Helen Clare Interview
Posted on 04 January 2005. © Copyright 2004-2024 WriteWords
WriteWords talks to poet Helen Clare, whose work was featured in Faber’s First Pressings anthology in 1998, which heralded a new generation of British poets. Her poems have since won a number of national prizes and commendations, including First Prize in the London Writers Competition 2002, First Prize in the Yorkshire Open 1999, a Joint Winner in the Lancaster Litfest Competition and Runner Up in the Daily Telegraphy/Arvon Competition 2000. Her poems have also appeared in numerous magazines including Rialto, North, Ambit, Smoke, Brando’s Hat, Manhattan Review, and Nth Position (website).
Having graduated from Lancaster University's Creative Writing Programme with distinction, she now teaches Creative Writing for their Department of Continuing Education and is a freelance consultant in creativity and science education.
Tell us something about your background.
I’m principally a poet, though I occasional write erotic short stories for fun and publication. I recently published my first collection of poetry –
Mollusc with Comma Press. I’m currently working on creating a CD ROM of a series of children’s poems about insects and on writing an opera with a composer friend.
How did you start writing?
I was the last child in my class to learn how to write, even though I could read as I found the physical co-ordination difficult. By the time I’d got that, I think at about 6, the urge to write stories and poems was already there. I still have my first poetry book “Poems to Remember” which my aunt bought for me at around that time. It presented me with a world I could understand and operate in, and even though I’m a lot better at the “real” world these days I’m still glad of having that retreat.
Who are your favourite writers and why?
I enjoy the work of many poets who I think of as being of my generation – Roddy Lumsden, Lavinia Greenlaw, Neil Rollinson, and Kate Clanchy for example. I am also a fan of Sharon Olds –she is unflinching – a quality I greatly admire. I also love the poetry of Edward Thomas, but usually end up crying as I think of his life and death – his loss always seems strangely present.
How did you get your first agent/ commission/ publisher
Pure luck. The one time I was cheeky enough to ask straight out I’d happened on someone that really admired my work. That’s the short answer of course. The long one is about putting yourself out there, building a reputation at the same time as learning your craft, but I think everyone has probably heard all that before.
What's the worst thing about writing?
It tends to be a solitary activity.
And the best?
The joy of making. Particularly as emotional difficulties drive many of my creative impulses. I’ll avoid the oyster metaphors, but the idea of being able to fashion something beautiful out of something painful is frankly gobsmacking to me. And language of course – its beauty and its music – its opportunities as well as its limitations.
Tell us what kind of responses you get from audiences\ readers.
I love reading to audiences. I love the feeling when something really resonates with the audience – I find it nourishing – and I hope that it’s the same for them. On occasions I have felt something unexpected in response to a poem that has made me read my own work anew.
What was your breakthrough moment?
I can’t think of just one. I seem to spend my life fretting at it and unexpectedly breaking through. The creative act seems to be a succession of choices – tiny and cumulative – some of them conscious and some of them intuitive, invisible. Any one of them can hold you back or impel you forward.
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