The Monthly interviews local poet, Helen Hastings, joint winner of the Belfast Book Festival’s Poetry Slam – Part 1 – Towards Poetry

What’s your earliest memory of being interested in poetry?

I was always a kid that stayed up late, secretly using the light that was coming in from the landing to read by, long after I should have been asleep. I always had a little bit of an early marriage with words.

In terms of my family, my father was not a formally educated man, but he was an incredibly articulate man. He was a great believer in the English language. He would always be lecturing us about using slang words, making sure that we used the correct language to express ourselves.

He read everything that he could get his hands on but he was never a writer, much to my surprise. He never wrote poetry, although he was a reader of poetry. He was a really eloquent letter writer, so he was somebody who was incredibly expressive in his own way. I think that is where, at least partially, I get the expressive or emotive side of my poetry from. I inherited that from my dad.

You had support at home. Did you get any support at school?

No. I had a very tumultuous time at school. I was sent to a very small primary school in the countryside and my earliest teachers were the sort of teachers who honed in on what was wrong rather than what was good. School conditioned me into not really being very academic. I didn’t go past my GCSE’s, and I’m not university educated, unfortunately. Nevertheless, I have managed to continue to read and to develop my writing and from there, kind of force my way into the arts and various creative fields..

How did you develop your poetic writing?

I think I have a certain amount of natural ability and so I just work with what I have and I have always been a strong believer that the arts is for everyone and creativity and talent can be found in everyone. I’ve been going to the open mic circuits for about eight years now, and I’ve just been digesting every conversation, every experience, every style I see, and the words I hear. I’ve been digesting the environment around me, hoping that it would all filter through. Doing that has allowed me to develop my own style and my own voice.

Did you attend writers groups?

I started off going to a small open mic in Downpatrick run by the amazing Olive Broderick. After that I gravitated to Purely Poetry, the Red Pill at the Sunflower Bar, and then I became involved with the women from Women Aloud. I did a lot of public performances with them. Later on, I became a member of the Words for Castle Ward Writers Group, which I have actually taken over and am now the facilitator.

Looking back on everything, there have been little stepping stones here and there over a number of years and that has allowed me to build my confidence and develop my natural abilities.

You can find Helen Hastings work here:

part two of this interview is here

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