FORWARD ARTS FOUNDATION IN CONVERSATION WITH ALICE OSWALD

FORWARD ARTS FOUNDATION: When did you start writing poetry and what drew you into it?

ALICE OSWALD: I started writing when I was 8 and it was sleeplessness that inspired me. After staring at the window for a whole night I was astonished by the clouds at dawn and realised they required a different kind of language.

FAF: Please talk about your development as a writer of poetry. Tell us when you first felt you were a poet and how it went from there.

AO: I concentrated on rhyme and metre until I was twenty-three, when I began to want poems to proceed by photosynthesis. I was working as a gardener and I thought it might be possible just to expose the mind to the light and observe what rhythms grew out of it. Since then I’ve been devoted to creating the right conditions for poems to proliferate of their own accord.

FAF: What does being shortlisted for the Forward Prizes mean for you?

AO: I’m very grateful for being on the shortlist – it’s like having the telephone answered.

FAF: Please tell us something about the creation of your shortlisted collection, from first words to final book. Does it mark a departure or change from your earlier work? Which poems in this collection are most important to you?

AO: Falling Awake contains some of the short poems I’ve written over the last ten years. Previous collections have focussed on the characters of living things, this one is more interested in duration and it aims to speak relentlessly, anonymously, almost inadvertently, (as insects do) without using the mouth. A couple of its poems (Shadow and Vertigo) come from the least personal of my voices, so they are still intriguing to me.

FAF: Which poets do you admire most and what do you value in their work?

AO: I admire the Homeric poems because they aren’t literary.

FAF: What is next for you as a poet?

AO: I’m afraid I’m too superstitious to talk about what’s next.

FAF: What advice would you give to anyone starting out in poetry today?

AO: I think the real task is to decide to be a poet and make sure your very bones know about the decision. The discipline proceeds from the decision and is different for each person, but for the type of poems I’m after, I recommend practical work – e.g. gardening.