FORWARD ARTS FOUNDATION: When did you start writing poetry and what drew you into it?
RUBY ROBINSON: I used to always write stories and draw and daydream as a young child. I used also to write things down that angered or confused me, in lieu of being able to protest out loud. I started really noticing poetry at school and feeling the vibe of poetry, music, lyrics. It was the limitless possibility of poetry – the combination of escapism/playfulness and truth-telling that appealed to me, as well as its accessibility. All you need is a pen and paper; it’s very difficult for people to prevent you from writing.
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.
RR: I tend to think that everyone has poetry within them, even if they don’t realise it. However, I first felt like a ‘practicing’ poet between 10th and 12th May this year when I attended a voice coaching workshop with six other poets and the wonderful voice coach Françoise Walot. I learnt so much during these three days and met such wonderful people who helped me to bridge the gap between my poems on the page and my physical voice and identity as a poet.
Prior to this, my development as a writer came through studying literature at school and then at UEA, where I also had the opportunity to take some creative writing classes. I later decided to study the MA in Writing at Sheffield Hallam University, in order to give some time to writing. Throughout my development, I can credit fantastic and generous teachers who have encouraged and affirmed my voice and given honest critical feedback.
FAF: What does being shortlisted for the Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection mean for you?
RR: It is extraordinary to think that the voices represented in my writing have been heard and valued in this prestigious context. Over the years, I’ve looked to the Felix Dennis shortlist to find new poets to read and it feels unreal to think of my book on the list this year.
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?
RR: I wrote the poems in the book over a period of about seven or eight years, with a break in the middle during which time I didn’t write anything at all for three years. The poem ‘Interlude’ broke this silence and so will always feel significant to me. ‘Apology’ is also important. I had been waiting to write this poem for a long time and it finally happened last summer, during the process of putting the collection together.
FAF: Which poets do you admire most and what do you value in their work?
RR: I admire poetry that takes me somewhere unexpected. I love the playful inventiveness of metaphysical poetry and remember being really excited by John Donne at school. There are so many poets I admire but some who have left a lasting impression are: Allen Ginsberg, Sylvia Plath, William Carlos Williams, Edip Cansever, Ted Hughes and more recently Sharon Olds and Claudia Rankine. I also appreciate the commanding, captivating presence of Benjamin Zephaniah, Mike Garry, Lemn Sissay and Kate Tempest.
FAF: What is next for you as a poet?
RR: I’m looking forward to starting work on my next collection as well as getting out and about to poetry readings and festivals over the coming months.
FAF: What advice would you give to anyone starting out in poetry today?
RR: I guess ‘starting out’ will mean different things to different people. If you want to gain greater satisfaction from the process of writing poems, I believe it is helpful to develop your self-awareness, to explore your identity, experiences and values, how you relate to the world and other people. Listening to advice and feedback from others is vital – in poetry and in life! You don’t always necessarily need to follow it…