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Pamphlet: Chat 2 with Suzanna Fitzpatrick

A quick chat with Suzanna Fitzpatrick

szWhat was it that steered you towards publishing a pamphlet?
I have been writing poetry all my life, but focussed on it more when I became a freelance writer and editor in 2006. After building up a track record of poems in magazines and anthologies, I wanted to work towards a pamphlet, and felt that a themed sequence would work best for this format. I actually have several pamphlet-length sequences; some drawing on my work as a volunteer shepherd, for example, but these poems are closest to my heart for obvious reasons.

How long did it take to build up the poems?
I began writing the poems in 2011, when pregnant with my son. This obviously coincided with a period in my life when I didn’t get much writing time! However, I scribbled down notes as ideas for poems came to me, and came back to them whenever I had a moment. Hence the sequence begins with pregnancy poems, and moves through birth, breastfeeding, and the early days of motherhood. The later poems consider experiences as my son begins to fledge out into the world and encounters all the joys and hazards that this entails. Some of these were written as recently as the end of 2015, by which time I was pregnant with my daughter, now nearly 7 months old. Here we go again…

How did you choose a press?
There are many great small presses; we seem to be having a wonderful renaissance period as far as pamphlet publication is concerned. But Sheila Wakefield does a particularly brilliant job of producing books which are both beautiful objects, and full of interesting ideas. Red Squirrel is 10 years old this year; interestingly the same amount of time as I’ve been focussing on poetry. Having long admired their work, I submitted ten poems from Fledglings to their James Kirkup Memorial Prize in 2014, and was delighted when Sheila called me last spring to say that I had been selected as the winner by judges Bob Beagrie and Stevie Ronnie.

When you first saw the publication what did you think?
I was thrilled when my box of pamphlets arrived. Things have been so hectic since my daughter was born that I did the final proofs very much on the fly and forgot even to ask what the cover would be like. But Sheila had hit upon one of my favourite colours. The typesetting is meticulous, and each poem is given plenty of space on the page. As for any poet, holding one’s debut publication in one’s hands after years of work is very moving. The pamphlet very much feels like my third child – hopefully the first of many (books, that is; no more babies, or I’ll never get any writing done!).

Fledglings

I stroke the tiny kites
of your shoulder blades,
imagine wings. Gingerly

I stretch my own.
It’s been so long
since I trusted them.

As your nestling’s down
gives place to feathers,
I’ll re-learn flight with you. Let’s stand,

teeter-happy, brink-thrilled,
taste the wind. And we’ll soar,
my darling. We will soar.

 

 

Duet

I sing to you.
My notes rise like bubbles
through a darkness warmed by breath,
telling an old, old story
like the freshest news.
You listen, stir
in time to the music,
reassure me. I move my hand
across the dome of you
your fingers tracing mine
on the other side of my belly’s glass.

On the other side of your belly’s glass,
your fingers tracing mine
across the dome of you
reassure me. I move my hand
in time to the music
and you listen, stir,
like the freshest news
telling an old, old story
through a darkness warmed by breath.
My notes rise like bubbles:
I sing to you.

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Suzanna Fitzpatrick on the poetry of place

It’s hard to write about a garden. From a Western standpoint, there’s no escaping the long shadow of Eden and original sin. Even outside the Judeo-Christian tradition, the major world religions all have the trope of the garden as paradise: a place of escape and revelation. This persists in a post-Industrial Revolution culture which fetishes the pastoral.

sculpture

If the garden bears the weight of our expectations, the writer has to negotiate this burden. Poetry of place needs to be about more than description, however accomplished; it is also about people in relation to the place. When I arrived at Riverhill, I read Abegail’s poem, ‘How to Walk in the Garden’. Her approach is to adopt a beguilingly didactic tone, assuming the role of guide. The first line of the poem pulls us in: “Here’s the key to the garden”, and the imperatives continue, both inviting and commanding us to “Squander your touch”, “Trace paths”, “Brush lichen”, as we are led through a sensory evocation. This is garden as meditation and poet as guru, and by the end the reader identifies wholly with the garden as both await enlightenment: “as if you’re/the only garden in the world waiting to be born”.

How to walk in the garden

Here’s the key to the garden; stiff-locked gate eases
with a gentle shove, sun-bleached frame hangs −
a distraught lower lip. Dip your head to pass.

Squander your touch on swags of ivy, be the wind
sift sky for its clutter of starlings, hurtle sycamore
seeds like spinning-tops. Trace paths that creep

through sunlight, slackening fruit − let the cool drag
of summer clutch your heels – catch the red flash of vixen
as she sneaks home. Read leaves like they’re faint

black ink on skin-thin letters, cobwebs cornered
in glass, listen to plants germinate in many languages.
Brush lichen with your shoulder as if it’s your first

ever touch, as if today sun rattles in its own heat,
snags air, a distant fire growing older, as if you’re
the only garden in the world waiting to be born.

Visiting with my 3-year-old, my experience was less meditative. He didn’t want to wander and think; he wanted to run about and explore, which is an equally valid way of engaging with a garden. We spent a lot of time in the woods looking for the elusive yeti (there is another poem to be written about the poor soul who roams the woods in a furry costume). We were too early to see the bluebells, and it occurred to me that here was a metaphor for parenthood. You think you’re training your child to be patient, but your own patience is being trained. You learn to compromise: you can’t have the experience you’d ideally like, but you can enjoy what you’ve got. The woodland way is harder than the formal path, but the budding bluebells promise a wilder epiphany. And, much to my son’s delight, we did see the yeti.

In Bud

I go into the garden. There’s parterre
spicy with boxwood, cool fountains,
paths to follow. But I leave

walled surety, strike up the steep hill,
woodwards. There may be views,
strange creatures. The trees

keep their secrets tight-furled
in leaf buds, summer’s tongues
poised to blurt truth. I ask

the first willo-wisps of bluebells.
Not yet, they promise.
Stop. Wait. Open your eyes,
and we will ours.

Suzanna Fitzpatrick

suzanna fitzpatrick photoSuzanna Fitzpatrick has been widely published in magazines and anthologies, including Furies (For Books’ Sake), and forthcoming in Birdbook III (Sidekick Books) and The Emma Press Anthology of Slow Things. She has been commended in a number of competitions, won second prize in the 2010 Buxton Competition, and won the 2014 Hamish Canham Prize. Her pamphlet, Fledglings, will be published by Red Squirrel Press in 2016. She lives in Kent with her husband and young son.

To join in Words@riverhill on June 6th, book a place with: jennifer@riverhillgardens.co.uk