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

RICHARD GEORGES: I can’t think of a time when I could say I definitively started writing poetry, as it’s something that I feel like I’ve always done with varying degrees of commitment and dedication. As such, it is hard to give a rigid response that explains how I fell into poetry. What I can say is that I started taking poetry seriously as something I practiced while in my undergraduate English programme. At the time, I was really falling in love with images and rhyme and would find parallels between writers like Walcott and Eliot with lyrical rappers like Nas and Eminem. I don’t think many other genres of writing allow you to embrace the image with language in quite the same way as poetry.

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.

RG: In 2012 I received my first real acceptance letter and published my first poem that was not part of a student publication. I think that moment opened my eyes in a way to a path in writing that I had not envisaged before. After that, I started dedicating more time to writing, although with not much success. It took three solid years of writing and submitting before I started to see some real momentum in terms of publications and competing for prizes.

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

RG: I was shocked when I got my publisher’s email. It isn’t something I was expecting at all but, like all recognition, it comes as validation for the work I have been doing and the sacrifices that the poet makes to develop their craft. Ultimately, I see it as, not permission per se, but encouragement to continue to pursue this work of writing.

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?

RG: The bones of this collection were developed while I completed my doctoral studies at Sussex. Those bones speak to certain submerged narratives of the British Virgin Islands, a place which is rich in histories that aren’t well understood here, and almost unknown abroad. Make Us All Islands attempts to write those narratives into the Caribbean landscape, to sort of fill these island-sized gaps. In particular, the sequence of poems that begin the book, ‘Griot’, ‘Offering’, ‘Birth’, and ‘In the Moment Freedom Comes’, are based on one of those lost histories. After the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade the British dealt with the African survivors wrecked or captured slaveships by offering them the choice of either military conscription or a 14-year apprenticeship. Those poems recreate the moment of first contact between the survivors of the Spanish ship Atrevido and the British in the waters of the British Virgin Islands, they also establish the project that collection is attempting to undertake.

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

RG: My admirations are very much focused on the wonderful generation of contemporary Caribbean poets writing today. I admire various aspects of their poetics, for example: Rowan Ricardo Phillips’ mastery of form, or Ishion Hutchinson’s range of language, or Shivanee Ramlochan’s honesty, or Kei Miller’s lyricism, or Safiya Sinclair’s ambition. Above all, I am a student of poets and poems, so I am always reading a wide range of poets from everywhere and I am always learning, reading, and writing.

FAF: What is next for you as a poet?

RG: My second collection, GIANT, is due out next year with Platypus Press. It is a very different sort of project, so it excites me in a different way than Make Us All Islands did and does. Aside from that, I’m always working on the next project.

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

RG: The only advice that I can give, is that you must read. Read everything. Consume it like air. It’s the only way to eventually learn to write the poems you’re meant to write.