KITTY COLES: On writing a poem a week (ish)
Kitty Coles lives in Surrey and works as a senior adviser for a charity supporting disabled people. She was joint winner of the Indigo Dreams Pamphlet Prize 2016 with her debut pamphlet Seal Wife. Kitty’s output is prolific, and her poems have appeared in many magazines – we were happy to publish three of her poems in Issue 6 of Confluence. Sam McCabe asked Kitty about her writing habits.
What inspired you to become a poet, and where did you get your inspiration from?
Kitty: Writing is very much an unconscious process for me: a couple of sentences tend to suddenly materialise in my head and, when I write them down, the rest of the poem flows from them pretty much fully formed, though I’ll then go back and redraft. I don’t feel like I have much of a choice about writing: the words just arrive. The choice is when I submit it for publication or share it with people at readings. I do that to try and communicate, to make someone else think, ‘Oh, so that was how that experience was’. Though, the more you write, the more you realise what blunt instruments words are, and how weighed down with individual associations.
A lot of my writing is about the natural world and I find that words often come to me when I’m outdoors, in nature. A lot of it is about illness and the body and is influenced by my job (I work as a senior adviser for a charity supporting disabled people and have a particular interest in invisible disability and mental health) and other personal experiences. And some of it is a dialogue or engagement with other poetry and other things I’ve read; for example, the narrators in my pamphlet Seal Wife are characters from folklore and fairytales.
Could you tell us a bit more about your writing background or general background that led you on the path of becoming a poet?
Kitty: I don’t think of myself as a writer because writing isn’t what pays my mortgage! But I’ve written, on and off, since I was a child and I decided to start submitting work for publication from about 2010 onwards. I’ve experienced very long blocks where I felt a need to write, but the words just didn’t arrive, and also times where I didn’t feel a need to write. For the last few years, I’ve written 52 poems per year, but I might write nothing for a couple of weeks and then three or four poems in a single day.
Do you have an author or poet that inspires you and who is your favourite?
Kitty: There are many writers who influence me, including Sylvia Plath, Louise Gluck, Marina Tsvetayeva, John Clare, Jane Kenyon, Emily Dickinson, Maggie Sawkins, Norman MacCaig, Pablo Neruda, Emily Bronte, Mervyn Peake and Angela Carter.
Plath is my favourite poet. Her use of rhythm and vocabulary is endlessly interesting to me.
Do you get more motivation out of performing publicly or by publishing your work in print? Is there perhaps a difference?
Kitty: As I write, I say my poems out loud, and rhythm and the sound of the words is important to me: I intend them to be heard rather than just looked at on the page. However, I don’t usually enjoy reading to an audience: it can feel very exposing.
I studied drama at university and still do quite a bit of amateur acting. For me, that’s a totally different experience. When I’m acting, I don’t feel like I’m myself: it’s almost the opposite of reading my poetry in that it allows me to disappear.
Acting has made me very aware of silence, of the spaces between the words and of what goes unsaid, at least on the surface, and these are things I consider when I write. I’m very interested in subtext, ambiguity and ambivalence in both writing and acting.
What is the first written piece you remember creating?
Kitty: There were two stories I wrote when I was about five, called ‘The Family Wood’ and ‘The Gont’ (meaning ‘giant’). I don’t know which was earlier but those are the first things I remember writing. I don’t remember writing poetry for fun until I was older, maybe 12 or so, though of course we had to write it at school before that.
Do you have any projects that you’re currently working on at the moment?
Kitty: I’m currently working on a couple of prospective pamphlets.
The famous question… Are you a dog or cat person?
Kitty: I love both cats and dogs but I suppose I prefer cats because I feel more of an affinity with them and I have a cat, Sylvia, whereas I’ve never had a dog because I work full time and don’t get to spend enough time at home to care for a dog properly. I also had two cats when I was growing up so I feel like I understand cats better!
For those aspiring writers and poets, do you have any advice you’d like to share with them?
Kitty: I’m not sure about advice for other people, but this is what works for me!
* Read as much as possible (poetry, novels, non-fiction, play scripts, literary criticism, etc) and listen to songs.
* Try to think of any times you can’t write as times of germination rather than sterility.
* Have a note book with you all the time so you can write down poems wherever they come to you.
* Take an interest and keep learning about new things.
You can follow Kitty on social media:
Website: www.kittyrcoles.com which includes some of my poems, reviews and details of forthcoming readings.
Kitty’s pamphlet, Seal Wife, is published by Indigo Dreams (as joint winner of their Pamphlet Prize 2016) and is available here from them.