Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Interview With A Poet III

          Karina Vidler

 Karina lives and works in London. Her poetry pamphlet Facing is published by Prolebooks in Caboodle (six poetry pamphlets in one volume). Karina’s poems have appeared in the magazines Between the Lines, Equinox, 14, Orbis, The North, Prole, South and South Bank Poetry. Karina collaborated with a group of fellow writers to produce the anthology Ordinary Magic (Poets Unlimited). 

Her poems have also been anthologised in Genius Floored (Soaring Penguin Press), Seeking Refuge (Cinnamon Press) and Journey to Crone (Chuffed Buff Books)

Karina will be reading selected pieces from Facing 
at The Fat Cat in Sheffield tonight.  

I'll be there too so why not join us for the evening if you're anywhere nearby.

What are you reading at the minute?

I’m carrying round a Keats selected poems and reading these whenever I get a chance – on buses, trains and today in the toilet at work. I’ve signed up for a Poetry East workshop on Keats led by David Constantine in early March and it’s worrying me that it’s called a Masterclass and my ignorance will (as so commonly happens) be revealed. I don’t have the critical vocabulary or technique people acquire with an English degree, and sometimes in poetry classes I feel that the silken English graduates warble sweetly while I can only make grunting noises and point with my trotter.

I’m also dipping back into The Visitations by KathrynSimmonds, and particularly enjoying its Life Coach sequence. I’ve had a pang recently to be with Michael Donaghy’s poems again, but have been unable to locate them in the chaos of my bedroom. However, whilst hunting I found Helen Dunmore’s The Malarkey down the side of the bed and am immersing myself in it. It’s a beautiful collection; in places it’s terrifying.

How old were you when you first started writing poetry?

I wrote just one poem when I was thirteen, a melancholy ode about the last bird in the world singing its lonely song, and then (perhaps thankfully) nothing more until my mid-thirties. I wanted to write throughout the years between but couldn’t let myself. It was attending an ’Introduction to creative writing’ course with Julia Casterton at the City Lit that broke through whatever was blocking me. Julia was an encouraging and genuinely supportive teacher and I was extremely fortunate to find her. She accepted everybody and understood how many of us wrtie through scar tissue.

Thinking of your school days and the poets you were studying then – which one do you feel influences your writing the most now?

That’s a long way back. I don’t think there’s one particular poet but perhaps several echo in my work. At school, I felt drawn to Philip Larkin and perhaps something of his bleakness is there in my poems. I’ve also noticed that the ‘thick pink bulk’ of Ted Hughes’ dead pig in ‘View of a Pig’ became the ’stretched, faded, bulk’ of my father’s inert body after surgery in one of my poems. I’d love to think that Sylvia Plath’s Lady Lazarus hovers, flame-haired, over my work, but if she does, she most often keeps just hidden from view.

Are there any modern poets who influence your writing - why?

I think possibly Sharon Olds has shown me that you don’t need to shy away from the truth. Mark Doty has allowed me to have the confidence to write serious poems in a conversational style. Perhaps Ros Barber has helped me understand what it’s like to write as a woman who doesn’t have to pretend to be anything but herself.

What is your writing process?

I tend to need deadlines in order to write, and I usually get these by going to writing classes. I’ll wait until a few days before the deadline and then start feeling slightly worried. When the worry is strong enough and I become convinced that it will be worse to go to the class with nothing rather than with a bad poem, I take myself to a library or coffee shop and try to write. My poems often come out fairly fully formed, which is handy because I find editing my work very difficult. If a poem is strong and I try to change it, it fights back. If a poem isn’t strong, I find it difficult to know how to ‘make it better’. Taking draft poems to classes is useful, to test them out and get ideas about what perhaps need to change or go completely. But receiving comments on draft poems in a class is a mixed experience. I flit between thinking ‘Thank you for such an intuitive and helpful suggestion.’ and ‘How dare you, leave my poem alone!’.

Very rarely, a poem will create itself without a deadline. This is usually in reaction to a strong emotional experience, and it can be years or even decades after the experience. I love it when this happens.

Sometimes, when I want to write a poem but feel unable to, it can help to tell myself that I’m going to write in a particular form, most often a sonnet. This gives me an empty container and then when I try to fill the container, I forget to worry about writing the poem.

How do you go about deciding the grouping of poems for a pamphlet?

With Facing, I printed all the poems I was considering including, and then kept physically shuffling them until some kind of order arose. During this process, I discarded several poems that were too similar to others in the pile. I knew which poem I wanted to go first, and I also wanted the last poem to be one that ended with the word ‘love’. Some of the poems sorted themselves into groups, such as three about a relationship with a particular person, or those about my children. I then decided to go for an order based on the passing of time. So bringing up young children is towards the start of the pamphlet, the bewilderment of living with teenagers is towards the middle, and the empty nesting comes towards the end. As in life, the despair, disappointment and unrequited love and lust are peppered throughout.

Which 3 topics inspire you to write the most?

Oh dear – I think that’s the difficulty and pain of love, an enduring sense of loss, and mortality. Luckily quite a lot of humour gets into my work too.

Which of your own poems do you feel is closest to perfection and why?

I’ m not sure what perfection would be in terms of poetry. What’s important to me is that a poem says something real and felt and meaningful. In this sense, my poem ‘Mersey’ comes to mind. It’s about my relationship with my daughter. It manages to express something profound that I barely understand yet need to say to myself, to confess to my daughter and to declare to the world.

For those of you not lucky enough to make it up to The Fat Cat in Sheffield, Karina will be reading work from Facing 
 at The Betsy Trotwood (Farringdon) in April 
for Caboodle's London launch.  I will let you know dates and times.  

I will be there.  And you never know, I might even venture onto the open mic podium myself.

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