who’s in charge of HappenStance Press, and slipped in a handmade poetry bingo card. It was made up of buzzwords and slightly strange words I’d come across in my readings of contemporary poetry. Because Nell’s constantly reading and editing I thought she might be amused. I was very surprised when she wanted to commission a set! They’re a sort of form of concrete poetry as well as being functional as a game, although it would be a fairly eccentric one for any Gala Bingo players. They make nice postcards too.
Someone told me he had once used them in a workshop to generate ideas for poets which sounded fresh and interesting. I was really pleased with Harry Giles’ review of them for Sabotage. He said ‘all jokes are illuminating, because they reveal the assumptions and expectations underlying language, convention, and ideology.’ Deep! I was very chuffed. Humour is important to me, although while most people agree on what’s ‘serious,’ humour can be more subjective. I have written a fair mix of serious and playful poems, as well those which are seriously playful and vice versa.
As well as being a poet in your own right, you have also reviewed poetry for various publications as well. I’m curious what piqued your interest to get you involved in reviewing initially, and in what ways has it helped you refine your own ideas about poetry and tastes in poetry over the years?
Reviewing can change your entire view of a book. There have been many instances where I thought I’d dislike a book for review. I’d read it carefully, scrawl notes on it, live with it for a while and realise it was pretty good after all…and vice versa.
I’d written non-poetry reviews for The TLS in the past, but more recently have become Reviews Editor for Under the Radar. I’ve spent more time reading other people’s reviews in the last year or two than writing my own! If anyone ever reviews anything of mine I’m normally reading it through my fingers.
Even so, some of the more critical points any reviewer makes about a book can be useful to an author. I am not a fan of reviews, however, where the reviewer tears strips out of a book apparently for the sake of it. They usually say more about the person who wrote them as opposed to the book itself.
For me, poetry reviewing has meant getting to grips with the concept of the collection, as well as looking at line and word level. I should write more reviews; even though they can be challenging, you learn so much.
What does the rest of the year hold for you? Are there any dates in the diary you are looking forward to or are there any specific poetry goals you have set yourself?
My main target for the year is to have a copy of my completed pamphlet in my hands. After that and along the way I’ll continue writing, teaching, reading, blogging, tweeting, editing reviews and doing public events. Hopefully I’ll write a few poems that I’ll be happy with and they might even find good homes somewhere. My goal, as such, is to keep writing and deriving pleasure from it. The pamphlet, of course, is very exciting so all my energies will be thrown into that project for much of the year.
Finally, can you tell us a little about the poem you’ve submitted to Poetry Spotlight?
It’s not easy to choose a poem of your own. I’m choosing ‘Thea’ which means ‘aunty’ in Greek. Not my aunt though, the woman in the poem would be more of an age to be an aunt to my mother. The poem deals with generational and cultural issues.
It’s about an older Cypriot lady being disapproving of a woman marrying out of culture, in particular to a English man. There was a great deal of tension from the 1950s onwards, especially as Cyprus was a colony and many were resentful towards the British.
No one is surprised that her body is mostly broken
or that her bones show through the shrunken outfit
of old age, but there’s something of flint about her.
With the others gone she’s our only matriarch.
We arrange chairs around her in a tight semi-circle.
She calls my mother copella, meaning lass elsewhere.
An ice-cream van revs through the afternoon’s fever
playing a chiming Lili Marlene, to hot, empty streets.
It’s just us, the twenty-first century is having a siesta,
her icons scan me from walls. I keep my knees shut.
Thea would like to know if I’m married, so she asks
my father, who says ‘yes’ and ‘to an English man.’
She stares through me to a place called yesterday,
where bombs are hidden in melon stalls by heroes
and Levendes, meaning lads, hang from ropes.
(originally published in Iota)
You can read more about Maria across at her blog HERE.