Featured Poet Charlotte Runcie Interviewed
You can find Charlotte’s poems here and here… and you should definitely also check out Pomegranate, her zine (my write-up here!). But for the time being, here’s a bit of info about Charlotte, her poems and her creative process.
Tell us about your poems.
My poems are my babies! They are my best friends and, until I’ve finished them, my worst enemies.
Because I’m only 19, I think I’ve still got a lot of experimenting to do before I settle down into any one style that could describe all of my poems – if that ever happens. At the moment I seem to go through phases of writing in different styles. I’m just emerging from a painful and prolonged dramatic monologue phase. It seems easier to write about some subjects when I assume the voice of someone else. For example, I’ve written quite a few poems from the point of view of men, or from people with strange experiences and occupations, just because it’s interesting to find out what my voice sounds like coming from a completely different kind of person’s mouth. My friend Dan says that my work drives him crazy because I keep using asyndeton in all my poems. I never even realised I did it before, but now I’m very aware of it every time I do it, and it’s a habit I’m trying to break. I’m not sure yet what the next poetry phase will be - I’ve had a sonnet phase, a love poem phase, a fantastical creatures phase… But I’ve certainly become more interested in fiddly formal poetry lately, so maybe some villanelles and sestinas are on the cards. I like the idea of exploring weird situations and fantasies within tight formal constraints; it’s like strapping a unicorn into BMW and watching what happens.
How long have you been writing?
There were lots of cheesy and sentimental poems I wrote for my school magazine, and I wrote some abysmal songs for a band I was in when I was about 13. I only started writing poetry a bit more seriously when I read some of the poems written by the winners of the 2005 Foyle Young Poets of the Year competition. They were so original and different from anything I’d read before, and I was amazed by how honest they were. Then I started thinking that maybe I could work up the courage to make poems out of all the weird things that went on in my head too. So I gave it a go and entered the competition. I ended up being one of the fifteen winners, and the Arvon creative writing course run by Paul Farley and Kate Clanchy that was the prize was an amazing experience, and it made me write more and more. That was nearly two years ago, and I’ve been writing solidly since then. I owe a lot to the Poetry Society.
Do you have any publications to your name (apart from this one)? What’s the next stage for your work?
I’ve been published in magazines like Read This, Shit Creek Review, Magma, and Brittle Star, which are all run by lovely people and to which I’d encourage everyone to submit. Hopefully I should have a pamphlet coming out later this year, so I’m working on that at the moment. I also spend a lot of time going to readings (including loads of open mics) because you never know what you might hear or what sort of people you might meet. Hopefully the next stage is just to do more readings, keep improving, and meet more great people writing and publishing poetry.
What do you think is your biggest poetic achievement to date?
Setting up the Pomegranate ezine. It started out as just a “hey, wouldn’t it be cool if…” conversation with some poetically-minded friends, and it just grew and grew. I’m so proud of everything we’ve done with it.
What’s the best thing about writing poetry? And the worst?
The best thing is being able to create something small and whole and succinct. If writers were carpenters, novelists would spend years making big beautiful pieces of mahogany furniture, while poets would spent a week at a desk whittling a tiny, perfect little sculpture of a mouse. You could spent a day just carving its little whiskers. Okay, so that allegory falls apart very quickly if you think about it too much, but what I mean is, I love the detail you can get with a poem, and the art of saying something immensely complicated using just a few words and a careful structure. That’s one of the more obvious attractions of poetry I suppose, but it’s worth repeating.
The worst thing is that everyone thinks you’re a pretentious emo kid. Such is life.
Got any suggestions for young, upcoming poets?
Yes! Submit to Pomegranate! And to Read This, where the lovely Claire and her pals will give you great feedback [editor's note: this is not a paid endorsement!]. Read proper poetry – Wordsworth and Auden and Shakespeare and Eliot but also Luke Kennard, Paul Farley, Jean Sprackland, Frances Leviston, Inua Ellams, Ciaran Carson, Jen Hadfield… Everyone on the shortlists of the big poetry prizes. Read things you hate, work out why you hate it, and then make sure you don’t make the same mistakes. And don’t be afraid to party with the grownups – it can seem like Andrew Motion and crew run the show, but there are plenty of opportunities for upcoming poets if you look hard enough. Your poems are no good to anyone if they’re kept in a notebook under your pillow, so get them out into the light – show them to friends, go to open mics, and send them to magazines. And listen to advice – I showed one of the first poems I ever wrote to my friend Amy, and she told me most of it was rubbish. I was disappointed at the time, but she was spot on. It was horrendous. I ended up using one tiny phrase from that poem in something else I wrote later, and scrapping the rest. Did I mention submit your poems to Pomegranate?
Who/what influences your poetry?
I’m actually really influenced by songwriters. Owen Pallett, Colin Meloy, and Joanna Newsom have influenced me a lot. I have some lyrics from Newsom’s song “Emily” taped up above my desk: “I dreamed you were skipping little stones across the surface of the water, / Frowning at the angle where they were lost, and slipped under forever / In a mud-cloud, mica-spangled, like the sky’d been breathing on a mirror.” I wish I could write like that.
Music and art are big influences – I love to write poems about people in paintings and who they might be. Or sometimes a phrase of music will stick in my head and I’ll want to turn it into words. Something else that sparks my writing is finding out about stories and characters from history, or just from family legends – people with unusual lives. For example, I wrote a poem about Chung Ling Soo, the magician who was killed when his bullet catch trick went wrong on stage, and the Chinese persona he had assumed all his life was revealed to be a fake when he cried for help in English. Stories like that are just crying out to be told as poems, and they can also serve as useful vehicles for exploring an idea that at first seems difficult to tackle.
As for actual poets who influence my writing, at the moment it has to be Norman MacCaig, Charles Simic, Paul Farley, Luke Kennard, as well as all the medieval and Renaissance poets I’ve been studying at university.
The young poets I work with on Pomegranate influence me a great deal too. Everyone on the team takes turns to workshop each others’ poems, and we write each other anonymous poems as Christmas and Halloween presents. It’s geeky but it really gets the creative juices flowing; I think being part of a poetry circle improves the work of everyone in it. It worked for the Romantics…
I have learned to hold a star on a post.
I can spin one end of an axis,
control a magnetic north of a creature
as slow and hot as a nebula,
create and shape cages for tiny suns.
And when I comb the sands for scallop shells
I find one mist-green stone licked soft
by rocks and storms. Maybe one
of mine, a shattered spirit bottle
beaten out of sharpness, lost its clarity.
I sense we’re both a long-rung note that wanted bells
and vespers, to sleep in arches and to stain
a monastery floor with weightless day,
forever holding up our faces to the light.
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