Laura: Hello Claire! It’s lovely to virtually meet you. Let’s start with an easy one. Why do you write?
Claire: Ah, that’s a good one, Laura. I rarely stop and ask myself why? Too busy trying to actually do it. I think it’s because writing offers me quiet, introspection, where I can explore the things that feel deepest, and yet are hardest to reach. It can be frustrating, coming close (but not quite close enough) to something meaningful. But when words do come together in unexpected and revealing ways, then there’s real satisfaction. I also enjoy being part of the wider family of writers. It feels like a journey we share together, as readers and writers of each other’s work.
Laura: As a poet, who haunts you? Are there any writers you return to time after time?
Claire: I was madly in love with Wilfred Owen when I was at school. I even carried a little framed photo of him around with me! I love Edward Thomas too – even more so now I’m older. His niece was my father’s first girlfriend, and his great niece was my Aunt’s god-daughter, so there’s that additional connection. Other poets who inspire me include Dylan Thomas, W B Yeats and Seamus Heaney. I may have a bit of a Celtic thing going on here. But Gerald Manley Hopkins is also awe-inspiring, and Plath is vital reading too. I enjoy contemporary poets too, including Alison Brackenbury, Pascal Petit and Mona Arshi.
Laura: Tell us your favourite line of poetry.
Claire: Help, that’s quite a Sophie’s choice you’re offering me there. Perhaps Dylan Thomas
And alone in the night’s curving act/ They yearn with tongues of curlews for the unconceived/And immemorial sons of the cudgelling, hacked/Hill.
Moon and the Pleiades go down. / Midnight and tryst pass by. I, though, lie/ Alone.
Am I allowed a third one? Plath
Love set you going like a fat, gold watch.
Positively the last! Sam Beckett
Birth. It was the death of him.
Laura: As a Brighton-based writer, do you feel that place and time are important to your work? Can you separate your personal writing from your personal geography?
Claire: I moved to a village just outside Brighton three years ago, after decades in south London. The sea and Downs are definitely beginning to loom large in my work. My poems are often about people, relationships, conflicts, memories and dreams. But I’m finding nature increasingly represented, either symbolically, or as the primary character of the poem. Fisherman’s Daughter (In Time and Tide) came about through a visit to the excellent Fishing Museum on Brighton beach. We can forget how livelihood was once a very physical and dangerous reality, involving whole families. I’m a dreadful sailor (three sea legs required for any kind of sea journey) but I love living vicariously through the vocabulary and mythology of the sea.
Laura: Here’s a fun one. If you were throwing a fantasy dinner party for poets and playwrights, who would you invite?
Claire: Great idea. I wonder how they’d all get along? I’d have to invite Shakespeare, so I could pump him about the Dark Lady (might s/he come too?). Emily Dickenson, but would she turn up? Probably not. Maria Tsvetaeva (I’d have to brush up my Russian), Lorca and Neruda (help, no Spanish), Oscar Wilde (for his wit), Maya Angelou, Sharon Olds and Jackie Kay to keep the men in check. Plus of course everyone from my Stanza Group.
Laura: You had the chance to travel to Bangladesh last year as a guest poet for the Dhaka Book Fair. What was that like?
Claire: Totally amazing. It all came about through Loose Muse Writer’s Night, which has met in London for 15 years and is run by the wonderful Agnes Meadows. A key Bangladeshi poet Aminur Rahman came to perform (unusually, because Loose Muse is a platform for female writers) and we exchanged books. A year later he invited me as one of seven guest poets from around the world. We performed at three universities, the Dhaka Book Festival, on countless TV programmes, Poetry clubs and even in a prison. It was my first time in Asia and the warmth of the welcome and the sheer enthusiasm everyone showed for poetry was inspiring, and very humbling.
Laura: Do you have any advice for young readers who feel called to write?
Claire: I’d say play with ideas and words, experiment, and don’t feel you have to write in a certain way. Perhaps consider one of the many creative degree courses, but equally, remember to respect and enjoy your own voice (and the finding of it). There isn’t a right way to write poetry. Meet up with other writers, support each other and give and receive feedback. You have something unique to share.
Laura: Finally, tell us a little bit about your future projects. Where can we find you?
Claire: I’m working on a full collection based on my experiences of living here on the South Downs. My first pamphlet Later There Will be Postcards is out with Green Bottle Press, and my second pamphlet The Bone That Sang is forthcoming from Indigo Dreams later this year. I blog at www.bookerplays.co.uk where you can read excerpts of my stage plays and a selection of poetry.
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