Another post in our occasional series talking to past Structo contributors. This time we feature an interview with the poet Nicola Stringer. You can read her poem ‘Icebergs in Ilulissat’ online in Structo 18.
Can you say a little about the genesis of ‘Icebergs in Ilulissat’?
‘Icebergs’ is a poem from the final section of my first collection A day that you happen to know, which uses travel, or more specifically destinations, to think about emotional location, which often has all and nothing to do with where we might find ourselves physically. The poems start in Ilulissat which is in western Greenland and end in Alice Springs, Australia:
Travelling in straight lines as temperature rises, reactions where we fall apart are simple, as long as there is no bounce.
How long has A day that you happen to know been in the works?
I gave myself leave to take time away from my (paid) work to focus on writing and effectively took much of 2016 and part of 2017 to develop the collection. Luke Thompson at Guillemot Press had expressed an interest in the work and was open to the idea of a collaboration. Guillemot are very focused on the end product and materials and they work with some fantastic artists and illustrators from their base in Cornwall. Lucy Kerr was almost instantly able to find a way into my poems graphically. This very beautiful book was published in November 2017.
You are also part of a sound collective called Fractured Strings. First question: what’s a sound collective?
I’m not sure if there is a universal definition, but my sound collective is a cooperative enterprise of a very small number of musicians and an engineer who I work with to create the sound of my writing, which is more than simply recording words. I work often with visual and sound content so when I’m thinking about a written piece it also has look and feel – at least in my head. With my collaborators that sound is as likely to come into the world as a beautiful movement of music as it is something like the noise of a thought hitting the bottom of a well! A number of my poems have a recorded sound ‘theory’ and there is a full soundtrack to the collection, In the half-light, available on my website.
I’m sure many writers dream of taking some serious time away from the day job to focus on writing. How did you find that process? Were there any unexpected challenges?
I’m always reminded of Brian Eno’s position on this: if you want to do your best creative work, don’t get a job! Of course, most of us don’t have the luxury of not having to pay the bills, but for me it did mean giving up a challenging career in charity marketing, using savings to go back to university for a year to complete my MA, to then focus on the writing by living on the minimum I could afford to earn through part-time work. The unexpected challenge is in having to put aside skills and expertise that are often not required in the sort of work I do now – but the benefit is in not having to have a long-term commitment or view on the future of an organisation and using that energy on the creative work instead. I’m in awe of anyone who can work in a professional capacity outside of the arts full-time and still manage a creative career successfully.
What’s the latest from you?
My first collection was highly commended in the Forward Prizes 2018 and my second collection will be coming out in 2021. I’m really happy with the change I made. The events I create as part of Corrupted Poetry have also been amazingly well received. Our angle is to combine poetry with sound and visual content, working with some brilliant poets and artists as well as in collaboration with musicians and organisations such as the National Poetry Library. We’re currently putting an exhibition together for the Poetry Café, working with Poem Atlas, which will be ready mid-January and the first event of 2020, Fake, will be at the October Gallery in London in March. You can see and hear more at corruptedpoetry.com.