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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Gillian Prew

Born Stirling, Scotland in 1966, Gillian Prew studied Philosophy at the University of Glasgow from 1984 to 1988.

Her chapbook, DISCONNECTIONS, can be purchased from erbacce-press (2011) and another chapbook, in the broken things, published by Virgogray Press (2011).

Her poetry can be found at Vayavya, The Poetry Shed, A New Ulster, The Open Mouse, Ink, Sweat & Tears, ditch, and From Glasgow to Saturn among others. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee and has twice been short-listed for the erbacce-prize.

Her collection, Throats Full of Graves, has been published in 2013 by Lapwing Publications. Her latest collection, A Wound’s Sound, has just been released from Oneiros Books in April 2014.

She lives in Argyll with her partner, children and cat.

1 - How did your first book or chapbook change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
I published 2 chapbooks fairly close together in 2011 with 2 different small presses. The amount that it changed my life can only really be gauged within the bigger picture. Nothing spectacular happened but people bought them and I felt validated as a poet. I would have continued writing regardless but I did so feeling more confident and less isolated.

My recent work is quite a bit different. I have just published my latest full length collection, A Wound's Sound (Oneiros Books), which is far more rooted in language. I am particularly interested in the way words sound together and patterns of rhythm.  I like interesting word juxtapositions and I will often hyphenate two words in order to associate them more closely with one another. I am striving to write something beautiful. I have also become less human-centric and more animal-centric. I have never been a political poet nor I am trying to politicize animal abuse through poetry rather raise awareness and give animals a voice. It feels different in that I am not so much the centre of everything that I write. I feel more of an onlooker and recorder than the centre of experience.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I didn't come to poetry first at all. I have been an avid reader all of my life. I left school and went to university to study philosophy and so I read many philosophical texts but still many novels at this time. I did not read poetry at all. I dabbled in writing and always felt I wanted to write. I started a novel when I was 29 but never completed it. I didn't start writing poetry until I was 41. I wrote a poem as a language exercise and never looked back. Something inside me just clicked into place. I began to read poetry and almost exclusively read poetry now. I cannot differentiate myself from poetry and wish I had found it much sooner.

3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
Once I finish one project I am immediately thinking about the next. I will start writing straight away sometimes with a clear idea of where I want to go and sometimes the poems direct the development of the project. I work slowly and tend to edit as I write. I find it quite difficult to move on from a piece I know is not finished and that I am not happy with. I will typically write straight to the computer but also have a notebook for ideas I have away from the keyboard. Drafts and finished poems can vary drastically or end up being extremely similar. I tend to pare down a poem rather than add to it and most of my poetry is fairly short.

4 - Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
A poem usually begins with a line but often I do not know where the poem is going until quite late on. Sometimes the initial line does not remain as the first line of the poem and sometimes it can change as to be almost unrecognizable. At the moment I am working on a book but it only the vague idea of a book. Normally, I will have quite a few poems before I see a book forming. Certainly, my poems are essentially on the shorter side combining into something larger.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I have never read in public. Standing in front of a crowd of strangers hoping to entertain them is not something that appeals to me, especially if I am expected to do it for free.

6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
A poet should write what is inside her. I'm not sure poetry is the best medium for answering anything. It can express and explore revealing things in a new way. It can draw attention to what is going on in the world. My main focus is the status of animals in the world mostly with regard to factory farming and the associated abuses. I also touch on environmental questions such as pollution and the destruction of natural habitats. A human being also needs to find a place in the world and I have dealt with themes such as memory, death, despair, disconnectedness and aging.

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
A writer should be a mirror for the world, a warped one that both reflects and distorts.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
None of my editors have been difficult. I am not keen on editors who want to change poems but I welcome input on the order the poems should appear in the book.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
I love Philip Larkin. This is the best piece of advice I know of for any poet..

"Oh, for Christ’s sake, one doesn’t study poets! You read them, and think, That’s marvellous, how is it done, could I do it? and that’s how you learn."

10 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
I don't have a routine per se. I work shifts so writing every day is not always possible. Mornings are my best times. If I am not physically writing and I am always thinking about what I am working on.

11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
When I can't write I read. I have a few poets I go back to who always provide me with something to jump off from: Dylan Thomas, Les Murray, Alice Oswald, Chris Murray, Georg Trakl, W. S. Merwin are some. If I am stuck I will sometimes use some virtual device to produce something unusual enough to prompt me. I particularly like Language is a Virus for this. I also find walking useful. I observe the world around me and try to put it together differently. When I walk my mind is clearer and more receptive.

12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

It depends what you mean by 'home'? Is it a country, a place or a building? I have lived in Scotland all of my life and I do not associate a particular smell with this country apart from the smell of rain perhaps. Home for me is where I live with my loved ones. I burn a lot of incense so probably the smell of that.

13 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
I live in a fairly rural part of Scotland so nature definitely influences me. I am very concerned with animal rights and this also has an impact.

14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
I am reading Jacques Derrida's The Animal that Therefore I am to provide some philosophical background to zoopoetics. I have already mentioned some poets but I would also include Sylvia Plath, Paul Celan, Tomas Transtromer.

15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
I'm not a bucket list type of person. I would like to travel a little more, perhaps go on safari.

16 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
My ideal life would be running a combined cat sanctuary and poetry press.

17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
Writing chose me I guess but I don't earn much of a living from it. I do something else to earn a living.

18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
As I pretty much only read poetry the last great poetry collection I read as opposed to collected works is Translations from the Natural World by Les Murray. I don't watch films.

19 - What are you currently working on?
I am currently working on my second collection with Oneiros Books. It is based around three colours - black, green and red. I am far from completing it however.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

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