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Monday, 5 June 2017
Poet Interviews: 2 - Mandy Pannett
It is a huge privilege to publish the second of my Poet Interviews series - featuring West Sussex based Mandy Pannett. Mandy, who works as a freelance creative writing tutor, has taken part in readings across the country as well as leading residential and day workshops. Her poetry, which I first discovered thirteen years ago, has appeared in journals in the UK, Europe, Canada and the States. She is the author of six poetry collections and a novella and is also poetry editor for Sentinel Literary Quarterly and editor of the anthology Poems for a Liminal Age (SPM Publications), published in support of Médecins Sans Frontières. I was honoured to read with Mandy at the launch of this anthology, and she has also edited a poetry collection and an anthology for Earlyworks Press. Mandy has been placed in several national competitions as well as acting as adjudicator for others. She is involved in helping to organise activities for the current South Downs Poetry Festival and is also working towards a new poetry collection and another novella. A listed bibliography of Mandy Pannett's publications follows this interview.
Can you give a brief description of your "poetry background", ie how you became interested in poetry as a reader and a writer?
I think my interest was first caught by reading wonderful, rhyming narrative poems such as Sir Patrick Spens, The Jackdaw of Rheims, Lepanto etc. I love the sound and the pulse of them. I don’t consciously remember learning them by heart but I can still recite them today so I must have. Much later, at school, I came under the influence of Eliot and Hopkins and learned to appreciate the enormous variety of styles a poet can explore.
I wrote a number of song lyrics for musician friends when I was living in London. Later, I wrote some for television programmes. This taught me so much about the sound of words – hard sounds, soft sounds, assonance, rhyme etc. Gradually I found I was also writing poems and paying more attention to technique and form. I still love listening to and reading good song lyrics though and am often tempted to try and write more (if only I could find the time!)
Which poets are important to you and why?
Eliot and Hopkins, as mentioned, Shakespeare, Thomas Wyatt, John Donne, Keats, Shelley, Edward Thomas, Robert Hass, Louise Gluck, Philip Levine, Mimi Khalvati, Alice Oswald, Fleur Adcock, Jackie Wills, Roselle Angwin, Sean Street, Paul Matthews – I could go on and on. I am always buying collections by new writers as well, particularly young women, or making copies of poems I like whether they are well known or not.
How important is the history, landscape and general environment of the area you live in, to the poetry you write?
Very important as I have a strong sense of atmosphere and place. The setting of somewhere, whether in fiction or poetry, is more important to me than the narrative. I live in West Sussex and am surrounded by landscapes and histories which I love but I’m also very much drawn to the urban and the hinterlands, the psychogeography of it all.
How did you begin to get published as a poet, and how did your debut publication come about?
I had one or two early pieces published in poetry magazines but it was the support of David Caddy at the brilliant journal Tears in the Fence that first encouraged me to write ‘seriously’. Through David I also got to know the late Anne Born – a wonderful person and poet. She suggested I should send half a dozen poems to her as editor of Oversteps Books, then she asked for about twenty more and so on until, months later, she offered to publish a collection for me which was Bee Purple. This was fantastic. If I could make any changes to some of the poems I would alter a few line and stanza breaks but basically I am still very attached to the collection and the memories behind it.
What kinds of poetry do you like - and which, if any, do you dislike?
I do like all kinds but mostly I prefer poems that are quirky, non-linear, associative, ‘leaping’ and open ended. My favourite quote is Emily Dickinson’s ‘Tell all the truth but tell it slant’.
I have always enjoyed lateral thinking games and this seems to spill over into my writing and reading.
I’m always looking for (and trying to write) strong, modern ‘protest’ poems because I think it’s essential for poets to confront complexities and dilemmas of today’s world, to try and make a difference. I’m not too keen on poems that rant or ‘tell’ too much. I suppose I prefer the subtle approach.
All that said, if a poem is well crafted and has a genuine feel to it, whatever the style or theme, then that’s good enough for me.
Is there any over-riding "theme" or raison-d'etre behind your writing as a whole, or has it tended to go in different directions and areas of inspiration?
Probably the latter, the different directions. I envy people who can write a collection and maintain a constant theme. I can manage this with occasional sequences but not with a whole group of poems. Often there is a theme but I can’t see it at the time. Sometimes it needs a friend or a reviewer to discover it for me.
I do find I am more aware of the modern world and its uncertainties now and often find myself writing poems that touch on concerns about refugees and the displaced, for instance. As I said, I think poets should try and make a difference in some way, great or small.
A few words on how you write, any routines, superstitions and such?
Preferably, I like to write on plain paper with a pencil. I have special pencils which are a Wedgwood Museum design based on the Alphabet series of Eric Ravilious, one of my favourite artists. It’s not that important though. I’ll write on anything that comes to hand if needs be.
I’m an early bird and write best in the morning. I don’t have a set routine but grab opportunities when I can – buses, trains, waiting rooms etc. Over the years I have taught myself to write anywhere, in any condition!
Mandy Pannett: Feather-Shelter
it’s morning with a chance of sun
and I’m waking up to myself and all the stuff
outside my window – birdsong, traffic, footsteps
on a gravel path.
Voices that were calling to me in the dark
are now switched off.
the fabric of life for some
is too thin for repair.
Who darns a sock these days, turns a collar,
weaves a sackcloth shift?
it happens offstage
as in a Greek tragedy where a messenger tells
that children have died in the wings
but the impact is less
if I don’t see bodies
or sense the no-breath in a van.
So let’s say
it’s easy to airbrush, photoshop and sink
an image, blur a face, a hand
or turn the volume down low,
that a feather-shelter may disperse
and I won’t even know.
'Bee Purple' Oversteps Books
'Frost Hollow' Oversteps Books
'Allotments in the Orbital' Searle Publishing
'All the Invisibles' SPM Publications
'Jongleur in the Courtyard' Indigo Dreams Publishing
'Ladders of Glass' Integral Contemporary Literature Press
'The Onion Stone' (novella) Pewter Rose Press