If you missed my list of favourite female poets back in March, you wouldn’t have known that Sophia Blackwell was on that list. So you can probably imagine how thrilled I am to introduce her second collection The Fire Eater’s Lover through Burning Eye AND even get a little interview with her about the release.
Sophia has been performing poetry for a long time, she is a veteran some might say of poetry night, both performing and hosting. Having done at a variety of venues in London. Sophia has had work published in the like of Trespass, Rising, Fuselit anthologies and Pen Pusher and in Paul Burston’s anthology of gay short fiction, Boys and Girls and its follow-up Men and Women. Needless to say, she’s become an integral voice of British poetry and has woe’d her audiences and readers with rich, passionate language that has become the signature of her writing.
Hi Sophia! Firstly, what a beautiful collection you’ve made! Congratulations. This is your second collection, how does it differ from Into Temptation?
Thank you! First of all, it’s almost twice the size of Into Temptation; over fifty poems. My first collection was very much created to accompany my performances. While The Fire Eater’s Lover is very much about performing, its poems are more intricately crafted, whereas Into Temptation is largely composed of poems I’d originally spoken aloud for many years, which people then asked to see written down. With a few notable exceptions, they were never created for the page.
The Fire Eater’s Lover starts on the first day of the year and the last poem takes us to the last day. This gives the collection a sense of purpose and direction, what kind of journey is this for you?
Well, it’s no secret that this book wouldn’t have been quite what it is without Jo Bell’s 52 project and the community that grew up around it. The concept of 52 was that you had to write a poem a week, and the collection has fallen into a roughly chronological order; which, to be honest, was a bit of an accident, but one I’m grateful for. For me, the completion of The Fire Eater’s Lover was a journey that took me more into the moment, into the present. I stopped looking for answers to everything and began to feel more intensely what it’s like to be alive, and I think that comes out in the book.
How did you choose the title ‘The Fire Eater’s Lover?’
Out of my three books, only the novel- After My Own Heart– came with its own title right from the start. The two poetry collections originally had quirkier, Miranda July-esque titles which, with hindsight, I’m extremely glad to see the back of. The poem of the title was inspired by a fire eater at the London Burlesque Festival, who had this amazing, sexy look, like the women on the cover. When I was in Edinburgh, my friend David Holloway, who had been reading the manuscript, emailed me to suggest I change the name. That night I saw a fire eater on the Royal Mile and thought, ‘Yes, that’s what it should be called.’ So basically, never trust me to name anything.
Can you tell us a bit about your personal writing process and who inspires you to write?
My personal writing process isn’t very illuminating- it pretty much boils down to ‘get your head down, crack on and bribe yourself with a snack.’ In terms of the women who’ve shaped the way I write and perform, that would probably be Rosie Garland, Stella Duffy and Joolz Denby. This collection was also influenced by collections from three male poets: The Speed of Dark by Ian Duhig, Drysalter by Michael Symmons Roberts and Terrific Melancholy by Roddy Lumsden. The way I actually write isn’t like them at all, but I dipped into these books as a sort of limbering-up exercise because they were ambitious and different, and that’s what I wanted for my work.
Finally, do you have any advice for part-time poets looking to get serious?
Learn to play, be kind to yourself and let yourself fail. You have to put the hours in and learn to love the process as much as the product. Don’t listen to writers- including me- who pretend that their work just fell out of the sky. It doesn’t. Finally, the world doesn’t owe you a living- but you’ll be amazed at how much abundance there is out there for you, once you open yourself to it.
You can pick up a copy of The Fire Eater’s Lover
direct from our webstore
Tonight Sophia will be launching her book at Gay’s the Word in London along with Spacecraft
by John McCullough. Details are here
if you can get along.