4Word is very proud to announce the launch of our latest pamphlet (our fifth) – Incidentals by Mary Gilonne. Mary weaves elegant tapestries of language, where every word is stitched meticulously, creating a rich and exquisite whole to captivate her readers.
Mary Norton Gilonne’s Incidentals is characterised not only by real technical virtuosity and poetic craft, but also by a sense of deft playfulness, subtle aesthetics and elegant imagery. These poems will dazzle and delight the reader. An impressive achievement by any standard. (Susan Castillo Street. Harriet Beecher Stowe Professor Emerita, King’s College, London.)
Incidentals is available now from 4Word.org or from Mary herself at a cost of £5.99 (plus p&p) and would make a marvellous Christmas present for poetry loving family and friends.
° When did you begin writing?
Like most people I began writing in my teens. Moving from London to Devon when I was 13 set off not only an unsettled lonely period of adapting to country life and the jump from a strict girls’ grammar to a ‘wow boys exist’ swinging sixties mixed one, but also to the overwhelming presence of sea, skies and nature, and too the quirky closeness of a small community. Great subject matter for angst ridden/romantic teen poetry! My father was a busy pharmacist and I found his customers fascinating, and holiday jobs… post girl, waitressing, clotted cream seller… meant more anecdotes and observation. I never wrote a diary, but I filled note books throughout those years. I’ll always be grateful to my unforgettable English Lit. teacher Mrs. Summerfield, an incredibly inspiring ex-actress. She was a life marker, and inevitably some poems from this time ended up in the school magazine.
Are you mainly drawn to writing poetry or do you also write prose?
I’m above all drawn to poetry and its concentrated emotion, one badly chosen word and you’ve lost the whole thing. Dare I say that it’s almost orgasmic when you’ve nailed it in a few successful lines! As for prose, I have a very slowly developing off/on short story manuscript in a drawer, whether it will see the light of day eventually though, is another matter, poetry is so much more immediate and satisfying.
When and where were you first published?
In the early seventies when I moved to France, I wrote some articles for Bath newspaper, but my first ‘on an off chance’ poem success was winning the Marple Poetry Comp. around the same period, and too being commended and published in the Isle of Wight Open Stanza Comp. Anthology about then. It was an eyeopener to think that somebody could value what I was writing, and it was the encouragement I needed at that early stage.
Can you describe your journey to publication?
Rejections are a writer’s lot, a real morale rollercoaster at times, especially with the immediacy of social media. When you, Lesley and Stella, invited me to be one of 4Words ‘house poets’, I was absolutely overjoyed. A first pamphlet is a strange, nervously exciting journey, even more so when the poems are close to my heart. Choosing work which would speak to readers as well as myself was I think the most difficult, but hopefully the balance is there. Having patient and professional editors was an enormous plus needless to say!
When and where do you write?
I tend to write outlines of poems and develop notes in my local English bookshop over a morning coffee and croissant more often than I perhaps should. Neutral surroundings help me creep up on ideas before doubt sets in early, as it often has the destabilizing habit of doing, plus I’m away from my desk and work. Editing etc. is done on an Ipad on the kitchen table in the afternoons if I’m not tied up with family and grandchildren. I scribble a bit most evenings… wine helps!… and try and write something, anything, every day. Some poems hang around for weeks before being reworked, and I try to salvage bits and pieces from discarded poems ‘just in case. It’s amazing though how household chores can seem overpoweringly attractive some days, the iron can be mightier than the keyboard!
Can you tell us a little about your writing process?
I decided to seriously start writing in 2012 and signed up for Helen Ivory’s U.E.A. poetry course. This gave me the structure, staying power and essential feedback that I needed. Then came the incredible luck of joining Jo Bell’s online 52 group. There are exceptional people who become stepping stones in life, and Jo is one of them. The dynamics of the year long experience honed a solid awareness of how writing works, and sharing poems, critiques, advice and re-writes with the close-knit 52 community, changed my writing in an extremely positive way. I edit and re-edit, but try to be careful not to strip away the things that got me writing in the first place, there can be something gut-wrenching when you end up with only bare bones. Far better to put an unsatisfactory poem away and resuscitate it after a few weeks.
Do you think your style has changed over time?
Yes, my style has definitely changed. Looking back at old poems I find that some are too contrived, artificial and over-worked. Now I aim for simplicity and flow, but also a couple of threads of a story underneath, although it rarely works first time. I like reading poems with depth, the feeling that something is hiding just out of reach but if you read the poem again you’ll find it. I’m happier writing in free verse, but love experimenting with layout, not for the heck of it, but to see if it brings an added underlying sense to the whole poem.
What writers influenced you and which poets do you continually go back to if any?
Goodness I could write a long, long list! Woolf, Cheever, Updike, Wodehouse, Fay Weldon, Tom Sharpe, Angus Wilson… humour, everyday situations, relationships, all the essentials of a good story I guess. As for poets, Robin Becker over and over again. Her poems are the ones I would dearly love to be able to write. Jo Bell of course, Mary Oliver, Sally Goldsmith, Peter Redgrove, Philip Larkin… there are so many.
What are you reading now?
At the moment I’m reading ‘Snow’ by Orhan Pamuk, there’s poetry in every line of this fascinating novel. I’ve just finished reading Claire Tomalin’s brilliant ‘Pepys’, and Margaret Atwood’s ‘Hag-Seed’. Bedside table poetry pamphlets right now are Rachael’s, Kevin’s and your, Lesley and Stella, lovely 4Word editions, Matt Duggan’s ‘A Season in Another World’, Wendy Pratt’s ‘Gifts the Mole Gave Me’, Ben Banyard’s ‘We are all Lucky’, and Scott Edward Anderson’s collection ‘Dwelling’. There’s a queue of others waiting!
What advice, if any, would you give to an aspiring poet?
If I were to dare give any advice it would be to watch, listen, read, keep it simple, never give up, and in the words of Jo Bell “give yourself the permission to write.” You can definitely do it.