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Creativity and Lockdown: In Conversation with Robin Houghton

Thinking back to the first lockdown how did it affect you and your writing?

I wasn’t really writing anything new at the beginning of the year, and when the lockdown began I think I became even less motivated to write. I think I needed physical activity more – gardening, walking, cleaning and moving furniture. I struggle to write poetry unless I’m on my own in the house. As a consequence I didn’t send anything out to magazines in 2020. And I was already under a self-imposed moratorium on entering competitions.

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Have you found a distinction between your motivation to write poetry and your work on Planet Poetry?

Yes, Planet Poetry harks back to an urge I’ve had for years, to do some kind of podcast/radio thing. I looked into podcasting a couple of years ago with my friend Lucy. We used to do little ‘audio blogs’ years ago, on Foursquare (remember that?). But starting a podcast felt like a big project and I had other things on the go. Then when Peter Kenny mentioned the idea to me last summer I jumped at it. It’s great fun to do with a friend, and poetry was the obvious topic. It feels like I’m still participating in the poetry community, even though I’m not meeting people at live readings or workshopping groups, or sending work to magazines.

You published your updated version of A Guide to Getting Published in UK Poetry Magazines in November, was it helpful to have this project to work on during 2020?

Absolutely. The timing wasn’t great, because it coincided with my starting a new course (more about that below) and also the launch of Planet Poetry. But I’m so glad I did it, as I think the time was right and people were very receptive. It’s also a guilt-free way of funding my poetry book-buying, magazine subs and other small poetry costs.

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Do you see a relationship between creativity and wellbeing?

For me, certainly. I derive great pleasure both from making things, and also from making things happen. It’s very satisfying, and it’s fun! I realise I’m very lucky to have the time to do so. Usually at least half my energy goes into managing musical projects with my husband. But there hasn’t been much to do on that this last year. Hence the podcast, and then the ‘guide’. I also hand-made some little booklets for a few friends last spring, each with a little recipe, a favourite poem, some images etc. As one recipient remarked, “it’s fascinating what people get up to in lockdown!”

Your website is a fantastic tool for other poets in terms of updates, submissions advice and tips. How have you managed to motivate yourself with your own writing and submissions?

That’s kind of you to say, thank you. I’m not sure I’ve done a great job of motivating myself to write and submit this last year. The last thing I’ve wanted to write about is anything to do with Covid-19 and all the restrictions, and it’s hard to clear your head of it. There are things I could to do help myself write more, in terms of setting time aside and sticking to it, following along with daily prompts and exercises, that kind of thing. There are people doing brilliant stuff like this: Louise Tondeur, Jo Bell, Live Canon, the guys at Write & Shine. But that’s never really worked for me long term. I have to relax and not worry. It helps me more just to read fine poetry, to be honest. New poems will come when they are happy to do so!

What are you working on now?

Actually I’m mostly working on the MA in Poetry and Poetics that I began in October. Last summer, I had the idea of improving my ‘literary education’!  At first I thought about a Creative Writing MA, but after researching courses I began to realise they weren’t really what I was after. Then, amazingly, I came across this MA at the University of York, the only course of its kind in the UK. I’m doing it part-time over two years. It’s both brilliant and challenging; my first foray into academia in twenty years. I’m having to be very disciplined, reading shedloads of poetry and theory, trying to hold my own as the granny of the class. There’s no creative writing element at all, so no pressure in that way. Reading the classics has made me realise how as contemporary poets we’re all riding on the tip of the iceberg. There’s an enormous body of work holding us up. It’s very inspiring. I’ve even started writing the odd poem.

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Robin Houghton’s work appears in many magazines including Agenda, Bare Fiction, Envoi, Magma, Poetry News and The Rialto, and in numerous anthologies. Also in The Best New British and Irish Poets 2017 (Eyewear). She won the Hamish Canham Prize in 2013, the Stanza Poetry Competition in 2014 (and was runner-up in the same competition in 2016) and the New Writer Competition in 2012. Other competition placings include second in the Plough Prize, shortlisted for the Bridport Prize (2019) and longlisted in the National Poetry Competition (2019). Her pamphlet The Great Vowel Shift was published by Telltale Press, the poets’ collective she co-founded in 2014. In 2017 she self-published a handmade limited edition mini-pamphlet Foot WearAll the Relevant Gods, Robin’s third pamphlet, won the Cinnamon Press Poetry Pamphlet competition in 2017 and was published in February 2018. Her fourth pamphlet Why? And other questions (2019) was a joint winner of the 2019 Live Canon Poetry Pamphlet Competition. Robin also writes reviews and features and her  A Guide to Getting Published in UK Poetry Magazines was published by Telltale Press in 2018. She blogs at robinhoughtonpoetry.co.uk

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