The Monthly talks to writer, poet and editor of the Bangor Literary Journal, Amy Louise Wyatt

Are there any early memories regarding writing poetry?

I have some vague snapshots of writing in primary school, poems that the teacher would set as class tasks. I unexpectedly came across one of these poems a while ago, it was probably written in P4 and it was about a firework display!

That was more than likely my first introduction to creative writing. However, throughout my childhood, I was an avid reader. I absolutely loved immersing myself in books. I loved words. I felt safe and free with my head nestled in a paperback.

Were you encouraged to write at school?

Yes, we were encouraged to be creative in primary school. At that stage, I think I tended to be moved more by art than by writing. In those days, I only wrote and drew for myself, not for an audience.

When I moved to secondary school, I had a wonderful GSCE English teacher, Mrs Neville. She ignited a spark which pulled me towards writing again. I studied poetry, including the Irish poets, the war poets and nature poets, alongside novels and plays.

That heightened my passion for poetry and when I went to Queen’s University, I was incredibly lucky to have Medbh McGuckian as my Creative Writing tutor and that was hugely inspiring. It isn’t often that you are able to learn from such a prestigious writer. I also joined the Queens Creative Writing Group with my friend Simon Maltman, who has gone on to dominate the Northern Irish crime writing scene. That was a very good time to be at Queen’s.

After a gap year, I studied for my PGCE in English, Drama and Media at University of Ulster Coleraine, as I knew I wanted to become a teacher. Years later, I have returned to learning, and I’m presently completing my MA in Creative Writing Poetry on a part time basis with Open University..

When you write are there underlying themes that you return to?

I went through a period, about 6 years ago, when I decided that I wanted to write more seriously. I was very committed to form and structure at that time. I would work on traditional sonnets and connect them to art works that I created.

The artworks and poems were based on my Great Aunt Delia, a seamstress who lived in East Belfast. She was a spinster who lived to 103 years old. I felt compelled to explore the irony of her life, the happiness that she gave to so many brides through the beautiful dresses she stitched, whilst never marrying herself. This resulted in a solo exhibition entitled ‘Sonnets to a Seamstress’.

Since starting my MA, I have found myself opening up to experimentation. I have been writing lots of concrete poetry, confessional poetry and symbolic verse. Presently I am working on a series of object poems, which are definitely pushing me out of my comfort zone!

You have produced a pamphlet recently. Tell us about that?

My pamphlet ‘A Language I Understand’ launched in February this year with award winning publisher Indigo Dreams. When I sent my manuscript off, I never dreamt I’d be selected to be published by them!

When choosing the poems to be included in the pamphlet, I found myself gravitating towards relationships, particularly family connections, both immediate and those in the past.

One of my grannies, my granda and my step-dad passed away several years ago and so I found myself looking deeply into these intangible memories and relationships, looking at how lives are understood at the time and how they can often be misunderstood. My other granny has dementia and this has often found its way into my work too.

Bringing together the work to be included in a first pamphlet is quite a daunting task! I included pieces that had some success in competitions, poems I felt emotionally attached to and then brand-new poems that had never been shared, all linking into my chosen themes.

You do use a lot of different forms and structures?

I am trying to be more open to how poems look on the page. I am particularly focusing on the space within and around my poems; how space can act as a form of punctuation and also how the poem appears aesthetically.

Initially, I often find myself writing in couplets and then attempting to fracture or unravel these to see how I might be able to add another dimension to my work.

How do you go about funding your work?

I have not applied for funding yet, but it is something I will do in the near future. I am lucky enough to have a permanent full time teaching job and that allows me some leeway regarding financing projects—although it hugely reduces the time I have to spend on my writing.

And of course there are lots of things to think about when you are publishing a book… how many books you can afford, and how many need to be purchased in order to allow you to do more.

You are also doing your MA in Creative Writing?

Yes, I am currently nearing the end of the second and final year of my MA with Open University. This has suited me really well, as I tend to work in a solitary manner anyway and I don’t feel that I need a lot of direction.

The great thing about distance learning is that you can fit it around your career and work to your own schedule each week. I have made lots of friends on the online forums and the feedback that we offer each other is invaluable, especially as writing can be a lonely business.

Where to now?

I am the Co-Editor of the Bangor Literary Journal, alongside my husband Paul Daniel Rafferty. We are on 14th issue now. Running the journal does take a lot of hard work and the number of submissions has been growing substantially. We get hundreds of pieces of poetry and flash fiction to read each submission window and we both read every submission closely and anonymously. The fact that writers trust us to read their work with respect is a real privilege, and this is something I never underestimate.

I am currently writing and gathering new material for my first full collection of poetry. This is a bigger task than my pamphlet, but I feel more confident in the process now and I am excited to push myself to my limits and see what I can create. It is wonderful to continue to be part of the thriving Northern-Irish writing scene.

Amy Louise Wyatt’s website: amylouisewyatt.com

If you want to purchase her book you can do so at the links below.

Signed copies: amylouisewyatt.com/books/
Direct from Indigo Dreams: www.indigodreams.co.uk/amy-louise-wyatt/4595121212
And there is a link to The Bangor Literary Journal: thebangorliteraryjournal.com

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