PoetryPoet Maggie Sawkins interviewed by Gil Dekel.

Gil Dekel: You have been writing since the age of nine. How does the process of writing poetry work for you? [1]

Maggie Sawkins: I think that there are different processes for different poems. Sometimes it is two things that seem opposites, and you make a connection. That is, a tension between two things that a poem can grow out of. For example, a while ago someone at the end of this road set fire to herself in her bedroom, and I read about it in the paper. I was in my bedroom which would be the corresponding height to her house. And I was looking at this mobile made out of thin paper sheep. As it turned around at some point it became invisible, and then it kept turning and you could see it again. I was thinking of the mobile, the sheep, the girl that set fire to herself, and the two things came together in a poem. The poem was about staring at the sheep, the mobile, but really it was about… if they caught fire that no one would miss them, because they are just paper sheep. I am trying to put across that it is the people that are left in life that do the missing. [2]

A poem just about a mobile wouldn’t really say much. It might be just a nice description, but that wouldn’t really make a poem. You need some connection; to feel a connection. [3]

How do you ‘make’ such connections? [4]

For me it is about human involvement. I write lots of things, some work and others do not work because there is not a found connection. Sometimes you have to work at an idea; you have to keep on working. Sometimes you have to plug away at what you have written, then it comes to you… [5]

Is there any specific time of the day that you are most inspired? [6]

I think early mornings when I wake up. I have dream diaries besides my bed. [7]

Do you ask before you fall asleep to write a poem, requesting a poem to come to you? [8]

No… but I wish I could… [9]

What do you think is the difference between poetry and day-to-day language? [10]

There are a lot of definitions of poetry, and I think that poetry is a mystery. For me it is a condensed use of language. Poetry is some kind of rhythm, but that will be true for prose as well. Poetry is obviously the shape across the page. Often when I start to write I try to make it the shape of a poem. [11]

Do you feel that poetry is there for you to learn something from? [12]

Sometimes I feel the poem that I have written reveals something about myself that I kind of knew was there, but I haven’t consciously written the poem to express that. Poetry gives words to that something. I guess that if you were a psychologist then a good way would be to look at someone’s writings to find out things that you can’t express. [13]

Carl Jung suggested that a poem comes from a source higher than the poet himself. [14]

I think it is about range of emotions. I think dreams are more like that; they come from different levels of collective-consciousness. You could dream similar dreams to someone who lives in Africa, even if you are from a completely different culture. And symbols… poetry is interested in symbols. Dreams are symbols, so they are like poems, aren’t they? They are metaphorical. [15]

But dreams come mostly through images, and less through words. [16]

Yes, it is images, yet poetry does use images to try to convey abstract thoughts and feelings in interesting poetic ways. Poetry is concrete. [17]

And poetry must have logical structure to it, using the communicative structure of words. Dreams do not seem to have a sequence of time. [18]

Yes, even with symbols and images, you still try to make the poem a beginning, middle, and end. It is interesting when I do my dream diaries. Obviously you can’t remember everything, or recreate in writing exact dreams. Remembering is a stage removed. But it does not really bother me that I can’t remember everything, because what I tend to do is make a story out of the dream even if it is surreal or illogical. Still there is the use of story technique to write it down. You have to decide the tense, first person, third person and so on. So you still have these decisions to make in the writing. [19]

Do you dream in the first person as much as many of your poems are in the first person? [20]

My dreams are like films, very vivid. And you cannot capture it straight away; it is always leaving. You can train yourself to write it down as you wake up. [21]

And how about the waking life? Do you feel daily events in your life as vivid as dreams? [22]

For me it is about the emotion, which is usually linked with an object; something visual. For example, about two years ago my mom died in hospital. We brought her a red geranium because she liked those, and put it in the room that she was in. My mom was fading away, she stopped eating; she didn’t want to carry on living. So after she died I was thinking about this geranium, and as it was a very hot summer the geranium died as well. There was that connection with my mom, and then I just got the first line of a poem: ‘She knew how to die’… Once I got that, I knew… yes, I know how to write this poem. The flower became symbolic. It was a geranium that killed itself, wanted to die. So, it is two contrasts that make a good poem. [23]

How do you find these contrasts? [24]

I don’t know, they just seem to come from inside. It is not a process of a struggle, trying to write a poem. It does not work that way for me. You have to be patient. There are a lot of writers, even poets, that do wake up every morning and write two-three hours. Like a job they work at having inspiration. I guess it is both ways. [25]

Why do people write at all? [26]

It makes me feel good if I have written a good poem. But then it’s gone, and I have to write another one… Sometimes there is that feeling that you are never going to write another poem again, yet they always come… [27]

They will never leave the poet… maybe they have to speak themselves through the poet… [28]

Yes, and that can make a poet happy. [29]

21 June 2008
Interview held in Portsmouth, UK, July 2006