Speculatrix – A Review

The epigraphs to Chris McCabe's early-modern theatre poems opening his fourth collection, Speculatrix, set the forthcoming scene and conclude each time with a 17th century date, a London location and the words: 'We are here'. A fitting precursor for each poem in this book, the reader of this engrossing collection needs no confirmation of the immediacy of this work and their own presence within it.

McCabe's blurring of history and the visceral present act as prophesy and are most apparent in this sequence in the voices of characters from plays such as The Duchess of Malfi, The Alchemist and The Revenger's Tragedy where he opens:

I've seen skulls with better teeth than thís   excessive
   in death                as a eúnuch's archived Playboys

It is his focus on place which allows McCabe to stretch time across these poems. The poet's London is many-voiced and multi-cultural, primeval and theatrical, at once a city of Elizabethan debauchery and of bankers spending their bonuses. We play the speculatrix, watcher, 'Google Earth', as we hang above the capital and witness how the 'hedge-funders / took our Players' in The Red Bull, Clerkenwell; how Drury Lane is 'cleansed by midnight fíre'; and:

    where I knew, at the Strand, there was no money
in poetry          but heard          in the truth of gráves
after drinkings, when  you lodg'd upon the Bankside
there     is     NEVER     any     poetry      in       càsh
                                          (A New Way to Pay Old Debts)

Financial collapse and urban decay are often McCabe's subjects through this sequence and beyond to the wonderful stand-alone poems in the collection's second half. 'Teenage Riot, Daydream Nation'; written after the London Riots of 2011 shifts and repeats language for a disorientating effect as what we think we know of the city, of youth and belonging morphs before our eyes:

no bricks, no riots but acts, acts
of nights, skies made gold, flecked with bricks,
four acts, each act of words, electrics dead,
out, out – no dream is here, no dream is there.

"…somehow he knows, has seen something more than we have…"

This is an experimental collection in which McCabe plays with and invents forms whilst demonstrating great versatility with lyricism:

and though I'm unionised in truth
with every other man
the open ground beneath my feet
lures like the dressing room
of a wake-employed comedian

You get the same feeling of McCabe as you might Mark E Smith, to whom the book is dedicated as “the last Jacobean”, that somehow he knows, has seen something more than we have, from a different angle, understands how it all works. He knows this of existence – as well as, of course, poetry – that 'each of us [is] the adventurer, the adventuress: // a lone anaphylactic Colombus' (Man).

McCabe is a poet for modern times and Speculatrix – in its dark mechanical thrum – gets closer than any book to defining the cross-narrative, digital, consumerist, money-defined, zombified, alive world we inhabit.

Speculatrix is out now, £9.99 from Penned in the Margins

Autumn opportunities and events

Autumn 2

Whether you’ve submitted to The Cadaverine or you’re just thinking about it, we want to help you develop your talent. Here’s our round up of events and opportunities for young writers this autumn and don’t forget, we’re always looking for short stories and poems from writers under 30 and can help you develop your work.

Opportunities

Cadaverine reviewers: We’re currently looking for reviewers under the age of 30 with a keen interest in either poetry or fiction. Just send us a sample review of between 300-500 words or a link to a previously published piece.

Poetry competition: Enter the National Poetry Competition 2014 before 31 October to be in with a chance of winning a £5,000 prize and having your work published in The Poetry Review.       

Dystopia: Whether you write poetry, prose or reviews, send your work on the theme of ‘dystopia’ to NAWE Young Writers’ Hub (under 25s, deadline 31 October).

Notebook

Short stories: Send your stories on the theme of ‘time’ to the Arachne Press before 31 October. The 12 winning stories will be read live at the Solstice Shorts Festival on 21 December.

Road trip: Enter Ideas Tap’s latest Editor’s Brief to be in with a chance of winning a £250 first prize. This time the theme is ‘road trip’ (deadline 30 December).

London tales: Send your stories about, or inspired by London to The Londonist for their short fiction section.

Pamphlet: Send your short stories, essays, plays, recipes or travelogues to the Emma Press, which is putting together its first prose pamphlet. You must be a member of the Emma Press Club to enter (deadline 25 January).

Events and workshops

Performance poetry workshop: 16-25 years old? Apply to take part in Jean Binta Breeze’s 90-minute masterclass in London on 28 October (deadline 20 October).

 

Poetry speed-writing: Write spontaneous poetry and investigate how to find an authentic voice at the Art House in Southhampton on 26 October.

Writing tips: Hear writer Jamie Rhodes’ advice and information for aspiring writers, including how he got Arts Council funding for his short story collection, at the Free Word Centre in London on 27 November.

Get involved

Do you have an event or opportunity you’d like us to add? Email us or get in touch on Twitter or Facebook.

Send us your poetry and prose submissions.

An Interview with Kayo Chingonyi by Samatar Elmi (Cadaverine Interview Series)

To celebrate the launch of our new website, The Cadaverine will publish a series of monthly interviews with contemporary writers, editors and creative arts facilitators. Over the course of the series we hope the interviews will become a readily available resource; a body of informative and inspirational perspectives from experienced practitioners. There is no substitute for sound advice and in this series we will ask the questions most relevant to developing and emerging writers. We welcome comments and further questions from readers and sincerely hope you find the series beneficial.

Kayo Chingonyi was born in Zambia in 1987, moving to the UK in 1993. He holds a BA in English Literature from The University of Sheffield and an MA in Creative Writing from Royal Holloway, University of London and works as a writer, events producer, and creative writing tutor. His poems have been published in a range of magazines and anthologies including Poetry ReviewMagmaWasafiriThe Best British Poetry 2011 and 2013 (Salt Publishing, 2011 and 2013), The Salt Book of Younger Poets (Salt Publishing, 2011), Out Of Bounds (Bloodaxe, 2012),The World Record (Bloodaxe, 2012), and in a debut pamphlet entitled Some Bright Elegance (Salt Publishing, 2012). Kayo has also been invited to read from his work at venues and events across the UK and internationally. In 2012 he represented Zambia at Poetry Parnassus, a festival of world poets staged by The Southbank Centre as part of the London 2012 Festival. He was recently awarded the Geoffrey Dearmer Prize and shortlisted for the inaugural Brunel University African Poetry Prize.

 

You represented Zambia in the Poetry Parnassus last year which must have been awesome! Can you tell us a bit about that experience and also how moving to the UK at such a young age informs you as a poet and as a British Zambian? 

 

I was a little daunted by the idea of representing Zambia but I felt honoured to be asked and the process also prompted me to seek out the work of Zambian poets I hadn’t come across before as well as to explore the initiation rites that give my new manuscript its title (Kumukanda). The festival itself was one of the best weeks of my life. I was listening to exceptional work from all over the world and I felt part, in some small way, of a larger community of poets than I have access to in the UK alone. Poetry Parnassus made me want to travel more and also to push my sense of what poems are for. The highlight for me, aside from the numerous brilliant readings, was the party on the last night at which poets from all over the world danced together. As to your question about migration, I'd say that moving to the UK at such a formative time has been invaluable as far as my writing is concerned. If I had stayed in Zambia I don't think I would be pursuing writing in quite the same way. Moving at the age of six also meant I grew up fascinated by the English Language and that I now have the double consciousness of one who is both inside and outside of the dominant language. This has proved a fruitful position in terms of exploring what language can do and continues to inform my writing.

 

This has been a really positive year for you with some well-deserved recognition, I’m referring in particular to the Geoffrey Dearmer Prize and the Brunel University African Poetry Prize shortlist. How does this motivate you as a writer? 

 

Thank you. Yes, it has been a year in which things seem to be coming together in terms of the work getting some attention. Prizes, in and of themselves, don't motivate me, but it's lovely to receive that validation. I keep writing to satisfy the critical part of me that always wants to be better and is never satisfied with my previous work. Every now and then I look at something I've written and feel that it has lived up to the potential of its gestation; that is the kind of prize that motivates me. I do think about entering my work into competitions (and have entered a few in the past) but, in the main, I focus on writing stuff that I can stand by. I suppose, and perhaps I'm naive in this, I believe that true recognition comes after putting in the hard work and time that it takes to make something great. I'm not there yet.

 

We've just interviewed Nathalie Teitler, who is the director of the Complete Works II in which you are one of the mentored poets. Tell us a bit about the experience of the mentoring programme so far and how it has developed you as a poet?

 

I'm very grateful to be part of The Complete Works II. The thing I like most, besides challenging my previous work and creating the space for new modes in my repertoire, is the focus of the process on defining or perhaps refining what it is I do as a poet. The retreat at Arvon and the regular seminars helped me to ask difficult questions of my existing work. Working with Anthony Joseph is good for me because our respective approaches to poetry are quite different.

 

At the Cadaverine, we’re always interested to learn of writers’ experiences in education, be that at the formal institutional level or through organisations such as the Arvon Trust and Poetry School. Do you feel studying English at undergraduate and pursuing an MA in Creative Writing has improved your writing? I suppose the question we’re interested in is could you have written Some Bright Elegance without it? 

 

Studying English Literature has been very helpful in terms of giving me a broad sense of what has been done and what spaces remain relatively unexplored. At the time of studying, when I was in my late teens/early twenties, I found the process of placing my own work beside the work on the syllabus very difficult, but after the course I realized how this difficulty allowed me to work through a range of different ways of writing and perspectives on what writing is for. I don't really think the MA ‘improved’ my writing (though going back to Literary Theory was good for the critical side of my writing life). I studied for an MA at a time when I had been writing for a while. The MA gave me confidence in what I was doing as well as the kind of uninterrupted thinking time, and by extension space, necessary to finish Some Bright Elegance. Would the book be the same without this process? Probably not. I'm certain I would have written it anyway, but it might have taken longer than it did without the discipline that literary study, eventually, instilled in me.

 

Let’s move onto Some Bright Elegance: tell us a bit about the process, working with Salt, how long the pamphlet was in the making, and how you made critical editorial choices such as which poems to pick/omit and general typesetting, ordering choices? 

 

The process of the pamphlet from its first inkling to publication was long in one sense (the idea of my working on a pamphlet with Roddy Lumsden as editor was suggested around 2008 when he was still editing the Pilot pamphlet series for Tall Lighthouse). In this time I developed earlier poems and worked on new ones. The manuscript that became Some Bright Elegance took about a year to come together. A few of the poems were written in my late teens and some were written in the two to four years preceding the publication of the pamphlet. The best way to explain the ordering of the pamphlet is that I spent a lot of time making mixtapes as a teenager and I decided on the order using a similar sensibility: how does one poem speak to the one after it? What is the thread holding everything together? These questions were always in my mind as publication drew closer and closer. As to typesetting, the prose poems took some adjustment until they looked right. The other poems were pretty comfortable in their forms by the time it came to proofs.   

 

Throughout Some Bright Elegance, what sticks out is the marriage between contemporary parlance and form and the ease with which you traverse the, perhaps artificial, boundaries of ‘high’ and pop culture. I think what SBE accomplishes, and accomplishes convincingly, is to challenge the old emphasis on ‘developing a voice’ by suggesting the narrowness of such a demand. There are distinct voices that at the same time share the same identity while individually shaping it.  Do you think the breadth of your poetry reflects the extensions to identity that are part of the diaspora poet? 

 

I've always been puzzled by the idea of a single authorial voice (as puzzled as I am by the idea of a stable identity). If I think about how much of what I think I know is a borrowing or approximation of what others have said or things I've misheard or misunderstood it becomes difficult to think of the physical voice I speak with, and the words I speak, as being 'mine' in that simplistic formulation. Thinking about these things calls to mind one of my favourite writerly maxims from Yusef Komunyakaa: 'Don't write what you know; write what you are willing to discover'. For me that dictum is about being open as a human being, having the capacity for empathy, and following that through in our writing so that it is not one voice we speak with but as many voices as we can imagine. 

 

There is a musicality to your work which heightens the scholarship, and maybe even grounds it? How important is music to your work? 

 

I got into poetry after I had been steeped for some time in Hip Hop culture. I wrote raps and freestyled almost every day. I listened over and over to the same few CDs (much to the chagrin of my family). As a result, there are a lot of song lyrics in my head. When it comes to writing in other forms it's natural that this way of ordering words in terms of sonic patterning should show itself. I don't employ musical references in a conscious way; it's just that I can't go very long without mentioning music. In terms of your question as to whether music grounds the work: I do like the way a well-timed allusion to song can invoke in a manner that is more visceral than mere description. That isn't to say exceptional description is not visceral (Junot Diaz’s work says otherwise as does Alice Oswald’s; her descriptive élan in Memorial is a great source of envy for me).

 

What advice do you have for our readership, particularly our emerging and developing young writers? 

 

If you take something like writing seriously, especially in the UK where self deprecation is a national pastime, people will try to discourage you (either through concern that you are putting your energy into something that carries a risk of 'failure' or jealousy that they do not have your conviction). If you are serious about writing don't let small things get in the way of that. It is, of course, for you to decide what constitutes a small thing (and, for that matter, what serious means).

 

Who/what are you reading now?

 

 

Book of Rhymes: The Poetics of Hip Hop by Adam Bradley. I hope to write a review essay in response at some point.  

An Interview with Nathalie Teitler (Part Two) by Samatar Elmi (Cadaverine Interview Series)

To celebrate the launch of our new website, The Cadaverine will publish a series of monthly interviews with contemporary writers, editors and creative arts facilitators. Over the course of the series we hope the interviews will become a readily available resource; a body of informative and inspirational perspectives from experienced practitioners. There is no substitute for sound advice and in this series we will ask the questions most relevant to developing and emerging writers. We welcome comments and further questions from readers and sincerely hope you find the series beneficial.

Dr Nathalie Teitler was born in Argentina and holds a PhD in Latin American Poetry( King's College). She has worked as an activist for over 30 years with NGO's such as the UN, as well as grassroots organisations in several countries. Over the last 10 years she has focussed on arts activism-using art to transform society- with an emphasis on promoting quality through diversity. She is currently the Director of The Complete Works II, the second round of a highly succesful national development project ( funded by ACE) which supports exceptional Black and Asian poets in the UK. She is also a Judge of the international Venture Award for Poetry. She has a keen interest in dance and supports a range of dancers, choreographers and companies.


Hi Nathalie. It's often thought that the difference between a competent poem and a better poem is often something intangible, a chiming of effects that escapes true description. It is the same when reading truly excellent poetry. There seems to be a mystical ingredient that brings the form to life. What, in your view, are some of the ingredients that spring to mind that push a poem beyond the very boundaries of itself?

 

What I find with exceptional poetry is that it hits me in the gut long before I’ve come to an intellectual understanding of it. I’ve often experienced this ‘physical’ understanding which I can then confirm and elaborate on when I do a more detailed analysis of the poem. It’s that magic of sound which allows even poetry in languages you don’t understand to make your hair stand on end. A great poem for me will also hide its craft in that the poet will wear his/her knowledge lightly. If I can see how hard this poet has had to work to create a great crown of sonnets, for example- it’s an impressive achievement, not necessarily a great poem. Again, I think it’s something to with the passion and intent of the poet. Great poetry is work that is a perfect marriage of craft and passion. It’s hard to experience many things at that deep level; many poets probably have about 3 good collections in them and massively over publish.
Victor Hugo said about music that it expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent, I think this is also true, if somewhat ironically so, about poetry. How should a poet put into words the moments that defy both articulation and silence?

 


Tell us about the Complete Works mentoring programme? (http://thecompleteworks.net/)



The Complete Works is a development programme for advanced Black and Asian poets. I think of it as a kind of ‘hothouse’ for truly exceptional poets; a way of bringing new injections of quality and diversity into contemporary British Poetry and opening up debate about audiences, voice and what poetry can and should do. The ten selected poets( from a National call out) have one-to-one mentoring with a senior British poet, seminars, salons and Master-classes- all designed specifically for them and they have a lot of input as well ( notes from all can be found on the web-site). It was initiated by Bernardine Evaristo M.B.E- TCW wouldn’t exist without her- who responded to the Free Verse report of 2005 which stated that less than 1 % of poets published by mainstream presses are Black/Asian. In such a multi-cultural society this clearly does not reflect the range of writers or readers in the UK. I was the project manager of the first round (run by Spread the Word Literature development organisation) and am now the Director of the second round ( Spread the Word continues to give invaluable support but no longer manages the project).

 

Almost all the poets on the second round are under 30 which makes it even more exciting and many also work in other forms of literature or art- novel writing, plays, music etc. I’m blown away byt these incredible young voices: they include a former martial arts expert who comes from Haitian background; a Nigerian playwright/poet who has had 4 sell out shows at the National Theatre, a former human rights lawyer for Amnesty turned poet and a fantastic graphic artist/poet who will be designing the cover of the anthology of their work. This Bloodaxe anthology featuring their work will be launched next year (the first anthology from round 1 was very successful) and I’m hoping that we can also have meaningful debates around the state of British poetry at this time. Not just about diversity, but also about audience, international profile of UK poets, publishing, and other key questions. I truly believe that the TCW poets (I and II) will be leading a significant period of change in British poetry and help to bring it back to a higher international profile. I’m also really happy that much of the learning is being shared on the web-site and we’ve had hundreds of UK poets accessing many of the resources posted e.g. seminars on fundraising, time-management etc. I see all the applicants and all the UK poets who are striving to bring diversity and quality to the form as part of an extended family.

 


Should a developing writer consider self-publication?

Attitudes to self-publishing have changed so much that  I would say, yes, consider it but still try to bring your work to the eye of good publishers and submit to journals, publishers etc. If you have a good audience (over 500) then self-publishing is definitely a way to go. Be careful, however, if people tell you you’re not ready; they are probably right. A collection cannot be taken back. Make sure this is a voice you will be happy with 40 years from now.

 

What advice do you have for writers at an early stage in their development?

 

The usual things:  read a lot, go to workshops, join a writers group, find a writing buddy of a similar level, and attend an Arvon course if you can. I would also say keep playing and experimenting and understand what it is you want to do with your writing. If you don’t have a burning need to communicate something specific and unique then perhaps you should be doing something else. There are too many technically accomplished writers who have very little to say. Actually a talent with words is helpful but can be developed, what can’t be developed is a passion and something that needs to be expressed. I always tell writers to follow their passions and get back into their bodies, into the business of living on a very physical level. If you look at most great works they were inspired by things-death, love- which were experienced on a very direct level. The writing came later. If you have your head stuck in a book or have your notebook at the ready even at intimate moments (that includes taking your phone to bed) then you are writing about the process of observing life, not living it.

 

Creative Writing MAs are becoming more popular for developing writers, do you think they are worth it, and are there any alternatives?

 

I have so many writers who come to me saying I have an MA in creative writing but I can’t get published and I look at their work and think, ok someone should have been honest enough to say to you, you are reasonably competent, but competent isn’t enough. Whether you take an MA or not the reality is you will need to take your time, do workshops, Arvon courses and spend time listening to other writers, investigating the publishing scene and most of all, making sure you have something to say. MAs are helpful to those who have reached a good stage of craft and are looking for a framework of structural support in producing a novel, for example. They are also extremely useful for writers/poets who would like to become lecturers – one of the few ways of earning money as a poet. But they certainly don’t guarantee anything. Of course you can also get packages of support through mentoring and other development via organisations like Adventures in Fiction and the Literary Consultancy.

 

Our final question: with a PhD in Latin American poetry, who would you recommend our readers to check out from the Latin American canon?


There are some great works in translation and I would particularly recommend Neruda, Cesar Vallejo, Raul Zurita and the Oxford Book of Latin American poetry as a good starting point. Carcanet has a lovely collection of Dulce Maria Loynaz- the Cuban poet and there are some great collections of Cuban writers. Unfortunately, far too few Latin American poets are translated.


An Interview with Nathalie Teitler (Part One) by Samatar Elmi (Cadaverine Interview Series)

To celebrate the launch of our new website, The Cadaverine will publish a series of monthly interviews with contemporary writers, editors and creative arts facilitators. Over the course of the series we hope the interviews will become a readily available resource; a body of informative and inspirational perspectives from experienced practitioners. There is no substitute for sound advice and in this series we will ask the questions most relevant to developing and emerging writers. We welcome comments and further questions from readers and sincerely hope you find the series beneficial.

Dr Nathalie Teitler was born in Argentina and holds a PhD in Latin American Poetry( King's College). She has worked as an activist for over 30 years with NGO's such as the UN, as well as grassroots organisations in several countries. Over the last 10 years she has focussed on arts activism-using art to transform society- with an emphasis on promoting quality through diversity. She is currently the Director of The Complete Works II, the second round of a highly succesful national development project ( funded by ACE) which supports exceptional Black and Asian poets in the UK. She is also a Judge of the international Venture Award for Poetry. She has a keen interest in dance and supports a range of dancers, choreographers and companies.

             

There are so many under 30s writers gaining national and international prominence; do you think the institutional and developmental support from organisations such as Spread the Word are making the difference?

 

Yes, organisations can certainly help promote writers and Spread the Word does great work in this area.  Mentoring schemes are hugely beneficial and STW in particular have run various programmes for young writers as well as poets. I think the most important force, however, in the appearance of these emerging stars is the young writers themselves. They have an amazing attitude towards creating their audiences and communicating with them via social media and other forms. They are also much more adventurous in playing with collaborations and crossovers, and in taking in international influences. I find myself amazed and humbled by the range of knowledge of the TCW II poets, their bravery, professionalism and also the fact that they are genuinely lovely people supporting one another and younger writers. They deserve all the success they get and I know each one of them will develop a new group of artists.

 

In the field of poetry, I think programmes like the Complete Works have a strong role to play in bringing these poets to the attention of the public and amplifying their impact, but without the young poets having reached a high level of craft already there would be no TCW. It’s the people developing the younger generation at the grassroots level such as Jacob Sam-La Rose who provide the talented and brilliant younger writers who can then be developed further. I don’t think the incredible contribution of teachers like this, their tireless work and generosity in supporting others even when it takes from the time they have for their own writing, is acknowledged enough. TCW is built on the back of their work.

 

Funding for the arts is getting tighter and tighter. What can developing writers do to improve their chances of securing funding for projects?

 

That’s a difficult question and there’s an entry on the web-site (http://www.spreadtheword.org.uk/resources/view/funding) about the practicalities of fundraising which most writers will find useful. What I would say is that it’s good to develop partners- do you have links with any large arts/community organisations, charities etc. Can you prove there is an audience for your project? It’s actually really easy to run a focus group or a mini –workshop version of your project as a pilot to get positive feedback and show it works. The main thing I’ve noticed that writers are not very good at is collecting audience feedback and feedback from people they’ve worked with. Keep a record of all the great things people have said about your workshops, writing, community work (ask them if they are happy for it to be used).

That’s going to be really useful. Keep any press coverage of any project you have been part of (Invite local newspapers/radio and media to cover events-you would be surprised at what they are interested in). The main thing to consider, however, is whether this is a project which will be beneficial to a large audience in a concrete way. If the main beneficiary of the project is one artist working on some very obscure, albeit fascinating theory, it’s unlikely to get money. If it’s a project which inspires creativity, new ways of looking at specific social issues or communicating with new communities then it’s much more likely to gain funding. It’s common sense really. The other big thing is, do you have the experience to do what you’re asking to do? If you’ve never managed a big project or been an artist in residence it’s unlikely someone is going to hand you a large chunk of money- the funders need to know you are a pair of  ‘safe hands’.



The Cadaverine is impressed by the excellent work you do with 'Get Up, Stand Up For Change', (http://getupstandupforchange.wordpress.com/) can you tell us a little bit about how you came to be involved and also any future plans with the organisation?

 

At the time of the London riots I was running a community youth radio station in Greenwich and I was immediately struck by the media coverage- it didn’t seem to offer positive role models of young people doing extraordinary things. A bit of the ‘bad news is real news’ syndrome in UK media. I knew of a lot of young artists in the UK and around the world who were leading change in their communities and should have been celebrated as positive examples. I’d also been interested in Latin American models of arts activism- using arts to bring communities together and develop young people- for some time and was thinking about writing a book on this. It occurred to me that I could share the research by starting an organisation to highlight great work being done in this area anywhere in the world. The idea being that any government body, school or individual could find fantastic and practical ideas and people to contact in virtually any area they might be interested in exploring- music programmes, visual arts, dance etc. In other words, the function of Get Up, Stand Up is just to highlight the amazing work others are doing and provide models of good practice- very simple really. I started by organising a conference at the Bernie Grant Centre and was stunned by the huge response. The web-site has one example every month and I’ve had people from the Education department and all sorts of NGOs and organisations contacting me. Sadly it’s been on a bit of a break –it’s entirely run by me and I just haven’t had enough time- but I’m going to be back from this August. If anyone knows of any great work done with youth arts, just holler

 

Do you have guiding mantras for developing poets?

Play. Experiment. Never get comfortable. If it starts to feel like purely work, stop. There is enough poetry in the world. Listen to and respect your audience. Always seek new audiences, new collaborations and inspirations. Ideas can come from anywhere- don’t’ rule out high culture (opera, ballet) or low culture (comics, rap) just because of your own prejudices.

 

You volunteered for Amnesty International at the tender age of 12. What were your inspirations, social, political and otherwise?

 

I have a vague memory of reading Ann Frank’s diary when I was about 11. Soon after I read the UN Human Rights Charter. Coming from a (secular) Jewish family this must have resonated in some profound way. A light bulb went off and ever since that time I always felt compelled to find a way to try to support human rights- particularly equality and education- with my actions, words are relatively simple and didn’t seem enough. It wasn’t always obvious how to do this, for a long time I thought I might be a doctor but my tendency to set fire to people/things in a lab kind of destroyed this hope. I think the many twists and turns in my working life can be explained by my attempts to find a way that worked for me. I tried development work- for larger NGOs and then grassroots organisations- but kept getting pulled back by art. Later on in life I discovered Latin American methods of activism through art and education- Paolo Freire and others and things sort of fell into place.

 

Would you describe the relationship between politics and the arts as symbiotic, antagonistic, or both?

 

I don’t see how anything can be apolitical. If I’m writing purely from an internalised viewpoint (likely to get boring) I’m choosing to remove myself from contemporary social issues- that’s a political choice. In Latin America there is a much more natural marriage between arts and politics- many artists are leaders in their communities and speak for and about communities. In a sense art is made by a ‘we’ not an ‘I’. In Western countries the relationship is strange in that many artists feel that they can be separate from politics, or should be.

 

Who are you reading now?

Kapka Kassabova- Twelve Minutes of Love (tango and dance is my passion)

Malika Booker’s new collection Pepper Seed (Peepal Tree press)

And a wide range of female Latin American poets in preparation for a seminar I’m giving ( Alfonsina storni, Sor Juana de la Cruz, Rocio Ceron, Alejandra Pizarnik, Dulce Maria Loynaz etc.)

And a range of Scandinavian crime books which I am rather addicted to


Who do you wish you had read sooner?

 

There are a lot of writers I wish I had read later and found myself returning to. I was such a prolific reader- a speed reader who could eat a novel in a few hours from a very early age that I probably read way beyond my emotional experience and lost out on many nuances.

 

(Part 2 coming soon)

An Interview with Evie Wyld – by Fran Slater (Cadaverine Interview Series)

To celebrate the launch of our new website, The Cadaverine will publish a series of monthly interviews with contemporary writers, editors and creative arts facilitators. Over the course of the series we hope the interviews will become a readily available resource; a body of informative and inspirational perspectives from experienced practitioners. There is no substitute for sound advice and in this series we will ask the questions most relevant to developing and emerging writers. We welcome comments and further questions from readers and sincerely hope you find the series beneficial.

Evie Wyld is one of the most exciting new voices in the British literary arena. After graduating from the Creative Writing MA at Goldsmiths University in 2005, she has gone on to publish two novels which both received massive critical attention. Her debut, After the Fire, a Still Small Voice, won the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize and a Betty Trask Award and was Shortlisted for both the Orange Award for New Writers and the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. Her second novel, All the Birds, Singing, is one of the outstanding novels of 2013. Earlier this year, she was also recognised as one of Granta’s Best Young British Novelists. We couldn’t think of a better person to kick off The Cadaverine Interview Series…

Hi Evie. First of all, we’d like to congratulate you on your place in the Granta Best of Young British Novelists list. How did it make you feel receiving this amount of recognition at a time when only one of your novels had been published? And what effect has it had so far?

Thank you! It’s a very strange thing being given such an enormous and nebulous thing. I don’t know – it’s undeniably excellent – it’s all good, I’m really pleased etc. But I really don’t know that it’s changed how I feel about the work. I don’t think it proves I’m good, I still worry just as much about my place in the published world: that I shouldn’t be here. I still find writing to be a long and hard process. THAT said, I was stoked when I found out.

For any readers who are yet to enjoy your work, how would you describe it? Tell us a little bit about your novels to date. 

I’ve written 2 – the first After the Fire, a Still Small Voice is about a man trying to figure out his life once it’s all gone a bit wrong. It’s set in Australia and looks at how the Vietnam War affected young men and their families. The second book, All the Birds, Singing, is about a woman on a small unnamed island in the UK, living alone and looking after a small flock of sheep. In the night something comes and kills the sheep, and she’s trying to figure out what it is. The book goes between her life now on the island and her past in Australia and what caused her to move to the other side of the world. Both books have what you might call monsters, or ghosts. I’m interested in dark things and funny things.

What most fascinates me about both your novels is the relentlessly dark tone; the way some kind of troubling undercurrent drags the reader along even when the dialogue is amusing or tender. Did you always intend to build this kind of atmosphere with your writing? How do you maintain this kind of tone so effectively?

I love horror and in particular ghost stories – I like the ones without any real ending, the ones you get told by family friends that haven’t been shaped so much. I think film and TV make us believe we are owed an explanation – that every murder will be solved and that there is a good solid human reason behind every ghost. What I like are the uncanny stories that don’t end in satisfaction. My friend’s mum tells a story of playing hide and seek when she was a kid in her grandparents’ house. She opened a chest at the bottom of her grandparents’ bed thinking she’d hide in there, but there was already a man curled up in there. She closed the lid and hid somewhere else. I love that – no answers at all. Just a lot of questions. I think building and maintaining this tone comes from a deep curiosity about it. As long as I’m still interested, I’ll want to go deeper and deeper into it.

Both works deal heavily in loneliness, desolation, and the difficulty of escaping the past. What is it that draws you to these themes?

I have a strong feeling that we are all connected very closely to our pasts and to the past of our parents and their parents.  I’ve never been able to extract a character from their pasts, it just doesn’t work for me. You only need to examine the emotion you feel when you look at a family tree – how closely connected you feel to them even though you never met them. As for desolation and loneliness – we’re all desolate and lonely, even when we’re with other people. No one knows us and we don’t know anyone else. I’m fascinated by people who keep secrets of themselves.

Can you tell us a little bit about your writing habits? Your prose seems so honed that I wonder how much time you spend on each line? How many drafts have each of your novels taken? 

The first drafts I don’t spend too much time on  making things perfect – it’s important to keep things feeling fluid and movable. In later drafts, I read aloud to make sure it sounds correct. I never get this right though, I never feel like I’m finished. I don’t know what I count as a draft – I don’t work from the beginning to the end. I move things about a lot, add new stuff in. I suppose the amount of times I show my editor and agent could count as drafts, but it has been different every time. I think the main thing is it will be different for every person. I like to try and keep the work back for as long as possible, to not show it until I’m at least partly happy with it.

The Cadaverine publishes writers aged thirty and under. Do you have any tips for writerswho might be hoping to emulate your success? 

Don’t think about being published – it’s not important. You won’t become rich, and there is very little point that I can see in ‘getting the work out there’, which is something a lot of people talk about. What is the point in ‘getting the work out there’? No idea. Just don’t think about success, about what you’re writing as a book even – it’s just some written down words, keep it there for as long as possible and focus on the writing. Don’t let yourself be fooled into thinking it’s good just because it is long. 

You may not want to answer this one, but… Can you tell us anything about what comes next for you? Is the next novel underway?

I’m just finishing a graphic memoir with my illustrator friend Joseph Sumner. It’s about growing up between Peckham and Australia and having a morbid fascination with sharks as a child. It’s called Rodney Fox, I Love You. Due out in 2015. Rodney Fox is an Australian who is well worth a Google, by the way.

An Interview with Melissa Lee-Houghton

In the autumn of 2011 David Tait had the privilege of interviewing Melissa Lee-Houghton, a young poet from Blackburn who has recently published her first collection 'A Body Made of You' with Penned in the Margins. Here is that interview in full! 

DT: I enjoyed reading your debut collection "A Body Made of You" – a collection which takes a series of individuals and seems to paint their 'portrai't with words. As I was reading through I found myself wondering where your ideas came from and wondered whether you could tell us about what made the book come about? 

MLH: I had this idea, probably a 4 am kind of idea though I can’t recall when it began. I wanted to try to write portraits, in a similar way I would visually paint someone; to piece together a complex visual and psychological image of a person. But more than that I wanted to involve the person, and so I began interviewing people. I had this idea because I wanted to write portraits for other people as opposed to merely of them, that with any luck they would enjoy, engage with and possibly even recognise themselves in.

I used photographs and in some cases self portraits and other paintings by the sitters as something to refer to visually and the interviews helped develop a further dimension; that of the memories, wants, desires, tragedies, longings and disappointments of the portrait sitter. People were extremely forthcoming and I treated all the information with great respect and care. I only use the forename of the sitter as title and in most cases this is a pseudonym. The interview process allowed me a window into another world- I could literally still be writing about them now they were so interesting. I am always fascinated in the inner worlds of other people.

In writing to me and in my writing back there was also a sense of the shared world of the poem, which quite often divulged a great deal about me too. The ‘book’ in its original state was about 108 poems long, more than half of which have been cut to form A Body Made of You. I sent it off to all the sitters when I had finished that full draft and felt my main objective had been met; and that was the moment when I started to think that maybe it was something I could send out if I edited it right down and worked hard on revising. I remember sitting and looking through the manuscript and thinking surely someone would take an interest in this, though I knew it was rough and needed a lot of work. That was two years ago and it has been quite an arduous journey.

DT: Did any of the people whose portrait you were taking challenge you more than others? If so, what were the challenges? Are there any poems among the 108 that you'd seek to publish elsewhere? How did you make the decisions as to which ones to keep?

MLH:   Some of the people I wrote about/for were total strangers to me besides correspondence and having read their own work. It’s strange, but I felt completely connected to them and I wrote drafts very naturally and fluently. It was actually far harder to write poems for the ones I knew well, or intimately. I didn’t want our relationship to be the only thing I concentrated on, so I had to try to get to the root of them as a person not just them as a person in a world according to me.

There was plenty of raw emotion to be worked with, and I had to let that in and not shy from it. I wrote about miscarriages, deaths, sex, drugs, childbirth, rejection, love, heartache, obsession, mental illness…none of it was especially easy. I began to see myself as a sort of medium for channelling other people’s stories and emotions and a lot of my own experience came along with it. I put a great deal of myself into the work, and at times it was painful; some of the things I’d written I’d even shocked myself with. The challenge of being so open is vulnerability. Putting work out there you put your all into is terrifying.
 

I don’t know what I’ll do with the remaining poems. They will probably haunt me forever. A few were published recently but they work best as full sequences. They will hopefully mean something to the people I wrote for, and that is enough for me.

I really don’t know how I arrived at the final thirty for A Body Made of You. I went through the manuscript and edited just instinctively until I reached a manageable number and then I spent a great deal of time poring over it. There were many poems I could have used for the final draft; it wasn’t just a case of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ poems it was merely a case of creating a coherent manuscript. The title came much later; it was a great challenge to put the book together.

DT: How much of an editoral role did Penned in the Margins play? Indeed, what made you decide that they were the publisher for you?

MLH:  I wanted to be a part of Penned in the Margins because they largely publish work by my own generation and peers; people I can relate to whose work I have enjoyed reading and want to read. I admire them, and I wanted to be a part of that collective. I never expected them to take me on; I mean, they are a vibrant independent London-based publisher and I am a shy twenty something living in a small town in Lancashire. But I had a vague hope my work might appeal to them or add something new to their diverse publishing list. I really didn’t anticipate them wanting to publish my book, it was a wonderful surprise!

I got the manuscript down to around 35 poems I think; and then I went through the editorial suggestions and notes and carefully reworked lines that weren’t working and then we mutually agreed on the 30 poems that were the most successful and ran with it. The publisher was wonderful; once I had looked at the manuscript for such a great length of time I couldn’t see anything anymore, where its weaknesses were, or its strengths. They were there to guide the way objectively. They were really great (exacting, but supportive too).

DT: The most natural question to ask after someone has brought out a first book then is "what's next?" How are you finding life after book one? Are you writing? Are you reading? If so, what?

MLH: I try to write every day, so I have loads of work stacked up from the past couple of years but very little of it I really have much hope for. I am putting together a collection now, and I have no fixed idea about how long it will take or what might happen to it at this stage.  It will take as long as it takes. My work has become more conversational in tone and it seems to sweep through ideas and emotions rather than record meticulously. It’s looser and maybe even more assured. Life after book one has been frustrating as A Body Made of You was intense and I had more ideas than I could possibly ever put down. Now I am diligent and I have to look for inspiration and write more mechanically. It’s all a bit more controlled, I find that I have set time to sit down and write, whereas with the first book I wrote all over the place, late at night, early in the morning, stayed up all night on occasion. Things now are calmer, and my work doesn’t feel pressured.

I am always reading, but I go through phases of all novels and all poetry, depending on what I’m writing; I find it impossible to read poetry collections whilst I’m working on something significant in my poetry. I’m currently in an all novels phase, I have just re-read a few classics because they’re favourites of mine; The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers, The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov, The Color Purple by Alice Walker. I’ve just finished reading The Plague by Albert Camus and have started on Lee Rourke’s The Canal just for something contemporary as I tend to neglect newer novels and I’ve heard good things about this one. In my last poetry phase I read Lucie Brock-Broido’s Soul Keeping Company, which thrilled me and inspired me and made me doubt myself all at the same time. I loved Faber Poets pamphlet 2 by Toby Martinez de Las Rivas, there is a stand out poem that invokes this insane mysticism, in the same way that Lucie Brock-Broido does in some of her more mysterious poems. I think that it is one of the best poems I have read for a long time. Somewhere nightmarish and consoling at the same time, like a kind of bittersweet dream you don’t want to wake from.  I also read the Changeling by Clare Pollard, which impressed me, I always love her work; and The Suitable Girl by Michelle McGrane which exists on another plane entirely. I’m also reading Knots by R.D Laing. I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with Laing. It takes patience to read and absorb, and it’s tough and it’s beguiling.

DT: Finally – we have a lot of readers get in touch with us asking advice about publication. Having gone through the experience yourself, what would your tips be?

MLH: I suppose first and foremost that publication is of the highest priority for writers. For some it is the ‘point’ of writing in the first place. I can only say that you should always write for yourself first, before embarking on a bid for publication. This is because working under the duress of having your writing in print does not create your best work. Enjoy your writing. If you work hard, your writing will eventually naturally find a way to make itself known. Try not to submit work prematurely, everyone has done it at some point, but patience is key. Make sure if you are submitting to a publisher, you understand what that publisher likes. Research is important. Allow yourself the space and time to make mistakes in your work, and learn from them. Of course, seeing your work in print is a glorious feeling, and to imagine that another person might read your words and ascribe meaning to them is magical.

The only advice I can offer to someone going through the process of publishing a volume of poetry is to enjoy the experience and proofread extremely carefully and thoroughly. And celebrate it!