Genista is one of my favourite poets. I have known her for many years, she is a member of a local poetry group The Fire River Poets (http://www.fireriverpoets.org.uk/page03.html?ifrm_Poet=page18.html). I myself was a member for a number of years, it is where we first met. I have always liked her work, there is a sophistication to her use of language that appeals to me greatly. She brings a painterly eye to her writing and her humanity shines through. She has always been an inspiration to me, and has been very supportive of my own writing.
Genny has published one book of verse, Cat's Cradle and it is available here (gmwmailbox@-email@example.com). I have found myself returning to it time and time again over the past year. Today Genny and I are offering you the chance to win a signed copy of Cats Cradle, all you have to do is post a haiku about a cat's cradle on the comments section of this post by 2nd of July to qualify. What could be easier than that!
I recently interviewed Genny for this post and I am going to let you read her own words rather than mine.
When did you start writing?
Poetry has always been part of my life – as a child I was constantly read to – nursery rhymes of course, but Lewis Carroll figured frequently and my father would recite reams of poems he had learned as a child. I suppose I have always loved the sound of words and what they can do. At my school we had to learn a poem a week and had to recite it to the class. Not always so enjoyable, as among 30 girls, not everyone was as appreciative of poetry as I was. A lot of prompting went on as you can imagine. By teenage years I was writing myself and this developed over the following years as a drama student, as I was interested in performance by then. From then on, I wrote on and off throughout the years of working and bringing up three children. Once they had found lives for themselves, there was more time for me, so I joined a local poetry group in 1988, The Fire River Poets, and my output went up dramatically, as we met once a week for many years. Working with a group is incredibly helpful in terms of broadening horizons and gaining feedback. By this time I was adding many more poets to the list of poets I admired and was trying to emulate. The odd person would turn up, proudly announcing that he or she never read any one else’s poetry - a dead end in my opinion, as reading not only opens up a vast world of differing approaches to your writing, but it forms your critical facilities and underpins your choices of form, use of metaphor, assonance, subject matter – all the tools that a practising poet needs.
Who would you say had influenced you?
In the 1970’s there were far fewer women poets around or given prominence than nowadays, and it’s wonderful to see so many talented people coming to the fore and a woman Poet Laureate no less! The 70’s turned out to a very vibrant time in terms of so called ‘feminine’ themes becoming acceptable or I might even say allowed, but there was still some way to go before a less male oriented outlook dominated by the elite modernist canon gave way to women writers who felt entitled to talk about their perspective on the world as well as more political social issues. So inevitably I was more influenced by the ‘dead poets’: Shakespeare, for language and theatricality. Keats for his language and evocative voice; Wordsworth, mostly for his nature poems; Tennyson for his intensity and rhyme and a certain amount of gloom! Houseman for his yearning and nostalgia; Yeats, for his musicality and imagination; Gerard Manley Hopkins for his extraordinary effects and assonance; Dylan Thomas for his humour and volatility and sheer power. Eliot for his rigour. But I leaned towards D H Lawrence’s sensuality in my teens, and later discovered Edward Thomas and Wilfred Owen writing at the same time, but with very different preoccupations. Some American poets became favourites: ee cummings in particular; his quirky way with language and form; Denise Levertov and a host of US women writers too numerous to name – Sylvia Plath figured hugely of course. So quite a list, but as the years have gone by many of the middle European poets have become favourites albeit in their translated versions, mainly for their ability to transcend repression and fight back. I’m also very fond of Scottish and Irish poets – Paul Durcan for his humour especially. At the moment, John Burnside is favourite, along with Alice Oswald, Carol Ann Duffy’s earlier work, Jackie Kay, Rose Flint, too many to mention all offering something to aspire to.
Other important influences on my writing: In the early1990’s I attended Selima Hill’s advanced writing workshops in Exeter – a great experience for me to experience her zany, uncensored style. I then went on to study for an MA in Creative Writing with Plymouth University gaining a Postgraduate Diploma in 1998.
All aspects of life influence me, things I hear, see, smell, experience, politics, friends, relationships, pretty well everything feeds in at some stage I’d say. Music is influential, all kinds, but mainly classical. I wanted to be a dancer once, so rhythm and melody is part of me. Most forms of literature and of course all forms of the visual arts as I worked as an Art History lecturer for over 20 years.
How did you get a publishing deal?
Publishing is a knotty issue and it took me much longer than I’d hoped to get my first collection in 2007. Up to then I’d mostly performed my poetry in various festivals and literary events around the West Country. This probably helped me to establish myself as a poet. Ideally you need to get a track record with the Small Press publishers of magazines or in the more prestigious poetry magazines. Winning competitions – the major ones, like the National and the Bridport, can provide status and a huge leg up in the poetry world, and lead to well established publishers such as Faber taking an interest. I had published in several anthologies and been placed in competitions and had poems in magazines and on radio by the time I was published. I’d also begun writing reviews for Stride Magazine and Odyssey.
I was fortunate in having met Anne Born on several occasions and she’d heard me read and placed me in a competition she had judged. She ran ‘Oversteps Books’ in Devon and put me on her list to publish. It seemed to take a long time before I actually got to the top of that list, but suffice to say ‘Cat’s Cradle’ came out in 2007. So I would say persistence is all. Self publishing is more of an option these days, but ideally it’s better to have a publisher who will back you up and organise publicity, readings and find ways of promoting your book. But, you have to be prepared to collaborate in their promotion – Festivals, charitable events, readings in book shops and elsewhere.
What is your working pattern?
This of course varies for everyone, but I have been lucky, in that poems have always come to me pretty frequently I say come to me, as I’m not terrifically disciplined and have a busy life. I write first of all in pencil and rubber in a notebook, then work on it on the computer They can strike at any time, often at totally inappropriate moments and require that I write them. The first drafts of some of my poems about art and artists have been written whilst present at an exhibition or in an art gallery.
What I know for certain, is that pretty well every poem will need to be thought about, worked on, checked for accuracy, spelling, grammar and historical accuracy if that applies. I often work through more than eight drafts maybe more and even then am not quite satisfied. It’s really helpful to leave a poem for days, even weeks before coming back to it and being able to print the final version. It can take years to see what you should have said but weren’t able to at the time of writing!
My work as a Creative writing teacher has for many years has been enormously helpful to me in terms of extending my own knowledge, reading, researching and generally benefiting from my students contributions.
Any advice for those beginning to write
Read any worthwhile writing magazine and they will recommend that as a beginner intent on writing your first poems, you need to serve an apprenticeship as it were. Finding a writers’ group to attend, whether formal or informal is going to be incredibly helpful for finding your way through the pitfalls to positive ways in how you want to develop. From more experienced writers you will learn how to make positive comments and also to suggest improvements for others’ work, and of course for your own. Paying close attention to a poem, teasing out meaning and seeing whether it works or not, will give you invaluable insights into making progress. I can’t stress enough how reading widely – not just poetry, but all different kinds of literature, are going to feed into your fund of ideas and stimulate your imagination.
Encouraged by the reception of ‘Cat’s Cradle’ and by subsequent public readings I am gradually accruing a collection of poems for another book. Also I’m thinking about possible themes, as this seems to be the growing trend for poetry collections and pamphlets just now. Sometime themes simply appear once you see a whole lot of your poems in one place, so maybe that is the way forward. The bar is set pretty high these days so it’s my aim to be quite rigorous in the selection process for my second collection. For the moment, more Readings, more listening, more reading, generally enjoying poetry for itself as a fulfilling part of my life...
If you were a poem what poem would you be?
If I were a Poem
If I were a poem
I’d relate my story
in free verse
so you could
fill in the airy spaces
if I were a poem
I’d leave aside the general
replace it with the particular
draw you a picture
I would like to thank Genny for taking the time to talk to me and for the opportunity to run a competition. Here are a couple of reviews of Cat’s Cradle.
Like the lines in the last stanza of the title poem, ‘you bring me yards off tangled wool to unpick,/expect me to knit some revelatory pattern,’ Genista’s work explores the knots and tangles of life, and tries to make sense of ‘those strands that can somersault and twine.’ This she does with a lucid intelligence but also with a perceptive instinct: ‘I only know what my fingers tell me.’
‘Cat’s Cradle’ is a rich and satisfying collection. Karen Hayes
In Genista Lewes’s book she has a range of subject matters...on daughters, on death, on works of art – yes, the usual, but with some refreshing approaches. Take works of art: ‘Art History Lesson’ opens conversationally:
‘No-one quite likes to ask what the swan is doing
the slow insinuation
of his outstretched neck
between those ivory breasts...
managing to leave everything unsaid, until the understated: ‘Leda smiles’.
Jane Routh Stride Magazine 2008
Get your poetry hats on and write a haiku and win the book. You can find examples and information on haikus here (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haiku & http://www.creative-writing-now.com/how-to-write-a-haiku.html).