FORWARD ARTS FOUNDATION IN CONVERSATION WITH EMILY BERRY

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

EMILY BERRY: I’ve been writing since I was a child. Both my parents were writers of different kinds and I was an only child, so sitting quietly in a room and writing things down probably seemed like the thing you were supposed to do. At some point I was given a typewriter and I used that, which made me and my writing feel very important.

FAF: Please talk about your development as a writer of poetry. When did you first feel like a poet?

EB: When I was younger I don’t think I saw much distinction between different forms of writing – I wrote in all the forms and they just felt like part of the same thing. At some point in my twenties I started to focus exclusively on poetry, I’m not sure why. I preferred to handle a smaller, more intense thing.

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?

EB: Stranger, Baby is a meditation on loss. Meditation is something that happens when you sit very still and focus on something that is barely there, and try to observe what arises. Sometimes what arises is not at all peaceful. The book comes from that place.

It’s about the long shadow cast by the loss of a mother in childhood – my own loss – but it’s also in conversation with other writers and scholars who’ve written about loss and grief, such as Virginia Woolf and Freud. I was reading a lot on this subject when I was writing the poems and because I could not always find ways of naming my experience I had to borrow things from elsewhere. There are a lot of other people’s words in the book alongside my own. So it’s lonely but it’s also companionable.

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

EB: All I can think of is Tom Pickard’s poem ‘ADVICE TO YOUNG POETS: moisturise’. But young people seem to have very impressive skincare regimes these days so this advice may be redundant.