In our first poet Q&A we present Carrie Etter who will be reading at Bristol Poetry Festival on Thursday 13th October at Spike Island Cafe: www.poetrycan.co.uk
Originally from Normal, Illinois, Carrie Etter has lived in England since 2001 and taught creative writing at Bath Spa University since 2004. She has published three collections of poetry: The Tethers (Seren, 2009), winner of the London New Poetry Prize, Divining for Starters (Shearsman, 2011) and Imagined Sons (Seren, 2014); additionally, she edited the anthology Infinite Difference: Other Poetries by UK Women Poets (Shearsman, 2010). She also publishes short stories, reviews and the occasional essay. Imagined Sons was shortlisted for the 2014 Ted Hughes Award.
When did poetry first choose you?
At 11, I went camping with my family in Indiana, and while my parents were setting up the camper, I took my clothbound journal to the little manmade lake. I wrote a poem in quatrains about it and raced back to the campsite to read it to my mother. That was the first poem I remember writing outside school, and I’ve written ever since.
What do you consider your greatest achievement to date as a poet?
I hope the answer will always be my most recent book, whatever that is. I put a great deal of work into Imagined Sons, and while I’m still proud of that, my new manuscript in progress, The Weather in Normal, feels even more ambitious and hopefully more accomplished.
Tell us about your dream landscape.
I often go back in my mind to an overgrown field in Illinois near where I grew up, where friends and I used to play in the summers. Being by an ocean or sea thrills me, and I’d love to take more writing holidays by the water.
Edna O’Brien says that ‘a writer’s imaginative life begins in childhood’. Was this the case with you?
I wrote stories about an invented planet, a secret agent’s adventures, and the ghost of Cassandra haunting a contemporary American town, all before I was a teenager. And of course I loved to read.
If your house was burning down, which possession would you grab to take with you, and why?
I’ve thought about this question, and I have different answers all the time. Most of my laptop’s contents are on Dropbox, so my writing would be safe. I think I would have to round up my old photo albums, where many of my pictures of my late parents are. That’s after my partner Trev and the cats are safe, of course.
How do you find your poems?
They find me! I sometimes find it helpful, when I want to write but am finding it a struggle, to read compelling, quality poetry magazines, such as Boston Review (usefully online), Shearsman, or jubilat—a phrase or image can often spark a poem. I found reading a book of poetry actually not helpful in such a situation: as I’d just been reading one poet and so probably just one style, the poem following the session would usually be pastiche.
If you could take only one collection with you, who would be your desert island poet?
Only one? Oh, no! Then I guess it has to be the complete Emily Dickinson.
Any tips for budding poets?
Read as much and as widely as possible. Decide the kind of poetry you want to write based on what you admire rather than on what seems popular or fashionable.
Tell us a secret.
Now why would I do that?
Which poem has evoked the deepest emotional response in you?
There’s no one single poem, there are thousands, and I hope most poets have read so much that they also find it impossible to answer the question.
What is your favourite smell?
Several are fresh jasmine (blooming in May in California), fresh coriander/cilantro, vine-ripened tomatoes, and burning wood.
Which poem would you like read at your funeral?
Perhaps Dickinson’s “The Brain is wider than the Sky”—it implies something about how I tried to live my life, for one.
What is the most important lesson you’ve learnt as a writer?
Working hard to improve your writing requires humility, always being willing to learn, always being open to seeing weaknesses in your work so that you can address them.
Carrie has her own blog here: www.carrieetter.com