front with textIn my fifteenth interview for In the Booklight, I talk to Lucy Humphreys about her poetry pamphlet Kintsukuroi (Hesterglock Press), which I was also delighted to write an endorsement for.

‘Kintsukuroi’ is usefully epigraphed with details of the Japanese artistic technique that it is named after. The word’s meaning ‘to repair with gold’ seems to really capture the beautiful if broken people and situations that feature in these poems. Could you say a little about how the pamphlet and its title came about?

I was trying to do two things:

Firstly, I was looking for God – in human vulnerability, in the apparent order and patterns that flow through the natural world, and in my own experience of love and relationships. You know those moments that feel so right and significant and like, Everything’s gonna be OK, when your heart breaks at the beauty and divinity of Life? I was looking for those.

Secondly, I was trying to justify my failure-at-life, my failure-as-a-person, by getting across how broken I was, how terrible I felt, how sad and lonely and used. Although it was therapeutic to write about how bad things can be, I felt a responsibility to give the poems’ readers a little optimism or hope, a sense of relief, at the end of most of the poems and of the pamphlet as a whole. By looking for this ‘gold’, I found God in my own vulnerability, in my own imperfections and uniqueness, and in the compassion, wisdom, courage and integrity that my broken-self has found in me.

The definition of ‘Kintsukuroi’ on page one, encapsulates what I was trying to say, what my experiences were leading me towards; the poems themselves could be seen as illustrative examples of the concept of ‘beauty in brokenness’ in real-life events.

The opening poem ‘I could show you a winter field’ plays on the notions of ‘show’ and ‘tell’. What are your thoughts more generally about how these two techniques work, or don’t work, in strong poetry?

I suppose, as poets, most of what we do is show and tell various ‘things’ that we see as significant. (That’s how I write, anyway.) Whether I show you an image or tell you a story, I assume that the reader will look for some deeper meaning behind the ‘thing’ that I am sharing; why would I share it, if it had no significance? So perhaps it follows that, for showing or telling to work well as a technique, the ‘thing’ shared needs to hold significance for both the reader and writer. This needn’t be the same significance, but the stronger the sense of meaning, both imbued into and extracted from the words, the stronger the poem will be.

Reading ‘Kintsukuroi’, I have a sense that contrasts are important to you. In many ways, I guess this is implied, or maybe even led, by the pamphlet title with its notions of beauty and its cracks, the broken and making whole again. But also there is the juxtaposition of show and tell that I mention above, and the poem ‘Scalpel vs Axe’. For you, what is it that appeals, fascinates or perhaps haunts when it comes to opposites and comparisons?

Lucy HumphreysIt was not a specifically conscious decision to write about contrasts. One thing I love about poetry is how other people’s readings can show you things you never saw in yourself. Now that you have pointed it out, it seems obvious that, yes, contrasts are significant to me.

I think my ego-focus on contrasts comes from the multitude of comparisons and judgements that our culture (and my family!) make every day. I was trying (in my life and in my poetry) to prove myself as either the same as, or different to, other people, depending on which would appease my critics. (I suppose this is the haunting.)

From a more spiritual perspective, I like to see ‘Life on Earth’ as an experience of a dynamic equilibrium between binary opposites, in which we learn about light by also experiencing darkness, and are each finding our own balance between the two extremes. Again we can find God in the paradox of His being simultaneously whole and two opposing forces or concepts or ‘something’… My brain cannot explain – that is why I communicate through poetry! There is also the idea that by taking things apart you can better understand them.

The poem ‘Lifeguard’ is constructed entirely of questions, and also in the second person. Was this an easy or hard poem to write? And what would you say were the strength and weaknesses of these as writing choices?

The poem itself was easy; it just came to me and I wrote it down. It describes real events, which hold significance (to me, at least), and so I did not need to search for images or metaphors. The title, however, has been a real struggle and, to be honest, I am still not happy with it! This probably means that I still do not really know what this poem is about, or, more likely, I am too afraid to say.

I like to write in the second person, especially in the imperative, as it invites the reader into the experience with me, rather than their remaining an outside observer. Similarly, questions invite the reader’s own answers, rather than force-feeding them with mine.

What are the strengths and weaknesses regarding this choice to invite the reader in? Perhaps if they get what I want them to get, they will experience it more deeply. Perhaps if they bring something entirely different, or nothing at all, then their experience will be lessened, or, more likely, I will have less influence over their experience, which is not necessarily a bad thing.

‘Kintsukuroi’ includes a range of forms such as found poetry and the shape poem ‘Scalpel vs Axe’. Yet it also feels focused and complete in itself as a pamphlet (in the pamphlet form). I wonder if you’d say a bit about how much of this is down to deliberate selection and crafting, or whether form arises more organically for you?

The poems are shaped, initially, by the sounds of the words. I see my poems as scripts, designed to be performed (or at least read aloud in someone’s head!). I use line breaks to indicate the phrasing of the spoken words, and to guide the tone and dynamic of the piece. Once a poem, or series of poems, begins to take shape on the page, I then allow the visual shape and pattern to influence the sounds of the words that follow. One reason I love poetry is that everything means something – the sounds, the shapes, the imagery, the echoes of similar-sounding words; even the words that were deleted help to make the poem into what it becomes.

If you were to hear the pamphlet read cover-to-cover, without seeing the form of the separate poems, perhaps their difference in shape would not be apparent? The form of each poem is dictated by the poem; I did not decide, ‘I will now write a shape poem’. Likewise, the found poem was what I found when I was looking-for-God-in-a-book-about-trees. The poem is its own person; it is who it is. Perhaps the pamphlet feels whole because I allow each poem to be whole, to be who it wants to be?

The pamphlet is wide-ranging in its consideration of people and landscapes, with various locations and literary references. I’m wondering if travel has been a source of inspiration for you? And what other types of inspiration and influence lie behind ‘Kintsukuroi’?

Travelling, particularly in Mexico, enabled me to see my culture (and my family!) from a different perspective. Things that I took for granted as the-only-way-of-doing-things, like, which way up to hold a fork, became just-one-way-of-doing-things. This brought me a kind of freedom to see things more clearly, or at least differently. As a poet, what I really do is to see things and then find ways to communicate the way I see them. Perhaps, the more clearly I can see, or at least the wider my variety of perspectives, the better my poetry will be? In the same way, learning a new language allowed me to see other ways in which I could structure my English, giving me more options as a writer.

The novelty and challenge of living in a foreign country, enhanced by the linguistic, cultural and financial barriers, heightened my experiences, perhaps increasing the seeming-significance of events and causing me to write about them.

The main sources of inspiration for Kintsukuroi were God, my dad and my ex-boyfriends! (Typical poet.) I write about my life and my journey-towards-wholeness, in the hope that I might inspire and connect to others.

Sexual tension seems to sizzle on, or sometimes further beneath, the surface of a number of the poems here; this sometimes a good thing, but not always so. Are there hints of feminism or an interest in the power dynamics of relationships at play here? And, if so, how strong an element is this for you in your approach to writing?

I am a feminist in that I believe that women and men should be respected and treated as equals (as should children, animals, plants, rocks, every object, every atom, every moment, every movement – if we really want to love God, we need to love everything!), but these are not feminist poems. Rather, they describe the stories that we roleplay repeatedly, as victim, villain and rescuer, as predator and prey. Although there is a focus here on myself as the victim, the same poems could be written with the roles reversed. There are plenty of men who fall prey to women, plenty whom I have disrespected and I should probably also write their side of the story.

Sex intensifies things. If the heightened experience of travel can add significance to life events (and cause me to write a poem), so can the potency of the physical and emotional intimacy and vulnerability of sex. The predator-prey roles are easily played out, and maybe I just like to gossip! As a cathartic act, and returning to the theme of beauty in brokenness, many of these poems are a way for me to proudly show my scars, reminders of the battles that I survived.

Is there a question I haven’t asked that I should have asked?

I’m not sure what the question would be, but the answer is that I was never broken! There was never anything wrong with me. All my sadness, fear, guilt and worthlessness are part of the whole-me, without them, I would not be whole. It was not that I was broken and put back together with gold, the gold was always there; the pot was always whole, only I couldn’t see it!

I am not more beautiful for having been broken, instead, having perceived myself to be broken, I was able to find the gold, to find God, and become more aware of the beauty and wholeness that is my life.

Where can people get a copy of ‘Kintsukuroi’?

From my good friends at Hesterglock Press (£6 + postage):

Thank you, Lucy, for these thought-provoking insights into ‘Kintsukuroi’ and the writing (& living) process.

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Link to Lucy Humphrey’s youtube, soundcloud and blog: ; and