Issue Four

Summer 2012


Suzie Evans

We’re delighted to publish a brief interview with Suzannah Evans, whose poem ‘Swallows’ was published in Issue Two of Antiphon.  Since then Suzie has been a winner in the Poetry Business’ 26th annual pamphlet competition, judged by Carol Ann Duffy.   The pamphlet, Confusion Species, was published in June 2012 by Smith/Doorstop Books.

The following poem is taken from Suzie's pamphlet:


My vegetable patch is six feet square.
Dandelions and ragwort are rowdy
on the sidelines, but the bean plants slip
shy tendrils around their canes
and dance, awkward partners, in the wind.

I’ve become my own scarecrow. When I work
straw hair hangs down uncut.
I’ve got a rifle in a drawer, a bicycle,
five nearly-new blankets. Come evening
I will wear one like a cloak and light a fire.

All night the gutter chatters itself loose.
Tomorrow I’ll get up at dawn and wire it tight.
I’ll climb to the top of the rusting caravan
and look to the sea. Everything
between here and the sand dunes is mine.

Hi Suzie, Congratulations on your success with the Poetry Business! We’re interested in the process of putting a collection together.  What sort of things did you consider when choosing which poems to include in your submission? And how did you decide which to leave out?

    The subject matter of what I write can be all over the place so a lot of the questions I asked myself were variations on the theme of 'can a poem about sex follow a poem about allotments?' However there is a 'tone of voice' and a style of language common to the poems in the pamphlet which I relied on to hang them together. I did ask a few friends for advice as well, but if I thought they were wrong I over-ruled them!
    Entering a competition imposes certain constraints and I did have to cut two poems just to fit the requirements. I found this quite easy, they were just the ones I had the most doubts about, and I think the collection is stronger for it.

What made you choose this particular competition? How much did you consider the type of poetry this publisher has promoted previously?

    This certainly isn't the only pamphlet competition that I have entered in the past couple of years but I had been to a few writing days so I already felt a familiarity with the Poetry Business, and I had entered the competition once before, a few years previously. I've never read a bad Poetry Business pamphlet so I could be confident that I would be in good company if I won. I didn't think too much about winning though, it was rather unexpected!

What about the editing process? What issues did you discuss with the Poetry Business before the pamphlet was published?

    I had a meeting with Peter Sansom to talk over edits that they wanted me to consider. The majority of them were quite minor—a word here and there—but I did replace one poem from the pamphlet with another because we agreed it wasn't as strong as the rest, and we had to think about where in the order of the pamphlet the new poem would fit. It was ultimately my decision to make any changes but I agreed with a lot of them.
    I edited some of the poems in between entering the competition and publication, so some of these were modified, although one ('The Horses of Meanwood') felt 'too edited' and the original was kept. It has taken some discipline not to just carry on tinkering with them post-publication.

Was there anything special you considered when deciding on the order of the poems? Did this change between submitting the pamphlet and publication?

    I sat on the living room floor with the poems for a long time, read them aloud and listened to them, and put them in an order. I had a vague memory of the advice given in the film High Fidelity about making a mix tape... start with a good one, then a better one, then slow it down.
    Beginning and ending poems seemed to announce themselves; for example the first poem in the pamphlet, 'Guided Tour', is a bit of an oddity and I think it would break up the flow of the collection too much if it were positioned anywhere else. It is also a bit of a mission statement; it encompasses most of the things that I write about and a lot of what I want my writing to be. The rest of the order was fairly intuitive, ensuring that each poem was not too similar, but not too different, to the poem preceding it.

I'm sure most poets view getting their first pamphlet published as a great high-point. What happens next? Is it easy to keep writing?

    It is a massive high point and the whole thing was so exciting—seeing the proofs for the first time, reading at the launch, and so on. I had to try not to think about it after a certain time at night because I would get too excited to sleep! I'm grateful to be able to draw a line under those poems —to say that they are finished and published as a collection.
    Since publication I have concentrated more on reading and writing poetry and less on making submissions to magazines and competitions, which I think has been beneficial. It's easy to get bogged down in the glory of publication or the horror of rejection and forget about how much I enjoy writing.
    I have just started to make submissions again, but I am planning to finish my MA at Sheffield Hallam University next January, for which I need to submit a full collection, so more writing is still very much my priority.