“I am only just learning that poetry is not poetry until it has been fired and beaten and heard and re-shaped.” (Sarah Acton)
In the first of a series of Q&A blogs taking a closer look at our writers, Deana Luchia chatted with Sarah Acton.
Q: What are you working on at the moment?
A: I am editing a poetry pamphlet but I’ve sat on this for a while now as I have an unsettling feeling something is missing before it goes out into the world…so I’ll be taking the poems out into nature to read them and see what the response is before I make a final selection and then think about how to present the pamphlet.
Q: How often do you write? What are your writing habits? Do you need to feel inspired or do you write at a certain time every day?
A: I write everyday. I love getting up early to get into a creative flow before work but recently I’m finding the change of clocks difficult…I try to at least walk or go outside everyday, then put time aside to be quiet and alone and think, even for a few minutes. Ideally I start the day by reading a few poems from my bookshelves to create space and that takes me into deeper poetic-time. Mornings are optimum for raw imagination and natural light.
Q: As the author lab’s only poet, I’m interested in how you go about creating poetry and how you decide, when you have an idea, whether it is going to be a poem or a short story? Or do you know from the off that something will be a poem?
A: I’m quite disciplined. When I’m writing a poetry pamphlet all ideas flow into poems that are refined and the darlings killed and re-written. I write short stories to order. I really enjoy writing them but I can’t always work out where to put them. Poems are better if I really sit with the ideas and work deeply into them before I put pen to paper. Most first poem drafts are often vague shadows and then I think after – what is that really about? The better poems are the fifteenth or twentieth re-writes that come from the belly, belched out organically after rolling the themes over and re-reading the first drafts then waking up in the night with new versions on my lips.
Q: What makes the sea so alluring for you as a writer?
A: I find the sea has a cooling effect on my head. And it electrifies thoughts with fresh imaginings from beholding the constant movement that generates after some time of returning to the same places again and again, an awareness of a deeper ancient memory of this place. I am drawn to this existence of witnessing maritime nature in its daily hues. The deep sense of place and mystery that I find on this stretch of coastline fills my soul with a sense of remembrance: of something beyond myself in this time, something more meaningful.
Q: I know you’ve mentioned writing by the sea. How does this affect your writing? Is your work different when you’ve created something away from the sea?
A: My writing is different if I’ve been indoors too much, usually the language is stale! Sometimes a homesickness for the sea if I am away helps rather than hinders. We all have to move around in order to come home.
Q: In your short stories what kind of characters or situations are you drawn to? Is there a theme? A message? Are you wanting to explore something in particular? Is the sea present in your short stories too?
A: I wrote a collection of short stories inspired by the story of sailor Donald Crowhurst last year, and drew themes from his story. I like to think about some historical event (usually maritime, I have a few storied that have obsessed me all of my adult life) that has affected me then break it down into its elements of journeys, or adventure, and then look into what themes can be drawn from the trials encountered such as isolation, or fear of the unknown. Decisions, suffering, myth, what it means to be challenged and how we encounter obstacles and then develop or explore the heart all rise and fall in my stories. I read all of the time. The sea is always present in my pen if I am lucky.
Q: You do open mike readings of your poetry. Do you think it matters more how poetry sounds when spoken, than prose does? I read aloud everything I write and I wondered if you do that too and if there’s a lyrical element to your short stories too.
A: I think that reading aloud alters the punctuation of any piece. I am only just learning that poetry is not poetry until it has been fired and beaten and heard and re-shaped. Responses adjust my own understanding of what has been written, and the poems that have been worked into form after several tellings so that they eventually flow with their own energy. I can feel when this happens, a buzz on my lips that this poem has life.
Q: Do you have any plans to write a novel or have you already written a novel?
A: I am struggling to write my novel. I have one on the go. A man-hunt historical thriller about a smuggler. My brain is split in two with work at the moment and I need some clear space to run with this. Screen time and my eyes are considerations in winter!
Q: For a lot of people, the last time they wrote a poem was at school and it can seem daunting to even think about an idea for a poem. What would you say to someone who wanted to write poetry but didn’t know where to start? What are people afraid of?
A: The best place to start is a walk. To find poetry we need to take ourselves to any place and sit outside of routine for even a second. Reflection, meditation, aloneness and perspective are not such strange spaces to sit in, but they require taking yourself off briefly with intention. This can be hard in our busy lives. Start with reading a poem you love, go for a walk for fifteen minutes in any form of nature you can find, then come back and write for ten minutes. Poetic language will flow even if in note form. Poetry is the exploration and language of the heart so it is no wonder people find it daunting, and this is also why the rewards are rich.
Q: Where do you get your ideas from?
A: Dreams, the stars, scholarship and research into interesting subjects, film, conversations, reading…any stimulus that stays with me throughout the day and gives reflection on an aspect of my own life or memory. I consider myself an apprentice poet so everything experienced or felt affects my writing.
Q: Who are your favourite poets? What books are you reading right now? Any recommendations?
A: On my bookshelves at the moment: medieval early poetry, Shakespeare, Sylvia Plath, Rumi, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchel, Ted Hughes, Milton and recently I’ve been reading the fabulous Lisa J Starr of Rhode Island, a beautiful poet. I am reading Scatterlings by my teacher Dr Martin Shaw, about mythology, being of place and the bardic traditions. Also continuing my obsession with John Buchan and Daphne Du Maurier novels…in alternation. The bookshelf changes with days and seasons.