Second in a series of author-to-author interviews to distract them, and you, from lockdown torpor.
Sarah: What are the main motivations and influences for your writing?
Jane: Like you, I started writing very early in life, having been influenced and inspired by diverse writers such as Shakespeare, Brecht, Patten, Keats. I write because it feels like the best form of play I can think of. No-one tells me to do it, it’s just down to me. But writing is also the hardest thing I choose to do, and it gives me huge pleasure and pain!
My influences these days are many and varied and include many poets and writers whose books are crammed onto my bookshelves including Kathleen Jamie, Jacob Polley, Elizabeth Bishop, Robin Robertson, Tomas Transtromer and Tove Jansson. But I’m also influenced by nature, artists, musicians, architecture and archaeology in very eclectic and spontaneous ways.
Sarah: What is your own favourite poem in your collection Let Out the Djinn and why?
Jane: I think it has to be Doggerland. Doggerland fascinates me hugely, and when I first read about this ancient land beneath the North Sea, my imagination became fired up and I knew I wanted to attempt a poem from the perspective of a hunter-gatherer, that tried to do justice to the immensity of the place and its eventual fate. There’s still more I’d like to write about Doggerland, its story is not just ancient history, there are many modern resonances too, such as climate change and mass extinctions.
Sarah: You also have work in Time and Tide. Are water and time big themes in your poetry generally? If so, how and why do they fascinate you? If not, how did you find a way into the theme?
Jane: I messed about in boats as a kid and when I moved up to Scotland over 30 years ago, I said I wanted to live beside the sea. Well in a way I do. Although we live in the suburbs of Edinburgh, the Firth of Forth is never far away and under normal circumstances, we go to the East Lothian coast and the NW Highlands very regularly. Water does feature in some of my poems such as Dave off in Five, With Meme on Mellon Udrigle Beach and Eel Ghazal, and whether it’s a river or loch, waterfall or incoming tide, I’m always drawn to watch. But I’m also aware of the theme of time in my poetry. Many of my poems are set in the past and are concerned with loss, love, death and memory. However, I think I made heavy weather about writing my Time and Tide poem. In fact I wrote two poems. The first based on a Clearance clachan or hamlet beside the sea in West Ardnamurchan was rejected. The second was based on a fictional character, a female ghost, who had once lived in 18th Century Leith, Edinburgh’s main port. I wrote it to accompany an embarrassingly bad film poem (quite rightly rejected). Thankfully the poem In the Shadows, on the Shore, Leith made it into the anthology.
Sarah: If you could change something, or learn one new thing in terms of how you work, or what you write about, what would it be and why?
Jane: I’d love to be able to write and present a film poem. I think my best poems are the ones that began as a strong visual experience and I’d love to be able to learn about the process of making a poem come alive in a visual sense as well as on the page and in the mind.
Sarah: What are your favourite reading, writing and performance spots?
Jane: I love writing on our kitchen table. Although our kitchen is quite a busy space, with cooking and washing happening plus our cat bouncing around, I love it. I can look out onto the garden, listen to the radio and I’m happy!
I love reading in the kitchen too, but I also have a very comfortable chair in the lounge which is perfect for settling down with a good book.
In the summer the garden bench is a brilliant place to muse or read or write surrounded by birdsong and bumblebees.
In my very limited experience of performance, I’d say that The Lighthouse Bookshop, Edinburgh where I launched my debut collection Let out the Djinn and read at an open mic is a lovely welcoming space.
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