Sarah is also the founder of V. Press, an independent publisher of poetry and flash fiction.
Hi Sarah. I hope you are well. Thanks for taking the time to chat. Congratulations on the publication of your latest full-length collection plenty-fish with Nine Arches Press last year. Can you tell us a bit more about the poems in the new collection?
Thank you – it developed out of my creative writing masters portfolio, tutored by Jean Sprackland, Michael Symmons Roberts and Adam O’Riordan at the Manchester Writing School. As the collection title maybe suggests, sea and water feature throughout the collection. But plenty-fish was inspired by the phrase “plenty more fish in the sea”, so it also includes poems of love and loss.
Other significant themes range across memory, belonging and identity, within the family realm and also more widely in interacting with the landscape and our place in the world. Obviously, I have a very particular view of the poems though, as writer, and readers will find their own angle. Catherine Smith described them as “both grounded in a luscious physicality, and boldly metaphysical, touching on the numinous.”
It might sound like a cop-out (or marketing!) to say people should read the collection and see what they think, but one thing I really do hope is that the poems give enough scope for every reader to find their own experience and way of reading within them.
You also published a more experimental collection with Knives Forks And Spoons Press last year called The Magnetic Diaries which contains extra multimedia content accessible through scanning QR codes contained in the book. This seems like a neat way of augmenting the traditional reading experience of a poetry book. What inspired the idea and do you have plans to do more of this in the future?
I’d been thinking for a while about how interesting it would be to have a poetry narrative where readers could interact by choosing what the characters do next – a kind of enhanced if they take the left path turn to page x, and if they take the right fork to turn to page y, framework.
The narrative to The Magnetic Diaries is already fairly complex though, with the psychology and emotions of the main character’s depression, adultery, treatment for depression, miscarriages, difficult interaction with her husband and child. So, the multiple journeys through the narrative idea was simplified initially to just alternative endings.
The idea of doing this using QR codes that can be scanned and link to a web page with an extra poem giving an alternative poem was initially inspired by something poet Tom Jenks does in one of his books. I also often do audio recordings and videos alongside my collections, and Alec Newman at Knives Forks And Spoons Press suggested that the QR idea might work best if they weren’t just at the end.
So, these two facts combined to give supplementary audio, photography, film elements to the collection through QR codes linking to them at several other places in the narrative. I’d still love to create a completely interactive or hypertext poetry narrative, at some point in the future…
In addition to the two collections, you also published a pamphlet called Hearth in 2015 as well (it sounds like it was a busy year for you!) which was co-authored with Angela Topping. How did the collaboration come about and did you find yourself working in a different way to your ordinary writing practice when creating these poems?
One thing I thrive on as a writer is focus. When Teika Bellamy at Mother’s Milk Books approached me for this pamphlet, she had already spoken with Angela Topping, and suggested that the poems should be inspired by specific objects around the home/hearth.
This focus was quite different to plenty-fish, which was a gathering together afterwards of poems that might work together, or The Magnetic Diaries, where the writing process was structured by the background storyline. Working with Angela was also fabulous. I think there’s something very special about a good collaboration, including the way in which ideas and poems spark off each other.
This gave me a momentum, an energy, a confidence that isn’t always as easy to access when working alone. The poems in the collection are paired. Sometimes, Angela would send me a poem and I would write a response. Other times, I would send her one and she would craft a poem that runs alongside it. We also have two poems that were entirely collaborative – these were both written by each of us taking a different viewpoint within the poem, though the overall structures of the resulting two pieces are different.
What does the rest of the year hold for you? Are there any dates in the poetry diary you are looking forward to or are there any specific goals you have set yourself?
This year is mainly busy with enjoying past goals. Last year, I was fortunate enough to win the Overton Poetry Prize. My winning sequence ‘Lampshades & Glass Rivers’ has just been published in pamphlet form by Loughborough University, so I will be reading from and promoting that alongside plenty-fish.
When I wrote my KFS collection The Magnetic Diaries, I also created a poetry-play version. Reaction Theatre Makers are taking this for a two-week run at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe in August, as well as a tour of poetry festivals, which is incredibly exciting for me!
And this is also the busiest year yet for V. Press, the poetry and flash fiction imprint I run. We have four books out the first half of this year, and more to come later. Our submissions window is also longer (June-July), so keeping on top of all the emails may be a new goal for me this year!
Finally, can you tell us a little about the poem you’ve submitted to Poetry Spotlight?
I’m very wary about speaking for a poem, as I wouldn’t want to interfere with a reader’s natural interaction with it. ‘This Holy Shrine’ is taken from plenty-fish. Although the poem links to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, it is set in Venice rather than Verona because I’ve not (yet, hopefully someday!) been to Verona.
It was almost a sonnet, but the concluding couplet was pruned thanks to sage advice from Jane Commane at Nine Arches Press. I guess the poem demonstrates my tendency to view the world as a romantic cynic – I love the romantic but have a very strong scepticism about its place or worth in the reality of everyday life.
This Holy Shrine
We are not pilgrims. Our feet ache, tempers
stumble in the Venetian heat. We seek
some shade in a street café, mouths struggling
with our own stubbed silence. Beneath the sign
Tera Farsetti, strangers’ sandals push
shadows along the crazy paving, home
ground many thousand miles away from this
noon sun on lizard skin. Pouring water,
the clink of my bracelet’s love heart on glass
breaks our glazed dumbness. I miss the boys,
he says. And there it is, our flesh union.
He rests one hand on mine. Its thin gold glints.