Last week I wrote about poetry in prose, and how you can improve your own writing by learning from other genres. This week I have a real life poet as my guest author. Gwyneth Box has won several prizes for her poetry. She was the poetry co-ordinator for the Society of Women Writers and Journalists for many years and, as you can read below, she also does a lot, lot more.
What is the title of your latest poetry collection? Can you tell us a bit about it?
My most recent poetry collection is “Around the Corner from Hope Street”. It’s published digitally with different versions available through the iBookstore and Amazon. Both are illustrated by graphic artist Lance Tooks, but the version for iPad also has audio files of all the poems.
It’s a ‘dipping’ collection, but I like to think that if you read it from beginning to end it tells a story. It’s set in Madrid and the poems are written from the point of view of a female narrator; it starts off with a break-up and a starting-over. The story begins during autumn and the tone is quite melancholy, but even then there are flashes of optimism and these become more noticeable as the year progresses; eventually, the poem “Beginnings” signals a new start and new love for the narrator and the ending is far more upbeat in tone.
I’m particularly fond of “Beginnings”: it is very much a middle-aged-falling-in-love-again piece and in one competition the judge described it as “a gloriously positive poem [that] glows with happiness.” I was much amused that it still only warranted a third-place, which presumably suggests that optimism and positivity are not as popular as doom and gloom.
What are the most challenging aspects of being a poet? And the most rewarding?
Much as I love poetry, I don’t think anyone ever made a living from it, so it’s frustrating to favour a genre that won’t even pay enough to cover the Internet connection, let alone pay the rent. Apart from that, I find that people don’t really understand that poetry isn’t necessarily about the writer: I may write in the first person, but it’s never really about me: perhaps there’s a grain of truth, but it will almost certainly be embellished, situations will be conflated and details invented. Sadly, though, readers tend to assume I am telling my own life story.
As for the rewards, well, occasional prizes and the reactions at poetry readings and comments on my blog remind me that I am doing something right and that someone is enjoying my work, which helps make it worthwhile. I taught a workshop once and used a poem by Matthew Sweeney which is – superficially – incredibly simple; afterwards, one of the women on the course came and told me that it had been a personal turning point for her, and it’s true that even a simple poem can provoke an emotional response in the reader: used well, poetry can be a very power tool.
Do you work in other literary genres?
I don’t write much in the way of fiction, although I have a score of badly written short stories filed away. I do, however, write non-fiction. In particular, I’ve published a couple of books on writing, and I also do a fair amount of copy writing and lifestyle journalism. Since I am bilingual Spanish, I translate, both literature and corporate brochures, particularly for the travel industry: it’s nice to be able to use all those clichés I try to avoid when I’m writing poems.
What is your top tip for an aspiring writer?
I’d say that it’s important to try different genres; even if you are sure you want to write full-length fiction, for example, it does no harm to try to get a few articles published and build up experience dealing with editors, word limits and deadlines. You may earn enough to pay the rent while you’re waiting for your big break, and you may also make some useful contacts.
The other thing, of course, is: be inquisitive. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it’s the life-blood of a writer.
What are you working on at the moment?
I have a couple of ideas for non-fiction books that are beginning to take shape in my mind although I haven’t got anything down on paper yet, and I’ve just gathered together the pieces I wrote for three separate newspaper columns when I was living in Spain, to see if I can shape them into a book – or maybe three!
On the poetry side, I’m re-vamping a course, The Poet’s Toolbox, which I developed some years ago and we’re busy with videos for that. (I said no one made money from poetry, but they sometimes do from teaching poetry!) It’ll be available online soon.
Perhaps the project I’d like to be working on most is a memoir; I’ve been writing a regular blog for over nine years now and there’s a lot of material there from the years I lived in Spain. I’d like to interleave prose and poetry, but I don’t think that would be a very popular format, so I’m not sure whether I’ll have to leave the poems out.
What do you like to read?
I read almost anything, when I have time, which isn’t often enough.
My favourite poets are probably R S Thomas, Ted Hughes, and the Victorian poets. But poetry needs to be read aloud, so I enjoy it most when I can share it with someone else: if you take turns to read to each other, reading becomes a social activity. I have a friend I do this with over the phone, which probably sounds bizarre, but it’s really good fun!
I also enjoy fiction when there’s a good storyline: I love classic detective novels – Dorothy Sayers and Raymond Chandler; and romances – Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer; science fiction – John Wyndham and Ursula K le Guin… there are far too many genres and far too many good authors.
Where can readers find you?
Amazon author page: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Gwyneth-Box/e/B00ADKIHCA/