Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Laura Potts

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews

I am honoured and privileged that the following writers local, national and international have agreed to be interviewed by me. I gave the writers two options: an emailed list of questions or a more fluid interview via messenger.
The usual ground is covered about motivation, daily routines and work ethic, but some surprises too. Some of these poets you may know, others may be new to you. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I do.

Laura Potts

is twenty-two years old and lives in West Yorkshire. Twice-recipient of the Foyle Young Poets Award, her work has been published by Acumen, Aesthetica and The Poetry Business. Having worked at The Dylan Thomas Birthplace in Swansea, Laura was listed in The Oxford Brookes International Poetry Prize and became one of the BBC’s New Voices last year. She has recently been nominated for The Pushcart Prize. Her first BBC radio drama aired at Christmas, and she received a commendation from The Poetry Society in 2018.

The Interview

1. What were the circumstances under which you began to write poetry?

The simple answer is that I have always been a reader, and always held the belief that the best writers are the best readers too. The one followed on from the other quite naturally for me: I read and found my poetic voice in time through listening to the voices of others. And there was also a quiet joy in claiming my own small corner of intellect back then: after all, no-one expected the shiest child in the class to have the loudest voice in literature. Even then, writing was the medium by which I wrote and they listened. It was connective on a level which I hadn’t known before. And a natural tendency to introversion probably helped. The act of writing, contemplative and solitary, has always brought catharsis since my infancy. It was never pretentious or false. It just lit up my stage in the quietest way.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

My grandmother. I was born to older parents, and grandparents who were way past retirement when I arrived. While these elderly figures seemed transient to the other children at school, and seemed to flit in and out of their lives on a throwaway basis, I always knew that my time with my own was short. I spent most of my days with them, especially my grandmother. She had been, before the age and the illness came, an amateur writer herself. We spent hours in her old armchair, reading Chaucer and Tennyson and Keats. Of course, I had no idea what they meant back then. But that great gravelly voice of hers, broken by gas and smoke from the war, has stayed with me ever since. And today, whenever I read aloud (which is, take note, as poetry should be read), I hear her voice in my head. She gave me the smallest gift of time, but one which will last to the end.

3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?

I’ve always been aware of poets who have gone before me and those who write around me, but to say they are dominating is to imply a sense of threat which I have never felt. Whether I enjoy their work or not, they have all been my guides in one way or another: by drawing towards or deviating from their style, I can find my own voice. And so I have come to deviate from the density of Browning but towards the music of Dylan. As for older poets, I often take more joy from reading this infant stage of emerging writers. Maybe it’s the mother in me, but I like to watch them grow. And all ways round, I read. That can only ever be a good thing.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

As I don’t write every day, I’m afraid there isn’t one! I refuse to produce art for art’s sake, and have learnt that time is the greatest gift I can give myself. My routine is long and peaceful. It is a process of carrying. I read for weeks, make notes for months, and the poem is the end of that passion. I need a morning to start, an afternoon to lull, and an empty house to write in. The last few lines are left alone to write another day. So it’s a long and onerous process, but the best form of catharsis I know. And when you read aloud and think for hours (often into the night), you realise just how fettered you are in other parts of your life.

5. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?

I like to think I carry them all in one way or another. Most will identify the echoes of Dylan and Gerard Manley Hopkins in my work and it’s true: I endlessly read them both as a child. There’s Tennyson too, who taught me metre so well. I think it was their music. The verbal density, the restlessness, the rhyme and sprung rhythm: the words are given such life aloud. And they are true to the ancient roots of verse, when its mainstays were orality and the music of the lyre. I hope they always stay with me.

6. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?

I hold Sasha Dugdale in very high regard. Not only is Joy the only book to make me cry since the Flopsy Bunnies were caught in Mr McGregor’s garden, but her gentle music speaks with such an urgency and passion that it has haunted me ever since. When feeling bright and young, I turn to her work; when feeling lost and low I do the same. She is the only poet today whose work I endlessly return to and each time read it anew. And, of course, she is also a first-rate translator who has done much to strengthen the rightful place of translation in academia. I have a lot of time for her.

9. Why do you write?

To be heard without having to speak. Or even just to be.

10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”

Read. Read for the joy of it, for the hell of it, for the love of the book alone. Read with a mind which is open to asking whether what you’re reading is right. It’s like I said: the best writers are the best readers. That doesn’t mean they read the most or have a library of their own. It means they read with more than the eye. They listen long to the voices which have come and gone before them, and to those who write beside them. They gauge their place in the annals of time by working out just where they stand. Even I am not there yet. In fact, I’m not sure that an end exists. But it is a slow and patient process, and you must be kind to yourself. You will find your place in time.

11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.

Lately, I’ve been happy to write when I wish and read for the love alone. But the upcoming step is my first collection, which I will send to the world very soon. Other than that, I have a play for BBC Radio 4 in its infant stage and a poetry commission waiting for me in the New Year. I’ve also promised to return to Latin and the worth of translation. But I suppose that time will tell. When not writing I am reading, which is good enough in itself.

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