For the final link of our Summer School mini-interview chain, Rachel Long’s questions are answered by Jane Yeh, tutor of Writing a Flat-Pack Poem.
Rachel: How do you want people to read your poems?
Jane: It’s amazing to know that people read one’s poems at all, so first I’m just excited at the prospect! I hope that people find my poems entertaining – personally I have a short attention span, so as a reader I like poems that are entertaining enough to keep me interested. Entertainment of course doesn’t necessarily preclude depth of feeling or subtlety; if you look at the high-quality TV shows that there have been a plethora of lately, a work can be both entertaining and real art. As a TV lover, I guess that’s what I’m aiming at, but in terms of poetry.
Rachel: What’s the longest time you’ve gone without writing a poem? How did you feel during this period and what were your coping mechanisms?
Jane: I grew up in the US and earned a master’s degree in creative writing there when I was 25. Unfortunately, after that, I basically gave up writing due to a combination of working full-time and feeling completely discouraged about poetry. I spent more than five years submitting poems to various magazines without success, which made it easy not to feel like writing in whatever spare time I had outside of work. I didn’t even have children or other responsibilities to occupy me; I was just undisciplined and unmotivated. I didn’t start writing again until I applied for a second master’s degree in creative writing at a British university – the prospect of living in a different country was an attempt at changing the course of my life, which I was dissatisfied with at the time.
So, the longest time I’ve gone without writing a poem is about five years. What got me out of that fallow period was, technically, being in a creative writing programme again and being forced to produce new work. However, after I completed my second master’s degree in creative writing, I stopped writing for another three or four years, despite having a first collection and other poems published. It was easy to let myself become occupied by my new teaching career and opportunities to travel and give readings. In the end, I had to develop a new routine to ensure that I would write poems again: setting aside specific time to sit in a café or library to write every single day (there are too many available distractions when sitting at home). This routine is my coping mechanism, as on many days what I actually produce isn’t worth anything; but by forcing myself to keep writing I’m able to overcome the fear of the blank page, my natural laziness, and the inevitable ups and downs of the creative process, of trying to create meaningful work.
Rachel: If you could only be remembered for one line of any of your poems, what line would it be?
Jane: I suppose it would be the last line of my poem about Ook the owl, the snowy owl who’s a professional actor in the Harry Potter films (he plays Harry’s owl, Hedwig): ‘Afterwards, you wonder what the glitter was for’. (You can read it at http://www.poetryarchive.org/poem/only-confirmed-cast-member-ook-owl-who-has-been-tapped-play-snowy-white-owl-who-delivers-mail .)