How did poetry first appear in your life?
I started to walk down the street one night when I heard a voice saying: “Good evening, Miss Williams”. I turned, and there was Poetry leaning against a lamppost. And, naturally, I went over to chat with it. Or did I? No, I’m sorry. That’s how James Stewart first meets the invisible giant white rabbit in the 1950 film Harvey. Poetry actually first appeared in my life in a puff of smoke, conjured by Angela Lansbury against all the odds, to the great bemusement of three cockney evacuees and a scraggly cat. No, wait, I’m sorry again. That was Bedknobs & Broomsticks. I think poetry first came to me in the Italian nursery rhymes my (Italian) mother used to read to me. Yes. That must be it. That sounds plausible.
Someone says ‘you should write a poem about that’. What do you do / say?
I smile and nod and mentally run a line through that person’s name for the next five to ten minutes.
What do you think poetry’s relationship to politics should be?
Politics? Right now? Uh – it’s like running from a giant bear who is trying to devour us all? <insert maniacal laughter that descends into weeping> I think poetry should not ignore the relationship between itself and the world, and this includes the massive intolerable imbalances of the world we find ourselves in, which are caused by and whose laws are governed by real flesh-and-blood men and women. But addressing those imbalances in writing aren’t always best served by thinking of a simple monogamous relationship with what, say, the BBC News channel might describe as “politics”. It’s bigger, and messier, and there are many ways of being political that involving focusing in intensely on the personal. Sometimes you also need to look away for a moment, take a breath, get some perspective. Poems can do that too. Poetry is great and we need poets who are engaged. We also need to know when to step away from the desk and do, as well as write, something.
Has a poem ever changed your life?
Yes. All the time. Usually for the better.
Tell us something about your writing process?
The writing process for me is simple in the same way that “cooking” is a simple process. Technically, you’re turning something raw into something delicious and/or nourishing. But the number of different recipes and experimental approaches to how you cook something are endless. Take something raw and just cut it up neatly – bam, a poem. Take something raw and marinade it in eleven different spices, then bake for six hours, then slice, then use in a new pan with other ingredients until you have something rich and tender and exciting, then arrange on the plate in an intriguing way – bam, another poem. You get the idea. Try everything.
If your favourite poem was a meal, what would it be?
Oh dear. I think I’ve answered this question above already. Maybe nachos? I love nachos. What would TS Eliot’s guacamole taste like, I wonder? What would Kei Miller’s? What would Kathryn Maris’s?
Tell us something about putting together your most recent collection.
My first full collection BEAR is out very soon from Bloodaxe. I feel like first collections are somehow (or can be) a calling card, like smacking a book down on the table and saying “Hey! Here’s what I can do! Let’s go!” And the work has to be good enough to sustain the longer page count, so it’s a little step up from what might go in a pamphlet. The challenge in putting together this collection was trying to make sure that all these poems, written over six years, feel like they belong together in a single volume. I think the sense of playfulness unites them, and I’ve arranged the poems in short sections punctuated by different scene-setting epigraphs (e.g. Rilke, Hesse, Shatner), so they’re all in manageable little bites. Bites. Food. Okay that’s it from me. I’m off for some nachos.
Chrissy Williams reads with Ian Duhig, Roy McFarlane and Zena Edwards at The Civic, Barnsley, on Wednesday 24 May. Click here for further information about the event; you can book tickets through the Civic box office here. Click here to read a poem from Chrissy Williams’s collection BEAR.