THE MINDS BEHIND THE MADNESS- THE HEDGEHOG POETRY PRESS- ZOË SÎOBHAN HOWARTH-LOWE

At Home with the Hoglets

Beginning with A Restricted View from Under the Hedge to Sticklebacks and on to The Cult of the Spiny Hog, along with a classic collection of inspirational writers, Mark Davidson and his poets are turning hoglets into must-have bookshelf desirables. Over a series of interviews I will ask the same 11 questions to a group of Hedgehog poets and Mark himself, and hopefully we’ll uncover what it takes to put pen to page, poem into print and pamphlet onto that prized position on every reader’s bookshelf.

Today we have a poet with two pamphlets and the mother of two children whose latest collection with The Hedgehog Poetry Press is called I Have Grown Two Hearts.

Thanks for joining us here Zoë Sîobhan, let’s get going…

1 Why did you write this collection, what is it about and what would you like the reader to take away after they turn the last page and find that perfectly prized place for it on their bookshelf?

This Collection is about Motherhood in all the forms and variations that I have either a personal experience of or the experience of a family member to draw from. It also features various aspects of pregnancy, the struggles and complications as well as the happier experiences.

I explore what it is like to be a mum in different moments including exhaustion, wonder and difficulties, from tantrums to the tender moments. I end with a couple of reflective poems exploring how parenthood flips your own parent/ child relationships as you finally get to experience the other side of that dynamic.

As always, I hope a reader will take away just one line or one poem that resonates with them. The ultimate dream is that one of my poems becomes a favourite of someone out there.

2 My chillout time comes from cooking, endless hours lost in the kitchen along with a blaring radio of eclectic tunes and golden oldies, but I can only chill when the cupboards are well stocked with the basic ingredients. Firstly, what is your chillout routine, your escape from the pen and all the pondering and, secondly, what are the basic ingredients you need when it comes to settling down to write- what factors or futons make the best mix for your creations?

With two children chillout time is very rare! I do have a few escapes from the pen though. I love being crafty and making things. I also enjoy painting war game miniatures. I love reading, especially poetry and children’s literature. I really enjoy Rick Riordan’s various Demigod series and my ultimate favourite book is Host by Stephanie Meyer.

My main escape is being a Beaver Leader. I adore planning things for my Beavers to do, we have been doing our best to keep going virtually during lockdown but I do miss my blue ninja’s. I am hoping the other side of the pandemic isn’t too far away and I get to see them again before they are all scout age!

My writing ingredients are time and peace. Both have been in short supply during lockdown as my routine was to use the time while my two chaos makers are at school to write. Now school is back open I’m trying to make the most of having the time & peace back again.

3 Sticking with the cooking analogy for a moment, do you follow a specific recipe for writing or do you throw all the ingredients into the bowl and see what happens?

I don’t have a specific recipe for writing. I love to experiment and try new things. I like to use paper and pencil but will honestly use whatever tools are nearby when words float into my mind. My favourite poems are the sort that arrive out of nowhere and demand to be written down, but the most satisfying are the ones that take months of edits to get just right.

4 In these days of social media, you’re nothing if you’re not seen and in these unsettling, uncertain days of Covid, seeing, listening and buying has moved online and readings and live launches in libraries and lounges are a rare happening or else there is a limit to the amount of people in attendance. How are you dealing with having new collections coming out right now? What is your way of being seen? How are you coping with the fact that being a writer today also requires a certain amount of spotlight, certainly more than the days of Ms. Dickinson?

I launched this collection on zoom with a prickle of other Hoglets which was lovely. Luckily I have been doing Zoom sessions with my Beavers so I am used to using Zoom as a tool. Eventbrite was a new one for me. This movement to online has made me take the plunge and buy myself a website domain as although I’ve had a free website for years now it wasn’t searchable. I’ve had to get comfortable quickly with being on webcam so I’ve started to film some of my poems and get them out there in a new way. I now have my own YouTube channel and am looking into other online platforms too.

I certainly got into writing all those years ago thinking I could hide behind my notebook and never need to be seen, I never realised just how important performance would be. I was lucky enough to have done quite a few headline slots before lockdown and can’t wait to be able to do those again in future. I do love how zoom allows me to travel to places I couldn’t usually and have loved sharing poems with people across the world.

5 Speaking of being seen and getting noticed, how important are acceptances from writing journals and how do you deal with the rejection which comes, no matter how much acclaim you have received? The reality we must learn is that not everyone is going to love our work, which can be heart breaking as we’re basically offering up our poetic babies to be loved, though no one loves a baby as much as the parent. So what keeps you going? Head up and move on or hide out and wait till the hurt passes? What encouragement do you have for others starting out?

When it comes to submitting work I use the philosophy ‘aim for 100 rejections’. Since I first decided to aim for the 100 I found it made me submit far more which improved my acceptance rates as I found giving myself permission to fail also allowed my more space to succeed. I also split myself up when it comes to the different aspects of being a poet. Poet me does the creative side and Admin me handles submissions and self-promotion. I find it useful to deal with submissions, rejections and acceptances in professional mode as it never feels personal that way. The revolving door policy also helps as then rejections just mean that I have poems coming back in that can be edited as required and booted straight back out.

6 If you had to pick one piece of your own writing that most represents you what would it be and why and would you like to share it or part of it here with us?

This poem is one of my favourites. If I were a poem I think this one would be it…


When NASA Finishes Mining

There used to be craters on the moon, now the moon is a crater. Carved out, mined of all its juices, it remains derelict. Too light to continue to orbit: it just hangs, skeletal and listless. Unable to wax or wane, its cycle broken.
Tidal-confusion grips the ocean below. Trapped, neither flowing in nor out, unable to turn yet trying to. Turning itself one way, then the next, like an uncomfortable sleeper, too hot inside its own shape.
I sit, bare-footed, on night-dewed grass, sniffing out the hot-salt of the ocean that cannot rest, the orange-rind moon above. I too am neither one thing, nor another. I whisper to the blades of grass, tap on the earth, and wait for the flowers that will never come.

7 Writing poetry, more so than any other writing form, is often the art of peeling back, removing the unnecessary, eliminating lines to uncover the hidden truth- how bare does it get for you? How difficult is it, at times, to tell your story within the lines and framework of a poem? How comfortable is it to be naked with so few words to cover over the possible discomfort or is it just a part of the process you get used to?

My two pamphlets are full of some of my rawest and most naked poems. They are some that when I wrote them I never thought I’d be brave enough to share. That’s where Admin me comes in handy I guess. My professional head said Nonsense to the not being brave enough, these are some of your best work, and so out they went. I have simply had to get used to it.

8 When it comes to titles, our pieces as I said, are like children- each needing special consideration and attention- how do you name your poems, short stories, collections or novels- is the name a starting point, a midway consideration or a summation of the theme afterwards? Sometimes I worry when I come up with a really great title it might overpower the poem itself- is there a balance between the two?

Titles. This was the bane of everyone’s lives in my University classes. Sometimes the title is organic, it comes as easily as the words do. Other times it is an enigma. There is something satisfying about the working title ‘Poem’ that keeps me going until the correct title turns up.

9 For myself, writing started in childhood as a purely cathartic process, even if I was too young to fully understand this, it was a way of self-analysing and coming to an understanding of the world and my place within it. How did you find your way to writing and what was it about the process that kept you hooked?

I have written for as long as I can remember. It has always been as much a part of me as breathing. I find that being unable to write, for whatever reason makes me incredibly unhappy and I don’t feel like me. I find it a real struggle to not write so I don’t think that stopping is an option.

10 For the most things that fulfil me in life, the surrounding visuals are very important, and over the past few years the relationship between the photograph I take and poem I write becomes integral to the success of both- sometimes I never know which inspired the other more. What is your favourite accompaniment while creating a piece of writing?

I have experimented with many types of accompaniment while writing. Art, music, a great view, peoples conversations in the background etc. While all of these have been interesting to experiment with my favourite ‘accompaniment ‘to writing is movement. I find that moving is the best way to get a poem into being and many of my favourites were first written during a walk or on a train ride.

11 The more I write, the more it becomes my oxygen, the more my hand shapes itself to the shape of my favourite pen or now my iPhone which has replaced the laptop as the most at-hand instrument to record my thoughts, and these days I have to catch them quick or they are lost forever. As a kid I wanted to be a famous fashion designer and lived in 4 different countries working for various fashion brands, though the writing was always there. Since then, cooking and photography have come more into the forefront. What were your childhood dreams, what were the jobs that followed to fulfil them or just fill time and what, other than writing, would you consider doing in order to express yourself?

I’ve always dreamed of being a writer. I went straight from school to a creative writing degree followed by a Masters degree in Poetry. My jobs have always been complimentary to my writing, I have been an Admin assistant at my university and also college librarian. I am currently a full-time mum and a Beaver Leader. I enjoy going into school to lead poetry and printing press workshops and really loved my recent experience of reading for an anthology which has made me consider poetry editing as a future career choice.

Thank you so much for taking the time to share your thoughts, insights and mental workings with us. It’s been a pleasure to dive inside your head from the comfort of our own armchairs. Before we depart, if you were to leave us with one line, one phrase, one lyric, a one-liner or a once-in-a-life-time admission, either yours or someone else’s, what would it be?

I think for a bit of fun I’ll leave you with the very first poem I ever wrote at about age 4:

Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
and an apple is covered in snow.

You can find Zoe and her book here…

www.zshowarthlowe.com

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