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

HOLLY PESTER: When I was a receptionist in my early twenties after my degree and would do anything to make the time go by. I’m a lot older now. I wanted to do a lot of things before I committed to a full collection.

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.

HP: I started making my own little DIY books and putting them in zine bookshops (there were lots more around in East London at the time) and reading at open mic nights in secret, then I was invited to read and perform at live art and poetry nights, I usually had props like an electric hand whisk or a box with elastic bands on it (my harp). Then I did an MA and then a PhD in Sound Poetry and accidentally became an academic. I’ve done a lot of things and publications already, sound works, performances, chapbooks, pamphlets, radio works, talks, events, works that have completely disappeared now. It’s lovely to work in an unprofessional order!

FP: What does being shortlisted for the Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection mean for you?

HP: It’s nice but I try not to over invest in it. The work matters more than me. I’m ambitious for poetry but not for myself. I’m happy about a nice party, hopefully, and about being in conversation with other poets I love.

FP: 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?

HP: I wanted to write something metabolic. I took thoughts on trips. The long poem at the end, ‘Digs’, means a lot to me in terms of pushing my thinking and reading. I read Ernst Bloch and watched a lot of Rocky movies in an old empty school in Estonia to write it.

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

HP: Bernadette Mayer, for blending life and poetry so articulately.

FP: What is next for you as a poet?

HP: To write one long poem.

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

HP: Don’t chase professional success. Have a community, care more about it than the establishment. Do your own thing, forever.