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 Elisabeth Kelly, a teacher based in Southern Scotland who once worked as a TESOL teacher in Prague. Her collection Carbon will be out in May 2021 from The Hedgehog Poetry Press. She was recently published by the same press along with two other poets; Kate Young and Mike Yates, in the anthology Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité?

Thanks for taking part Elisabeth, let’s jump right in…

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?

Carbon will be my debut pamphlet. I started writing poetry in March 2020 as Scotland went into a nationwide Lockdown because of the Covid-19 pandemic, and like that time the pamphlet is a mixture of positive, negative and more neutral feelings. This is why I chose to set it out using the structure of a Carbon atom to show that life for me anyway (Carbon being a fundamental building block), is always a mixture of pluses, minus and moments that don’t fit either.

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?

I have a young family, work part-time as an Early Years Educator and home educate my eldest son, so poetry for me is my chill out time. I don’t ever really settle down to write, I write when and where I can. Often in my head on a walk with my son, or when cooking tea and then I will get it down on paper, and begin to edit. I do find last thing at night, in bed, when the house is calm, my children a sleep and I can breathe is often a good time for free writing ( if I am not totally shattered!).

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 am a bit of a “throw into the bowl” in life generally! As I am quite new to writing I am still trying out lots of ways of doing and being, but no nothing specific currently.

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. Dickenson?

My collection is due in May, and I was rather hoping to do a mix of online and in person events, but only time will tell! Online events have actually been great for me. I live in rural Scotland and due to my caring reasonability cannot really travel very far for very long so online events have enabled me to connect with and explore experiences I would never have had a chance to before. The spotlight it tricker, or more precisely trying to build your own light on social media platforms etc. I sometimes find this hard, the idea that you have to put yourself out there, that that is maybe as important as your words. I am thinking a lot about my use of social media, the instant hits of “likes” and the effect on my mental wellbeing. Currently my way of coping is to limit, be specific and also focus on using it for good like the wonderful supportive poetry community I have “met”.

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?

I found this hard at the start. Rejection and also waiting to hear back! I think the more acceptances I received the more confident I became and now I am more balanced about it all. I had a bit of a light bulb moment early on when I was “rejected” from a new online Lit Journal, but when I came to read their first edition I realised my poem didn’t fit at all! So, it wasn’t about the poem necessarily and I think this is true of a number of pieces. I also did a small stint on the other side. Helping edit one edition of a Lit Mag and again this showed to me how personal choices are and all the other factors at play that have nothing to do with your poetry. Having said all that I got two rejections yesterday and I did have to take a moment to come out a little bit of gloom!

I now prefer to call it redirection! I did used to be a bit knee jerk and if I got redirection, immediately submit somewhere else to make up for it, but found I couldn’t keep up that kind of energy levels! Now I submit to journals I really want to part of for whatever reason, and then I re-evaluate and move on.

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?

Oh now this is hard! Content was one of the first poems I wrote last March/April time that I felt confident to put out there. It was for the Borders Writers Forum who I had just become a member of, but is probably sums up a lot of my poetry, personal, and short!

by Elisabeth Kelly

There is a moment
of completion.

A folding in of the day.
Tucking the corners around my
billowing mind.

I see you all
enveloped, packaged.

7 Writing poetry, more so than any other writing form, is often the art of pealing 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?

Do you know I am a bit of a waffler, and so having to really think about every word has been brilliant for me. What I love about poems is how you can capture so much in so little and then the reader brings there won stuff and adds on more layers. I also love it because I don’t seem to have the strength to think long term narrative so working on a moment or a feeling works for me.

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?

I am truly dreadful at titles, all advice appreciated!

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?

It was all about story telling for me, stories for myself to act out in the fields when playing alone, imaginative play I suppose, and then stories to tell friends, and then pen hit paper and I wrote many angst ridden teenage poems. Then I went to University and it all stopped, I lost faith in my writing, lost my way a bit generally and got sucked into a life where writing played no part. Now, middle aged I am finding my way again.

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?

My husband is an amazing artist and sometimes he will inspire me with a doodle, otherwise it is just my mind. I tend to visualise the feeling or moment I am trying to create and the use words to describe it.

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 wanted to be a writer, always. But I became a Bar Manager, then a Software Account Manager, Marketing Sales Account Manager, then a TESOL Teacher in Prague and now a Principal Early Years Teacher. Which I love. I get to help people instil a love of literature and creativity in young children. Oh and I became a Mum to two wonderful, all consuming children.

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?

“and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings” from To Know the Dark by Wendall Berry

Elisabeth will be my guest on the Poetry Podcast Eat The Storms this weekend, the new episode drops Saturday 6th Feb at 5pm on Spotify, Anchor, Podbean. Apple and Google Podcast platforms.

You can find Elisabeth Kelly here at her WordPress blog where you can also purchase Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité?

For The Hedgehog Poetry Press, follow the link below…

All photographs by Elisabeth Kelly.


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