Helen Mort

Someone says ‘you should write a poem about that’. What do you do / say?
“No. You should write that poem.”

What do you think poetry’s relationship to politics should be?
Like body language between two people who are magnetically attracted to one another – evident, urgent, pervading everything they do without anyone really having to spell out what’s going on.

Has a poem ever changed your life?
Poems change my life every day, in subtle and incremental ways. And I think my life changes how I respond to poems too – you can return to a piece after years and find your experience of it transformed. The first poem I remember that really stopped me in my tracks was a poem called ‘Freefall’ by Andrew Greig from his collection Into You. It gave me goosebumps. From that moment, I knew I wanted to write poems that had something of the same undercurrent. I’ve spent the last decade failing to do so!

Tell us something about your writing process / the process of writing a particular one of your poems.
I write best when I’m away from a desk, usually when I’m moving. I don’t know if that’s the reason my poems often feature movement, particularly people moving through landscapes.

Do you have any bad poetry habits?
Carrying the skeleton of a poem round with me for months, rattling it constantly inside my skull but avoiding the moment when I put pen to paper, the moment when it becomes something I can break.

If you could bring a dead poet back to life and ask them one question, who would it be and what would you ask them?
I’d bring back Ken Smith and ask him if he would have a pint with me. I wouldn’t ask him anything about his work, not even my favourite poem ‘Fox Running’, because I don’t think it’s always helpful to interrogate the poet about their poems. The writing should speak directly to the reader as much as possible. And besides, poets don’t often know what’s really going on in their work any more than we do!

You write a poem that you’re really pleased with but it will offend someone you know: what do you do
Publish and be damned.

Tell us something about putting together your most recent collection, or what you’re working on now.
My latest collection No Map Could Show Them explores women in wild landscapes, focusing on the adventures of pioneering female climbers. I’ve been climbing and fell running for years but I’d always resisted writing about it because I didn’t think my own experiences were interesting or daring enough. Focusing on other people’s stories was liberating. Since I published No Map… I’ve mainly been writing prose – I have a collection of short stories coming out fairly soon.

Helen Mort reads as part of the Hive South Yorkshire event at Grimm & Co, 2 Doncaster Gate, Rotherham, S65 1DJ on Monday 22 May, and also leads a workshop for young writers at Grimm & Co on the same day. Click here for details of the workshop, and here for details of the reading. Read Helen Mort’s poem ‘Rachel in Attercliffe’ here.