Today marks the launch of our sixth pamphlet – Lotus Moon With Blossom by Sheila Hamilton. 4Word is both excited and proud to be able to publish this exceptional work by a poet of such calibre, with a stunning new cover design courtesy of the talented Claire Jefferson. Sheila’s delicate and graceful poems concern Rengetsu, a Japanese, Buddhist nun, writer and artist (1791-1875) and are as deft and exquisite as traditional Japanese art.
Japanese ‘brushstrokes’ create a terrain in which the poet moves, alert and enquiring. This world is robust as well as delicate, containing a marvellous variety of trees that survived even the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. In these unforced, refreshing poems, Sheila Hamilton writes with an exceptionally steady gaze …………….. Moniza Alvi.
Lotus Moon With Blossom is available now from 4Word.org or from Sheila herself at a cost of £5.99 (plus p&p) and is a work of art in its own right. Do treat yourself – you won’t be disappointed.
When did you begin writing?
I started writing very long stories when I was 9 or 10. Poetry came later, in my mid-teens. Before the long stories, I think I was always making up stories in my head, descriptions, bits of dialogue, that kind of thing.
Are you mainly drawn to writing poetry or do you also write prose?
I have written almost exclusively poetry, at least as far as publication is concerned. I keep a journal. Travel-writing interests me a lot, various sorts of memoir. Basho’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North is one of my favourite books: i love the way it’s a mixture of prose and poetry, a travelogue and journal and literary homage rolled into one, and I feel I’d like to do something similar though it’s not really a form known in Western literature, is it? I have also written some stuff on mental health.
When and were were you first published?
At the start of 1989 in a dual-language (English/German) periodical published by students in West Berlin when West Berlin was still a term! I was in my final year at UEA and saw a request for submissions pinned up on the noticeboard of the German department. It sounds odd but I can’t even remember the title of the poem. My first acceptance on home turf was from Poetry Nottingham a few months later.
Can you describe your journey to publication?
A long and twisting path! Getting one acceptance led to increased confidence, of course, which led to me submitting to a greater variety of magazines. Like many people, I think, I probably tried getting published in pamphlet/book form too soon. At least I got a lot of practice in getting rejected, that’s an important skill to acquire! My first pamphlet, with Flarestack Publishing, came out in 2001 and my first book with Poetry Salzburg in 2007. And that first book, Corridors of Babel, had gone through quite a few incarnations, acquiring and shedding poems and titles and emphases along the way; it contains poems written over a period of about 12 years.
When and where do you write?
Like many writing folk, I have an ongoing fetish for notebooks. As long as I have a notebook with me, I will write in cafes, museums, gardens, trains. Cities tend to speak to me more than the countryside. I’ll write on the back of an envelope on the rare occasion I’ve forgotten my notebook. . .As for “When?” a snatched twenty minutes between other things can be more fruitful than the rare odd day which I set aside completely for writing. Having said that, time away from the domestic and the practical is something that, especially as a carer for my son who has severe disabilities, I don’t get enough of. A Hawthornden Fellowship is something I might want to do in the future but that is beyond me right now (no respite care would stretch to that amount of time.) I’m sure there are others reading this who are in a similar boat.
Can you tell us a little about your writing process?
A poem usually starts handwritten on the page when more than a couple of phrases or lines are swirling round my head. Or a particularly potent image. Occasionally, the end of a poem is crystal-clear and I want to see how to get to that point. Usually, if the poem is still a “going concern” after a few drafts, has acquired some kind of shape (and still interests me, that’s not a given!) I type I up and save it, printing it out gives me a strong sense of how the poem might look like on a page when published. That often flags up mis-steps (overlong lines, lines ending in the wrong place, a word that jars, etc) that are not so clear in the handwritten version. I will tweak a bit more and then I leave the poem completely alone, often for weeks, sometimes longer. When I go back to it, it is with a more objective eye.
Do you think your style has changed over time?
It’s become less obviously “literary”, I think. And I’ve become more interested in different forms, not so much the formal sonnet, the villanelle etc but the sort we can devise for ourselves. (One example of that is Julia Copus’ mirror-poems.) I lift more from non-literary sources, too: archived newspapers, inquest-records, eye-witness accounts from the non-famous.
What writers influenced you and which poets do you continually go back to if any?
Where to start?! I have spent most of my life returning and returning to the Brothers Grimm and the Alice books. As for poetry itself, in no particular order: John Donne, Robert Herrick, Wilfred Owen, Sylvia Plath, Robert Burns, John Clare, many classical Chinese and Japanese poets via Kenneth Rexroth’s translations, Pablo Neruda. Contemporary voices, there are so many: Carolyn Forche, Elizabeth Burns, Choman Hardi. Sujata Bhatt, Moniza Alvi, Paul Stephenson. . .
What are you reading now?
Blackbird, Bye Bye by Moniza Alvi. Lots of non-fiction about Paris (the gardens, the architecture, the sculpture, the tragic story of the Commune) which is feeding, little by little, into another project which is in its early stages. Witch by Damian Walford Davies. On my “To read, hopefully soon” list are Keith Douglas and, in fiction, the short stories of Camilla Grudova, The Doll’s Alphabet.
What advice, if any, would you give to an aspiring poet?
Don’t try to rush into print. If you’ve got some poems published in magazines (print version and online), aim to get some more published before trying to assemble a pamphlet. Once you’ve had a pamphlet out, don’t try and hurry into getting a full-length book out. And so on. I think social media has had an egregious effect here: it’s easy to come away from it with the impression that every poet out there is constantly being published, constantly up for prizes, constantly being feted. The truth is more mundane and less frantic. Also: write from your enthusiasms, from what intrigues you, and from what haunts you.