When did you start writing poetry and what drew you into it?

I started writing poems in 2018, in my early forties, after decades of reading, studying and teaching poetry. That year, I landed a summer job teaching creative writing to young people. Beginning to write poems with my students made me realise I had things I wanted to say and that poetry could help me to say them.

I’m grateful to poetry as an art form for so many reasons: the ways in which it allows me to shapeshift, to inhabit other characters, creatures and objects, as well as the ways in which it allows for simplicity and directness, playfulness and comedy, politics and philosophy. I’m attracted to its musicality and, above all, to the ways it enables me to create the language and imagery I need in order to articulate and enlarge my experiences. I’m excited by the enormous emotional impact that something as small as a poem can generate.

In a poem, everything is allowed. Nothing is forbidden either in terms of subject matter or approach. While that act of permission poetry grants us – its ‘Yes’ – can be frightening, it’s also profoundly freeing.


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.

Since I started writing five years’ ago, I’ve always written to please myself. At first, I had no thought for the quality of my poems; it was the process I found (and still find) so compelling. About a year in, I arrived at a point when I knew I would need feedback from other poets to make my poems good enough to share with readers. That’s when the work really began. I took every course and workshop I could afford, shared my poems with other poets, attended as many feedback groups as possible, learned whose advice to trust, and worked one-to-one with some incredibly helpful mentors. All that work is ongoing and has been absolutely key to my development as a poet.

Along the way, to my surprise, I discovered my community. The poetry community is such a diverse and thriving group of creatives with whom I feel a real and precious sense of belonging. I first felt I was a poet when these peers – especially my teachers, mentors, and other poets whose work I admire – started taking my work seriously. Their input and interest empowered me, and still empowers me, to take it seriously too.

Making the work places demands on me and I like these demands. Each poem asks me to dig deeper into my experiences, into my inner life, to find what’s important, what’s true, what’s really at stake in the particular movement of thought or feeling which is in the process of being translated into poetry. In the process of writing the poem, I change and it’s that potential for change and transformation in myself that I find so addictive and pleasurable.

In the last year or so, writing poems from my new perspective as someone living with terminal cancer, poetry has been my salvation. The new poems, including ‘My body tells me that she’s filing for divorce,’ have made it possible me to articulate love in the face of my own mortality: love for my body; for my partner, Ollie; for my life; and for the living world we share with other creatures. As Mary Ruefle writes in Madness, Rack and Honey: “We are all one question and the best answer seems to be love – a connection between things.” ‘My body tells me that she’s filing for divorce’ was born from this understanding that love is always the best answer we have.


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

Being shortlisted by this particular panel of judges has given me confidence that the poets whose work I’ve so long revered are now among my peers. That’s massive for me.


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?

‘My body tells me that she’s filing for divorce’ was the first poem I wrote after my diagnosis of stage four/metastatic breast cancer in 2022. The poem arrived very quickly, almost fully formed, which is rare for me. I’m an enthusiastic editor of my own work and it can often take months or years to allow a poem to lead me where it wants to be. This poem was different.

It was first chosen for publication in Poetry Wales by Zoë Brigley and then went on to win the Second Light Competition 2022, judged by Moniza Alvi (one of the few competitions to encourage poets to submit work which has been previously published). From there, it became the first in a five-poem sequence on love and mortality at the close of my debut pamphlet, Flamingo (Seren: 2022).

‘My body tells me that she’s filing for divorce’ is really a love poem to my body for all it’s witnessed and survived, for the life we’ve shared together all these years. In the poem, I explore the relationship between myself and my newly disabled body. A lot of the language that’s commonly used when we talk about cancer – all that fighting and war talk, being called ‘brave,’ ‘a warrior,’ and ‘a tower of strength,’ and the false reassurance from well-meaning folk that I will ‘kick cancer’s arse’ – leaves me cold and unhappy. I have nothing but respect for people who have a survivable cancer and who find it helpful to think about their disease process in that way. For me, though, as someone under palliative care, I need to find a more loving language and a series of more compassionate images in order to reach an accommodation with my body, with my cancer, and with my own death and dying.

In terms of where to look for my work aside from Flamingo, I’ve been published in journals including: Poetry Review, Poetry Ireland Review, Poetry Wales, Wasafiri, The London Magazine, iamb, The Interpreter’s House, and Mslexia. I was lucky enough to be the Selected Poet for the Solitude Issue of Magma. Some of my work can be found online.


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

Where do I start?! Some of my current favourites are:

Jonathan Edwards’s collections, My Family and Other Superheroes and Gen, are a genuine joy to read, particularly the poems populated by family members and animals. Jonathan has a brilliant ear for the music of a poem, is a master of the dramatic monologue, and conjures unforgettable (and often hilarious) images borrowed from popular culture. Ultimately, he writes about the things that matter most: love and connection.

Vanessa Lampert’s debut pamphlet, On Long Loan, and her new collection, Say It With Me, are always by my side these days. I love her unflinching yet playful gaze at the world, the mischievous and disruptive nature of her humour, and her ability to hold pain and pleasure, light and darkness, inside the same poem.

Vicky Morris’s pamphlet, If All This Never Happened, bears witness to trauma and transforms it into poetry that pulses with a tremendous love of life. The quality of her attention to poetic craft never wavers. As a late-diagnosed autistic woman myself, I find Vicky’s poems about her neurodivergence profoundly moving: “…and then you look, really look/ at what she’s given you and who she really is – / let her stand up now. See her./Here she is. Here.” (from ‘Traffic’).

Rosie Jackson’s Love Leans Over the Table is a new favourite, particularly the central and subversive sequence of poems in that collection, ‘Better than Angels’, which explores the lives of anchorites and medieval mystics. The careful research and thought that’s clearly gone into this sequence is matched by beautifully realised sensory detail and exquisite imagery.

Other poets whose work I admire include: Simon Armitage, Liz Berry, Jemma Borg, Colette Bryce, Chen Chen, Gillian Clarke, Vicki Feaver, Zaffar Kunial, Don Paterson, Anita Pati, Clare Pollard, Emma Purshouse, Kim Moore, Lisa Mueller, Roger Robinson, Clare Shaw, Jo Shapcott, Kathryn Simmonds, Di Slaney, Greta Stoddart, ASJ Tessimond, and … the list goes on and on!


What is next for you as a poet?

My debut collection, The Butterfly House, is due to be published by Seren in October 2024 so I’m hard at work trying to make every poem sing as well as it can, building on existing sequences, and identifying poems that still need to be written within that body of work.


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

Read as much poetry as you can get your mitts on. Read what your contemporaries are writing. Read poetry in translation, poetry from other cultures, and poetry from other periods in history. Rita Dove says it best: “Love reading first, and the poetry will find its place … Then write, and love the work of writing.”