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Helen Mort
Interview Date: Tue 8 Feb 2011
Helen was born in Sheffield and grew up in nearby Chesterfield, and is regarded by the poetry world as a young poet to watch. She has published two short collections with tall-lighthouse press, the most recent, a pint for the ghost, a Poetry Book Society Pamphlet Choice. A previous winner of the Foyle Young Poets competition, she received an Eric Gregory Award in 2007 and won the Manchester Young Writer prize in 2008.

She has performed her work at Latitude, the Ledbury Festival and StAnza, and has written a live literature show (also called a pint for the ghost) which will debut at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2010. Her first play Careless Torque was performed in Camden in 2009. As well as a writer, she's a keen fell runner and climber despite living in Cambridge for the past three years where she helped run CB1 Poetry.

Source: The Wordsworth Trust

Your Questions Answered:

Since winning the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award on five occasions, you've gone on to enjoy a number of publications and a residency at Dove Cottage. How important was the Foyle Award for you?
Question By: Wes Brown
The Foyle Prize was a real springboard for me. Possibly in the style of an inept diver finding themselves improbably high above the swimming pool, where an expectant crowd waits to see them (finally) belly-flop into the deep end....well, time will tell, eh? I’d always loved writing, ever since I could put pen to paper, but winning the Foyle Prize was a real boost because it was the first time I realised I might have a potential audience for my words. In some ways, everything else that has happened since stemmed from that recognition. Tall-lighthouse approached me as a previous Foyle winner, for one thing.
 
I think it’s important to mention that it isn’t just winning the Foyle Award that benefits young writers, it’s the Arvon courses you get to go on as your prize. I was lucky enough to attend a few over the years, and working with poets like Philip Gross, Mario Petrucci, Jean Sprackland, Amanda Dalton and others really pushed me to take the idea of being a writer seriously and, more importantly, start reading widely: a habit I’ve kept up for so long that it no longer feels like habit. Then, of course, there are the other young poets you meet, that feeling of being part of a community.
 

 
Has the internet been good for poetry? Will poetry lose anything going digital?
Question By: Wes Brown
I think it’s hard to say whether any kind of technology is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ whilst we’re still in the grip of it. Ask me in 200 years time, when I’m in a glass case somewhere, preserved by Lagavulin and bloody-mindedness. It’s probably bad for poets, being the procrastinators we are. It never fails to amaze me how much of the day I can waste in front of a screen.
 
I’m a big fan of on-line magazines and the diverse range of work they publish – ‘Blackbox Manifold’ is a great e-zine run from Sheffield which gave me the only opportunity I’ll ever have to appear in the same issue of something as Paul Muldoon! Anything that makes poetry accessible to a wider audience is good in my book  (or in my Kindle, or iPad if we’re going to get fancy). I do tend to think that the speed with which we can disseminate things on the internet can encourage us to be a bit too hasty and post things up too quickly. It’s possible that, because there’s less censorship on the internet, we get a lot more bad poetry as well as good. But if people are reading more widely as a result, that’s great.
 
I doubt that poetry will ever go entirely digital – a lot of poets are still luddites at heart and besides, there’s something very beautiful about a book or magazine. But ultimately, if a poem is ‘a little machine for remembering itself’ as Don Paterson says, poetry exists largely in our memories anyway as is intended to be carried in our heads, entirely possessed. The mediums we used to introduce it to the world in the first place are therefore less important. What matters is the words and their effect.
 
That definitely does sound strenuous! There's an idea that writing's metabolic. I know of writers who have to move before they can write. It maintains them physically as well as psychologically. What are you hoping to do with your poetry over the next few years? What does your work at Dove Cottage involve?
Question By: Wes Brown
I’m not sure it’s so much a case of what I’m hoping to do with my poetry as what poetry intends to do with me! I don’t think we’re ever fully in charge of our own work as writers, but perhaps that’s just an abdication of responsibility. If I had my way, I’d love to finish and publish my first full collection in the next couple of years (I’ve published several pamphlets with tall-lighthouse press), but you can’t rush poems – it’s worse than herding cats. I’d also like to continue to perform my work as widely as possible: appearing at Latitude festival in 2009 and 2010 was a real highlight for me and I’d love to do Glastonbury as well. At the Wordsworth Trust, my jobs vary from running a mentoring scheme for local Cumbrian poets to giving regular workshops and readings. I’m also given a great deal of time to work on my own writing which is a fantastic privilege. Since I arrived in July, I’ve written a stage play, drafted a long sequence of poems about the Miners Strike (centring around the Battle of Orgreave in 1984) and written most of a new pamphlet, ‘Lie of the Land’ which I’ll be publishing during my time here. The poems are all to do with mapping landscape in various ways – what it means to represent or recreate a place you know well. The luxury of time to spend on reading, re-drafting and writing has been incredible.
What's the best bit of advice you never received?
Question By: Wes Brown
Er... ‘Beer before writing: mildly exciting. Writing before beer: somewhat more clear.’ Never try and dash off a poem after you’ve had a few. You’ll think it’s the best thing since ‘The Waste Land’, then wake up in the morning to some cursive diatribe about the soap industry or men with moustaches. Having said that, I’d quite like to read a poem that seamlessly compares the two.
 
Michael Longley has said "If he knew where poems came from, [he'd] go there". Where do you think poems come from? Have you developed any tricks to get words on the page?
Question By: Wes Brown
Michael's far braver than me. If I knew where poems came from, I’d probably run a mile. As it happens, running is often key to my writing process. I tend to carry ideas for poems around in my head for weeks, months even, waiting for something to click into place. Usually, I’m waiting for one idea to connect with another in a surprising way. In a sense, I’m waiting to be surprised by my own thoughts. Often, I find things click when I’m out on a long walk with the dog or running up a hill. There’s something about the action of running that suits the rhythm of poetry. I go out for a training run, a line sometimes occurs to me and I write the poem in my head as I jog, revising as I go. By the time I get home, the more effective lines in the piece tend to have stayed with me and the crap ones are more difficult to recall. It’s a slow process of wearing-down. But that’s a rather strenuous way of writing, I suppose. I wish having a cup of tea acted as the same trigger...