Featured Poet Mandy Maxwell Interviewed
Tell us about your poems.
My poems are extremely varied in style and content at the moment as I am, in the words of my tutors at Newcastle University, finding my voice.
I’ve written about a wee girl peeing herself in class, (which I do admit is autobiographical), about Michelangelo becoming so fed up with painting the Sistine Chapel (which took him four years) that he decides to call up Pope Julius II to ‘pull a sickie’.
I’ve written about having a crush on a high school teacher, being unable to seduce her, and having her daughter instead and more recently I’ve been putting pieces together about Glasgow – perhaps because I’m in the Newcastle area just now and missing home. Possibly also because I am finding my one, identifiable voice and writing about home comes naturally to me.
I’ve also recently been looking at traditional forms of poetry such as the villanelle, the sestina (or the dreaded sestina as I’ve come to know it) and the sonnet. There’s more to form, I discovered, than the very strict, purist sense and I’ve been trying to develop my work into a more accessible take on the traditional forms. So far I’ve had some success with this. Finally I’d say my poetic philosophy is an adopted philosophy from the poet Colette Bryce, who told me recently that, when it comes to writing poetry, I should simply follow my nose.
How long have you been writing?
I haven’t been writing for so long. I started my first Professional Writing course in Glasgow in 2005 at the GCNS – Glasgow College of Nautical Studies. I completed a one-year course, which I’d totally recommend for anyone starting out, as it gives new writers the chance to read their own work to audiences around Glasgow alongside poets such as Des Dillon, Tom Leonard, Bernard McLaverty, Magi Gibson… and it opens doors for new writers.
I had some success following the course, I was published in the SQA anthology Write Times, I read my work in lots of venues around Glasgow and most importantly, I think, my confidence as a writer grew.
Do you have any publications to your name? What’s the next stage for your work?
My work has appeared in The Glasgow Review online, Mslexia Magazine, in the SQA Write Times anthology and Northern Lines.
In March I will be featured in Diamond Twig for poem of the month. I have work soon to appear in The Black Light Engine Room and Eleutheria.
I’ve also read my work on several community radio stations, including Leith FM which is loads of fun and I’d really recommend it if you get the chance.
I’m currently completing my MA in Creative Writing at Newcastle University and working on my final folio of 40-50 poems, which I hope will form the majority of my first collection.
I have the first few sparkles of a PhD research proposal dancing around somewhere too.
What do you think is your biggest poetic achievement to date?
OK, my biggest poetic achievement to date may be that occasionally in Newcastle, where I read my work a fair bit, people will come up to me on the street, or once in a supermarket, and say –- oh, you’re that poet from the other night, you were really good etc, and it’s really lovely. Sometimes they even remember what I’ve read and that’s even better!
Second biggest achievement to date –- earning a whopping two-figure sum for some poetry related work I did recently. It’s the high-life!
What’s the best thing about writing poetry? And the worst?
The best thing about writing poetry is that it takes you somewhere you can’t quite explain, but you just know you never want to come back from. The worst thing about writing poetry is having to come back.
Ok, so that was the poet’s answer. The real answer is I just enjoy it, it’s not forced, it’s not a labour (well not always) and when it works it feels amazing.
The worst thing about writing poetry – the pay!
Got any suggestions for young, upcoming poets?
There are so many routes a young, upcoming poet could take. I’d recommend finding a really good, honest and supportive peer group. Its one thing to scribble away in your own bedroom, looking for the odd comment from family or friends, but it’s an invaluable component of a writer’s life to find peers who are willing to comment constructively and give informed opinions on work.
I seriously think that’s the only way a writer can develop, by putting his/her work out there to a group and accepting the feedback, good or bad. It might be within a university setting because there are so many excellent Creative Writing courses around the UK and it’s an excellent way to meet the right sort of people, or it might be in a writing group. Either way, finding like-minded people and working with them is essential.
I’d also suggest reading contemporary poetry and loads of it. A new writer has to know what’s out there, what’s being published, what works for people. I’m not suggesting a poet should write for an audience or should write what’s in trend, but what new writers will find when sending work off as submissions to lit mags and anthologies etc, is that they are advised to read the work previously published before submitting.
To write good poetry I think you must be able to read poetry – plus its fun.
Who/what influences your poetry?
Influences on my own work are contemporary poets such as Carol-Ann Duffy, Jackie Kay, Colette Bryce, W.N.Herbert, Sean O’Brien, Ruth Padel, Roger McGough… the list would go on!
Living by the sea in Tynemouth, where I am now, is inspirational. My current course at Newcastle Uni is inspiring and challenges me in ways I wouldn’t have considered on my own. My classmates constantly inspire me and I’m always influenced by the amount of talent I come across in the most unexpected places. Of course, like any writer, I’m inspired by the everyday: signs in shop windows, conversations over-heard on public transport, graffiti and occasionally the contestants on X Factor.
Michelangelo Pulls a Sickie
Last night I dreamt of Coliseums and conquests,
gladiators in half dress, spreading over
clear blue canvas. Of air conditioning,
dining al fresco, and cabriolets driving
along Roman roads. I woke this morning
with a crick in my neck, gazing at the ceiling,
paint peeling grey from white
like old angels wings in half flight.
I dreamt of Adam in the night. Bushed by Eve
and her appetite, he had sickened of pie
and apple wine, he said gardening was over-rated.
I think I’ll stay at home today, call Julius
with a stomach ache, to fix this house
perhaps I’ll decorate.
Want to see your poems featured here? Drop me a line to firstname.lastname@example.org!