Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Annest Gwilym

Annest Gwilym 'Owl...' what the owl taught me

-Annest Gwilym

Author of two books of poetry: Surfacing (2018) and What the Owl Taught Me (2020), both published by Lapwing Poetry. Annest has been published widely in literary journals and anthologies, both online and in print, and placed in several writing competitions, winning one. She is a nominee for Best of the Net 2021.

The Interview

1. When and why did you start writing poetry?

I started writing as a teenager, mainly keeping diaries and writing poetry. My first poem to be published was at age 15, in a local magazine, one of only two chosen from my school. When I began to enjoy poetry as a teenager, I started dabbling, although these early attempts were mainly about teenage angst! 

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

‘Nobody in particular – like most people it was a series of school teachers of literature. Because I am a native Welsh speaker, in an area where Welsh language and literature are taught at school, I was taught Welsh, as well as English poetry. I also went on to do a degree in English and Italian, where I also learnt about Italian poetry.’

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

‘Very aware, and sometimes intimidated, by the presence of poetry ‘giants’ past and present!’

4. How do the writers you read when you were young influence your work today?

I’ve been influenced by many, many other writers, but I try to make my writing my own and as original as possible. I am not a fan of pastiches or work ‘in the style of . . .’. I believe there are more poets than ever writing today, perhaps because of people having more free time during the pandemic and the continuing popularity of creative writing degrees and courses, so it is sometimes difficult, but still important, for each to find their own unique voice, in order to be authentic and stand out in the midst of so much ‘noise’.

Two poetic giants who have affected me most are Ted Hughes, and poet and novelist Helen Dunmore, who sadly passed away in 2017.

Ted Hughes influenced my love of nature poetry in general, and specifically that about animals, which I first became aware of when studying for my English Literature O’ Level. He is unsentimental, and captures the sense of the animal as an elemental force, mostly without his own commentary or interference. In his own words ‘I think poems as a sort of animal . . . Maybe my concern has been to capture animals particularly and not poems, but simply things which have a life of their own outside mine.’ (Poetry in the Making, 1967.)

I love the lyricism of Helen Dunmore’s poetry, the sharpness of her imagery, and original and surprising language. Her ability to turn the ordinary and everyday into beautiful poetry was a revelation to me, in that everything in life can be made poetic.

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

One of my current favourite poets writing today is Jane Lovell. I was knocked sideways by her collection The God of Lost Ways, published by Indigo Dreams Publishing in 2020. It is an important piece of work for our times, in that it focuses on the natural world and our relationship with it. Her language is vivid and precise, her technical ability astonishing. Her imagery is stunning, surprising, and original.

She is not afraid of the darkness inherent in nature, but ultimately this is an life-affirming piece of work. Some of my favourite lines which exemplify this sense are:

‘in your darkest moments
[he] brings you blown trees with shards
of pottery and coins in their roots,
skeletons of fry in the carcass of a fish,
seedpods in rasping spirals.’

(from the first poem, The God of Lost Ways)

and

‘There are shadows, of course, and dead things:
the chewed stalks of wings, mud-trodden
carcasses of ideas, lost paths through dead trees,
but always the signs of birds
and that backwash of blue light.’

(from Made certain by the signs of birds).’

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

‘My first suggestion would be to read, read, read, obsessively and extensively – the best writers, both contemporary and historical. You will pick up good habits subconsciously by doing this. Also, attend creative writing courses if you can – there are many available now, including some good, affordable online ones. And finally, write, write, write. Even if it isn’t publishable, it will help you establish your own individual voice. And finally, submit your work to literary journals.’

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

I’m currently working on what will hopefully become my third book of poetry, a collection provisionally titled Before the Last Petals Fall. In it, I’ll be moving away from my comfort zones of poetry about mental health and nature to themes around the various losses experienced in life.

Annest’s collection What the Owl Taught Me (2020) is available from: https://sites.google.com/a/lapwingpublications.com/lapwing-store/annest-gwilym

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