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

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