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Interview

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Caroline has published four collections, her most recent is TIKKI TIKKI MAN from Ward Wood, published in 2012. Like her previous work, this book is influenced by her life in Bermuda, Jamaica, and Canada, where she lived before moving to Cornwall. The UK. Her work’s been translated into Italian and Romanian, and she’s won or placed in many competitions. She won the National Poetry Prize in 1998, the Italian Silver Wyvern in 2008, Guernsey “On the Buses” in 2010, and was Commended in the 2010 National Poetry Competition. She’s a Hawthornden Fellow and resident poet at Trebah Gardens in Cornwall.

Tikki Man is a collection of poetry that tells a story. Can you tell us a bit about how this narrative book came together?

The book is based on childhood experiences – experiences I had tucked away in the back of my mind for many years. When there were headline stories in the press last year about a trio of pedophiles who had been operating in Cornwall, and bringing children to the village I lived in, the stories were so distasteful to me I felt I wanted to write about what abuse does to children: the mental pain that ensues, and how they struggle to grow up afterward. I hope it may give some insight into a small part of the suffering that comes from this.

You’ve worked as a poet in residence in Cornwall. How important do you think residencies are for writers and poets? What did you gain from the experience?

I’ve been very lucky to have a number of residencies, most importantly the ongoing connection with Trebah. It’s been wonderful for me, in learning to focus a lot of ideas in one direction. I know it’s been successful for the gardens as well. We’ve worked together to create a number of projects, and my residency connects a number of poets with the gardens.

Do you have any top tips for poets just starting out?

Read as much poetry as you can, join a writing group, learn to evaluate and ‘frisk’ your own work, as Ruth Padel once told me, and set aside time in your day for writing, if you can. Find a mentor, if possible. Be prepared for criticism, when you join a group, it’s never personal, and invariably helpful. Often, for instance, even an experienced poet will start a poem with a verse or verses that set the tone, but in the end are dispensable. To want to write is a great gift!

How do you feel about poetry readings? Are there things organisers could do to make them a better experience?

Reading aloud, in public, is a very necessary experience for poets. A poem is both an oral and a read-on-the-page experience; they can be different from each other. I’ve given talks and readings to a large variety of groups and feel lucky when I’ve had an organizer who knows what they are doing, how to gather an audience, how to care for the performer. It makes all the difference in the world to have someone good. Sometimes one is slotted into another meeting, left to wait in an unheated room … given nothing to eat or drink … there are many stories.

Do you feel that poetry in the UK is thriving, or do you find that it doesn’t get enough coverage?

Poetry in the UK has come a long way since I first moved back from Canada twenty odd years ago. National Poetry Day makes a big difference, dedicated publishers, more competitions, and a fine Poet Laureate like Carol Ann Duffy to raise awareness levels. There are more workshops and festivals and these are all important. But there are definitely rough times ahead.

Is there a particular poet whose work has inspired you?

When I lived in North America I loved the classics, TS Eliot, and many modern writers. However it was e e cummings who showed me how exciting poetry could be. He also gave me my love of writing without punctuation, relying on other means to work the words into the proper shape for a poem.

At Cyprus Well, we’re always watching out for new developments in digital publishing- and asking all our interviewees about it. How do you view these developments?

Digital publishing. Sigh. Yes, everything is changing very rapidly and this is an inevitable path we are all rushing along. Some publishers, like Ward Wood, who published Tikki Tikki Man, are being very pro-active, looking at e-publishing rather than shying away from it. Small print-run presses are a godsend. And it’s been said recently that future publishing may take prestige books and make them very special in the way they look and how they are bound, so people will treasure them for their “aestheticness”, while ‘blockbusters’ and here-today-gone-tomorrow books will be more likely to go straight into e-format. It all makes sense. Trying to fight the trend will be like pushing water uphill; we have to learn to live with it.