Tamar Yoseloff is a poet, editor, and tutor. She has published five collections of poetry – Sweetheart (Slow Dancer Press 1998), Barnard’s Star (Enitharmon 2004), Fetch (Salt 2007), The City with Horns (Salt 2011), and A Formula for Night: New and Selected Poems (Seren 2015).
Tamar is also a co-founder of publishing imprint Hercules Editions.
Hi Tamar. Thanks for taking the time to chat. Congratulations on A Formula for Night: New and Selected Poems. I imagine putting together a selected poems must feel a bit like an exercise in taking stock. I’m curious what it was like re-visiting the older poems and if your relationship with them has changed now that you have some distance from the work?
Thanks for the invitation. Having a new and selected is indeed a strange experience. A fellow poet (who is around the same age as I am) congratulated me on my ‘half a tombstone’. It did feel as if I was being firmly placed as ‘mid-career’ with all the associated baggage, but at the same time, it gave me the opportunity to revisit work I had all but forgotten.
Some poems felt familiar, and I remembered the occasion behind writing, the process of bringing them to a finished state; others were alien, and it seemed that a different person had created them. In the end it was fairly easy to decide which poems I still liked and which I didn’t want to see in print again, and I took advice from other poet friends and from Amy Wack, my editor at Seren (there are a couple of poems included that I would have consigned to the bin if not for her – I won’t say which).
The book also features twenty seven new poems. Can you tell us about these more recent pieces and in what ways you feel they are a continuation of or departure from the poems in your last collection The City with Horns?
One recent review suggested my new poems are a bit sexier and edgier, but I felt edgier taking on the mantle of Jackson Pollock in The City with Horns. I swear more now, which feels partly like a reaction to middle age and the way the world is going, but also because the ‘I’ in my poems has shifted from me to other voices and other characters.
I’m rhyming more too – someone said that painters get more colourful with age, so maybe that’s what happens with rhyme, you regress to the nursery. But I think my rhyme is a bit edgier too, in that I like the closer music you get with what Kay Ryan calls ‘recombinant rhyme’— embedded internal rhyme. However, the themes and concerns are the same – I’m not getting any lighter!
I understand you worked as a programme coordinator at The Poetry School in the first half of the noughties. Are there any highlights or memories that stick in the mind from that period?
I’m still involved with The Poetry School as a core tutor, and I have recently started teaching on their new MA degree (in conjunction with Newcastle University). They are a great organisation, and one which is very close to my heart.
The best memories from my days of programming for the School are the visiting poets I had the opportunity to meet and the events they ran for us. I remember extraordinary workshops and masterclasses from Paul Muldoon, the late CK Williams, Mark Doty, Jorie Graham, Eavan Boland, Thomas Lynch and Sharon Olds.
To sit in a room with any of them and to listen to them talk about poetry and how they write poems was an enormous privilege.
You also co-founded Hercules Editions with Vici MacDonald. You have since published a small but prestigious output from the likes of Sean O’Brien, Claire Crowther, Hannah Lowe, and Sue Rose. Can you tell us a bit more about these projects and how much editorial input there tends to be from yourself and Vici?
Vici and I started Hercules to publish our own collaboration, Formerly. We didn’t have plans to continue, but we never expected Formerly to do as well as it did (it was shortlisted for the Ted Hughes Award and is now in its second printing) and so we were convinced that there was a niche for what we were doing – combining poetry and visual material.
We don’t really have an editorial policy – we just go for projects we like; I handle the words and Vici handles the images. But we like to involve our authors as much as we can in the process, and to ask writers who interest us to provide introductory essays. So the press is really about collaboration, over different genres, but also between people engaging in a subject together and making a book from it.
Are there any dates in the poetry diary you have especially enjoyed this year or are looking forward to in the future?
My favourite event in the poetry calendar is the Free Verse book fair. I actually went there straight off the plane from Alicante this year – it’s such an important way of keeping up with new presses and publications. I usually end up buying too many books! Hercules is now a regular exhibitor, so it’s great to be a more active part of it.
I also attended the Poetry in Aldeburgh festival last month. It was so sad when the Poetry Trust closed its doors, but an amazing group of volunteers have kept things going this year, and brought the festival back to Aldeburgh – a very popular move locally (I spend a lot of time in that part of the world).
I did a reading with two of my wonderful Poetry School students, Anna-May Laugher and Sandra Galton, and also launched a new anthology of poems inspired by the South Lookout Tower, which is an Aldeburgh landmark.
Finally, can you tell us a little about the poem you’ve submitted to Poetry Spotlight?
This is one of the poems from the new anthology Lookout: Poetry from Aldeburgh Beach. I wrote it in April 2013, when I had a residency in the tower; it was very grey and wet, and so the bleakness made it into all of the poems I wrote over that stay. I grew up not far from the seaside in New Jersey, and I’ve probably always favoured the coast out of season – places have more character when it’s raining.
arrives and is queen, her great ermine of cloud
issuing the rule of water. We obey her,
worship by raising bright canopies.
Her reign is long and prosperous in the greening
of the land, the flowing of rivers.
We are anointed, cleansed.
The sky carries her dark warnings, her weapons;
the earth releases its hidden subjects,
stems blossoming in her name.
She declaims against the frivolous sun; no good
can come in a world at play. We must suffer
and love it. We must work for joy.