BC Echolocation front cover (1) (1)In my fourth interview for In the Booklight, I talk to Becky Cherriman about her poetry pamphlet Echolocation from Mother’s Milk Books…

Love and loss are two rich themes in ‘Echolocation’, and I’m wondering how easy or hard some of these poems were, both to write in the first place, and then to edit?

It depends whether you mean emotionally or in terms of how hard it is to come up with the ideas and then shape the poems. First drafts are often an outpouring, a release. Finding the form comes afterwards. Writing about loss helps me deal with that loss. It always has.

Rewriting and editing involve me stitching those painful experiences into something whole. The loss is then contained in the space the poem occupies. This space is more than the words on the page; it also takes in the readers or listeners and the interpretations they bring as well as my own changing relationship with the poem. Still, even with all these influences at least when the poem is written it has a space (or spaces) to exist within. It is no longer unmanageable chaos.

In practical terms, first drafts usually contain only the essence of the poem and I only pursue them if I think I am onto something. In rewriting, I expand as well as contract lines and stanzas and rewrite most poems many many times until they feel finished and are as concise as possible. Often this stage takes months or even years. Sometimes it is easy to find solutions to a poem’s problems, at others I can spend 3 hours trying to find the right word or phrase for something I’m trying to convey. Sometimes I need another writer’s gaze on the poems and will respond to their feedback.

I’m quite a cheery person, although you might not know that from my writing! Yet, invariably, when I sit down to write about the positive side of love, all I see is the arid landscape of the blank page. Perhaps it’s because I’m a storyteller and stories always need conflict. Luckily, love seems to seeps in through the cracks regardless.

DSC_0024 Becky CherrimanYou write across a wide range of relationships, including ‘Lone Parent’ and ‘The Foster Mother’s Blanket’. What family role has most influenced you as a writer/poet/performer and how/why?

I was a single parent until my son was 13 and he is an only child so our relationship has always been quite close but it’s probably my roles within my early family that have influenced my work the most. I’ve often been the one who has challenged the status quo when I’ve felt things aren’t healthy. In my poetry and as a performer I am prepared to unsettle people by confronting uncomfortable subjects in what I hope is a raw but controlled way.

Also, growing up and into adulthood I was the main mediator in my family and I suppose that is a natural role for a writer-performer, who is always the mediator between an experience – real or imagined – and the reader/audience member.

‘Echolocation’ is a haunting title; what made you choose this title and how did the poems find their place within this pamphlet?

The poem the title came from didn’t make it into the collection but it seemed to fit the theme. From the first ultrasound, which uses echolocation to create an image of the foetus, mothers are always listening out for where and who their children are. And the voices in the pamphlet are always seeking out direction – how to cope with the trials of single motherhood, with infertility or domestic violence or with growing up.

Cinnamon Press appointed Caroline Davies to mentor me on my first full collection and she felt that some of the best poems in there were my motherhood poems, which she had helped to shape. I wanted to follow the traditional route of publishing a pamphlet before a collection. Once I had gathered the existing mothering poems together and dismissed some that didn’t fit because they weren’t strong enough or because they didn’t feel contemporary enough to go with the others, I saw the gaps and fortunately the poems came to fill them.

I enjoyed the elements of myth and fairytale behind some of the poems in ‘Echolocation’, which also cover a wide-range of relationships and family scenarios. I know that, as a creative writing facilitator, you’ve also worked in many different environments. Could you say a bit about where you find your inspiration and any research involved for the poems in Echolocation?

Thank you. I’m not a poet who is most inspired by other poets and literature. Although I am an avid reader I tend to draw most of my inspiration for content from elsewhere – from people, places, history, art, real life events and politics.

‘In Bloom’ was commissioned by the Morley Literature Festival in 2013. In researching the poem, I looked into the history of the town and spoke to people who lived locally. One of the town’s most striking buildings is Morley Hall, which was once a maternity hospital. Before that it was inhabited by various people including an incredible feminist and campaigner who lived there in the Victorian era called Alice Scatcherd. The local library keeps her scrapbook so looking at this as well as into the history of the hall formed part of my research. Alice found her way into the poem as did donated words and my sense of the local community. Although placing this poem at the end was one of the final decisions Teika [publisher] and I made, I’m really pleased it is there because I’ll always have a soft spot for Morley.

Whitby: photo by Jane Cardie. Used for the cover design, by Teika Bellamy.

Whitby: photo by Jane Cardie. Used for the cover design, by Teika Bellamy.

As a reader, I also had a feeling that memory-making or recording might be implicit in many of these poems, and perhaps in some of your work as a writer. How important are words and poetry in capturing and shaping memories – or even the way we generally view the world?

I have a terrible long term memory and remember little about my childhood and teenage years so perhaps poetry is a way of giving those memories a clearer outline. Words definitely help me to make sense of the world. If I don’t understand something, be that an emotion or a situation, I will write about it until I feel that I do. The same can happen when I read.

Following from the previous question, and also linking to the way the poems tackle family and relationship, even in the poems capturing painful experiences, there seems to be a sense of acceptance and belonging. I wonder if I’ve read that correctly, and what place the poems here and poetry generally, might play in creating that, as opposed to simply portraying it?

Firstly, I would say that you can’t read it incorrectly. Secondly, I’m a humanist and am pleased that you see the basic principle of humanism – acceptance of human beings with all their flaws – in my poetry. I love people. I’ve also had what many would call a colourful life and have a tendency to tackle the problems I face head on. When going through something, I always want to know as much information as quickly as possible because then I feel I can find a solution or at least reach peace with it.

Regarding belonging, that is interesting as, like most writers, I’ve always felt like an outsider. But, through reading poetry and novels, I often find the author has affirmed or illuminated an experience I’ve had, making me feel I am not alone. It would be lovely if some of my work could do that for others. I find performance poetry and the scene around it can be very inclusive. I really feel I belong to the spoken word community in and around Leeds and that can be very nurturing.

Michael Brown has said “An impressive first pamphlet…Echolocation displays some startling and original imagery.” This imagery is also something that struck me. Do images and metaphors come to you as clear and vivid as they are on the page, or do you have to craft and shape them ?

About 25% of the time they arise in my consciousness. The other 75% of the time I have to craft them. I’m always in awe of the people in my workshops who produce whole or almost whole poems packed with imagery in one sitting. That’s only happened to me once or twice.

What question haven’t I asked about ‘Echolocation’ that is important to the poems? And what is the answer?

I think that is for my readers to ask. Barthes would say the answers are in the poems. I hope he’s right.

BC Echolocation front cover (1) (1)Where can people get a copy of ‘Echolocation’?

Direct from Mother’s Milk Books or at one of my readings. Do say hello if you come along to one.

Thank you, Becky, for such as fascinating interview about your inspiration and writing practice behind ‘Echolocation’.