Hannah Hodgson, our Young Blogger-in-Residence will be conducting a series of five minute interviews in the run up to the festival. Under the spotlight today is the fantastic Chrissy Williams, whose long-awaited first collection Bear will be published by Bloodaxe on the 25th May 2017. Chrissy will be reading on Saturday 17th June at 11am alongside Inua Ellams. You can book tickets for this event here. She will also be running a workshop, inspired by the Julian Cooper Exhibition at Abbot Hall Art Gallery on Saturday between 5pm-6.45pm – tickets can be booked here.
Congratulations on your new collection! How does it feel to have a collection coming out?
Thank you! It feels pretty exciting! I’ve had various pamphlets published over the last five years, but BEAR is going to be my first “full collection”, so it feels like a meatier, grizzlier proposition. It also feels pretty terrifying, but a good kind of terror I think.
How long did the process of acceptance for publication to seeing it in book form for the first time take?
I sent my manuscript to Bloodaxe in December 2015, and the editor Neil Astley sent me an email the following March saying he would like to publish it. The finished book will come out at the end of May (though I should get some advance copies through in the post imminently!). So overall it’ll have been a little over a year since it was first accepted. I think that’s pretty fast for poetry, from what I understand.
What would you highlight as the main themes in your collection, and what would you say inspired them?
The individual subjects of the poems include all sorts of things – Angela Lansbury, bears, Groundhog Day, constellations, David Bowie, Trump… but then none of them are really “about” those things exactly. They’re using them to talk about something else, something about mortality, and sadness, but also hope. I don’t know how useful thinking about themes is for me to be honest. I do try to approach poems in a playful way though. (Maybe playfulness is the main theme, if you want?) I get inspired by different moments or thoughts colliding in my head in an unusual way. That makes me want to write something that then juxtaposes them, hopefully in an interesting way.
Where did you first get a poem published?
In a small but welcoming magazine called Dial 174, which gave me the confidence to keep going. I still remember how excited I was – a total stranger had read my poems and liked them enough to share them with other people. It was thrilling. The second poem I had published, or rather the second two poems, were in The Rialto, which came back with two twenty pound notes paperclipped to the magazine as payment. I thought I’d hit the big time, and bought my friends a round of drinks with my hard-earned poetry cash.
Have you got any tips for emerging writers?
You’re never not “emerging”, so don’t worry about that. You’re a poet and you know it. You’re constantly in a state of reading and writing new things, and trying to figure out what to do next. I would say that growing a thick skin about rejections is a useful thing to learn. And that if people take the time to critique you, they’re normally trying to help you. Also that it’s not so much about trying to “write the perfect poem to impress editor X”, but more about figuring out how to write the perfect poem by you, that no one else could possibly write. It’s also about learning that there’s no such thing as perfection, of course, but if you’re not aiming for it, there’s probably something wrong.
Thanks Chrissy! Below you will find a poem from Chrissy’s forthcoming collection BEAR which will be available to buy at her reading at Kendal Poetry Festival, or you can buy it before hand here direct from Bloodaxe.
JON SPENCER BLUES EXPLOSION
in the Spring – by Chrissy Williams
We lean into the soft brake BLUES
as you flip the indicator on
JON at the corner where four roads meet
in front of the old farm. SPENCER
Mountains slouch behind, BLUES
reluctant to shake out their white pleats
JON despite the strength of this early May heat.
At the shady crossroads tall trees SPENCER
lean in to watch our tiny car arrive, BLUES
then all decide to pollinate at once.
EXPLOSION Every seed they have swims in the sky,
EXPLOSION so many flowers curling down
EXPLOSION toward the acacia snowglobe ground.
The breeze whips a yellow flood JON
in through the window SPENCER
across our knees BLUES and my cousin tells me
how wonderful the flowers are
battered, fried, then eaten whole.