Hi Rebecca, you’re teaching a new course with us this Summer, ‘House and Universe: The Poetry of Home and Domestic Objects’. Tell us a bit about the course – what can we expect?
Rebecca: This course will be an opportunity to explore the spaces and objects that define ‘home’, and consider what does ‘home’ mean? It will be a chance to examine all the ‘furniture’ in our lives, as well as the relationships that can grow or fester in domestic settings. We will be looking at the typically ‘ordered’ structure of a house – kitchen, bedroom, bathroom – and using those spaces to mine our own memories. I hope also, to begin discussion and thought about the function of each room. Are there rules of behavior once inside them? What happens when the unexpected takes place? This is a building where so much ‘drama’ happens: it’s a universe all of its own. A hub for sex, birth, death, secrecy, love, fear and security – the creative ‘possibility’ when writing about home is endless! It would be good if participants came to the course ready to both embrace and challenge ideas of domesticity.
Is home an important theme in your own poetry?
Rebecca: I think ‘interior scenes’ play a part in my poetry, certainly. Many of my poems are set in domestic spaces that provide a backdrop to something strange, sad or frightening going on. I like exploring the dichotomy between a supposed safe, harmonious place and the emotional discord that can take place inside it.
You lived in Liverpool for over twenty years before moving back to Suffolk. Did the return feel like a homecoming, and have you noticed a change in your poetry since?
Rebecca: Yes, it did feel a little like a homecoming: being closer to family again, back in the villages of my youth. The change in my everyday environment has been huge – going from city to country, though I’m still waiting for that to impact on my writing. After completing an autobiographical collection, I’m now enjoying making things up again. However, I think I may have to write something about the sky. I am in love with the sheer expanse of it, above my garden.
What’s the worst place you’ve ever lived?
Rebecca: Cardiff. Nothing against the city, I was just lonely there.
Your second collection Her Birth has a very personal, moving feel – how does it feel to have written it, and to share it with others?
Rebecca: Most of the time it feels positive, especially when a bereaved parent writes to me and says they have been able to relate to the poems. Or if a doctor or nurse tells me they understand a little more about the patient/parent experience. But sometimes I feel exposed and vulnerable. I was recently asked if I thought the book was prolonging my grief. I’m still considering that question.
Who or what are your biggest influences?
Rebecca: Creatively: radio, cinema, novels, Jayne Anne Phillips and Sharon Olds.
Do you find that domestic objects are a rich source of poetry? On first glance, a kettle might not seem that inspiring…
Rebecca: A domestic object can represent our aspirations, it can reflect our financial state, it can be an heirloom, it can be the central thing around which a room operates. Such objects can trap us or free us and almost all of them come with a story. As for kettles, they lead to tea, and as poet Retta Bowen puts it, ‘that tea might save us’.
Do you have a favourite place in your house?
Rebecca: My house is 450 years old, with no corridors or proper hallway downstairs. Rooms follow on from each other and the staircase is hidden behind a door in the middle of the house. My favourite part is a space that doesn’t really know what it is. Part room, part hall. Brick floor, low beamed ceiling, large chimney breast, it’s dark and awkward to furnish. I’m not selling it to you, I realise that, but there’s something about it, the architectural details that are part of the building’s story. Being able to see so much of the ‘frame’ of the house makes me appreciate its age and strength.
You’ve written poetry from a very young age – what first brought you to writing?
Rebecca: Stories brought me to writing: the short, American version. I was weaned on the likes of Raymond Carver, Richard Ford, John O’Hara, Jayne Anne Phillips by my Dad. That’s why I became a narrative poet. I loved the economy of the short story form, but even that was too wordy for me. I wanted to tell stories in poems.
What’s one bit of advice you would give to somebody starting out in poetry?
Rebecca: Draft more.
If you’d like to explore the dramas of domesticity with Rebecca this Summer, you can book online or by calling our offices on 0207 582 1679.
Really interesting to hear your thoughts on the course Rebecca – now I’ve got a taste for it, can’t wait to get started!
I signed up for the course last week and was so pleased to read this interview with Rebecca, I’m looking forward to the course even more now.
Just signed up on the strength of this. My starting point in poetry was the domestic, as I’d heard people say it was not a fit subject for poetry. Now I’m not sure about it. Of course it makes great poetry, but poetry has been a door out of the domestic too. So, I’m conflicted, as they say.
I think many women poets, in particular, feel they’re ‘not supposed’ to write about the domestic – as though it’s not a ‘proper’ subject. not ‘up there’ with the weightier concerns poetry should explore. But there are plenty of dull, crass and cliched poems about war, politics, injustice etc – the ‘big canvas’ stuff – and many extraordinary poems exploring intimacies and emotional conflicts/complexities in domestic settings. Rebecca’s poetry is a wonderful example of this. Her observations are always pin-sharp, never sentimental. I’d also recommend Esther Morgan and Jackie Wills as poets who use the domestic setting as a stage for profound insights and wonderful poetry.
What a fanatastic course this will be – enjoy! 🙂