Katharine Towers

How did poetry first appear in your life?
I was at primary school. I wrote a little flurry of poems – one memorably called ‘The Only One’ about being miserable with measles. I didn’t read poetry at that stage as I was addicted to Enid Blyton. I didn’t write any more for about 30 years.

When I was sixteen my parents bought me a John Clare anthology as a congratulations present after my O Levels. It was a beautiful book with woodcut illustrations. I still love Clare and I still have the book.

Someone says ‘you should write a poem about that’. What do you do / say?
People do often say it – and I’m afraid it’s always a case of smiling politely.

What do you think poetry’s relationship to politics should be?
Very oblique.

Tell us something about your writing process / the process of writing a particular one of your poems.
First there’s the vague idea, like a far-off hum. Then I have to tilt my brain so that language stops being the ordinary instrument that we use every day. (This slightly reminds me of looking at those picture books where you have to re-set your eyes to see the images in 3-D.) Once language has started to feel strange and difficult in my head I can put some words or lines down on a piece of paper. Very few, very slowly. Then cross them all out and start a new page. And so it creeps forward little by little. Grandmother’s footsteps because if I look directly at the poem it will run away in terror.

Do you have any bad poetry habits?
I have a bad habit of thinking that when I’ve just written a poem I’m relieved of the obligation to write another one. I too easily forget how much I love sitting quietly with a pen and paper.

What is your favoured form of writing avoidance?
Going for a long walk on my own so I can ‘think about writing a poem.’

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?
Elizabeth Bishop. I would ask her about her statement that a poem is not a thought ‘but a mind thinking.’   How can a poem be both unsettled and composed?

Tell us something about putting together your most recent collection, or what you’re working on now.
I’m terribly superstitious (cf bad poetry habits?) and so am always afraid that poems will fly away if I speak about them. They’re such flimsy little things until they’re made.

Katharine Towers reads with William Letford and Ruby Robinson at Upper Chapel, Norfolk St, Sheffield, S1 2JD on Thursday 25 May. Click here for further details.