I first came across Rachael Clyne as a member of 52, the online poetry group and workshop which was the brainchild of Jo Bell. Rachael’s work never failed to catch my attention and I began to seek out her responses to the various prompts. Later, at a reading in Devon, I met her ‘in the flesh’ and both the audience and myself were knocked out by her poetry and her deliverance of it. As a result, 4Word had no hesitation in asking her to be one of our invited poets, and her impressive pamphlet, Girl Golem, is due to be launched on September 1st.
I thought I might ask Rachael to tell us a little about herself for the blog and, below, is an interview with her, for your information and enjoyment.
When did you begin writing?
I was never short of books to browse: Mum loved poetry and Dad was addicted to collecting books. I went to elocution classes from aged nine and used to recite poets like Walter de la Mare & Edwin Muir. In my early teens, I wrote a story called The Adventures of Browny Cowpod, set in the other-worldly pinewoods and sandhills near my hometown, Southport. I wrote angsty teenage poems about longing to escape as a seagull winging over wild waves. I kept confessional journals for years and therapeutic poems dealing with loss and relationship stuff.
Are you mainly drawn to writing poetry or do you also write prose?
I’ve published two self-help books: Cancer – Your Choice, Your Life, for patients and families. At the time, I was involved, both as a carer and joint founder/co-ordinator of London’s first cancer support group. Breaking the Spell – the Key to Recovering Self-esteem is still in print and is based both on my own experiences and that of my psychotherapy clients.
I was briefly involved in scriptwriting counselling sessions for training videos used on college counselling courses. I enjoyed the opportunity of combining my acting past with my counselling present. I also acted in and directed some of them.
Since 2012 my main interest has been writing poetry. However, I’ve also had a monthly column in our local journal – The Glastonbury Oracle, for about eight years. The articles seem to be getting more political of late.
When and where were you first published?
Cancer – Your Life, Your Choice, was commissioned and published by Thorsons in 1986
Can you describe your journey to publication?
Being commissioned to write the cancer book was easy-peasy. This was also the case with both my first poetry book and Breaking the Spell, which were published by a friend with his own small press. Poets are advised to not publish too soon, probably the case with mine. My poems were baggy, with little punctuation or form.
My collection, Singing at the Bone Tree, won first prize in the Geoff Stevens Memorial Competition run by Indigo Dreams. This is the only time I’ve won a competition. The journey since has been somewhat harder. Girl Golem went through several submissions and came very close to being published, on more than one occasion. One gets used to having poems rejected, but a body of work, especially one so personal, is much tougher to deal with – so I’m thrilled that you’ve taken Girl Golem. It got to a point when I could no longer bear to look at the poems. I ground to a halt, unable to start any new project. It triggered old scars from my showbiz past. It’s weird how one’s poems seem fine one minute, then complete rubbish the next; I know it’s a common experience. I suspect social networking has added to the difficulty, because everyone knows where to sub. I hear from small presses that submissions have rocketed in recent years.
I believe you’re also a talented artist. Can you tell us a little about this too?
I no longer paint or make, partly because of arthritic fingers and unsold artwork takes space (unlike poetry), so it’s depressing. I’ve always had a very different relationship to art than with writing. I can sit and write any time. It’s peculiar, but I experience massive resistance to doing art. I’d spend days wanting to paint or make something, but just could not do it. The only way I can explain it, is like trying to cross a chasm of abandonment, to get to the easel. In my late forties, I did Art Foundation and started a Fine Art degree. I was fine when with other people, and the Foundation course was very freeing. I thought of myself as a sculptor and drawer, rather than painter. My final show was an exhibition called Family Patterns, with collage, installation, sculpture and ready-mades. They mostly centred around my father’s tailoring world. I used objects such as tailoring patterns, a cloth sample book and sleeve-board. I also made pieces relating to my mother and to the mother-line. I drew on the same family background and migrant experience as Girl Golem. The work went on to be exhibited at London’s Jewish Museum and Southport Arts Centre. More recently, I did a series of mixed media paintings of sacred sites and Goddess themes.
What inspires you?
Nature always nourishes and inspires me. The slowing down to walking pace, allows my mind to trance and reflect. Certain poets immediately make me want to write. As a therapist, I help clients to be with their darkness and move it back into the light. Some poets also do this, they transcend their difficulties and write from the heart, with a love for life and so help us to do the same. Kei Miller recently spoke about this particular gift of the poet. He is one such, Clare Shaw is another.
When and where do you write?
That’s easy – in bed after breakfast (where I am right now). Now I have the gift of time, I can spend whole mornings in bed, reading, editing and writing, as well as surfing Facebook. I used to get caught in the trap of, I’ll just finish this task, then I’ll write, and time always ran out. When I did Roselle’s online course, I’d start the day handwriting, then hasten to my desk, to take it further. Once I realised a laptop is a portable feast, I became a boudoir girl. It was Jo Bell’s 52 project that cemented the practice of starting each day with writing. If I don’t have anything new, editing whiles away endless hours.
Can you tell us a little about your writing process
I only seriously started developing my poetry in 2012, once I was working less. I did Roselle Angwin’s online poetry course and learned some basics. I was one of those arrogant numpties who didn’t want to be influenced by other poets. Roselle put me straight in no uncertain terms. Jo Bell’s 52 was a fabulous year of learning to submit, daring to write about topics I’d never thought of, being plunged into the contemporary poetry community, learning from each other and producing a small mountain of poems. I find classic forms, such as pantoums, sonnets or even iambics, very difficult and stick to free verse. I know many find formal structures supportive, but anything that requires counting: syllables, rhyming patterns etc, seems to block my creative mind. I used to believe that familiarity with classic forms, would make me a better poet, which is probably true. Now I’ve just accepted, it isn’t for me. Recently, I realised how much I depend on my artist’s eye, for layout and form, sensing when a poem looks right on the page. It allows me to experiment with shape poems and prose poetry.
I hardly ever write a fully formed poem. My poems have to keep returning to rest in the proving drawer. I edit and re-edit over and over. I’m in two writing groups, whose poet friends help to lick my poetry into shape. Whilst I’m good at passion, imagery and associative thoughts, I need language pedants to tune my, not so good, grammar and punctuation. Some poems take years. Even long after a poem is published, I will suddenly see something glaringly obvious that needs tweaking.
Do you think your style has changed over time?
Definitely. As an actor, I loved performing poetry and was well received at readings. But I wasn’t convinced the acclaim meant the poems themselves were good. Although I can perform, I’ve never been a performance poet in the genre sense. Roselle’s course was helpful with this. I wanted to become a good page poet and we had lively discussions, comparing the genres.
Humour has always been a strong thread and still tends to underpin my more performancy poetry, but I rely on it much less. I’ve become more fluid at matching form to poem. As one friend put it, I trust the reader more. For a long time, I was into nature writing and Singing at the Bone Tree celebrates that. In recent years I’ve written more about human nature, although I still write about eco-issues. And I’m much more experimental these days.
What writers have influenced you and which poets do you continually go back to, if any?
I tend not to go back, which I probably should, but it’s all I can do to keep up with new work, in journals or books. I’ll just run a lifetime’s list of names: TS Eliot, John Donne, ee cummings, Carlos Williams, Liverpool Poets, Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath, Seamus Heaney, Mary Oliver, Carol Ann Duffy, Jo Bell, Tania Hershman, Ocean Vuong, Kei Miller, Dan Sluman, Jacqui Sapphra, Clare Shaw, Carrie Etter, Hilda Sheehan….. is that enough? Mostly, just being immersed in the poetry world, networking and going to events/workshops, all of which feeds my work.
What are you reading now?
At this moment, I’m slowly working through Jorie Graham’s Fast, it’s so dense and sweeping I can only do a bit at a time. Louisa Campbell’s collection, The Ward, is set in a psychiatric ward, from both patients’ and staff’s point of view, is a compassionate and courageous collection. Just read Josephine Corcoran’s What Are You After? I love her use of language and imagery, that we happen to come from the same town, allows me to visually connect with her biographical poems. I now have a feel for her life and journey. Erm… and of course, I recently read yours, Stella Wulf’s and Kevin Reid’s, 4Words pamphlets, all of which I thoroughly enjoyed.
GIRL GOLEM by Rachael Clyne is available to pre-order from our website 4Word.org