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Anne Rouse
Which poem in The School of The Night is your favourite, and why?
At the moment I like Mrs. Hues. She was a highwaywoman captured near London. I'd read an old handbill ---I guess you could call it the eighteenth century equivalent of a tabloid newspaper---in a local museum, which the poem quotes directly in its opening lines. For that reason it seems especially alive to me.
I particularly like A Right Pair. What prompts you to write? Do objects 'ask' to be written about?
Many writers talk about the kind of reverie you fall into when walking or in the bath. Oddly enough, at least two poems began with London Underground journeys, between the platform and the exit. A line or a phrase floats up---and a rhythm with it. Sometimes there's just a rhythm and there are words I can't quite hear. But a poem can start with an image, or a feeling. As I remember, A Right Pair was the product of disappointment. The gloves are lost again. You'd become attached to them. Oh well, they had to escape eventually. You jot down a lot of half-connected words about whatever it is you're looking at or imagining, and then pick a path between the best of them. When I say "best", I mean the ones your unconscious really seizes on. So yes, some objects seem to ask to appear in poems, but whether you can do them any justice depends on the dialogue they have with your own fears, desires, mythology, and memories. Above all a poem should have a definite momentum. It should need to exist. There's nothing wrong with word-play-- the field in which poetry operates--but in itself it's not a poem.
In The Good Weekend London is very clearly evoked. How important to you is place? How does where you live now inspire and prompt you to write?
Place is very important to me. Geography is such a comfortingly solid fact-- the pole at the centre of the carousel. It organises impressions and facts around itself. It grounds you so that you can write, an activity which at times feels insubstantial. Then you have all the personal associations. You've walked through a place, observed it, talked to people, experienced a range of moods there, watched the changing effects of the light. Where I live now, in East Sussex, has been a real help to the poems. For a start, it's superb walking country. Nowhere is more evocative than London--I'm passionate about the place--but to find open countryside, cliffs, smugglers' coves, badgers and falcons is a gift to a poet. And in this region, too, there's a sense of connection through the books of those early twentieth-century Sussex writers: Joseph Conrad, Virginia Woolf, and Henry James.
What do you read for pleasure?
Poetry, fiction, biography, books about ideas, and (not every day) newspapers. Just now I'm enjoying Old School by Tobias Wolff . Your website has given me plenty of titles to think about!
Your poems take the reader very immediately into other spaces/times. Are there places that you do not wish to take your readers?
This is an extremely interesting question. It's something I think should be addressed more often. Occasionally you hear about work--theatre writing, say---that is agonizingly raw. Is it so brutal that it ceases to be art? Is art, on the other hand, about containing the worst aspects of reality, modifying them so that they can be contemplated? Or is that a recipe for works which are false and second-rate? I did some nursing years ago and felt at the time that one or two things I saw would be too upsetting to describe. Now I feel that the main question is whether what you end up with is merely sensationalistic, or if there is a theme that justifies the depiction. Some subjects may be better treated in prose, where you can build a context more gradually. In the past I've included writing about loss or anger in books deliberately, as a way of trying to be "honest". I've noticed that people don't often mention these as favourites. It may be that they don't work as well, or else readers want something different. In a school I visited, one girl said, very usefully, "If it's personal, you feel shut out of the poem." That's not to say that poetry should limit itself in scope. If a poem is an affirmation of the free play of the mind, then it has to be able to wander anywhere, including where "poison, war and sickness dwell". Poetry does horror in its own way. When an upper class officer in a Keith Douglas poem says , "It's most unfortunate, they've shot my foot off." we're not looking at a colour photograph, or listening to a recorded shriek, but we're still moved. The whole mind is engaged, intellect, feelings, and even the senses, quietly taking in the rhythms of the man's speech, its absurdity and poignancy. When Emily Dickenson mentions "a strange mob of panting trees" or Sylvia Plath says "All morning/the morning has been blackening" we know that we're in the presence of trouble, but nothing is being asked of us except to read further. If the poetic vehicle is sound enough, if its navigational system is true, it can range very far, and both the writer and reader will benefit----"the business of poetry" is enlarging to both. To see more about Anne Rouse, go to www.annerouse.com
Anne Rouse

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