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An interview with Welsh poet Caroline Gill by American poet Kay Weeks.

1. Can you catagorize your poetry, such as lyric, etc? What genre will be featured in Quill and Parchment (Q and P)?

I would like to think think that the word 'lyric' is probably a good one when it comes to my poems. I have lived in Swansea, the Welsh home town of Dylan Thomas, for nearly two decades. We always enjoy a trip along the coast to the Dylan Thomas Boat House in Laugharne, Carmarthenshire, so it is not surprising that I have attempted to make my own response to what we might call the Dylan Thomas landscape. I admire the poet's sense of rhythm and musicality, exemplified in poems like 'And death shall have no dominion' and 'Fern Hill'. I am also a great admirer of Robert Frost (1874-1963), and of his fellow Dymock Poet, Edward Thomas (1878-1917).

I grew up in England, and spent my teenage years in the flat but evocative landscape of East Anglia, with its waterways and wide skies. 'A Splash of Memories' encapsulates our Sunday afternoon walks among the reeds and rushes on the banks of the River Yare. We would occasionally spot a coypu.

Tennyson's poem, 'The Lady of Shalott' was an early favourite, in part because I could picture the wolds and the river so vividly. Masefield's poems also had a hold on me. Tennyson (1809-1892) and Masefield (1878-1967) were both Poet Laureates in their day. If Frost evokes snow and a convincing wooded landscape, Masefield is master of the sea, with all its romance and rhythms of the deep. I find poems like 'Cargoes' and 'Sea-Fever' most compelling.

I suspect that the examples of my work in Q and P owe some debt to the poets I have just mentioned. This is not to say that I can identify any particular similarity between my pieces and theirs, but that sense of the lyrical in their verse has, without a doubt, been a strong influence on my own poetic endeavours.

Wales is dubbed 'the land of song', and it is worth mentioning that choral singing is still very much a part of communal life in my adopted homeland. Eisteddfod competitions abound, and poets are encouraged to express themselves in Welsh and in English, both orally and in print.

2. Do you write in all forms, such as sonnet, Sestina, Villanelle, haiku, as well as free verse?

My winning poem in the international Petra Kenney Poetry Competition (general section) for 2007 was a Sestina about a Cornish mine on a deserted moor. I have had many set-form poems published in the UK and abroad: Sonnets, Villanelles, the Terza Rima, the Ottava Rima, Terzanelles, Haiku, Luc Bat etc. I have also enjoyed experimenting with new forms (e.g. Davidian, Echotain and Fresco poems) invented by my editor friend, Wendy Webb, of Norfolk Poets and Writers.

It is not fashionable today to use end-rhymes in poetry. However, there are those in Britain - like Sophie Hannah - who have met with much acclaim for their formal verse, re-cast with a modern readership in mind. My subject matter is often very different to Hannah's, but I like to feel that she is blazing a trail for those of us who apply traditional verse patterns in a contemporary setting. Many of my poems incorporate rhyme and form, but there are times when I choose to be 'free' and 'experimental'.

My allocated theme for Q and P is winter, which is strange since I am very much a spring and summer person! I love bright light and long sunny days. However, I was a winter baby, and would admit to finding inspiration in the colour of fallen leaves and in the vast expanses of a snowy landscape, especially at the water's edge

3. How would your characterize your creative process? Do you write every day?

I am left handed, and have always liked to feel that I think 'out of the box'. I write most days, but I do not write religious ly every day. I try to keep Sundays free, and I often go out with David, my archaeologist husband, on Saturdays. We love to visit wild places - castles, Roman remains and nature reserves. I make notes on these expeditions: I take a pen attached to a notebook with a piece of string. I sometimes use my Dictaphone. I have tried and failed so many times to keep a diary going, but I make a point of writing a journal when I am on vacation. I often try to include spontaneous Haiku in these pages.

A fellow poet here in Wales, Susan Richardson, began to blog; and I decided to follow suit, shortly after my Petra Kenney win. I particularly enjoy writing my Land&Lit (Landscape and Literature) blog. It is a privilege to be a part of the international blogging community of poets, and to brush shoulders in a virtual sense with eco-poets, in particular. I have learned, and continue to learn, so much about words, writing and wildlife. I love the exchange of ideas made possible by Web2 technology. You can find me in The Red Room, on the Read Write Poem site and on Facebook.

My creativity ebbs and flows. Some friends are far more prolific in their poetic output than I could ever be, but I have learned to be receptive to possibilities, to grasp opportunities, to work hard and to be grateful for what comes. I used to worry about the lean periods, but I now realize that nothing is ever wasted, and that these days or weeks can be used for reading and for storing ideas for future use.

I enjoy feedback and the chance to encourage other poets. I have dabbled in art, and love ekphrastic poems. I am fascinated by the way in which a visual image can complement the written word.

4. I liked the iambic pentameter of Sleepover at the Museum and the humor/irony. Is this one poem in that tone, or do you frequently utilize this speaker's voice?

No, I am not usually noted for my humour! It was a thrill to take 3rd prize in this Haddon Library competition to mark the 800th anniversary of Cambridge University. I spent five years in Cambridge before we moved to Wales, so I was familiar with the collection of artefacts mentioned in my poem. I read that there had been a museum sleepover earlier this year, and something clicked. The speaker is (in my mind, at least) an adult, who is addressing a child. Rightly or wrongly, we often associate rhyme and rhythm with poetry for or about children, so I guess the iambic pentameter presented itself in this context. The note of condescension in the speaker's tone is intentional in a playful tongue-in-cheek kind of way. I like to ex periment with a wide range of different voices: I do not think that I have written from this particular character's perspective before.

5. How long have you been writing? I note you are broadly published. Please summarize the highlights.

My paternal grandfather was a school master. He instilled a love of poetry in my father, who in turn was keen to introduce his own children to the delights and possibilities of language. I won my first poetry competition in our local Three Arts Festival at the age of eleven, for a free verse poem about a koala. I wrote occasional poems during my school and university years, and greatly enjoyed studying the likes of Homer, Aeschylus, Sophocles and Virgil in translation. David and I met as students of the classical world in 1979 at Newcastle University, located at the end of Hadrian's Wall. I went on to teach Classical Civilization in secondary schools; and then spent some time teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) when we lived in Rome.

I developed severe Rheumatoid Arthritis in the 1980s, resulting in a string of joint replacements and a change of lifestyle. I stopped teaching, and in time the opportunity arose to enrol on Creative Writing classes.

My first published poem, in a Northern Arts (UK) newsletter, was a plea for the adoption of a greener lifestyle, written from the perspective of a frog! Since then I have had poems published in over 100 anthologies and small press magazines - largely, but not exclusively, in the UK. My poem, 'Preseli Blue', about the Stonehenge Bluestones from Wales, was broadcast from the Guardian Hay Festival on BBC Radio 4's 'Poetry Please' programme. It was translated into Romanian earlier this year by scholars at the University of Bucharest, and was published in 'Orizont Literar'/'Contemporary & Literary Horizon' in June 2009. I was delighted to have a poem, 'Stranger', included in the recent Popcorn Press publication, 'Empty Shoes', an anthology in aid of hungry and homeless people, edited by Patrick T. Randolph, who teaches at the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse.

6. How much does Nature, specifically the landscape of Wales, influence your writing. These two poems have a mystical quality about them. Can you write a little about that, please.

I mentioned Robert Frost's friend and fellow poet, Edward Thomas. Here in Wales we are proud of three poets with the surname, Thomas - Dylan (1914-1953), R.S. (1913-2000) and Edward (1878-1917). Edward, who was killed by a shell in World War 1, spent much of his relatively short life in England, but had strong links with the Principality. He is considered an Anglo-Welsh poet, and is a personal favourite. His fine poem, 'Words', has a particular resonance for me. It bridges the gulf of the river Severn, evoking not only my original landscape of England with its 'poppies and corn', but also my adoptive land of Wales, where - according to the poet - the nightingales have 'no wings'.

We are very privileged here in Wales to have poets rooted in their landscape. Dylan's 'heron priested shore' at Laugharne is unforgettable, especially when you are standing in the mud at the water's edge, listening to the piercing cry of the curlew. I was delighted to attend a workshop in Laugharne in 2007, led by Dylan's daughter, Aeronwy Thomas, who died earlier this year. Dylan and Caitlin named their daughter after the river Aeron in West Wales.

When it comes to the priest-poet, R.S. Thomas, I find myself at once drawn to and repelled by his beautiful but stark poem, 'Welsh Landscape'. The way in which Idris Davies (1905-1953) brings the Rhymney Valley to life is most arresting, but I will save my thoughts on Davies for a future occasion.

I should add that prior to my arrival in Wales some eighteen years ago, I had moved about quite a bit, with spells in London, Norfolk, Newcastle, Rome, Oxford and Cambridge. During these somewhat nomadic years, Cornwall remained a constant point of reference in my life. It was the adoptive county of my great grandmother and of my great aunts. It has always been a cherished holiday destination, a second home and a source of inspiration for me, with its mysterious tales of smugglers, wreckers, mermaids and the court of King Arthur.

These days I sit in my writing room, high above Swansea Bay, with its view of the Severn estuary. I look out towards the Hartland light near the most north-westerly point of Cornwall. A poet needs time to day-dream, time for the subconscious to assimilate the diverse images that make up a poem. I am often brought out of my reverie by a loud howl: My Tortoiseshell cat, Calico, can be relied upon to remind me that it is time for dinner!

Caroline Gill



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