Why do you write?
Essentially, I write because I have something to say! Honouring the oral traditions of story-telling, I write for performance. I have to say that having something to say, doesn’t necessarily predict how a poem will come together ‒ artist, Paul Klee, suggested `taking a line for a walk’ sometimes my poems write themselves ‒ they take me for a walk! Ernest Hemmingway said: `Write hard and clear about what hurts’ I also write to relinquish difficult feelings ‒ a cathartic experience. Sometimes I write `to taste life twice’ ‒ Anais Nin. To record life… (I can get a bit twitchy if I don’t write; it’s a kind of affliction, also…)
What books do you read?
For relaxation, I mostly love biographies and contemporary poetry ‒ conversational, controversial, confessional, satirical, gritty realism! (Yes, I know, I said relaxation!)
How did you know you wanted to be a writer and when?
I think I took writing for granted as something I just did ‒ as a small child, growing up in North East London in the ‘70s, our mother would walk us everywhere (no car; the bus a luxury) I’d look up at signs on shops and buildings; reading them aloud, as we traversed the concrete jungle. I just seem to have an innate love of words. I was regularly teased for having `swallowed a dictionary’ (I used to take the dictionary into the bath to learn new words!). I was set poetry homework from school and continued the pursuit, unprompted; recording myself reading ‒ the plan was to perform ‒ encouraged by playing lead in school plays; winning prizes. While studying performance at university, in my twenties, Dub Poet, Linton Kwesi Johnson came to perform for us; I thought `yeah man’ and boldly performed my own poetry during a mock assessment ‒ following which, my lecturer declared: `Susan does not need to reinterpret a text; she is her text’ that was a defining moment! Also learning that writing (as well as performance) is in my lineage ‒ my great grandfather, Harry White, was Foreign Correspondent for the Cambodian Embassy in London. Still, it would be another fifteen years before I opened my old, inherited, brown suitcase; bursting with writing for publication, and that’s another story!
What inspires you?
Real life inspires me ‒ the human condition: love, loss…adversity – the Suffragette Movement, for example. I’m pleased that `Suffragette’ an inspiring film, has been made; honouring the women, while continuing the campaign for Women’s Equality! `Inequalities’ inspires me. And the arts; particularly music ‒ our family’s eclectic, collection, inspired a life-long, love of lyricism. I felt very happy when Poet, David Mark Williams, reviewed my poetry as possessing `skilful word music’. I think growing up with such exposure has had an influence. I get very excited when I see/hear words in art ‒ from skilful performance poetry to street graffiti to contemporary theatre and conceptual art exhibitions. At art school, I made an off-the wall film installation, involving `alphabet spaghetti’ exhibited professionally (only available on VHS!). I hope to make more visual art in the future. Travel ‒ experiencing other cultures inspires me. My poetry is broadly inspired by relationships with people, places and politics…
How do you deal with rejection?
I think I’m quite grown-up about it! Is it just me who sometimes feels secretly relieved? Poet, Paul Valery said: `A poem is never finished, only abandoned’ sometimes, I relish the opportunity to re-work a poem, having concluded that I may have abandoned prematurely (hopefully, I don’t submit these too often!) I also hold in mind that many editors are writers too; so also experience rejection ‒ so far mine have been infrequent and kindly. I tend to submit a selection of pieces in one hit; law of averages usually means they’ll be at least one acceptance in the bundle; always softens a blow. And with so many interesting, independent magazines/ezines with their own niche ‒ sometimes it’s just a matter of finding the right fit, so I re-submit.
Who are some writers you admire?
Some writers I admire; who have stayed with me throughout my life, are: John Agard, Maya Angelou, Samuel Beckett, Alan Bennett, John Berger, Enid Blyton, Charles Bukowski, Kate Bush, John Cooper Clarke, Jarvis Cocker, Leonard Cohen, Wendy Cope, Ivor Cutler, Roald Dahl, Carol Ann Duffy, Ian Dury, Bob Dylan, Federico Garcia Lorca, Allen Ginsberg, Graham Greene, Ernest Hemmingway, Gil Scott Heron, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Rudyard Kipling, Hanif Kureshi, Phillip Larkin, Stewart Lee, Mike Leigh, Bob Marley, Joni Mitchell, Anais Nin, Harold Pinter, Sylvia Plath, Willy Russell, William Shakespeare, Nina Simone, Nigel Slater, Susan Sontag, Oscar Wilde, Muriel Spark, Meera Syal, Jeanette Winterson, Virginia Woolf, Irvin Yalom, William Butler Yeats and many more! (Including lots of new and emerging writers and lyricists; I’ll save for another interview!)
Is writing the only artistic medium you do?
No, I trained in theatre and visual arts, as a performance artist, where my performance poetry emerged during the `In-yer-face’ 90s, under the poetry stage name: `Sue the Poet’ (together with some wacky video art! No Social Media!) I was a professional actress for a while, a theatre maker and artistic director. I also trained as a teacher; facilitating arts and wellbeing in mental health & social care, full-time, for over fifteen years; further training as a freelance arts therapist (drama). I’m very creative ‒ making a sandwich can be a work of art!
What would be some advice you would give to your younger self?
People you love have died prematurely ‒ it is okay to be sad and angry. You will `rise’. You will help to transform lives. Keep making art (your way). Trust your instincts. Believe in yourself. Be kind to yourself. Choose your battles. Keep it legal. Accept that coffee with Lindsay Kemp.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
A few notes from a performance angle; no doubt elementary for some: when drafting a poem, read your work `aloud’ – the best way to `hear’ if your poem sounds right is to `hear’ it. Tighten work by editing and re-editing; let it breathe and return to it. Practise before a reading/performance (note your running order, your timings, mark your pages – be organised!). Read and go hear other poets and show some love by not conversing throughout people’s sets or leaving immediately after your own; if you can help it. Be authentic: `To Thine Own Self Be True’. Believe in yourself!
What is your writing process?
My writing process is very organic; I’m not one for prompts and prescriptions, though appreciate that works for some. I just need time and space. I write in beautifully covered, chunky notebooks; plain paper (no lines, no margins ‒ can you hear the `rebel poet’ coming out!?) I mostly write in the evenings, black coffee and music while scribbling; complete silence for editing. I type final drafts and tweak on laptop (sometimes spellbound into the small hours). I’ve smaller notepads scattered around for `spontaneous’ thoughts (still manage to end up with a bunch of poems written on backs of receipts and envelopes…sometimes the urgency is too great for order!). I pour thoughts/feelings onto page; uncensored, later `playing’ with words and structure and leave for a few days or more; maybe work on something else before returning to drafts with fresh eyes and repeat…I do lots of thinking and writing in my head, while in the bath tub. Weekends, I sometimes write on Brighton beach or at a favourite cafe, where I’ve no inclination to `eavesdrop’ on other people’s private conversations, for inspiration (a pastime for some writers)., I’ve enough dialogue going on in my own head! A `colourful’ life; I’ve never experienced writer’s block when `creative’ writing – it would be a bloody break quite frankly! (Not to say I don’t ever write rubbish poems; however much inspired!) Finally, I record myself reciting new poem(s) and play back. Once relatively happy, I learn and perform/road test new material; further tweaking after gigs; depending on how it felt live. I’m also a member of Brighton Stanza Poets, an informal writers’ workshop, affiliated to the Poetry Society and attend when able, for a bit of social, offline sharing, with other writers who care about the craft.