FORWARD ARTS FOUNDATION: When did you start writing poetry and what drew you into it?
PHOEBE POWER: I’ve written for pleasure since I was a young child, and started to become more interested in poetry when I was a teenager. There were a few turning points: a teacher found me a copy of a magazine, Young Writer (which I don’t believe exists in the same form any more). This was the first time I read poems by other people my age, which was a revelation. Later, the poems I read in the Foyle Young Poets of the Year anthologies had the same impact. I used to think these poems were definitely better than poems written by older writers (perhaps they are!).
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.
PP: For me, thinking of myself as a ‘poet’ is less important than as a ‘writer’, artist or creative person more generally who works with language. I’ve been trying to do that for as long as I can remember. Then I was lucky to be exposed to poetry and contemporary poets from a relatively young age, at school and particularly through attending a course run for GCSE student poets by Poetry Live! in 2009 and a similar one linked to Foyle Young Poets.
FAF: What does being shortlisted for the Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection mean for you?
PP: Delighted! Chuffed! Amazed! You can never be sure how readers will engage with your work when you write it — readers are all different — so knowing that some people have connected with it is truly a joy.
FAF: Please tell us about the creation of your shortlisted collection, from first words to final book. Which poems in the collection are most important to you?
PP: When I wrote the narrative sequence ‘Austrian Murder Case’, that was the start of an extended exploration of the culture and environment of Austria, where I was living at the time. I became absorbed in the process of juxtaposing different kinds of related fragments — image, story and voice — which is how the project grew into a body of interconnected pieces.
FAF: Which poets do you admire most and what do you value in their work?
PP: There are lots and lots. I’m not sure the originality of form in the peculiar structures of Marianne Moore’s early work has been rivalled yet. Gerard Manley Hopkins is hard to beat in terms of managing sound patterns. For imagery, the early modernist French poets are among my favourites. I also could not live without the innovations of many contemporary writers, and visual art is another important resource. The life and work of the artist Laurie Anderson has been especially important to me over the last two years. Her humour, experiments across forms and general creative outlook are endlessly inspiring.
FAF: What advice would you give to anyone starting out in poetry today?
PP: Read a lot, read what you feel like reading, read non-fiction and fiction as well as poetry. If you are around the age of twenty and a woman poet (and if you are not!), read Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Aurora Leigh. Follow hunches, make notes, realise ideas. Learn, ask questions, make mistakes. Don’t expect perfection; enjoy the process. William Blake: “no bird soars too high, if he soars with his own wings”.