total absence of elegance

November 5, 2019

American style in writing – current and general – is commonplace, prosaic, pedestrian, homely, as French never is. Even in Harper’s and Vogue, so-called aristocratic publications, there is a total absence of elegance,  subtlety,  nuances.  Even there the plainness and ugliness is apparent. No wonder I have failed here. I am their antithesis. The poet is the antithesis of America. Just as they don’t know “race,” clothes, distinction, of any kind, their writing reflects vulgarity and looks shabby, seamy,  like faded slippers for tired feet. Mongrels.  But real mongrels acquire a personality from their wanderings. The American mongrel is bourgeois and colourless besides.

Anaïs Nin
Diary entry, December 3rd 1941

nourish the other

November 4, 2019

As a writer I wanted simply to take all the various expressions of art into writing, for I believed that each art must nourish the other, each one can add to the other… In every form of art there is something that I wanted to include, and I wanted writing, poetic writing, to include them all

Anaïs Nin
A Woman Speaks: The Lectures, Seminars, and Interviews of Anais Nin

The Demon Lover

October 31, 2019

What unites ghost stories and folksong? A Venn diagram of the two would surely put love and death in the centre. Robert Aickman wrote in the introduction to The 3rd Fontana Book of Great Ghost Stories that the eerie tale fulfils our “need to escape, at least occasionally, from a mechanistic world, ever more definable, ever more predictable, and, therefore, ever more unsatisfying and frustrating.”

The traditional song, often set in a vague and archaic time, can be equally attractive to those who wish to escape the prosaic world. However, the folk song and the ghost story do not ignore the stuff of life. Instead, they transform it into art that captivates our attention while making us engage with the problems of our humanity.

A case in point is that of “The Demon Lover”. This ballad, which dates back to 1685 and has since become part of the corpus of traditional song in Britain, Ireland and North America, tells of a woman whose lover returns from sea only to find her married to another man. The old flame re-pledges his love, telling her that he turned down a king’s daughter for her sake. He promises her wealth and persuades her to leave her husband and young children, and they sail off in one of his seven ships. When at sea, however, he either reveals his true identity (supernatural) or their intended destination (Hell) and, with that, the ship sinks.

This ballad speaks of the dangers posed to lovers by the strength of romantic bonds, the way that love can be a gateway to danger and dissolution if not handled with care, and the return of spirits (emotional or literal) to make their claims upon, or take advantage of, our humanity. These themes have been constants in the horror and ghost story traditions for at least two centuries.

Love, especially its more physical expression, has tended to be the preserve of the vampire in popular culture and literature. However, while the vampire desires our life force, the ghost desires us in our entirety. The vampire lover, like Le Fanu’s Carmilla or Stoker’s Dracula, comes either out of nowhere or from somewhere “out there”. Ghosts, on the other hand, come out of our past, from intimate spaces, or even out of our thoughts. They come to take us back with them, or at least to ensure that no one else can have us.

Lewis Hurst
‘Well met, well met, my own true love’: Five Demon Lovers

a young writer

October 28, 2019

Writing is such a revolutionary act. If you follow history you will see how writers, poets, and teachers are ones who are usually imprisoned for their words. For me to force my way into an industry that is predominately white is an act of faith and determination. I believe that there are so many voices out there waiting to be heard. If I could speak to young writers, I would say that persistence is key. I may not be the strongest writer, but I am a person who refuses to quit. I believe my voice is needed, and as a young writer, you need to believe that too, despite what the industry or others say.

Lilliam Rivera
Interview with Sandra Odell, March 2018

Realism is conservative

October 26, 2019

We live in uncertain times. We have always lived in uncertain times. I think what makes the weird inherently attractive is that it speaks to a part of us that knows, consciously or not, that the rules we play by, the realities we choose to agree to and normalize, have cracks in them. Increasingly, I think that putting realist modes and non-realistic modes at opposite ends of the spectrum does a disservice to both. Realism is conservative in that it tells us what we believe is real is in fact real. But it isn’t. It’s also consensual, questionable, open to interpretation, and often ignorant of other, competing narratives. We are in a moment when the consensus is beginning to shift. Non-realist modes seem to help us get a handle on this faster because they teach us the consensus was never absolute to begin with. People were excluded, people dissented. This breakdown is enjoyable at some level even as it’s also frightening. It means elements of our lives which we lacked the ability or will to question suddenly seem disputable, something we can fight back against. Breakdown gives us an opportunity to see what lies beneath, for better or worse. Increasingly what strikes me as strange about Lovecraft’s fiction is the sense that once the monstrous is encountered, the only options are madness, forgetting or death. And that in its own way is a conservative way of thinking: there are many more options. Resistance, recuperation, remembering, rebirth. This is the energy that comes from the collapse of the consensus — the possibility of change.

Helen Marshall
Interview with David Davis 15th November 2017

read poetry

October 25, 2019

I have three pieces of advice for emerging poets. The first is to read poetry really widely, without preconceptions or judgments. The second is to revise more, and harder, than you ever imagined you could possibly revise. The third, perhaps the most important, is to read your poems aloud as you write.

Annie Finch
Interview with Frances Donovan
Gender Focus 27th March 2016

in danger of ink poisoning

October 20, 2019

Thing is, when I do sit down to write I’m usually instantly engrossed. Hours speed away as I tug sentences into my preferred shape, fight to express ideas gracefully, rhythmically. No elation equals that produced by a finely crafted piece of work. I know that, but I can never remember it before I’ve begun. Why? I’m not an idiot. And just as nothing equals the elation of a finely crafted piece, so nothing tops the dread in the pit of my guts before I first sit to craft. What on earth am I scared of, eh?

Do I fancy myself in danger of ink poisoning, death by paper cut? Course not. I’m frightened I’m about to produce rubbish. And rightly so: the first draft is always rubbish. Trick is not to be frightened by the rubbish. Allow yourself to write the biggest pile of suffocatingly stinking ordure of which you’re capable. Once you’ve got that in place you can start to shape it. Just don’t compare your first efforts to Middlemarch, or you’ll be stabbing pens through your eyeballs before you can say edit. I bet Eliot’s first efforts were lousy too. Trick is not to worry about it.

Melissa Todd
The trick to Writing is

Language is my home. It is alive other than in speech. It is beyond a thing to be carried with me. It is ineluctable, variegated and muscular. A flicker and drag emanates from the very idea of it. Language seems capable of girding the oceanic earth, like the world-serpent of Norse legend. It is as if language places a shaping pressure upon our territories of habitation and voyage; thrashing, independent, threatening to drive our known world apart.

Yet thought is not bounded by language. At least, my experience of thinking does not appear so bound.

Vahni Capildeo
Five Measures of Expatriation

places offer footholds

October 9, 2019

Certain places are intrinsically tied to memory for me; they hold deep meaning and power. The ideas of “space” and “place,” both in terms of an actual physical location and the spaces our bodies occupy, are intermingled within the poems as a way to orient voice and the reader’s perception. These places offer footholds, in a sense. I find myself drawn to places of power on the earth: the ethereal, the mystical, the liminal. Places were myth was once born. The sea plays an important role in my writing, as well as the shrouded mystery of the mountains, such as the Ozarks. I’m hoping each place connects and crosses over each other in some way in these poems.

Tamara Jobe
Interview with H/M

writing novels

October 5, 2019

One luxury of writing novels is being free. You can stay in bed all day with the covers over your head. But it’s possible to become a victim of this freedom when it is suddenly withdrawn. Spending so much time alone every day, week in week out, I am liable to get far more anxious about face-to-face interaction where something is suddenly required of me and I’m to be put on the spot. I prefer communicating via email to the telephone for example, because there is less room for unpredictability, time to assess, re-read. The poet Selima Hill also describes feeling ‘exposed when the boundary of the page collapses, revealing faces on both sides … I feel trapped — as if I am a bad person. Ugly. Dirty. Inadequate. (Not at all the person I feel I am when I am writing, the person who is one with all things!)’

Olivia Sudjic
Danger, from Exposure