Looking back to the first lockdown how did it affect you and your writing?
I don’t think it made much difference. I didn’t stop writing. But neither did I didn’t write more. I did go to some writing workshops online, though, which was fun and interesting, and I wouldn’t normally have done that. And I joined two poetry discussion groups, which have been (and continue to be) educative and fun. Having people to laugh with is great. I can’t get by without laughter.
What guidance as an editor, might you give one of your poets who feels creatively diminished by this current lockdown?
I think feeling creatively diminished ties in with feeling diminished as a whole person. So the issue is how to boost one’s sense of well-being. There have been masses of online arts events that one could attend for little or no money. So that’s a boost for many of us. But so is starting something entirely new: learning a language, learning some aspect of technology.
Or if virtual activities don’t appeal, or are unavailable, or lose their charm, getting outdoors – if you can – is a big help. I heard a radio talk about ‘awe’ walks as a way of boosting the spirits, and realised I’d been doing them without knowing. On an ‘awe’ walk you deliberately look for one thing to marvel at, on a walk of any length. I usually photograph whatever it is. Sometimes it’s cloud formations. Sometimes weird fungi. Sometimes the colour of new grass. Or frost melting on a leaf. Snowberries on a bare twig. Today, swans on the ice. There are amazing things around you if you’re looking for them. What could be better for a person, and a poet, than an active sense of wonder?
Have you found it easier to be an editor or a poet during this time?
I find it difficult to distinguish between the two. Both are creative functions, and they interconnect. If I’m working on a poem of my own, I’m going to end up working through numerous versions—so that’s my poet and my editor at work. And if I’m making editorial suggestions to another poet, that will call in my imagination and lateral thinking and empathy and intuition—all highly stimulating. And tiring!
In lockdown, how important is input rather than output in terms of nurturing the poet?
Input is always important, if input is life experience. The most important thing at any time is living fully and authentically. For me, that’s more important than writing, and it must come first.
Poets are writers, and their life experience is their main resource. But they also read a lot. You don’t have to write poems all the time. Poems don’t work like that. You just need to write something, anything, to engage a certain bit of your brain and keep it exercised. Writing down thoughts about poems you’ve read is a great bit of exercise.
One good thing: we are never short of poems to read. The supply, in lockdown or any other time, is never-ending. Any poet can learn to read better, more widely, more inventively. And reading in company is a joy. What could be better than talking about poems?
How have you managed your creativity during these difficult times?
I have no idea. I think my creativity manages me. Creativity thrives on constraint.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m gathering together all my Mr and Mrs Philpott poems, whose story was finally concluded in a piece I wrote last year (during lockdown). So that will be a once in a life-time book for me. It has taken twenty years, and I’d like it to find some readers.
Thank you Helena.
Helena Nelson founded HappenStance Press in 2005 and remains its sole editor. She also writes poetry. Her own published work began with a pamphlet, Mr and Mrs Philpott on Holiday at Aucherawe & Other Poems, Kettillonia Press, 2001. Her first book, Starlight on Water, followed in 2003 from Rialto Press and was an Aldeburgh/Jerwood First Collection Prize winner. She writes both serious and light verse. Unsuitable Poems (2005), The Unread Squirrel (2009) and Down With Poetry! (2016) represent her humorous and satirical side, as well as the more recent collection of WrapperRhymes (Branded, 2019). She has performed widely, often provoking mirth.
A former teacher in further education, she sometimes works as an Arvon tutor. She also publishes pamphlets (mainly first collections), and occasional book-length volumes, including first collections for D.A. Prince, Stephen Payne, Fiona Moore and Charlotte Gann.
She reviews for a range of magazines as well as posting a regular blog entry on the HappenStance website about poetry publishing, among other topics. An associated activity is sphinx review.co.uk, a site dedicated to promoting and reviewing poetry pamphlet publishing. Here the idea of the OPOI is flourishing: short reviews of poetry pamphlets focussing on only One Point Of Interest (the OPOI).
In 2016, she published a HappenStance best seller: How (Not) to Get Your Poetry Published, a book that collects the insights and useful ideas she has gathered over the last fourteen years in poetry publishing. Down With Poetry! (published in the same year) is in many ways a light verse companion to How (Not) to…
Poetry: Plot and Counterplot, Shoestring Press, 2010, Starlight on Water, Rialto Press, (2003), Mr and Mrs Philpott on Holiday at Auchterawe & Other, Poems, Kettillonia Press pamphlet (2001).
Light Verse: Branded, Red Squirrel Press (2019),, Down With Poetry!, HappenStance (2016), The Unread Squirrel, (More Unsuitable Poems) HappenStance (2010), Unsuitable Poems, HappenStance, (2005) (sorry, sold out)
Prose: How (Not) to Get Your Poetry Published, HappenStance (2016)