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