Five Minute Interview with Peter Sansom



Welcome to ournext Five Minute Interview, this time with the legendary Peter Sansom.  Peter will be appearing alongside our special guest Stuart Maconie in a literary pub crawl, introducing audiences to a variety of new writing celebrating the British pub from the ‘One For the Road‘ anthology.  This event is on Sunday 9th September, 3pm-4pm.  Tickets are still available for this event from The Brewery Arts Centre for a mere £5.

Peter Sansom has published five collections of poetry, which include a Selected Poems with Carcanet and his most recent collection Careful What You Wish For. He is the director of The Poetry Business where he edits The North magazine and Smith/Doorstop books

Thanks to Hannah Hodgson, as always for this excellent interview and to Peter for taking part.

HH: Can you pinpoint a single thing that made you gravitate towards poetry as opposed to other mediums?

PS:Like most people ‘fit for nothing but literature’ I blame an inspirational English teacher.  The first poem in my Selected Poems is about mine, Mike Allen — not much older than us and completely on our side though completely different, being from the South and public school.  I’d like to write other things, best-selling novels for preference, but I don’t know enough and haven’t enough attention span.  Radio 4 broadcast a couple of plays by me and I’d love to do more, but somehow never seem to.  They were commissioned and while I was on with them it was like being a real writer. 

HH: For anyone who hasn’t come across the Poetry Business, how would you describe the work that you do?

PS: We’re a publishers and writer development agency, or the other way round maybe, and from being a single trader in 1986 the Business has become an organisation (ten people, all part-time), with me and Ann Sansom doing most of the teaching, mentoring and editing of books, pamphlets and The North magazine.  I’m fond of saying it’s better than being down the pit (which my mum worried I might) or being Peter Andre for a living (though actually he seems a nice man, Peter Andre).  The PB is an exciting place to be esp with our youngish team and the younger writers coming up now; though it is rather wonderful to read and to continue to be able to publish our older authors.  I like to think the monopoly that Faber (deservedly) had when I was growing up has given way a little and, though there’s more competition from other larger presses, specialist outfits such as ours are not as marginalised nowadays.  I’d like to think that.  But it’s human nature with books as in any other marketplace to trust the brand you know.

HH: If you had to pinpoint a person ( who may not be a writer themselves) who has influenced you, who would you choose?

PS: My favourite writer is the Sheffield poet Stanley Cook (1922-1991), who taught me at Huddersfield Poly, and whose poems spoke to me at once because of their honest, intelligent voice and their wit, and the way they look so closely at everything, especially the mostly working class world around him.   He was an influence in so many ways, and it was through him that I got a job at the Poly, which developed poetry workshops in a happy time of being young(ish) alongside Simon Armitage eg and Ian McMillan and with the Poetry Business just starting.  I wrote a poem about it (‘Sofa’) in my last book.  There was an article about Stanley Cook anyway in my first year on the library noticeboard photocopied from The Guardian, ‘Poet at the Poly’, when he won a competition (£2000, big money in the seventies).  Otherwise you’d never know he wrote poems.  He never mentioned it and his books were in the library but not many bookshops.  Later he was editor of Poetry Nottingham, which he published me in, and then Poetry Nottingham pamphlets with mine the first in the series.  I still can’t believe it, because he really knew what he was doing, and I certainly didn’t.  More amazing still was that he was an extremely private person and yet he let me read his long poem, ‘Woods Beyond a Cornfield’, in typescript when I was in my third year.   Douglas Dunn among others admired this poem (‘a masterpiece’) and the privilege of Cook letting me read it and some of his other poems before they were published has never left me.  The oddest thing is I do think he was well aware of my weaknesses (as a person and as a poet, posturing and that typical young man self-importance, some of which I hope I’ve grown out of, and shallowness) but he saw something else in me too, and that sustains me when I get knocked back or when (like almost everyone is) I am overlooked. I edited and published his Collected Poems after his death, and wish I’d thought to ask Simon A to ask Faber about doing it, because the PB didn’t have the clout to get him the readership he deserves.  His writing is so rooted in real life, and so clear-eyed and yet completely imaginative and at times otherworldly.  Stanley Cook also incidentally very much admired Ann Dancy, who later became the Bloodaxe poet Ann Sansom.  

HH: You obviously have a huge workload surrounding the Poetry Business – how do you make the time for your own writing? 

PS: I write sometimes in the mornings (if possible not starting PB work till after ten) and it feels great if I can get some headspace and the momentum of several days in a row.  And now and then I write alongside others when I’m running a group.  I don’t write as much as I might, because though I know it isn’t, it still feels like an indulgence.  Even when poet in residence somewhere I’m comfortable actually writing, because people think my real gift is for getting others to do it.  My editor Michael Schmidt at Carcanet (another important person for me) tried to dissuade me from the Poetry Business, because it would distract from writing just as Carcanet might have done him, were he not actually three people.  Actually I think running Carcanet and PN Review and being a Professor of Poetry has distracted others from seeing him as a poet. 

HH: Do you have any tips for any new or young writers?

PS: I like Hunter Davies’s dictum ‘Don’t get it right, get it written’ — which is obviously saying trust yourself, trust the process, don’t worry that you think you’re not good enough — but it is also saying get your head out of your poem’s backside and get on with the next one now.   Most poets know their own writing down to the last syllable and never look with anywhere near the same attention at anybody else’s. It’s natural esp for beginning writers to be in love with their own work, but the poets who succeed grow into being interested in poetry rather than their own writing per se.  The other essential thing is to get out there — networking, publishing.  It’s not enough to write well, you have to be noticed.  Ann and I at The North always say we’re very unlikely to publish you if you don’t send us your work.  Magazines are a sort of meeting place, a place to see and be seen.  And actually meeting other writers at festivals and such as The Arvon Foundation is a great resource — you grow as a writer for being with other writers and you support each other and make alliances and take over the poetry world.  I may be wrong but it seems a very hospitable place the poetry world, but it naturally has factions and hierarchies, a word that spellcheck tells me I don’t even know how to spell. The other thing to remember is to enjoy yourself.  The other other thing fogeys like me will tell you is to be yourself, but who knows how to do that, so maybe it’s just enough to enjoy yourself, and to bear in mind that most poems in the Oxford Book Of Now That’s What I Call Poetry were written by young poets, not the old fogeys they became, so think on.

HH: Thanks Peter! If you’d like to read some of Peter’s poetry, you can order some of his books over at the Carcanet website 


Five Minute Interview with David Constantine


We are less than two weeks away from the start of the 2018 Kendal Poetry Festival and things are hotting up here at festival headquarters.  Pauline is travelling around Kendal so fast she has turned into a blur, distributing brochures,  putting up posters, checking in with the venues and doing a hundred and one last minute jobs.  I (Kim) am busy posting these blogs, liasing with the Festival Poets and rounding up the Young Poets  – always a job to keep me on my toes.

Our fourth Five Minute Interview of 2018 is with the David Constantine, who will be reading on the 9th September at 11am, along with Claudine Toutoungi.  You can get a ticket for David’s reading here.

David Constantine was born 1944 in Salford, Lancashire, and spent 30 years as a university teacher of German language and literature. He has published a dozen volumes of poetry.  His most recent collection is Elder (Bloodaxe, 2014); two novels, Davies (1985) and The Life-Writer (2015), and five collections of short stories. He is an editor and translator of Hölderlin, Goethe, Kleist and Brecht.

For his stories he won the BBC National and the Frank O’ Connor International Awards (2010, 2013). The film ‘45 Years’ was based on his story ‘In Another Country’. With Helen Constantine he edited Modern Poetry in Translation, 2003-12. His new and greatly enlarged Selected Poetry of Hölderlin will be published by Bloodaxe later this year.

You can order David’s books from the Bloodaxe website

Thanks to Hannah Hodgson, as always for this excellent interview and to David for taking part.

HH: On days that you know you have a lot of work to get done, so you have any treats / bribes to make yourself get your work done?

DC: I tell myself, You can plant the beans (or whatever else needs doing in the garden) when you have written what you have to write

HH: If you could narrow it down to one, what would you class as your favourite event that you have read at?

DC:  Over many years I have enjoyed many events.

HH: Can you recommend a book of poetry that you feel should have more ‘hype’ surrounding it?

DC: Sorry, no. I don’t think poets are helped by hype.

HH: If you could pick any poets as members of your poetry family, who would you choose?

DC: They are all on my shelves. But I’d be glad of a conversation with, say, Emily Dickinson or John Clare.

HH: Do you have any tips for any new or young writers?

DC: Read a lot of poetry, ancient and modern, from home and abroad. Translate a foreign poet if you can. Don’t ever write just to get published. Write when you must. Avoid the anecdotal (recounting your experiences. Robert Lowell: ‘A poem is an event, not the record of an event.’

HH: Thanks David! If you’d like to read some of David’s poetry, you can order Elder over at the Bloodaxe website


Five Minute Interview with Claudine Toutoungi




Our third Five Minute Interview of 2018 is with the wonderful Claudine Toutongi, who will be reading on the 9th September at 11am, along with David Constantine.  You can get a ticket for Claudine’s reading here.

Claudine Toutoungi’s debut poetry collection Smoothie was published by Carcanet in 2017. Her poems have appeared in various publications including PN Review, Poetry (Chicago), The Financial Times, Magma, The Tangerine, Poems in Which, The North, The Literateur and the anthology New Poetries VI (Carcanet, 2015). here.  


HH: Off the top of your head, can you think of any poets who aren’t talked about as much as they should be?

CT: Alicia Ostriker and Adelia Prado.

HH: Have you ever been in a situation where you’ve had writers block? How did you get yourself out of that?

CT:  I don’t exactly get blocked but I often get stuck or slightly lost with where something’s going. If I can I leave it and let it percolate and try and have a good walk or clean or do something non-cerebral for a while. Otherwise I drink a lot of coffee and push through. Of late I’ve also found using a white board helps. Something about filling it up quite quickly in quite a messy, random way can free up things for me..

HH: Has anyone in particular been a huge help/ influence in your poetry life?

CT: I have two or three friends who are very good and patient at letting me send them new poems and whose comments/gut reactions are invaluable. For two or three years here in Cambridge I did a workshop with Emma Jones and Sean Borodale (consecutively) and that was very motivational. Cambridge is a town stuffed full of talented poets and I’m lucky to be in an ad hoc workshop group with some amazing writers and that keeps me on my toes.

HH: How do you keep yourself motivated to write? Do you block off specific times to sit and get writing, or do you just write as and when?

CT: I do bouts of automatic writing pretty regularly and keep notebooks about my person and also am a bit of a demon for leaving myself long-winded voice memos of ideas that I don’t always follow up on. I don’t find it hard to motivate myself to use words, as such, as I love them but when it comes to finding the form or the structure for the idea sometimes the next step won’t present itself as readily as I’d like. On those days I’ll dip into other writers (of all genres) I love to inspire me (currently these include Tara Bergin, Catherine Barnett and David Sedaris). If I have a commission I try to reign myself in and be more structured but I do find sitting for long periods tricky, so do a lot of pacing and saying it out loud once I’ve got something resembling a draft.

HH: Do you have any tips for any new or young writers?

CT: Be messy. Write on post-its, steal eavesdropped lines in bus queues and record weird voice memos with them or type yourself random emails on trains. If you can, get yourself a whiteboard and scrawl on it. I think it all helps!

HH: Thanks Claudine! If you’d like to read some of Claudine’s poetry, you can order Smoothie here.

You can find out more about Claudine over at her website here and you can read some of her work over at The Poetry Foundation 

Claudine was also kind enough to send us a poem to post below – hope you enjoy!


Claudine Toutoungi

A gull takes me to the edge of the town.
It is only grey here; great slates of it
and the roll and smash of sea into stone.

What must he have thought? No hint
of orange blossom, not a palm in sight
and all the light drained from the sky.

The northern tales as strange as tides,
like the Newtown Boggle disguised as a loaf
till a foolish lass took him home to toast.

And what of the olive trees, the spices
on the wind, the boulevard lovers?
No one can be a flâneur in the mist.

Against the railings, the ocean holds me.
Spray soaks my face. I breathe it in,
leaning towards my father’s country

Five Minute Interview with Liz Berry



Welcome back to the return of Kendal Poetry Festival’s Five Minute With series.  Our Young Blogger-in-Residence Hannah Hodgson interviewed the fantastic Liz Berry, who will be reading on the 9th September at 4.30-6.30pm with David Harsent.  You can get a ticket for Liz’s reading here.

Liz Berry’s first full-length collection Black Country, published by Chatto in 2014 was described in The Guardian as a ‘sooty, soaring hymn to her native West Midlands’.  A winner of the Forward Prize for Best First Collection, she makes a welcome return to Cumbria, reading poems from her new pamphlet The Republic of Motherhood, available here.  


HH: Are there any particular themes that you find you gravitate towards in your writing?

LB: Transformations. At the moment my mind is much on motherhood (I have two little sons) and how those early years transform us. I also love writing about my region – the Black Country and Birmingham – and its extraordinary dialect

HH: What are you working on at the moment? What wider poetry projects are you working on e.g. judging competitions?

LB:  I’ve just published a pamphlet called ‘The Republic of Motherhood’ (Chatto), fifteen poems about becoming a mother and the wild hard days of that first year. It’s a beautiful looking little thing and the poems are very raw and close to my heart. The title poem has been shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best Single Poem which makes me happy as it was a hard poem to write but a poem that I hope will find others in their dark. tender hours. Other than that, I’m teaching workshops, judging competitions like the Winchester Poetry Prize and, as always, pottering away on poems.

HH: Can you remember writing your first poem?

LB: I wrote my first real poem when I was about seven or so. It was about the canting (beautiful West Mids word for chatty) women who lived in the street in the Black Country where I grew up. I still love writing about women and trying to capture their voices so I suppose not much has changed!

HH: What was the first poem you had published? And where?

LB: The first poem that was published that I was really proud of was “The Patron Saint of Schoolgirls” in Mslexia. It was commended by Carol Ann Duffy in their poetry competition. When I was growing up and starting to write, Carol Ann was such an important poet for me. I remember going to see her read at a branch library in Wolverhampton when I was about thirteen and suddenly feeling all sorts of things might be possible for me. So to have my poem chosen by her was a special thing

HH: Do you have any tips for any new or young writers?

WHS: Write what you feel you must write. Be patient and patient with yourself. Be fearless and kind..

HH: Thanks Liz! If you’d like to read some of Liz’s poetry, you can order Black Country and The Republic of Motherhood here

You can read some of Liz’s poetry over at The Poetry Foundation or if you’d like to hear Liz read some of her work, head over to The Poetry Archive