Fiona Sampson at Kendal Poetry Festival
We’re very happy to be sharing a poem from Fiona Sampson’s latest collection Coleshill, published by Chatto & Windus. We also took the opportunity to catch up with Fiona and ask her some questions about her poem, her latest book and the events she’ll be taking part in at the festival. Fiona will be reading from her latest collection, along with Greta Stoddart, at 2pm on Sunday 26th June and you can book tickets https://www.breweryarts.co.uk/lakes-tickets/listing/KPF-READING-FIONA-SAMPSON-and-GRETA-STODDART She will also be talking at the festival about a book that she is currently working on about the life of Mary Shelley – this event will take place on Sunday morning from 11.45am-12.45pm and you can book tickets at https://www.breweryarts.co.uk/lakes-tickets/listing/KPF-TALK-BY-FIONA-SAMPSON-On-the-White-Plain-The-Hunt-for-Mary-Shelley
By Fiona Sampson
You wake and find yourself
dreaming you walk
an avenue of trees
stir with the vagueness of dream
as though the time to come
must be a wind
stirring the leaves coming
from far away
in the west where a coast
with surf shimmering like leaves
their white froth
all this is very far
and you are very small
the air is deep
and you are far down in its valley
the pale dust path walking
against the wind.
Kim Moore: The Catch seems to me to be a very striking title, full of resonance. I was wondering if you could tell us how you decided on the title and what The Catch means to you?
Fiona Sampson: I love the ambiguity of phrases and words that mean two opposite things – as a catch is both a triumph and a hitch. Of course, as in the book’s epigraph, this is about a kind of going-on-always music. A catch is a round song. But it also suggests flight to me: the ball caught out of the air. I was going to call the book Vault, as in leaping, but that’s another 2-way word, that means both roof and dungeon… I liked the second meanings in The Catch more.
KM: The Catch feels very different from your previous collections, for a number of reasons, but perhaps the most striking is that there is hardly any punctuation. Could you talk a little about this, and your use of line-breaks – to me, your line breaks feel like I’m reading a musical score. I feel like I know where you want the reader to pause or breathe. I was wondering what prompted the change in this book towards little or no punctuation?
FS: I’ve been working towards getting rid of the confetti of punctuation in my poems for several books, actually. I used to use dashes and avoid commas and, particularly, final full stops. I felt like dashes weren’t really punctuation! They seem disobedient somehow; they also seem like arrows pointing forwards, saying – keep the music going, don’t nail this down here. But I also used line-breaks and stepped lines to keep the poetic momentum. I love breath as the structure that phrases (and parses) a poem. Now I’m going further, writing one-breath poems where the lines have regular numbers of stresses, and which work as little poetic units themselves: I don’t ever want to write chopped-up prose, even prose that’s chopped-up at regular intervals.
KM: The Avenue is a beautiful poem – I love how certain words are repeated from one stanza to the next to create this dreamlike feel. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about the inspiration behind this poem. I was also struck by the movement in this poem, and the others in the collection – people or animals are always moving, and I wondered if this sense of movement and change was something that you wanted to explore in the poems?
FS: Yes! Movement is very important to me. But above all, connectedness. “Only connect”, as E.M. Forster wrote. I think cutting oneself off is always bad news. It’s the end of ethics, empathy, curiosity, understanding… And the musicality of poetry is a great advertisement, on the other hand, for connection! Repetition is part of this interweaving of connections.
KM: One of your events at the festival is a talk about Mary Shelley – could you give us a flavour of what audiences can expect at this event? What is it that fascinated you about Mary Shelley?
FS: I was asked to write a biography of Mary Shelley because I’d done the Faber poet-to-poet Percy Bysshe Shelley… and I’m loving it. I want to recoup Mary; I think we know lots about what she did, but don’t pause to think very much about who she was. And her story is extraordinary: the daughter of famous parents, she wrote Frankenstein when she was still only a teenager; she had a desperate time with Shelley, and lost all but one of her children – and then for decades she had a very early prototype of a woman writer’s life, hustling for work and subsuming her talents in genres where she could get it. And she was a Romantic: part of a generation who thought they’d change the world…
We hope you enjoyed this short interview. Tickets for the festival are selling extremely well, so if you are interested in any of Fiona’s events, please book your tickets as soon as you can, to avoid disappointment. Thanks to Fiona for allowing us to publish her poem, and for taking part in the interview.
Fiona’s book will be available for sale throughout the festival.