FORWARD PRIZES: When did you start writing poetry and what drew you into it?
HOLLY HOPKINS: I started writing in secondary school. I was lucky to have an amazing teacher who ran a creative writing club. As to what drew me to it, I’m not sure. A chance to indulge my teenage angst? The game-play of image making? The tactile chewiness of words?
FP: 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.
HH: Writing poetry has been important to me for a long time, but I would often say, ‘I write poetry,’ instead of ‘I’m a poet.’ Calling myself a poet felt fraudulent, perhaps because even at my most productive I’ve spent a comparatively small proportion of my waking hours writing new poems. Meanwhile, editing devours time almost unnoticed – especially when I’m supposed to be doing something else – so often I have no sense of how long I’ve spent working on something.
I learned by doing, by reading and by trying to be honest with myself about what is and isn’t working. I also owe a debt to the many other poets I’ve learned from in workshops and writing groups. Some of this was in a university setting, but more often it’s been in independent workshops or with friends. Poetry is often described as if it’s a solitary artform but it’s an intensely social activity: you need a reader or a listener.
FP: What does being shortlisted for the Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection mean for you?
HH: It’s incredible. My editor phoned me with the news and I didn’t know what to say. It still hasn’t 100% sunk in! So many of my poetry heroes are Forward alumni. The English Summer hasn’t been published yet and I’ve been nervous about how it will be received or if anyone will read it at all. The Best First Collection shortlisting is huge.
FP: Please tell us about the creation of your shortlisted collection, from first words to final book?
HH: The English Summer was assembled over a long period. By the time I’d reached the stage where I felt, ‘Yes, I’m ready to publish a book,’ I had a large body of work. So, I was cutting a book out of a thicket of poems as much as writing towards an object. It was wonderful to work with Tom, my editor, during this process, to get his ear on how the poems were interacting. Once it had some shape, I was able to identify places I wanted to push a bit further and I added a few final poems right at the end.
FP: Which poems in the collection are most important to you?
HH: I hope all the poems in the book bring something different to the party. That said, some do have personal associations, linked to where and when they were created, that aren’t shared with the reader. Poems that remind me of a particular conversation with a friend or moment in my writing. For example, the title poem ‘The English Summer’ was written during a period when the only time I had to write was while the baby slept and the baby only slept while being pushed is his pram. So, I wrote it by voice recording it on my phone in one hand, while pushing the buggy with my other. I remember the relief I felt in having found a way to still make something. I never thought I’d one day use that poems’ title for a collection.
FP: What is next for you as a poet?
HH: I’ve written a lot of poems about motherhood that could form the basis of the next project or book. They’ve been put on hold while I finished up The English Summer but I’m excited to see where they take me.
FP: What advice would you give to anyone starting out in poetry today?
HH: Find other people who enjoy writing, whose work you admire and who will be honest with you.