Natalie Bolderston caught up with Liverpool-based poet, and author of Blood Child, Eleanor Rees, to chat about poetry as an art-form, fairy tales, and how Liverpool is always present in her writing.
For many years, you have worked in participatory art as a creative workshop leader. Has this affected your writing in any way?
Yes working in participatory arts has made me very conscious of the connection between poet and their audience. This connection is at the heart of how I understand poetry as an art-form. I have a notion of authorship which decentres the author from the writing process. So, I see all writing as participatory as the poem is produced always in relation to the world, to others, to place, to context. Without these boundaries the new poem wouldn’t emerge. The poem is a transgression of those boundaries. The poet uses their skill with language to create this affect – the poetic. I need forces to work with and through otherwise there is no need to be articulate. I am not speaking to myself.
You have done a lot of collaborative work with singers, visual artists and filmmakers. What connections do you see between poetry and other art forms? How does this manifest in your work?
I think of poetry as a musical form. Sound patterns are crucial to drawing the listener (be that reader as listener or an audience) into the poem. This is something I learnt from welsh poetry, though only in translation, and from poets such as Bunting and Olson. Sound is where poetic meaning lies.
I love to work with other artists in collaboration as the poem emerges from these interactions, from differing artists seeking complex outcomes and from the various histories of the materials with which we are working.
I’m not sure I see connections prior to the act of collaboration. The process involves finding and producing the connections. Commonalities don’t pre-exist but are born of the dynamics of working with others. They have to be continually remade.
Your poem 'Seal Skin' is a retelling of the selkie myth. What made you decide to retell this particular story? Do you often find yourself drawn to myths and fairytales?
I don’t set out to write fairytales. I just keep doing it! I am interested in metamorphosis and change as emergent phenomena and find these stories speak of this physical reality in a way many contemporary modes of writing do not. Our culture seems to presume that identity or self or matter are static realities while I see being alive as a continuous movement. Therefore, metaphors and myths which show this flux seem accurate. They have a mood I find compelling; an ontology of flux and alteration I find truthful.
Some of your images feel quite gothic – e.g. 'Blood drips from the mouth of the house. / Blood floods the dry seas of the moon.' Would you say that you are inspired by gothic literature?
Actually, no, I don’t see my work as Gothic at all though I can see why readers might do so. I don’t like horror really. The blood in my poems is powerful not uncanny. It stands for life rather than death. I see it as menstrual rather than as life-threatening.
But I also don’t start writing poems thinking about literary inheritance. I work with places and atmospheres I understand as actually present there, energies that are part of relationships or latent in local histories. Somehow these form into images which then form into words. My job as a poet is to sense and to listen and to write down what I see. All my poems I can trace back to a fleeting apprehension of something in situ, something wanting to communicate. I try to shape that thing into words which carry something of the original sensation. I translate into cultural codes but those codes are just a form to carry the other substances – the feeling, or energetic charge back out into the world.
As a Liverpool-based poet, how have your surroundings informed your writing?
Liverpool is a participant in my writing. I write about Liverpool because this is where I live and where I was born. If I lived somewhere else I suspect I’d write with that place instead. Our location is part of our selfhood, in all its messy flux and shifting identities. I understand identity as emerging from dynamic interactions, not as a stable formation. For a while I did think if I left Liverpool I’d turn to dust but luckily that sensation has not proved to be the case!
About Eleanor Rees
Eleanor Rees is the author of 'Andraste’s Hair' (Salt, 2007), shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection and the Glen Dimplex New Writers Awards, and 'Eliza and the Bear' (Salt, 2009). She often collaborates with other writers, musicians and artists, and works to commission. Eleanor has worked extensively as a local poet in the community. She lives in Liverpool.
For more information on Blood Child and other titles in our Pavilion Poetry series, please visit our website.