Gaia Harper talks to Nina Lewis about her love of language, why poetry is important and winning Foyle Young Poets prize in our exclusive INKSPILL interview.
Can you describe a time when you realised creating (writing) was something you absolutely had to do?
As soon as I had read Howl by Allen Ginsberg, I knew I had to write. That was the defining moment for me; it still continues to be one of the most powerful influences behind everything I write.
Who are some of your favourite poets?
Ever since I first got into poetry I’ve adored the Beats, so I’d have to say Allen Ginsberg. Rainer Maria Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus is one of my favourite collections, and anything by Whitman catches my eye. As for modern poets, I’ve recently got into Sarah Howe and Claudia Rankine.
Why is poetry important?
To quote Robin Williams in Dead Poet’s Society, “We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race.” Poetry is in everything you or I do, in the folding of a napkin, the simple act of smiling. We would be stupid to ignore it.
What comes first in a poem, are you prompted by the idea or form?
Most of my poetry is purely spontaneous; I am rarely one of those people who can sit down and choose to write on a certain topic. The smallest things can trigger a poem for me. Often song lyrics or quotes from films prompt ideas; writing purely on a song or film is something I’ve recently got into. I have a love-hate relationship with form, as most of what I write is in free verse, however I love playing with form from time to time; I’m a big fan of a loose sonnet.
What books are you currently reading?
Salem’s Lot by Stephen King and Naked Lunch by William Burroughs. I love books that make you think, but sometimes you need a good horror to get your teeth into. Poetry wise, I’m currently flicking through Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman.
What was it like entering the Foyle competition?
To be honest, I was dubious about entering at first considering the vast number of entries, so it took me a long time to get around to submitting. When I eventually sent them off, the anticipation was awful, but obviously the results were worth the wait.
How did you find Arvon with Liz Berry & Michael Symmons?
It was one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had. Liz and Michael are such lovely people as well as poets, and they are so supportive. It was strangely wonderful to be able to have a lesson with them, and then have Liz helping you cook dinner.
Are you a member of the Young Poets Network?
I’ve been a member of the Young Poets Network for a couple of years now. Everything they post comes straight to my email, so it’s great to get unexpected prompts and competitions I could enter.
Do you have any advice for aspiring young poets?
To any young poets out there, I would say ignore everything anyone has ever told you about what poetry has to be. School is never going to teach you a thing about poetry, even if it tries. Rant and shout about every little thing you want to, and write it all down. Don’t let anyone put parameters around your writing; whether it be a rhyme scheme or a way of feeling. What teenagers write is often dismissed as angsty; fight back. Write whatever the hell you want.