Questioning a poet

Valerie Morton’s debut collection, Mango Tree is just out from Indigo Dreams. I caught up with her to find out how it all came about…

AM: When did you start writing and what helped you on your way to having a collection?Morton

VM: I can’t remember a time when I didn’t write in one form or another – letters, diaries, articles – but my first poem was published when I was seventeen in a now extinct popular magazine. After that I spent a long period in a writing wilderness. Marriage, having a family and working full time never seemed to leave enough time to produce more than a few scribbles (though I did keep a diary) and my writing was put on the back burner. By the time I picked up my pen again in 1993 I found I was very out of date with modern poetry and language and so I took an OU course – Start Writing Poetry (sadly they don’t do this any more) – and from there went on to take a BA Hons Humanities Degree which included Creative Writing.

Poetry had always been my ambition and with the help of poetry workshops and courses (with Bill Greenwell, the Poetry School and the OU) I gradually arrived at 20th century poetry language and met many helpful people along the way.

It was my final assignment for my OU degree that began the journey towards a collection. I had to write 120 lines of poetry in a sequence and that is when Mango Tree was born. I sat on the poems for some time before adding to them and building them into the story they are now.

AM: Did you start by sending out material to magazines and competitions?

VM: It was Bill Greenwell who suggested that my poem Handprints was publishable and so it appeared in The New Writer in 2008 and since then my poems have appeared in various magazines and in 2012 I won the Ver Poets Ten Liner Competition. I am very slow about sending poems out and intend to do so more often from now on.

AM: Which magazines do you/have you subscribed to? Do you have any favourite?

VM: I have been a long time subscriber to The New Writer and Mslexia and occasionally subscribe to The Rialto, Poetry London, Envoi, New Walk, Magma, all of which I enjoy. I also subscribe regularly to Indigo Dreams three publications Reach Poetry, Sarasvati, and The Dawntreader. If I know and enjoy the work of a particular poet who I know is being published I usually subscribe to a copy of that issue of a magazine.

Mango treeAM: How did Mango Tree evolve?

VM: Mango Tree has always been a story I intended to write but had not considered writing in poetry until the opportunity arose with the final assignment of my OU degree. The story is my own and has been a pivotal part of my life since 1967 and I have been so grateful for the opportunity to share it in a wider context. I had originally submitted some of the poems to Indigo Dreams thinking they may be suitable for Sarasvati and no-one was more surprised than me when they asked for more and then offered me the contract to publish. At first I thought it might be possible to build into a longer collection with other poems either side, but somehow the integrity of the collection was lost and my publisher agreed.

AM: Did you find you had a lot of proofing and editing to do after submission?

VM: There was surprisingly little proofing and editing to do after submission apart from putting the poems in the right order and adding some explanatory prose to two of the poems Music of the Monson and Fireflies. All together there were only three proofs. The acknowledgements did present a small problem as I realised it would be easy to run these into quite a list without some discipline. In the end I think I got it right. A lot of work had already gone into these poems before submission so there were only minor alterations to make.

AM: I really like the cover can you tell me about it?

The cover does have its own story. I had envisaged it in my mind but had no idea where to start. I had the original old photograph from Aurangabad as a slide but was told that the resolution was not good enough for the size required. However, a lovely poet friend and artist Karen Dennison came to my rescue and was able to superimpose the picture of a mango tree on the original photograph. If that sounds easy, it was not – it took over 25 attempts and a whole weekend but in the end I was so happy with the result and am very impressed with what Karen has done. The rest was in the hands of Ronnie at Indigo Dreams who put the final touches and the text and, hey presto, we were in business.


More often now
I get the urge
………..to break down again;
to sit on the verge
of that motorway in Kent,
………..your oily prints
turning my white dress
into a finger painting,
………..hoping the rescuers
will take their time
to move us on.

first published in The New Writer

Caledonian  Road

After your funeral I take a detour down
to the dodgy end, searching for that house

of chattering rooms, expecting to see Mary
in her too-bright kaftan while the sounds

of reggae rap from her open windows.
And to find you in that ground-brushing

wraparound skirt, sashaying towards me
so I could re-assure you:  I didn’t take lilies,
but jazzy gerberas – your favourites.

But I’d never want you to know
that where we once thought the world lived

in our pockets, stands row on row
of pristine mews in bourgeois leafiness;

that the rich mishmash of our footprints
has been demolished to make way

for ‘highly desirable living’.

published in South Bank Poetry magazine Issue 12

Mango Tree is available from Indigo Dreams.

10 thoughts on “Questioning a poet”

  1. Enjoyed this interview very much. Thanks. Interesting to hear how the cover evolved. And I’m also enjoying my copy of Mango Tree! It’s a wonderful book. Congratulations, Valerie.

    Elly xx

  2. Thank you Elly – glad you are enjoying it. And thank you Abi for talking to me about it. I enjoyed our conversation.

  3. I would just like to say how much I enjoyed the way this collection was put together…. The whole thing a sort of single poem with an ambiguous end. I do think I like small collections v much.

  4. I love to hear how collections evolve into being and yours is a wonderful story. Somehow along the way I’ve forgotten to order my copy so I’m off to do so now! I love the ones I’ve read so far – and agree the cover picture is fantastic. sharon (Black – for some reason my icon says Mccallum which is my middle name!) x

  5. This interview sums up the very best of what it means to be a publisher and writer today, and why IDP is determined to encourage great writing when it is sent to us. Valerie’s collection is delicious and to have brought these poems to a wider public a real privilege. You can smell and taste India from the moment you read the first page and Valerie’s tender and careful handling brings out all the subtleties and spice. She is a true poet of the highest calibre.

  6. I loved Mango Tree Valerie. It has been so interesting to read all about how it came together.
    Well done on the collection. Margaret

  7. Thank you everyone for all your comments – I enjoyed writing the poems, and love the fact that I can now see them in print and very much appreciate the support along the way. It has been an exciting experience.

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