FORWARD PRIZES: When did you start writing poetry and what drew you into it?
CLARE POLLARD: I’ve been writing poetry since I was in sixth form, when I began for the usual teenage reasons: unrequited love, and discovering Sylvia Plath on my A-Level course. I’ve wanted to be a writer since I can remember, but poetry is the genre that comes most easily to me – I write best at the level of the line.
FP: Please talk about your development as a writer of poems. Tell us when you first felt you were a poet and how it went from there.
CP: My editor Neil Astley spotted my poem ‘The Heavy-Petting Zoo’ in The Rialto and asked me to submit a manuscript, and my first book came out when I was at university. I had no idea how lucky that was! So, I’ve been a poet all my adult life. But I hope my poetry has changed a lot since then. I’m a very restless writer, I like to keep trying new things. I keep in mind the sign over Anne Sexton’s desk: ‘Whatever you do, don’t be boring.’
FP: What does being shortlisted for the Forward Prizes mean for you?
CP: Well, even though I’ve been a poet for 25 years I’ve never actually been shortlisted for anything before!!! It had got to the point where a lot of people just assumed that I had and I quietly let them! I sort of gave up on prizes a long time ago, and stopped even considering I might be shortlisted. So, I’m completely shocked by this nomination. I hope to represent all the people playing the long game, and just quietly doing the work. And I’m so pleased it’s for a poem in Bad Lilies, Kathryn Gray and Andrew Neilson’s brilliant new magazine. They’re both superb poets who have been quietly doing the work for a long time too!
FP: Please tell us about the genesis of your shortlisted poem. Is it part of a collection or sequence? Where can a reader find more by you?
CP: I’ve always written about now. When the pandemic hit, I found myself thinking about how we might write about it – I edited an issue of Modern Poetry in Translation on the theme, and have written a lockdown novel, Delphi (coming out in July with Fig Tree), and taught some workshops about how we might approach the material. So, it was inevitable I’d write a poem of my own. I was just waiting for the right metaphor and one day when my hay fever was particularly bad it came to (at) me…
If readers would like to read more of my poems there is no shortage of Clare Pollard collections! Bloodaxe have published five of my books now.
FP: Which poets do you admire most and what do you value in their work?
CP: Too many to mention, really. John Donne was my first passion, and Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton had the biggest influence on me, when I was forming as a poet. So, I love the really brilliant image-makers.
Ovid, obviously, for the dramatic monologues. Frank O’Hara is my favourite love poet. Adrienne Rich was a huge influence on my last book, Incarnation, as a writer who is both intimate and very political. As are Gwendolyn Brooks and Wanda Coleman, both poets I’ve been going back to a lot.
Of our contemporaries: Anne Carson, Maria Stepanova, Carolyn Forché, Kim Hyesoon, Marie Howe, Ilya Kaminsky, Natalie Diaz.
FP: What is next for you as a poet?
CP: I have no idea.
FP: What advice would you give to anyone starting out in poetry today?
CP: Only write the poems you have to write. Submit to Bad Lilies.