Looking out of the window this morning, it definitely doesn’t feel like spring is on it’s way. It’s wet and windy and miserable here in Portishead but the first of our new Spring collections is here and we’re not about to let the weather ruin our celebrations!
Burning Eye Books is pleased to announce the release of Kirsten Luckins’ The Trouble With Compassion. Aside from being excessively busy with Apples and Snakes North East, writing a show and preparing for StAnza 2016, we managed to catch her on a quiet moment to tell us more about herself and the collection:
Hello! Please tell us about yourself and what/who inspires you to write poetry.
Hi! Where to start?! I’m based in the north east of England, in Teesside, so that’s different from most performance poets people may have heard of, I suppose. I’m also in my forties, I got started on spoken word quite late. I had always written poetry, it’s just that I’d had a very academic introduction to it, so for a long time I had no idea performance poetry even existed. As a teenager I was into the usual suspects – Sylvia Plath, TS Eliot, Seamus Heaney etc. Nowadays I read much more widely, and tend to get inspired and daunted in equal measure by all the thousands of poets who are much more skilled than me – Fran Lock, Caroline Bird, Liz Berry. I’d be ecstatic if I ever managed to produce anything a fraction as good as Derek Walcott, for example.
The inspiration to write poetry comes and goes for me, depending on how busy life is and how much I’m managing to stay awake and observant. Currently I’m doing a lot of writing to order for a residency in my local archive, so my inspiration is coming from true stories and historical research. I’m a big fan of prompts, I don’t think any poet should only riff on their foremost preoccupations – attitudes and values shine more interestingly if you’re coming at them slant.
The title and theme for your book is compassion, the poems are split into five sections – can you talk us through how you came up with the overall theme and why you decided to lay the book out in this way?
The sections relate to the five sections of the metta bhavana, a standard Buddhist meditation to develop loving kindness and compassion. I’ve been using this meditation in a haphazard fashion for several years, and in fact some of the key poems in the collection were written while I was on meditation retreat. One in particular refers to the meditation itself, and the difficulties in putting it into practice! So in each section, those poems could be read in the light of a wider instruction about being kind to yourself, loved ones, enemies, etc. Having multiple sections also gave me the opportunity to repeat the gorgeous abstract design my father-in-law did for the book jacket.
This collection feels focused, like you’re trying to work through something. How long did it take you to complete the manuscript and be (as much as you can!) happy with it?
I’d say the poems date to a four-year period, from 2010 onwards. Most of 2015 has been spent putting them in order and editing them, so there were no late additions of more recent work. I hadn’t really been writing towards a coherent collection, I took a chance on an open call for submissions to Burning Eye and was knocked sideways when they accepted me for publication – I had a moment of blind panic that none of my poems would make any sense put together. But when it was time to gather together the collection, it seemed to me that most of what I’d been writing about was my attempts to be understanding and compassionate. Or about the many times that I’d not been compassionate at all! Hence the title, The Trouble With…
As a regional co-ordinator for Apples and Snakes you’ve had a lot of experience with poetry in performance and education settings. Was there any project or event that really inspired and/or influenced the poems in this collection?
When I started writing, my main outlet for performance was JibbaJabba, a regular monthly night in Newcastle that I ended up co-programming. It’s been running for five years, and has always had a very high standard of open mic performers. So that was my goal, to write something that would rock the mic! The big poems in the collection are the ones that have become my ‘go-to’ set, and I suppose in many ways they’re quite theatrical, involving a lot of physical expression, different character voices, some kind of story or journey, some big emotional charge. I remember being very impressed by those kind of elements in the work of Ben Mellor, Jess Green, Sophia Walker and Joelle Taylor.
Do you have any advice for writers about to embark on the publishing route?
I know a lot of poets who make a habit of publishing in magazines to get confidence, and then maybe think about chapbooks, pamphlets or collections later on. I think there are pros and cons to that, as magazines often ask for a themed submission so you may find your subject matter becomes too scattered for a coherent pamphlet-like sequence to arise. There are a lot of good competitions for first-time publication of pamphlets, some of which come with mentoring, so it’s a good thing to have an eye on keeping back poems that seem to be ‘chiming’ or speaking to one another in some way. And take a chance! I would never have been in this position if I hadn’t entered the Burning Eye open call and given it a shot!
Your collection is done, it is out and available to buy. What’s next for you?
Well, since getting the collection together for editing, I’ve written a poetry-play that needs a bit of my attention, and I’ve written around twenty new poems that I’m hoping to shape into my second collection. I’m also in the process of writing a spoken word show to accompany The Trouble With Compassion, which already has tour dates booked in around the north east at some theatres and literature festivals. It all kicks off with a performance at StAnza on 4th March, which I’m extremely excited about!