Q. Why is some of your work published as Marion Lomax?
A. That was my married name and the name I used to publish my first books. When I needed to change my name, following a divorce, I changed my publishing name too. Please read, ‘Signing Off’ in New Wings; it explains how I came to make the decision.
Q. What advice would you give young poets, just starting out?
A. Read as much contemporary poetry as you can. (If you are near London or Edinburgh, visit the Poetry Libraries there.) See what poetry magazines are publishing. Work out which ones are closest to your style and which are the most prestigious and, therefore, most likely to help further your reputation. The Saison Poetry Library has a website where you can start to check this out – http://www.poetrymagazines.org.uk. Go along to hear poets read their own work – many places have an open-mic and may invite you to read too. There are also poetry web-zines like: http://www.thelakepoetry.co.uk, which invite submissions. Become involved with the Poetry Society, which has many wonderful opportunities for young poets – look up the Foyle Young Poets Of the Year. Consider going on an Arvon or Ty Newydd writing course (www.arvonfoundation.org and http://www.tynewydd.org). When you have had several poems accepted in reputable magazines, may have had a pamphlet of your poetry published, and may even have won prizes in poetry competitions, before you send your work to a publisher, read Neil Astley’s advice for poets considering submitting work – it’s on the Bloodaxe Books website and will point you in the right direction. If you were born in the UK and are under 30 years old, check out the E.C.Gregory Awards (Society of Authors) to see if you are eligible. It’s not easy these days but wonderful new poets do still manage to come through – with a lot of hard work. Good luck!
Q. What makes a poem come alive for you?
A. Strong feeling that is convincing, surprising use of language and ideas, memorable detail – and it must read well. Most of all, the rhythms need to work. Poems don’t always rhyme but, for me, good ones always have music in them through sound patterns and rhythms.
Q. What about form?
A. Often, I write syllabically – lines have certain numbers of syllables, sometimes in a pattern. I don’t always set out to do this but, once I have a draft, I can see if the rhythms are working in a particular way. It can happen naturally because of speech patterns. Sometimes it ties in with the poem’s subject very well. When I wrote ‘The Forked Tree’, in which a woman survives by defying superstition, each line had thirteen syllables.
Form rarely comes first for me but, once I’m drafting out an idea, I’ll try to find the most appropriate form for it – whether that’s free-verse, a sonnet, a pantoum, or whatever. There are also specific syllabic forms, such as the lune.
Form is important but seems to work best if a reader doesn’t notice it until later. Dylan Thomas’s ‘Do Not Go Gentle Into That Goodnight’ is my favourite villanelle – but how many people are aware of its form when they first read it? I think that’s because the form and subject are so well matched. There are only two rhymes in a villanelle, so it’s a very tight form, based on the repetition of two strong lines that come together, finally, as a powerful rhyming couplet. The tight rhyming structure seems to be straining to hold in the son’s emotion and the repetition emphasises his insistence that his father should fight against death. The form is part of the reason this poem is so moving.