General Editor Jo Brandon talks with the Cadaverine and Unity Day 2010 Poetry Prize Winner Emily Blewitt. Emily reveals what it felt like to win the competition, her writing influences and the writing scene in Cardiff. The winning poem and two runners up are also published below.
Hi Emily, how did you select which poems to submit to the competition?
‘Still Life’ was a poem that I’d just finished, and I thought the form I’d chosen (with which I hadn’t experimented before) quite striking compared to some of my other work. I wanted to test its authenticity by sending it out there; I just had a good feeling about it. The others were a little older, but themed similarly, and I thought the three read alongside one another might just suggest to a judge that I could put together a collection – that I was a sound investment! Plus, the other two were ones that my friends liked, and I trust their judgement.
What was your reaction when you found out you’d won the competition?
Complete shock and delight! It’s a fantastic, and novel, feeling to have won something. I felt like I’d won the lottery!
You performed at Hyde Park Unity Day. What was that experience like. Have you performed your poetry much previously?
I was very, very, nervous to begin with. I’ve not had a great deal of experience performing my poetry (a reading with the workshop group at the University of York last year, my friend’s wedding, and the Unity Day are my only readings to date) and until I went to York and plucked up the courage to join the workshop, I had never read to an audience at all. So everything about reading and performing is still fresh – and a little raw – to me. I don’t consider myself as a natural performer, but I hope I didn’t do too badly on the day! The atmosphere at Unity Day certainly helped a lot: the audience was supportive and friendly; it was good to put a few faces to names and hear the other poets’ work; and while it was a much larger festival than I expected (having never been before), the experience was not as intimidating or overwhelming as I’d feared. I’m very grateful for the opportunity and reception I received.
What do you think inspires and influences your work the most? Any places, people or experiences?
I tend to write poems for loved ones. When I began writing for workshops, I approached the task of writing something – anything – for our weekly meetings, by thinking, ‘I shall do one for my dad this week…’. I had never written so regularly or successfully – and some of the poems came to me almost fully-formed. Things have slowed down a little since then, but I still draw upon the idea of writing something for someone as a gift. I remember a great deal of events from my childhood, and I often write about them: small stories, moments, which transpose into poems which usually have an element of truth in them, however veiled. I mine things that have happened to me for useful material – that’s not to say that the voice of the poem in question is always mine, and that I haven’t manipulated facts a little, however. ‘Still Life’ was written for my sister, Anna. She is thrilled to have inspired a winning poem!
Are you excited about developing your e-book collection? Have you started any new material for this or having you been considering previous works?
I’ve been doing a little of both: experimenting with placing work I’ve already got in slightly different sequence, and seeing how each poem chimes with the next; redrafting old material; writing new material with the collection in mind. I am extremely excited about this project – it’s both a challenge and an opportunity to develop. I feel incredibly privileged and lucky.
How do you think you’ve been developing your writing? Through sending submissions or are you part of a writing group? Any tips to other young writers?
I think that every single poem I work on is a development from the previous – how much of a development I’m afraid I cannot be the judge! I have a few trusted friends I share work with, particularly when it’s something I’m really not sure of. We share work with each other and engage in constructive criticism. This helps a lot – it’s a reason to keep writing, amongst other things, because the expectation of exchanging and reading new material is exciting! The workshops I participated in at York were invaluable in getting me started in this process. I have submitted work for ezines and magazines; the great thing about The Cadaverine is that you get warm, encouraging and critical feedback! I have selected the publications I have submitted to carefully, and have been fortunate enough to meet with some success. I submit to those I enjoy reading, and think I might ‘fit in’ with. It’s a time-consuming process, and one has to be thick-skinned about rejection – both outright and when you’ve been shortlisted and haven’t quite made the cut – but worth the risk. But by far the most important thing for all personal development, I think, is to love reading – to read as widely and as frequently as you can.
Is there anyone you would compare your work to? Do you think Still Life is representative of your writing style?
I wouldn’t presume to compare myself with any established poet! There are lots of things I can’t do yet; I’m young, I hope I have more to give; that I’ll learn more and be better. There are lots of poets who have influenced me and whose poetry has spoken to me: Kate Clanchy, Saskia Hamilton, Isobel Dixon, Kathleen Jamie, Carol Ann Duffy, and Sharon Olds, among them. I love the work of poets such as Claire Askew, Dave Coates and Colette Sensier. I think ‘Still Life’ encapsulates my enjoyment of small, deceptively simple stories, and my preoccupation with sound.
You’re based in Cardiff at the moment. Are there any literary events/venues you’d recommend to other writers?
Cardiff has a vibrant literary scene, with plenty going on for all sorts of writers – both new and established, poets, novelists, playwrights… I’d recommend browsing Academi’s website and signing up to their newsletter for more information. There are wonderful venues such as the Millennium Centre, the Chapter Arts Centre, there is a festival coming up called ‘Bay Lit’ (based in Cardiff Bay), the Central Library often hosts readings and workshops for writers as well as being a fantastic learning resource…The Dylan Thomas Centre is close, too.
Emily Blewitt is 24 years old and originally from a sleepy seaside town in South Wales. She has participated in poetry workshops run by Saskia Hamilton, and was recently published in Bolts of Silk, Cadaverine, A Handful of Stones and The Guardian. Emily was a ‘Judge’s Choice’ in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly April 2010 Competition, and won the 2010 Cadaverine/Unity Day Competition with her poem ‘Still Life’. Currently she works in Cardiff, where she is also studying for a PhD.
Emily performed as part of the Cadaverine Poetry Tent event at Leeds Hyde Park Unity Day.
In the cradle
they gave you, your head
rested round as a peach, so
perfect, they said, we could eat you.
You were delicate, sweet; slept still
as a seed. Through glass, we watched
you ripen to a bright banana yellow;
your blackberry eyes open
to smile, then crease in a cry.
There were strawberry prints
where forceps had
By Nicholas Liu
The moments, used and crushed like pudding cups,
pile up without an end. I cannot name or count
the wished-for things, intruding and receding
from my gaze. Somewhere in a sea of cubicles
a phantom slots each memory in place, defends it:
your college tee-shirt fragrant from the sun,
the air lazy with sweat and scented
with the wings of wasps battered by the rain,
the nest-dotted walls, the windows plastered over. . . .
There is a life elsewhere, away from and beyond
the happening itself, however rough—
is not the site at which it happens beautiful?
This dusty stairwell, handrails rough with rust?
The centre is never where you think it is.
The centre is never where you think it is;
this dusty stairwell, handrails rough with rust,
is not the site at which it happens. Beautiful
the happening itself, however rough.
There is a life elsewhere, away from and beyond
the nest-dotted walls, the windows plastered over
with the wings of wasps battered by the rain.
The air, lazy with sweat, scented
your college tee-shirt, fragrant from the sun.
A phantom slots each memory in place, defends it
from my gaze. Somewhere in a sea of cubicles
the wished-for things, intruding and receding,
pile up. Without an end I cannot name or count
the moments used and crushed like pudding cups.
by Michael Pedersen
Buttercups solicit ladybugs, bees woo pansies,
sparrows raid the strawberries. Mum just sits there,
in peaceful observation, potting then re-potting,
as scores of trespassers procreate and plunder.
Arthur’s Seat & Other Peaks tower overhead
like behemoth bull seals, whiskers from a brawl.
The Ulster and the Paisley streets are their grassy
underskirt, hiked-up, in floral theatre. Teeny tyrants,
flee through thicket or downwards burrow,
when our half-daft cat comes tumbling
through the rhubarb patch. Bagged gooseberries
swirl, like wind spinners, on the back fence, a gift
from Mrs Fisher; her clothes pong
from spending too much time with boxes,
but she’s a sorceress with fruit and sugar.
I parent my own pebbled plot, years 4 through 7:
an ensemble of radish, raspberries and Venus Flytraps,
which all die and I later discover were from Dobbies
(off the A7, Lasswade), not a far-off planet
of fiery infernos. Then came football stickers
and wrestling figures, to pioneer expeditions Mum
would often ambush: a scarf of spider plants gangling
round her neck; muddy paws like monster claws,
she chased the winds right out of me. This picture
was my elixir through the teenage years,
with adulthood came predators far fiercer than
slugs or greenfly, true ghouls, like self-harm
and malignancies, who too had monster claws,
but unlike mum, these didn’t flinch as beetles,
underfoot, crunched like celery.