The Monthly interviews Scottish poet, Ali Whitelock

You have written two collections and a memoir. Does the process of getting material ready for publication get any easier as your career progresses?

My immediate answer to this is no. I’m tempted to say I worry less the more I do it, but as I sit here putting the final touches to my new collection, I can’t claim that either. I think the thing that gets easier is that one starts to understand that the poems, these little babies we’ve given birth to will speak to some, but not to all. For me that’s a liberating piece of knowledge. In the beginning I think we hope our poems will speak to the entire world (lol)! But knowing that they can’t and won’t allows me to somehow remain free as I write. It encourages me to be more daring, to push more boundaries & above all, to have a ball in the process. I love thinking, ‘how much more can I push this metaphor? how much more daring can I be?’ and then working and working and working the lines to see where they end up.

Are you conscious of your own development, of the refining of your voice, over time?

I’m not necessarily conscious of my own development as I write but I’m conscious that I am perhaps braver and will delve more into issues outside of myself. I’m also conscious that with each new poem I am writing, I absolutely want it to be the best thing I’ve ever written. I guess if there’s a goal, that would be it 🙂

There are many undercurrents and subtleties in your writing. There is a lot going on under the surface. Are you conscious of that particular orientation in your writing?

As I write it almost feels to me as though there are two people doing the writing. There’s the conscious person writing the actual nuts and bolts of the story, and then there seems to be this mad woman in an attic who overseas the poem and imbues it with her loneliness and fears and ok, so maybe also her madness. That probably makes no sense whatsoever and now I actually sound like a mad woman in an attic.

Would it be reasonable to say that there is often a comedic tone to your writing?

I do hope my work has a comedic tone. Obviously not in every poem, but in many––I love the juxtaposition of comedy with tragedy and grief. Somehow a spoonful of funny added when things are dark, somehow makes the dark bits darker, and the funny bits funnier. I don’t set out to do this, it’s just that funny bits tend to spring up in all the right (dark) places without me having to think too much about it.

Once the material is completed and published, do you concern yourself with the marketing side of the business: building the publicity, developing a social media profile, producing videos etc .

Social media allows us poets and authors to do a lot of our own marketing and promotion. What I love about that is that I can be in bed at midnight, share a poem on social media or advertise an upcoming reading, then two minutes later I shut the laptop lid and I’m asleep. Or I can post an update while I’m in line at the supermarket … it doesn’t have to take long and the ability to reach a wide audience from wherever you are in the world is fantastic.

Do you plan ahead – set goals – for either side of the business – for collections – for sales?

I plan ahead––in that I set myself deadlines. The most immediate deadline is the one I set for myself every day and that is for the actual writing. I’m at my desk every morning by 8.30am. Once I have enough completed work piling up, I will then start to shape it into a collection. Obviously I have to plan ahead if I’m reading overseas … which I hope to be doing again in the not too distant future!

Where to now?

Once I finally, finally, finalise (!) this new poetry manuscript, I’m diving straight back into my second memoir. I’d love to be able to spend a considerable chunk of time in Scotland writing it, given that’s where it’s set. Now that restrictions have lifted and we can travel again, I hope to find myself and my laptop in a rickety fisherman’s cottage, writing away at a kitchen table looking out across The Minch. And if there’s an internet connection, that’ll be the icing on the cake.

To see more of Ali Whitelock’s work see the following link –

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