instructions-fot-making-meIn my twenty-seventh interview for In the Booklight, I talk to Maria Taylor about her poetry pamphlet Instructions for Making Me (HappenStance)…

Could you say a little about the process of bringing these poems together and how the quote from the deliciously entitled ‘Poem In Which I Lick Motherhood’ came to be the overall pamphlet title?

I was over the moon when Nell Nelson asked me if I’d like a pamphlet with HappenStance. It took about 14 months from the initial offer up to seeing the poems in print. When we were ready, I sent her a batch of over twenty poems and we whittled them down to seventeen. I also sent some new unpublished poems too. The poems worked well as a group, but there was no official title for ages. I had a working title of Not About Hollywood. It didn’t make it to the final stage as we thought it wasn’t fluid sounding enough. A Walk Past Floating Houses was also touted, but this sounded too calm and zen for the collection. Instructions for Making Me is a phrase from the Motherhood poem. Nell suggested it. It felt absolutely right. If it feels right I think that’s a good indication that it is.

‘Instructions for Making Me’ is full of interesting and intriguing characters. How and where did you find your inspiration for them, and for your writing more generally?

The ‘Invisible Man’ in the poem of the same name is thanks to my daughter Rosie. One day she was pushing an empty swing in the garden and announced it was the invisible man in the seat. So I wrote about him and then he became lots of different people. The ‘Speakers of Half-Finished Sentences’ is thanks to someone in Leicester on London Road who was being absolutely ignored in a conversation. I did some eavesdropping and thought that person deserved a poem. Of course they will never know this! Some of the characters are based more directly on friends and family. Some are me and not quite me. Daniel Craig is a cameo role. It was good of him to drop by.

Underlying all the poems here is acute observation (of human characteristics and behavior, as well as the background settings). In some cases, this takes the form of beautiful, evocative, very real, and sometimes also painful, description. (This might be likened, perhaps, to the view through a window where the light is exquisitely slanted to catch a scene’s striking or unusual aspects.) In others, the scenarios are more surreal, imaginative and playful, with, for example, phrases taken literally or character traits pushed to an extreme. How or when do you know and decide that something is definite inspiration for a poem, and also which direction you’re going to take with it?

maria-taylor-1940s_meWhen poetry is going right it feels right. I’ve said that before and believes its true. To quote the old chestnut, ‘you have to go on your nerve’ as Frank O’Hara said. I don’t stick to one style of presentation, I go with what works at the time. When an idea takes me over or when the subject matter feels imperative then I can’t help but write about it. In the first book, Melanchrini, it was a little more autobiographical. In the pamphlet it had less to do with me directly. However, I do like characters and people in poems, so I don’t tend to write abstract poems, or ones which are solely about landscapes or animals as many poets do. I’m glad you used the photo image. I like taking photos, and I also like the idea that a poem is a snapshot too. Albeit in some instances a snapshot of a more surreal or imagined event.

These poems are wonderfully spare and taut, with a sense of poise, weight and precision behind every word choice. The language, images and striking lines made me gasp with awe/admiration/emotion time after time. How much work – from initial inspiration, through editing, redrafting and polishing – was involved in achieving this?

Well, thank you very much for saying that. I’d say there were only one or two poems in the whole collection that received minimal drafting; they were ‘Hypothetical’ and ‘The Horse.’ Both are comedic poems and they came spontaneously. All the other poems were drafted very carefully and some over were edited over a long process of time. At the time of writing them I was very single-minded about the editing stage. I prioritized writing and editing poetry above a lot of other things. Looking back on it now, I wish I was more single-minded like that again!

Which poem was the hardest and/or took the longest time to write, and why?

The ‘Landfills of Heaven’ poem took a while. I thought it was a strange idea for a poem at first, but I persevered and didn’t give up on it. It’s quite easy to give up on a poem. There’s never a promise a poem will reward you with anything. You do it because you have to. I knew I wanted the poem to be about waste and loss, but I wanted it to be original and wanted it to be musical in its delivery. The image of the empty champagne flute is based on a memory of randomly coming across Dusty Springfield’s grave somewhere and seeing an empty flute glass someone had left for her. It was moving to capture that image in the poem. When I get grouchy with poetry (which is often) it’s reassuring to remember that good things can come out of poems. Normally the good thing is just a sense of cheeriness that you achieved something with your time and expressed something that you otherwise wouldn’t.

What question haven’t I asked about ‘Instructions for Making Me’ that you wish I had? (And what is the answer?!)

I think your questions have been very good! There’s only one question you might have asked and I’m glad you didn’t. That would have been, ‘when do you see you next full collection coming out?’ My answer to that would be when I feel as if I’m back on the (poetry) horse. When I’m part of the world of single-minded writing, editing, sending out and being published I’ll feel more ready. Things are a little fragmented.

Could you give us a small taster from one of the poems in the pamphlet?

Here’s ‘Also Ran’ which was originally published in the web magazine ‘The Compass’:


That word made Babba angry
and curse the slack horses that didn’t win.
Growing up I knew what it meant
but never felt its meaning,
till I stood behind you one day – invisible,
and overheard you say to a friend
you dreamed of her the night before.
The whip-crack of your tongue
buckled my knees ahead of the finish.

Babba, why didn’t you look up
from the sports pages and warn me,
You can’t compete with the ones they dream about.

instructions-fot-making-meWhere can people get hold of a copy of ‘Instructions for Making Me’?

All the details are available on the HappenStance website which I include here:
Thank you for asking me to take part. Your questions have been thoughtful and generous!

Thank you, Maria, for these wonderful insights into ‘Instructions for Making Me’ and your inspiration and writing generally.

To read more In the Booklight interviews with authors, please click on this link.

Anyone interested in being interviewed for In the Booklight about a new poetry project or book can email Sarah on lifeislikeacherrytreeATyahooDOTcom. Thank you.