Ruby’s debut collection Every Little Sound was published by Pavilion Poetry earlier this year and was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection and the T S Eliot Prize for Best Collection.
Hi Ruby. Thanks for taking the time to chat. Congratulations on your debut collection Every Little Sound. Can you tell us a bit more about the book and how long it took for the poems to come together and cohere as a collection?
Thank you, it’s my pleasure. I wrote the poems during two phases: from 2008 to 2010 and from the end of 2012 to 2015. For some of this time I was enrolled on the MA Writing programme at Sheffield Hallam. I wasn’t thinking about publication; writing poems was something else, something I wanted to develop as my preferred method of articulation.
Deryn Rees-Jones, the editor of Pavilion Poetry, nurtured the idea of putting the poems into a collection and I learnt a great deal from her in the process. I wrote the long poem ‘Apology’ in July 2015 and this poem became the central focus of the collection.
Congratulations too on your awards nomination at this year’s Forward Prizes. How was the experience and were there any other poets or books on the shortlists that you particularly enjoyed?
Thanks! It was an intense experience and a great honour. The highlights were meeting so many interesting people and performing on stage at the Royal Festival Hall. I am enjoying all the other books and poems very much.
For me, the most powerful performance on the night was Melissa Lee-Houghton reading ‘i am very precious’. She has a way of communicating at a real, raw and visceral level while maintaining a commanding performative presence.
Harry Giles has such an infectious energy and bubbling passion for life and poetry and words; it was a pleasure to meet him. Tiphanie Yanique’s work is powerfully engaging and her reading of ‘Dangerous Things’, the opening poem from Wife was particularly so; hard-hitting and necessary.
Vahni Capildeo is inordinately stimulating to listen to, even just for five minutes. Measures of Expatriation is faithful to her rigorous intellect and linguistic expertise; the poems inspire deep concentration on the concepts of identity and belonging, boundaries and marginalisation. It is a book to be enjoyed and studied, a book to learn from.
The epigraph at the start of your book mentions the phenomenon of ‘internal gain’ and heightened hearing abilities in times of threat, danger or intense concentration. Do you subscribe to the idea that ‘listening’ is a crucial part of the poet’s role – be it listening to the music of the poem, listening to what it is the poem wants to say, listening to feedback from others etc?
I think listening is vital for humanity. The advantages of listening in the role of the poet are secondary to the immense value of listening in the role of the human being. By ‘listening’ I mean accepting and validating another person’s experience and frame of reference, rather than the literal, audiological definition. Sounds, where one has the capacity to detect them, can be an intense conduit of emotion too and certainly I feel that sound is important in poetry, yes.
I understand you contributed to the Millstone Grit anthology earlier this year, produced in association with Sheffield Hallam University and Antiphon magazine. Can you tell us a bit more about the project and your involvement?
Millstone Grit is an anthology of poetry written by staff, students and alumni of Sheffield Hallam University. It was edited by Rosemary Badcoe, Noel Williams, and Carolyn Waudby and is the first book publication from Antiphon Press. Noel recently retired from his role as a professor at the University and this project was a sort of swansong for him. I think they’ve done a great job and I was really pleased to be asked to contribute a couple of poems.
What have been your poetry highlights of 2016 and are there any dates in the coming year you are looking forward to?
I went to the Wolverhampton launch of Roy McFarlane’s debut collection Beginning With Your Last Breath in October. Roy is known for his wonderful collaborations and he had invited other artists to perform with him at his launch.
Aside from Roy’s performances, which are always sincere and captivating, I was really moved by a collaborative performance by the pianist Reis Taylor Dixon and poet Phil Simpson. I would highly recommend listening to this piece; every time I hear it I have tears in my eyes. It is featured as a hidden track on Reis’s album Words Unspoken.
Roy and I met earlier in the year at a Linklater method voice coaching workshop, run in association with Ledbury Poetry Festival. This workshop was a big highlight for me this year. I learnt so much about myself as someone writing and performing poetry and I met some wonderful people.
Next year kicks off with the T S Eliot Prize readings and ceremony, so I’ll be looking forward to meeting the others on the list whom I’ve not yet met, and hearing all the performances.
Finally, can you tell us a little about the poem you’ve submitted to Poetry Spotlight?
‘Internal Gain’ is the title poem from Every Little Sound. It explores the feeling of intensified sensory experience when under physical or emotional threat. For me this poem is a kind of touchstone for the collection, a reminder of both the beauty of paying attention and the reality of living with heightened sensory awareness as a natural consequence of trauma.
I think the poem exists somewhere on this arc of tension as a voice for exposing truths in their painful, beautiful complexity.
One ear on the Conversation downstairs,
the other catching
echoes of planets slowly creaking
in their dark celestial closets,
a leopard was upon me warmly on my bed,
breathing as any human would.
My room was vibrating with electricity sockets
and light beams
and I could hear every little sound
my mouth made.
Outside my window
a butterfly, miniscule on a roof tile
rubbed its wings together