Posted by Babs Melville
We caught up with Mairi Campbell-Jack to learn more about her new book This is a Poem. Mairi is more than happy to answer further questions, so if there’s something you’d like to ask, please use the comments field at the end of this post.
Can you tell us a bit about your choice of title? How does it reflect the collection as a whole?
The collection is in the genre of confessional writing. It’s a genre which at times can be really badly done and I think everyone who’s ever attended a poetry reading will have suffered at the hands of a confessional poet. However it’s also a genre which can have amazing strengths and really reach out to audiences and readers when it’s done well. Poetry for some reason appears to attract more confessional writers than other forms of writing. The title was chosen from a quote by American poet and critic Randall Jarrell – and is basically a signpost of my own awareness of the limits of the confessional genre as well as its strengths. It’s hard to judge your own work too, so if I’m really honest with myself it could also be a get out clause, or perhaps an excuse to those people who will read and dislike the genre, style or subject matter. It’s a kind of hyper aware post modern inclusion. A shortened quote starts the book off but you can read the quote in full here.
What are the main issues and themes you’re exploring?
The first part of my book explores the side effects of anti-depressants I was taking at the time for post-natal depression. Its structure is inspired by the Japanese renga form and the poems around it are all written around that time. It’s really an exploration of one-woman’s post-natal depression on a physical, mental and medical level. I always worry about this description because I think it sounds so self-obsessed and inward looking.
The second part – or “side b” as myself and my publisher would refer to it was written mainly in a weekend, but also in the months after my split from my husband. We had been together for ten years, and had a daughter. He also had gone through treatment for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma the year before we split so it’s at times intense and highly emotional/personal. Again I feel uncomfortable with this too – but I wonder if this is more to do with the fact that often in poetry, and particularly in the performance genre, there is an emphasis put on making people laugh, but it’s ok to be serious too.
With this is mind, how do you feel about performing these poems?
Actually I’m not particularly looking forward to it. I find performing prose a lot easier than poetry, I’ve never really been able to relax on stage with poems no matter how many times I have done them. Although I do believe the key is just to practice a lot so you feel confident in front of your audience.
Did you begin with the intention of writing a collection?
No I didn’t. Side A was written and then there was maybe a year’s gap or more before side B was. I had originally intended to publish side A as a pamphlet, and then had tried to get pamphlet publication for B too. None of the avenues I went down for that worked out. However I feel the result I’ve got with my double pamphlet is actually the best I could have got, so it’s all worked out well.
So were any of these poems designed to stand alone?
-ed at first was a stand-alone poem and there are others in there too which were stand alone. It was only when the structure of my work started to reveal itself too me that I started to put it all together.
Have other poets been supportive of this project?
The poets I am friends with have been very supportive at all stages of my professional development as a poet, and are a lovely bunch. My friend Russell Jones (who will next month be releasing the first ever sci-fi anthology of poetry) has helped me an awful lot by going through poems, making suggestion and criticisms, and proof reading for me.
Can you tell us a bit about how the publishing process involved? What challenges did you have to overcome?
For me the biggest challenge with the publishing process is to continually plug away and resend your work to publishers. Even with the most optimistic outlook finding someone to publish your work can be disheartening. However once Clive at Burning Eye accepted my manuscript the process got a lot easier. Some people may think I’m mad but I quite enjoyed going through proofs with him, as it was great to talk to someone about your work who also has an in depth relationship with it.
Do you have any tips for poets considering putting together a collection?
Don’t give up – all the best things take time.
And finally, where we can we get our hands on a copy?
You can either come to my launch at The Scottish Poetry library, 19 Oct at 6:30 or you will be able to buy a copy through the Burning Eye website.