Last week I had the pleasure of interviewing resident Welsh poet, Sue Moules.
I started writing poetry when I was about eight. I always enjoyed reading and loved the poem, Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. My grandfather, Frank Longfellow, said we were related to the American poet, but I don’t think we are. I wrote poetry because I found stories difficult. However, I did win the Brooke Bond prize at school for a story, with my friend, Sheena, coming second. The headmaster had expected her to win and had read her story out to the school. Sheena and I used to write poems together - one line each - in small red Memo books.
Ooh, you may be surprised; you should trace your family tree and find out if you are related to Longfellow, maybe that is where you get your talent. So, you have written from childhood, how long was it before you were first published and how did it feel?
My first poem to be published was in the local paper w hen I was a child, back in the 1960’s. The poem was called Trees and it rhymed. I was very excited to see my poem in print. I got a 2/6d postal order which seemed like a fortune. My first literary publication was in 1982 in Poetry Wales. It felt good to be in the company of published poets, and knowing that my work had made the standard. I had been trying since I graduated from University in 1979, so it had cost a lot in postage and rejections.
What about your main influences, tell us about them.
I like to say that I am influenced by no one and everyone but obviously everything read is an influence. I studied English Literature at University and read a lot of dead male poets. I wrote my dissertation on Sylvia Plath. Since then I have discovered many women poets such as Elizabeth Bishop and Mary Oliver and many male poets.
I know you have several books published, can you tell us about the latest ones and perhaps which are your favourites?
My favourite book is always the most recent, so The Earth Singing (Lapwing) published in August 2010. Although getting a box of The Copyright of Land (National Poetry Foundation), my first book after three pamphlets, back in 2000 was exciting.
Your poems are very evocative, you seem to see the world in quite a unique way, or at least to be able to describe it in a more colourful manner than most people. Is this something that came naturally or did you have to learn to do it?
I think that going on courses helps define one’s work and encourages it to be more outgoing. My themes tend to be introspective, although I would see myself as a nature poet. My poems are full of colour because I would have liked to have been good at art. I think a poet never stops learning and that comes from hearing other poets and reading other poets.
And each new experience presumably alters the way we see the world and learn from it. What keeps you motivated and where do you look for support?
I go through phases when I’m not motivated, when I think I’m wasting my time, but then, when I manage to craft a piece that works and isn’t “chopped up prose” I feel I’ve achieved something.
I think a form can help to achieve this. As a child I loved those square puzzles which had a picture broken down into smaller squares. You had to move the squares around to make the picture complete. Another of my favourite games was a small hand held solitaire game, with small blue plastic markers. The aim being to achieve one marker in the centre of the game. Years later I enjoyed précis at school, reducing words down to their basics. All good grounding for a poet. I find it hard to write a long piece. A poem that goes over the page is an achievement for me. I find it hard to write prose, as I want to get to the kernel of the story.
At primary school we read ballads, The Highwayman, The Ballad of Patrick Spens, The Ancient Mariner, Hiawatha etc. I do like to have story in my poems, and it probably comes from this early grounding.
I was lucky to have excellent English teachers at the three secondary schools I attended. At ‘O ‘level we studied Six Modern Poets, living poets, and my favourite poem was Relic by Ted Hughes. I hadn’t come across Hughes before, or Philip Larkin - his “blackbird /astonishing the brickwork“ was just a fantastic observation that I remember often.
I also studied Elizabeth Jennings. I knew that Christina Rossetti and Emily Bronte had been poets, but Elizabeth Jennings was a living female poet. It was good to see that women could be poets too.
At University English Literature ended with W.H. Auden but my knowledge of contemporary poetry has come from subscribing to magazines and reading. I first went to poetry readings at University and started to buy poetry books then. Unfortunately, back in the 1970s there weren’t creative writing degrees.
Are you a member of any writing groups?
I belong to so many groups I never have time to write! I seem to be a real groupie. It is hard to be a writer in isolation and, by meeting up with other like-minded people, you are able to talk shop, which of course keeps you motivated. I attend workshops and try to go on a writing course every year if I can afford to. Being with other writers can be inspiring and having the space to write is important. Often I write and think it’s “a so what piece” and often it is, but occasionally I write something I’m really pleased with.
If you don’t mind, I would like to include an example of your poetry in this blog, can you suggest one that means a great deal to you and explain why?
The following poem is from The Earth Singing, it is a mirror poem, and took some crafting.
On The Night of A Full Moon
This is a spell to make things right:
plant when the moon is waxing,
harvest when the moon is waning.
The eyes of the cat are copper circles,
its feline body sussurates along the cold pavement.
As I name the stars and planets,
call on their wisdom,
the continuity of sky,
crunch of autumn leaves on grass,
short days and dark nights.
Short days and dark nights.
crunch of autumn leaves on grass,
the continuity of sky.
Call on their wisdom,
as I name the stars and planets.
Along the cold pavement.
its feline body sussurates,
the eyes of the cat are copper circles.
Harvest when the moon is waning.
plant when the moon is waxing,
This is the spell to make things right.
In the past 10 years Ceredigion, where I live, has started to celebrate the fact that Dylan Thomas lived in the area by putting up plaques to show where he lived. One day driving into Aberaeron there was a cut out model of the poet standing outside the bookshop. As well as being surprised and shocked, I thought it quite surreal, especially as Dylan Thomas had not been given such acclaim when he was alive and so I wrote the poem “I Labour by Singing Light” taken from his ‘In my Craft and Sullen Art.’
‘I Labour by Singing Light’ From ‘In my Craft and Sullen Art’ by Dylan Thomas.
Outside Bookworm in Aberaeron
Dylan Thomas stands
life size in his sepia photo,
dead before he was forty.
‘Yes, I remember the boyo
left a tax bill,
and at the Seahorse in New Quay
he never paid his tab.’
We are all keen to claim him now,
put up blue porcelain plaques
on the places he visited,
the houses he rented.
‘Drunkard, womaniser, waster’
they called him then.
All summer this cut out
has done the rounds,
famous not for poetry
but for drink and a film
that has taken truth and made fiction.
In his singing light
he might have laughed
to be standing on Alban Square
Lovely, Sue, thank you so much for sharing them with us. If any of my readers wish to purchase a volume of your work, can you tell me where they are available?
My poetry books are available from Amazon or direct from me: firstname.lastname@example.org. I prefer to sell them myself as there is little money in poetry and I’d prefer it went to me or my publishers rather than Amazon. Amazon is quick, easy and efficient and I enjoy using it myself, but I always try and buy friends’ books direct from them.
Copyright Sue Moules 2010