As the Summer days draw out, and the festivals, parties, barbeques and celebrations continue, Holly Hopkins will be inviting students to look at some of the best booze-inspired poetry – and to create some of their own – on her Summer School workshop ‘A Long Drink for a Hot Day’ . We caught up with Holly to find out more.
Hello Holly! We’re very excited for your workshop. Tell us a bit about it – what made you think of the idea, and what’s in store for students that take part?
I was asked for a course that would fit with the Summer School’s ‘festival’ theme and was told about some of the other courses on the list. They all sounded very virtuous; lots of poets thinking about music or traditional celebrations, but not really meshing with my memories of summer excitement. I mean really, how many summer festivals are teetotal? And when I started thinking about it, poems started to suggest themselves, so I decided to add a booze themed day to the list.
So, have you ever written a poem when feeling a bit worse for wear? And if so, were you happy with the outcome?
There’s one poem, The Flayings, from my pamphlet that I remember writing on the way back from a pub, it was assembled in my head as I wandered down Farringdon Road towards the river and I had the outline of it by the time I hit Blackfriars. It was a poem that had been hanging around in bits and pieces for some time and I reckon I just needed the right mood to pull it together. Generally though, alcohol is much more likely to make me lazy. Hence a workshop looking at poems about drinking, not while drinking.
Aside from morning martinis, lots of writers had some very specific rituals – if you’re not one to drink and rhyme, do you have a particular habit when you’re sitting down to write?
I’m quite envious of writers with a ritual; it seems a bit like having a formula for calling up the next poem whereas if I try the same thing too often it gets too pressured and/or stale. I usually try to escape the flat to write and I have a few boltholes, places where I like to go to read or make poems. I don’t always ‘sit down to write’ sometimes I walk and think, and by the time I’m writing it’s more because I’m holding too many bits and pieces and I need to put some of the down before I lose them. There are other times when I’m more ‘writing a poem’ with the words coming at the same time as the words on the page. The only uniformity is in redrafting, which almost always happens in the evening and almost always when I’m supposed to be doing something else.
Have you noticed much change in your own writing since starting your editorship programme with The Rialto?
I reckon it will be a while until I see how The Rialto has affected my own writing because I’ve been working on a sequence whose conception predates my work on the magazine, and also because I’ve been creating less of my own work while the editorship has taken my normal writing time. It’s when I start new projects after I take a step back from The Rialto in the next few weeks that we’ll start to see the impact of reading all those poems coming thorough.
You’re also the Literature Officer at Koestler Trust– could you tell us a little more about the organisation, and what it’s like to be a part of it?
I’ve been at the Koestler Trust just over a year, it’s a charity that helps prisoners, secure patients and detainees use art to make positive changes in their lives. I’ve learned a huge amount working there, both about the criminal justice system and about other artistic disciplines. The trust tries to support all forms of art in its annual arts awards. There’s the obvious: music, painting, drawing, textiles, but then someone will send us the statue of liberty carved from a bar of soap, or a woman made from bread (which can be pulped into a passable ‘clay’ if you haven’t an alternative). I was brought into the team because around a third of the c.8,800 entries they receive each year are written, and of them about 1,600 are poems. The day-to-day work varies throughout the annual award cycle. I recently hosted an event at the Bridlington Poetry Festival where ex-offenders shared their poems, but most of the time I’m behind the scenes helping administer the awards.
Your pamphlet Soon Every House Will Have One was Poetry Book Society Pamphlet Choice and winner of the 2014 Poetry Business Book & Pamphlet Competition – how has your writing regime been since publishing the pamphlet? Were you straight back at it?
The pamphlet came out while I was reading my MA, so I had deadlines for creative submissions and a dissertation that meant I had to keep writing. However, I went straight from the MA to the editing programme at The Rialto and I’ve definitely slowed up while editing. We’ll have to wait and see how it goes post The Rialto.
What’s the first thing you look for when you start sifting through a batch of submission entries? Any tips for submitters?
That’s a difficult one to answer because I really am just looking for really good poems, poems that I think readers will want to pay a magazine subscription to read. So there’s no easy tip, it really is just ‘please write amazing poems and send them to us,’ and I don’t think anyone avoids writing amazing poems on purpose.
How did you come to poetry? Did you always write?
I wrote at school and had a teacher who entered my work into what is now the Foyle Young Poet of the Year Award, which lead to going on Arvon courses in the years that I won. It also meant I wasn’t in a rush to publish as an adult; there’s something about having your teenage poetry easily available that makes you less hurried about going to print.
Finally, what alcohol-infused poem would you suggest we read?
The dancing duck sequence from JO Morgan’s ‘Natural Mechanical’, in which the boy and his grandfather visit the fair and the grandfather returns slightly worse for wear. It’s part of a book-length poem that you can read in one long afternoon sitting. It’s a brilliant piece and since it is part of a longer whole, that would be tricky to fit into a workshop, I’ll suggest it here.
If you’d like to taste some less-than sober poems and try your hand at creating your own, A Long Drink for A Hot Day will be on Thursday 23 July and can be booked on our website our by calling us at 0207 582 1679.