Caroline Natzler is a poet and creative writing teacher. Her first book was a collection of autobiographically based short stories, Water Wings, published by Onlywomen Press. Her poetry collections are Speaking the Wetlands (Pikestaff Press), Design Fault (Flambard Press), Smart Dust (Grenadine Press) and Fold (Hearing Eye). She teaches at the City Lit in London and also runs small private classes.
I slip along the organised, brimming canals
remember no dreams
aware of the holes in the sides
water bubbling in and out
the growing rings within the trees as I pass.
I know how to steer, hold true.
All I have to do is given me,
routines like the comfort of pets
as if this were home.
from FOLD (Hearing Eye)
? How old were you when you started writing poetry?
I don’t know when I first started writing poetry, but the first poem that was published was when I was 13 and a half. It was called The Magic Glass and was a lyrical, dreamy poem about the light patterns thrown by a glass (of water I assume!) on our polished wood dining room table. A magazine for teenagers called The Young Elizabethan paid me, I think, ten shillings and my mother was delighted and said maybe I would be a writer. That is a moment I treasure; she had wanted to be a writer and I feel lucky to have been able to fulfill her dream, by proxy as it were, as well as my own.
? What was it which first prompted the urge to write?
Probably being quite shy and finding it difficult to voice my inner feelings any other way. And just some sense that writing would reach the heart of - what, I don’t know - not just my experience but the truth of things. For longer than I care to admit, and for long after I ceased being religious in any obvious sense, I felt writing was akin to prayer, that my writing would reach whatever creative force moved the world into being. I really only stopped feeling this when my mother died; the poem Mother in Smart Dust tries to explore this.
? Do you have a specific writing process?
No. But I think there are two patterns at the moment; sometimes an experience, a thought, a feeling, an image will just come, quite urgently; other times I have to sit down and force myself to do a writing exercise to prompt a poem. Either way I usually work on a poem intermittently through the weeks or months, jotting things down in my notebook wherever I happen to be, or working on it at home.
? Do you prefer music or silence when you write?
If I’m at home doing any sustained work on my poetry I need silence, though as much of the work is done when I’m walking around, on the train etc I accept the background noise I suppose.
? Has your legal background hindered or helped your writing process?
An interesting question! I don’t like to think I have a legal background as that part of my life always feels like a mistake, although I worked in the voluntary and public sectors so I don’t feel politically or morally compromised! Perhaps the habits of mental discipline and accuracy helped, though I was always a careful thinker and writer.
? You also teach writing. Can this get in the way of your creative process?
When I started teaching I did feel the work drew fire from my own writing. I became more self-critical, (since so many of my students wrote well!) and much of my creativity went into devising approaches and exercises for my classes. I felt teaching had stolen the pleasure away from writing and that writing was no longer a private, intimate activity but part of my public identity. Publishing also had that effect initially. By now the teaching and the writing fit quite seamlessly into my life.
? How much time do you spend reworking a poem?
I think I’ve answered that question earlier. Occasionally a poem will slip out fully formed, as January did (in my new collection Fold), but normally it takes between 3 weeks, say, and 6 months of intermittent work before I’m either happy with it or have to resign myself to binning it, maybe saving one image or phrase to generate a new poem.
? You chose a feature poem for this inteview. Can you say why?
I agonised over which poem should be the featured one but eventually decided on At Last (from Fold) as it has elements I’m pleased with and is interesting in relation to the poetic process.
I like its mystery and its simplicity. I like the uneasy balance between calm,
order, fulfillment, living in the present; and awareness of time, change,
And it amuses me whenever I read it for two personal reasons.
“the growing rings within the trees” came from an exercise where I’d
referred to the plastic rings which are coiled around the arm of my angle-
poise desk lamp. The mutations that happen in the course of writing a poem
can be quite surprising.
The other reason it makes me smile is that I’ve never owned pets and, as
far as I know, I don’t want to. Yet the line “routines like the comfort of pets”
feels right. I become a slightly different person when writing, or my
subconscious gets a look-in!
All Caroline's collections are available through Amazon.
Experienced writers interested in Caroline's small group sessions are welcome to apply. If there is a space in a group she may ask to meet and read some work. Caroline can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org