Poetry is like a third lung

For my final interview for Mslexia I chatted to award winning poet Bev Rycroft.

Bev published her first collection (missing) in 2010, the same year that I published my collection These are the lies I told you. The central theme of Bev’s collection is breast cancer: discovering she has breast cancer and going through treatment and recovery. The central theme of my collection is romantic relationships. I was interested in finding out how Bev was moving from her first collection to putting together a second collection, something that I am grappling with.

Do you think there is a danger of being labelled as the poet who writes about breast cancer?

I didn’t think about it before – but that topic sold the book. So when I think about a second collection I can’t over calculate the number of books I might sell based on the sales of my first collection.

The success of my first collection brought a specific audience to poetry – people who are interested in breast cancer. I am hoping that this group will recognise my name and be beguiled enough to buy the book – to read it for poetry’s sake.

Have you been gathering poems for a second collection?

I have been writing poems – many of them still on the death theme. And many of them about my father. The poems are dark, and when I bring them together in a narrative and a collection I know I need to offset them with lighter poems.

Have your family read your poems?

Yes they have read some. I sent my younger brother a poem called Arrivals. He is a headmaster and he, was in the middle of a meeting when he received the poem. He wanted to stop the meeting so that he could read it out to his staff. This is the kind of response  I value more than prizes.

Putting these poems into a collection is a concern, as my father was a volatile and eccentric man. My worry is that when someone reads them they get a one -sided picture. Of course poems are written from strong emotion – he could be seen as a tyrant, but I want people to hear both sides of the story.

It has been difficult to reminisce about my father and my childhood, no, not difficult, a life line really. Poetry is the only place I can put the emotions, where I can wring out the words.

What does poetry mean to you?

Poetry is like a third lung. I breathe from it when I feel life overwhelming me.

I write straight from the  heart and then go back and edit my poems meticulously. Actually: obsessively.  Sometimes I ask a collegue to comment before reworking.

If one person at a reading gets my poetry and is completely swimming in my words then I feel as if I have achieved something.

I like to re-read the poetry that I have written from dark places, poems that are wrought out of the agony. Re-reading reminds me that when I am down there I am digging for diamonds.

The full Mslexia interview can be found at www.mslexia.co.uk/blog