Interview with Claire Booker


Poet and playwright Claire Booker grew up in Surrey, England, and read History at the University of Sussex before moving to London to work as a journalist and a press officer. She is now a medical herbalist and clinical hypnotherapist and lives in Brighton, Sussex.

Claire’s first poetry collection, ‘A Pocketful of Chalk’ (Arachne Press) was published in 2022. Her latest poetry pamphlets are ‘The Bone That Sang’ (Indigo Dreams Publishing) and ‘Later There Will Be Postcards’ (Green Bottle Press).

Her stage plays have been produced in America, Australia, France, Germany, Malta, Romania, Spain and the UK and some of them have been broadcast on BBC Radio Four and local radio stations. They include monologues, short plays, one act and full length dramas, some of which have been translated into other languages.


Claire, it is not often that I interview a poet who also happens to be a playwright. Which came first and does either activity take precedence over the other?

Hi Neil, and thank you for your interest in my work.

I started writing plays at primary school, after being taken to see ‘The Merchant of Venice’ by my parents. The sheer electric thrill of live theatre really got into my bones. I tried short stories at University, but got nowhere (having re-read some of them, I can now see why!) Poetry came only sporadically to me in those days – mainly after important life events –whereas my drama output grew, from one act, to radio and full-length stage plays, including comedies and darker topics. I guess the peak for me was having three plays on at the Edinburgh Fringe one year, and a play on BBC Radio 4 which was nominated for a Macallan Writer’s Award.

Staging plays (or persuading others to do it for you) is hard work, financially risky and often ends up with very small audiences (we’re talking fingers of two hands here). It is a truly collaborative art. So much depends on the quality of acting and directing. As the writer, you can only feedback tactfully and hope for the best. Much can go wrong, in a practical way too. After working for more than a year on crafting a new play (‘Sperm Vampire’ about infertility), a director took it up, and was sourcing funds, when the pandemic struck. You usually only get one chance (if you’re lucky) with drama. The stars have got to be in the right constellation! Amateur theatre companies still produce some of my plays (most recently the excellent Lauder Amateur Dramatic Society’s production of ‘One of Our Robots is Missing’), and I’m always open to commissions. You can read the opening scenes of each of my stage plays on my website. I’m always happy to provide full reading scripts on request. My website is

How would you best describe your plays? Are they, for example, experimental, didactic, political, satirical? Do you use them as a medium for protest about contemporary issues in society?

My dramas are often satirical with a serious message – feminist, pacifist, against the exploitation of vulnerable people. But equally, some tackle difficult subjects in a more emotional way. But humour usually finds its way in, if only in the Shakespearean way of light relief scenes between the heartache.

What are the main differences for you between being a playwright and being a poet?

If you love dialogue and character, then play-writing is for you. There’s something exhilarating about becoming another person, walking about in their shoes, experiencing their emotions. Then becoming their lover, parent or colleague, and experiencing yourself as someone else again, experiencing that other character. It’s mind-bending in a way that’s very different from writing poetry, where you generally remain within your own persona.

I love poetry more and more, I think, because of its concision and the momentary worlds it contains and describes. When I started getting published, it gave me a real buzz. There was my poem, on the page, exactly as I wanted, maybe being read by several hundred people.

One of the benefits of ageing, I think, is that one becomes less interested in making a huge difference in the world (the noble ambition of youth) and more interested in contemplating what you notice about simply being alive. Poetry is often a more contemplative art than playwriting. In a society with an increasingly short attention-span, it also offers a quicker read than short stories or plays. I love the way a poem can give you an entire world view in a very few lines. It can be visual too. How my poems use white space is really important to me, including where I break the lines. Form offers that very first impact before any other meaning reaches the reader. Some of my poems have very unusual layouts (the bane of an editor’s life!) which I hope support the poem’s tone and meaning.

Brighton seems to attract more than its fair share of artists. What do you find particularly appealing about the place when it comes to writing – is it, for example, the experience of living within a community of like-minded creative people?

I lived in south London for much of my adult life, and was rather spoilt by the many opportunities for getting together with other creatives there, either to perform or to workshop work. Brighton is certainly a thriving city, with a particular bent for performance poetry.

As a member of the Brighton Stanza Group, how important do you consider it is for a writer to receive feedback and constructive criticism on his or her work as it progresses into its final form?

I’m very lucky to have found an excellent Stanza Group here of fellow poets, which meets fortnightly on zoom. I totally value the feedback I get on my work. It’s become part of my routine. I draft a poem, I work on it, I submit it for feedback, I work on it some more, then eventually send it out to literary magazines. Once enough poems have been accepted for publication, I start thinking about putting together a collection. We all have our blind spots and weaknesses, and it really helps to have these pointed out by thoughtful and supportive friends. After all, T.S. Elliot allowed Ezra Pound to make drastic edits to ‘The Wasteland’. In the end, it’s the poem that matters.

Your award-winning poetry has received international attention in places as far apart as Romania and Bangladesh. Tell us a little bit about the UK/Romanian poetry collective, PoetryArtExchange and also about your time as a guest poet at Dhaka’s International Poetry Summit in 2019.

PoetryArtExchange was an exciting venture involving a dozen Romanian and UK poets. No holds barred – the more experimental the better. We performed our work in London and Birmingham during 2017-18, including making music from the sound of poems riffing with a range of musical instruments. I was on tambourine and recorder (rescued from my childhood!), and we had a saxophonist and drummer too. The collection of poems that arose from this was published as a free e-book by The Contemporary Literature Press, under the auspices of The University of Bucharest, in conjunction with The British Council, The Romanian Cultural Institute, and the Writers’ Union of Romania. You can read it at

There wasn’t money to get the UK poets to Romania (though I did spend a fascinating week there volunteering at a Bear Sanctuary). However, the invitation to Dhaka was too tempting, and I found myself in Bangladesh, performing at numerous venues alongside poets from China, Uruguay, the Congo, Malaysia and Iraq. A fantastic experience, if exhausting. Perhaps the highlight for me was meeting students at three of Dhaka’s 51 universities. Young people are so inspiring. In Bangladesh, everyone wants to be a poet. Such a difference from the UK, where poetry is often seen as a chore to be avoided, or not considered at all.

What are your future plans as a writer and a poet?

My future plans involve putting together a second full poetry collection to join ‘A Pocketful of Chalk’ (Arachne Press) and my two pamphlets – ‘The Bone That Sang’ (Indigo Dreams Publishing) and ‘Later There Will Be Postcards’ (Green Bottle Press).

What lessons have you learned from designing and running creative writing workshops and what advice would you pass on to others?

My advice to other writers would be to ignore any advice unless it rings true for you. We’re such individuals, with different life-styles, energies and motivations. There are perhaps a few useful thoughts I can share:

Set aside regular times to write if you can. You can’t command inspiration, but you can be there waiting when it arrives.

Meet and befriend other writers for mutual support and encouragement.

Share your work, and don’t be afraid of feedback. Almost without exception, poems are improved through workshopping. This needn’t cost money.

Read, read and read some more, particularly in a field of writing that interests you. Don’t worry about being influenced by other writers. All the great writers learnt from their predecessors and peers. Something original in you will still emerge.

Get out and taste life, then bring it back in the form of words.

If self-doubt arises, remind yourself that you don’t have to be the best, just the best you can be.

What are you reading at the moment and who are the authors you most admire?

At the moment, I’m reading Maria Jastrzebska’s ‘Small Odysseys’ and Simon Maddrell’s ‘The Whole Island’ – both wonderful Brighton poets, plus a first pamphlet, ‘Unmothered’ by A.J. Akoto. I have subscriptions to a number of literary magazines (eg Stand, The Dark Horse, Artemis) which allow me to keep up with trends, and spot new voices. I’ve also recently re-read Dylan Thomas’ ‘Under Milk Wood’ for the sheer joy of it, and I’m a particular worshipper of that other Thomas – Edward – who’s relationship with the natural world has always inspired me. Now that I live right by the beautiful South Downs National Park on the south coast of England, I find myself connecting poetically with land and seascapes.

Looking Towards Smock Mill

Evening shadows make monsters of sheep.
Even a crow has its life stretched.
The sun raises me up like a beanstalk –
sends my head grazing on the slope opposite.

Here, beside the witch tree’s propped stones,
I’m transcribed by light and elevation.
My flint bones and wormy flesh breathe
effortlessly across chalk and tilth.

My sister the smock mill looks out to sea
with her dark arms flung.
I’m Stilt Woman, Giantess of the Hill.
If I turn, I’ll vanish.

I could peel my whole length, roll me
under my arm as a keepsake.
Never before have I covered so much ground.
I let myself float in the beaks of birds.

from A Pocketful of Chalk, reprinted with the author’s permission.


Return to:

[New] [Archives] [Join] [Contact Us] [Poetry in Motion] [Store] [Staff] [Guidelines]