Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Anna Forsyth

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.

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Anna Forsyth

is a writer and editor from New Zealand, currently living in NSW Australia. She is the founder of feminist poetry organisation, Girls on Key providing opportunities in publishing and performing for women and non-binary poets. Her work has appeared in journals online and in print and her latest poetry collection, Beatific Toast is available now.

www.facebook.com/girlsonkey

https://www.girlsonkey.com/poetryportalshop

https://www.girlsonkey.com/poetryportalshop/Beatific-Toast-Anna-Forsyth-p106347890

The Interview
1. When and why did you begin to write poetry?

I never read or thought about poetry until my last year of university in Auckland, when I was playing a lot of music. I was asked to be the guest musician for a local regular night called Poetry Live and I was really struck by the art form. My first feeble attempts were more like bad lyrics, but I soon found that I loved crafting poems more than I liked song writing. That was in 2004 and I have been actively writing and performing poetry ever since.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

If I look back now I can see that my mother is a poetry lover (and lover of literature in general) and I think that instilled in me a love of words. She loved James K Baxter, a New Zealand poet and we both share a mutual love of Wordsworth. I have a beautiful print of his poem, On Westminster Bridge that we purchased when we visited his house and the area in the UK on a family trip. It’s been a prized possession. She has also written small poems for me that are treasured. I have a running joke with her, because one of her dreams was to get up on a microphone and recite a poem and I asked her to do it once for my birthday. I still haven’t got my present. So I’m hoping that will happen one day. She is one of my first readers and I can hear it in her voice when the poem needs work and having her like my poem means everything.

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

I don’t find the older generation dominating at all in poetry. In fact, I wish there was more appreciation and respect between the generations. We can all learn from each other in so many ways and I think to discount any poet or their work because of their age would be a foolish thing to do. The Maori of NZ have a word for lineage or ancestry called Whakapapa and I think it’s important to acknowledge your genealogy as an artist of any type because it grounds you. It reminds you that you don’t have all the answers but at the same time, you realise how many people have taken the same journey before you. Hopefully we can learn from each other. I don’t believe in pitting generations against each other. It seems to be a distinction that people make in the poetry world. With the work I do with Girls on Key, that’s one of the things I try to directly combat, firstly to break some of the isolation that older poets encounter and secondly, to show the broad spectrum of what poetry is and can be. I think it’s vitally important in a day and age that glorifies youth and ephemerality.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

Journaling is an essential part of my life and has been ever since I was a child. It does something for my soul that nothing else can. I have to have a beautiful notebook and a pen and I am actually a ridiculous morning person, even though I haven’t always been getting up early lately. That solitude and personal time really makes a huge difference to my life in terms of my mental health and dealing some of the challenges of being an empath and sensitive, slightly introverted person dealing with lots of other similarly inclined people on daily basis through my work.

5. What motivates you to write?

When I have a philosophical idea or a problem that I’m gnawing at intellectually, writing is my go to. It’s my way of processing or allowing ideas to take shape and of finding a unique spin on whatever is on my mind. I have a very active imagination, so I use metaphor a lot to cope with navigating challenges. I’ll make up a story about it or transform it into something poetic that often has a slant to it. It’s an alchemical process that I’m really fond of. I was a very shy child who lacked confidence. Writing gave me a way to own my own unique way of viewing the world and to validate difficult feelings. It’s a great tool, that I highly recommend. I love that if you have a voice, a pen or even just your imagination, it’s something that anyone can take advantage of, regardless of their personal circumstances.

6. What is your work ethic?

My day job is editing, so I’m quite pedantic in re-writing and checking my work. That said, I trust my intuition to know when a poem is complete. I’m not one to keep adding to a poem or working on it for years, I think poems can get really overcooked that way. A lot of my poems have a brevity to them, which I’m fine with. Often, the kernel of the idea has already sprouted and germinated before I get to the page, as I only write when I have a seed that I know is interesting to me. It could be anything, from an image to a person’s quirk or a life experience and the subsequent fresh metaphor or creative slant. So when I get to the page, I’m just exploring that. Then there is a little ding and I just take it out of the oven and don’t keep going over it, for fear of ruining it or over-thinking it.

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

I only ever read fiction really (and a lot of it) as a young person. It’s difficult to know how that has influenced my poetry. It definitely inspired me to write fiction, which I also do regularly and sometimes enjoy more than poetry, if I’m honest. There was one poet, a New Zealand man called Sam Hunt, who I think had an impact on my poets of my generation. He is a real character and he was popular in the 70s and 80s when poetry was having its democratic shift and moving out of academia and the halls of the elite and becoming more accessible. He made it look like fun. He also has a very idiosyncratic style of reading and a cheeky approach. It’s very endearing.

8. Whom of today’s writers do you  most admire and why?

Many New Zealand poets are doing great work, especially Pasifika poets such as Karlo Mila, Serie Barford, Tusiata Avia, Grace Taylor, Courtney Sina Meredith and Selina Tusitala Marsh. There is something so spellbinding and I think quintessentially New Zealand about their work. I also love the way they combine performance and page craft.

I mostly connect with oceanic poets and I’m very inspired by poets working in Australia too, such as Anne Walsh, Robbie Coburn, Eileen Chong and Amanda Anastasia in particular. There are just too many incredible poets to name!!

Outside of Australasia I’m a sucker for the work of Dylan Thomas, e e Cummings and Wordsworth.

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

I don’t think you ever do. It’s a gradual process that unfolds as you start writing and keep writing, even when the end product seems ridiculous or others disapprove. I don’t really think of myself as a writer, I’m just someone who really, really enjoys writing. I think there are weird mythologies around what it is to be a poet or a writer (in quotes). When the idea becomes loaded, for example, you have to be an intellectual, or young, or drunk…anything that dictates what that should be, I think is a kind of distraction from the work to be honest. It can be difficult to untangle from cultural expectations though, as art goes through fads and fashions. With the younger generation currently, spoken word is equated with poetry and many wouldn’t engage with the written form. So it’s all about finding what you like and creating your own path. To me, that’s the most authentic thing you can do.

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

I always have a lot on the go but I have a couple of film scripts I’m working on, a YA novel series and a new collection of poetry, The Unknown Great, for when I have enough fresh material. I have a radio play that has been finished for a while, but I’d love to take it off the shelf and have it produced at some point.

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