Denise O’Hagan

Judith Beveridge in conversation with Denise O’Hagan

Judith Beveridge is a Sydney-based poet and recipient of multiple awards, including the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards for Poetry (2019), the Christopher Brennan Award for lifetime achievement in poetry, awarded by the Fellowship of Australian Writers (2013), and the Philip Hodgins Memorial Medal for excellence in literature (2005). She has published six volumes of poetry and was poetry editor for Meanjin (2005–2015). Her work is studied in schools and universities and widely translated. Her latest volume is Sun Music: New and Selected Poems (Giramondo 2018).

Denise O’Hagan, editor of the An Astráil column, speaks with award-winning, Sydney-based poet, Judith Beveridge about her life, influences and moments of inspiration. Published in The Blue Nib, 2 November 2020.

Denise: Good morning, Judith, and thank you for kindly agreeing to this conversation. I might start by asking you: What was it about poetry that drew you to it early?

Judith: Thank you very much, Denise, for this opportunity to say something about poetry. I was pathologically shy as a child and adolescent. I found social situations extremely taxing and uncomfortable, so I kept to myself quite a bit growing up. I was ok with people I knew, but I found myself unable to verbally communicate with strangers, or in group situations. I was always that person who felt simply too shy to say anything.

I started writing my thoughts down in journals during adolescence and found the process gave me perspective and enjoyment. I discovered the written word had power and beauty, and that you could spend time with words shaping and reshaping them in ways not possible when speaking verbally. I came to understand that poetry was the highest form of this manipulation, that you could create real beauty and say things in fresh and inventive ways.

At the age of 17, I decided I wanted to be a poet. I’ve always liked the fact that poetry has an intensity of purpose about it. As a child and adolescent, I was also very studious, serious about books and learning. I was quite introverted; I had no interest in hedonistic pursuits such as going to parties and so on. From the age of 19 to 23, I virtually kept myself in isolation working at my poetry and reading all the contemporary poetry that I could find. I did an arts degree in the late 70s and then worked part-time in an office so I could devote as much time as I could to learning how to write. The more I read, the more I developed a passion for the astonishing art of poetry, and I wanted nothing more than to be able to participate and practise. I think there was also something about the writing life that appealed to me. Writing is something you do on your own, often for hours on end, and that suited me; it kept me away from awkward social situations.

Denise: Your passion for, and devotion to, the poetic art was evident right from the start, then. What, or who, would you say is your main source of inspiration in writing?

Judith: I’ve always turned to the natural world – animals, sea scapes, the bush – and also to the imagination itself for inspiration. I find I can inhabit an imagined landscape or scenario just as happily as a real one, perhaps even more so, as I can invent all the details and do as I please. If a poem feels emotionally grounded and authentic, then it doesn’t matter if the details are real or fabricated. I’ve never worried about faithfully recording or sticking strictly to facts. I remember reading an interview with James Dickey who said that as soon he realised he could lie in a poem, then his work took off. Jean Cocteau has also commented that ‘a poet is a liar who always speaks the truth’. All my fishermen poems from Storm and Honey are total fabrications. I’m not a poet who likes to write about my own private life. Instead, I like to create characters and scenarios that give my imagination a workout. I find that far more challenging and engaging.

One of my books that I had the most fun writing is Devadatta’s Poems in which I write from the point of view of the Buddha’s cousin who tried to take over the Buddhist Order and kill the Buddha on three separate occasions. It is set in northern India in roughly 500 BC. I had to try and create an emotionally believable character. One of the wonders of a poem is that it can lead you anywhere, you should never feel bound by your own biography or circumstances; the imagination is our most wonderful and powerful gift, you’re never bored or lonely if you have a strong imagination. I am influenced by ideas that come mainly from eastern religions, notably Buddhism with its focus on interrelationships which enables you to see yourself as part of a larger whole. I think both Buddhism and poetry have a lot in common: both are ways of trying to reveal underlying connections, of looking deeply beneath surfaces. Poetry does this through simile and metaphor, building perceptual connections through language, finding relationships that may have gone unforeseen until the poet’s imagination revealed the link.

My main poetic sources of inspiration have not really changed over time. I still love and am inspired by the poets I discovered in my early twenties. Rainer Maria Rilke, Philip Levine, Galway Kinnell, Elizabeth Bishop, Derek Walcott, Emily Dickinson, James Wright, Sylvia Plath, Les Murray, Robert Gray, Anthony Lawrence and Robert Adamson. In later decades, Lucie Brock-Broido, John Burnside, Sharon Olds, Mary Oliver, Carol Ann Duffy, Wallace Sevens, Robert Frost, Seamus Heaney, Peter Boyle, Stephen Edgar, Rachel Boast, Todd Turner, Martin Harrison, Eavan Boland, Dorothy Porter, Robert Hass, Charles Wright, Alice Oswald, Yusef Komunyakaa, Michael Longley and Bridget Pegeen Kelly to name some of them. I constantly read both new and old poets.

Denise: With inspirations such as these, perhaps it is hardly surprising that your work is known for its musicality and sensitivity to sound, and you’ve described yourself as a ‘lyrical poet’. Please could you tell us more about what you are striving for through poetry?

Judith: Firstly, I’m trying to make a work of art, to use language in ways that are memorable, musical, imagistic and powerful. I want my poems to be unique encounters with language, intense, elevated, heightened – I would even venture also to say ‘sacred’ in as much as a poem frames, like a painting or piece of music, moments in time, holding them up and away from the general noise and flux, giving us a reprieve, some greater stillness in which to apprehend and to contemplate. Jane Hirshfield in her book Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry says: ‘Every good poem begins in language awake to its own connections – language that hears itself and what is around it.’  I love that expression: ‘language which hears itself’, for only in poetry do we encounter language which is so awake to its potentiality, to its inherent ability to be moving and memorable. For myself, the ‘how’ of the poem is just as important, perhaps even more so than the ‘what’. Seamus Heaney called this ‘the erotics of language’. When I write I am trying to have a passionate relationship with language. Denise Levertov in her essay ‘Origins of a Poem’ says:

The poet who looks on language as merely something to be used, as the bad farmer or the rapacious industrialist looks on the soil or on rivers merely as things to be used, will not discover a deep poetry; he will only… construct a counterfeit, a sub poetry…, a reference not an incarnation. And he will be contributing, even if not in any immediately apparent way, to the erosion of language… the poet’s love of language must, if language is to reward him with unlooked-for miracles, that is with poetry, amount to a passion.

I do strive for lyrical intensity although I do have dramatic and narrative streaks in my work, but it is perhaps the lyric, with its unique characteristics of brevity, musicality, concentration of thought and emotion in a formalised way, which best exemplifies a poem’s ability to reverberate and animate consciousness, to bring us into connection with the inner life.

Denise: What a wonderful description of the language of poetry, thank you! I wonder whether the fact that, like an increasing number of us, you emigrated to Australia has made you more attuned to your inner voice. Although you were very young at the time, has your English background affected your writing?

Judith: I was only three when we emigrated to Australia, so I have very few memories of my time in England, but certainly having British parents had a profound effect on me. Both my parents had lived in London and Paris, very cosmopolitan cities at the time as compared to cities in Australia during the 60s and 70s, so their experience of vibrant cultures, of theatre and a sense of being at the centre of things affected them as individuals and consequently as parents. I remember my mother’s stories of World War II and all the homes in England she lived in as a child.

In Sydney we ended up in North Auburn, an ugly, industrial, working-class suburb. My mother used to go around the streets crying after the move from London, but we just couldn’t afford anywhere else. My mother was a huge influence on me. She had a strong sense of the importance of knowledge and education. Both my parents stressed the importance of reading, and I always felt my parents held aspirations for my brother and me that not all my friends’ parents had for their children. It was assumed we would both go to university, which was uncommon at the time. My parents always took pride in my academic success and encouraged me to work hard.

Denise: It would have been a natural move, then, to teach creative writing at Sydney University, amongst other places, for many years. What did you find most helpful when inspiring and teaching others to write creatively?

Judith: I found that if you expose students to moving, accessible, well-written poems, then those poems will do so much of the work for you; the students will fall in love with poetry – and, in fact, many of them did. They’d start out wanting to be prose writers or script writers but ended up with a deep passion for poetry and many have gone on to publish their own collections.

I also made sure I taught craft rather than theory. My classes were always a hands-on approach, so the class members understood imagery, sound, the line and the line-break, form, metrical poetry, tone and structure. I derived such enjoyment from putting my readers together. I also used the workshop model an in-depth critique of students’ poems, not just by me but by other students also. This approach often helps students to bond and share their vulnerability. Part of the success of a class depends on the dynamic that builds between the members.

I also found it helpful to try and say something positive about a student’s work even if that was a struggle because you just don’t know what kind of writer they might become with a little encouragement. I once heard a very well-known poet tell someone in a workshop that if they were this person, they would never pick up a pen again. I can’t see how that can be helpful. I think you need a certain amount of generosity and goodwill when teaching others!

Denise: Your students were surely lucky to have you, and would doubtless have learned much from you. In what way did the regular teaching of creative writing affect your own writing processes?

Judith: I came to teaching poetry at University through the backdoor. I was one of the lucky ones; it could never happen now, but at the time practising writers could be given classes even if they didn’t hold PhDs. You just needed to be a practitioner. I’ll always be grateful to David Brooks for offering me a class at Sydney University back in 2003. I had no ambitions to be a teacher, but thought I’d give it a go thinking it would only be for one semester. The students fell in love with poetry so much that they petitioned for another class in the second semester. Eventually the MA in Creative Writing had flourishing poetry courses, but it meant I had to fully understand as much as I could about many aspects of writing poetry, so I educated myself and filled in the gaps.

I learned a great deal that helped my own writing during the process as I had to be sharp about what was or wasn’t working in the students’ poems, so the ability to criticise and problem solve was essential and I found that I could then apply this to my own work more fully and doggedly. I think teaching creative writing speeded up and developed my own abilities to a large degree. I forced myself to learn all about form and metrics and to read poems that I otherwise may have not read. I read many books on the craft of poetry.

Denise: You mentioned earlier Jane Hirshfield’s Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry – are there any other books on the craft of poetry that you feel may be of interest to those wishing to develop their writing?

Judith: I think Jane Hirshfield’s books on poetry are probably the best. Ten Windows – How Great Poems Transform the World is superb. I also like Robert Hass’s A Little Book on Form, Edward Hirsch’s How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry, Ruth Padel’s 52 Ways of Looking at a Poem, Glyn Maxwell’s On Poetry, Eavan Boland’s and Mark Strand’s The Making of a Poem, James Longenbach’s The Art of the Poetic Line, Ellen Bryant Voigt’s The Art of Syntax, and Richard Hugo’s The Triggering Town.

Denise: Thank you for sharing these titles which you hold in high regard, and which I’m sure will be of interest to our readers. Your work reads effortlessly, yet poetry is rarely effortless. What is your own approach to writing poetry and how do you set about editing your work?

Judith: I’ve always been a slow writer. I can never dash off a poem; if I do, I’m totally distrustful of it. For me writing is hard work. I don’t feel I’m a natural, prolific or fluent writer. I rarely work with an idea, but often with something much smaller. It may just be a word, a run of sounds, an image that appeals to me. Often something I’ve read will act as a trigger. There’s a five-part poem in Sun Music which I began as soon as I read the word ‘camel’ in someone’s poem. For some reason, that turned a light on in my mind even though I’d not been thinking about camels at all, but the moment I read the word, I knew I had to write a poem about camels.

In creating poetry, you need to surrender to the poem, to let it open a spaciousness inside you. I don’t worry about where a poem is going, I try to get out of the driver’s seat and see where the poem wants to go. Sometimes it ends up in ditch after a short distance. Sometimes it takes many turns and detours, sometimes the more direct route, sometimes the journey is long and arduous and I don’t know if there’ll ever be an arrival. When you surrender to the poem it means that the poem can take a turn anywhere, it can border on the unexpected and the unknown. But this is where the beauty lies. This is what Keats was on about when he talked about ‘negative capability’, the need for the poet to be receptive and open, to not seek hard and fast knowledge of every truth, mystery, or doubt but to accept the pain and confusion of not knowing, to be in that state of mind in which you are simply open to the moment. I love the writing process and feel it is a great privilege to spend most of my time in pursuit of poetry.

I work directly onto the computer; I find this gives me the distance to observe the poem-in-process, and because I make so many changes to each line as I go, it is more efficient. I discover the poem as I write it, slowly, aware that I am making a thing out of words and so those words must be the best I can find. Not only the words but their sounds, the rhythm and cadences of the sentences, the form and structure. There are so many elements to a poem, so many decisions to be made and you do have to trust that somehow at some level you do know what you are doing.

I usually do many drafts. I have folders inches thick with hundreds of drafts for some poems. In recent years I’ve taken advice from a comment made by Wallace Stevens who said that when you’re writing a poem, it’s necessary to get the intellect off the poem almost successfully. He said that one of the best ways to do this is through music. I start to play with assonance and alliteration. I simply forget what it is I’m trying to say, and I’ll take some lines that I’ve already written and look at the sound structure and try to develop a pleasing musical pattern. I find that this works well for me, it gets my critical brain off the poem, it also allows a sense of play into the writing process and it does help generate content, and to take me somewhere in the poem I may not have arrived at otherwise.

I’ve always found the creative process mysterious and it can be elusive and fickle at times, but I have a set of routines that help me, such as reading poetry before I write, trying to feel settled and in a mildly optimistic frame of mind. I’ve never been able to write when frazzled, distressed or depressed. If I know that I have some time before me, I feel a sense of joy, of great good fortune that to have a few hours to spend freely ranging around in my imagination, not beholden to anyone or to any imperatives outside my own creativity and will to write. I’ve always made poetry my primary work. It’s never been something I’ve just fitted into my spare time – for me it’s what gets me up in the morning.

I only write indoors, in my study which is a converted garage, with familiar things around me, my books, usually a scented candle or stick of incense burning, my dog lying next to me on the couch before he gets fed up with me constantly getting up and down from couch to computer, realising I’m not paying him enough attention and so goes back into the house. I wear a pair of industrial strength headphones. My dear friend, the late Dorothy Porter, and I used to laugh, as she would write while streaming rock music into her ears whereas I would try to shut out all sound.

Denise: We all have our own ways of working! Since The Domesticity of Giraffes was first published to acclaim in 1987, you’ve had a steady output of collections and a string of accolades. How has this affected you creatively? Is there, in your experience, a dark side to success?

Judith: There can be a dark side to success if you let it possess you. I’ve never felt hampered by any success I’ve had because the art form is such a difficult one to master, as least for me it is. There is always something more to learn, some aspect of your own work that you can develop or strengthen. I think if you read widely then that will keep you humble, you realise how many extraordinary poems have been written, how your own are just a tiny drop in the scheme of things, and not particularly special. Each poem is a new challenge and I’d hate to sit back on comfortable haunches thinking I can just repeat myself or keep doing the same old thing. I’m constantly trying to grow as a poet and not be complacent or self-satisfied because that would result in awful mediocrity.

You also have to keep in mind why you write – is it to be a successful poet, or is to strive for understanding of the world around you, to create beauty through language, to find the wisdom, knowledge and understanding that poetry’s unique patterns of thinking and feeling can bring? It can sometimes be easy to lose sight of why you began writing and what you want out of writing, and to get caught up with ideas about professional success, ambition, and achievement. I am not saying that poets should not be professional about what they do, or that they should not want to publish, or cultivate readers or an audience, but I am saying that what should be primary is the writing, the writing process itself, the act of making art. Michael Longley says:

The poet makes the most complex and concentrated response that can be made with words to the total experience of living. For these reasons I would go on trying to write poems even if no one wanted to read them.

I agree entirely with that and also with this statement from Charles Wright:

You’ve got to know in your heart of hearts that Keats is right, that it is about soul-making, that it does matter and that it can make or break you as a person. It is the main event, as I say, and ancillary to nothing.

There is an immense qualitative difference between writing to become a good writer, and writing to gain recognition, or to be published. In the pursuit of fine-writing you need to do a large amount of ‘soul-making’; you can’t begin to write well unless you have undergone the fires and the trials of a long apprenticeship. To write solely for recognition or for careerist reasons is fraught and difficult because there can only ever be a limited amount of available imaginative space in the public mind. We know that our culture is far more willing to give most of its imaginative space to its sports people and film stars than to writers, and especially not to poets. There is just not enough recognition-space to go round, even for those who do truly deserve it.

Looking back on my 45 years of writing life, I’ve been able to learn some great lessons: patience, diligence, how to be receptive, how to pay close attention to the world around me, how to develop brute persistence, how to fall in love with the possibilities of language. I’ve learned much about my own inner resources, and lack of, but above all, I’ve learned that the human imagination, the making capacity of the inner world is worth a lifetime’s dedication; that it is the journey, the process that’s the most satisfying and significant, and not any worldly success that may come one’s way.

Denise: Have you a favourite poem – or part of a poem – from your most recent book, Sun Music: New and Selected Poems, that you would like to share with us and tell us about?

Judith: It’s hard to pick a favourite, but here is a poem called ‘To My Neighbour’s Hens’:

Clara and Claudia, I hope you always stare
at nothing in particular, taking turns through the garden
savouring angelica, borage, and thyme. I hope you
always gussy up your tail-feathers towards a proud
Rock Cornish rooster who has a rubicund comb,
a deep-burnished chest and an oratorical voice.
May you always scratch at the earth among
the ordinary sounds of tree branches swaying,
dogs barking, leaves blowing, and never have
to live on a sloping wire floor with six other birds
in a space the size of a filing cabinet drawer,
your beaks cut off, all of you starved, bald,
mad, never seeing daylight. May your male chicks
never be snatched away from you and put through
a high-speed grinder, mixed with hormones
and fed to you, making you grow faster than your bodies
can cope with before you are trucked off to slaughter,
the sky cracking inwards like an egg. May you
always walk through yard-light and the rain’s grainy
footage and sleep on butter-coloured straw
where you watch tufts of your down drift
through sun shafts, knowing nothing about battery
cages, the jets of water that scald away
feathers, or the motorised blades that slit throats.
May you always be fed corn, oatmeal, spaghetti,
chow mien and risotto left-overs, the crusts
of toast and dark pumpernickel, green and yellow
kitchen scraps into which genial, attentive humans
have mixed the shells of your own good eggs.

I’m hoping to write more poems specifically about animal rights as I think our treatment of animals is generally appalling and disgusting. We rarely give them dignity and we take away their birthright to live, as if their lives were ours to do what we like with – our hubris, arrogance and complacency are beyond understanding. We kill them in inhumane ways. I hoped to show some of this in the poem, not by making it a rant, but by focusing on the specific, beginning the poem more moderately and then going into the darker more universal details, hopefully creating a balance the dark and the light. I hope I may have won the reader over by using a seductive rhythm.

Denise: Surely few readers will remain untouched by this deft handling of a difficult subject, which in turn calls into question one of the bases on we live our lives. Thank you very much for this. What are you working on at present, and could you tell us a little bit about it?

Judith: I am a little more than half-way through writing a new book of poems. There are miscellaneous poems which pick up my familiar themes, also a new section which will add to the sequences I have been writing about the family of Siddhattha Gotama (the Buddha). This new part is written from the point of view of Suddhodana, Siddhattha’s father. Initially I thought I’d write a whole book in his voice as I did with Devadatta’s Poems, but I have decided to keep it shorter and more concentrated.

Denise: Is this ability to inhabit, imaginatively, the spirits of others an approach to which you find yourself particularly drawn in poetry?

Judith: Yes, it is. As I am a very private person and avoid personal subject matter as a rule, I look for other voices, other characters to inhabit. This way I can still make my poems personal and emotive, but I don’t have to rely on my own experiences, I can extend my imagination and responses outwards. I can put a character wherever I like, I can invent whomever I like. I love this aspect of writing. I lived more fully in my imaginative characters and spaces than in some of my real moments. I would think a lot of writers find this to be true. The way that powerful feelings are expressed through complexities of form and language is central to the writing of good poetry and it’s crucial that the poetic imagination rests upon emotion – this is what enables the mind both to conceive of different realities, and to do so in ways that enables other minds to accept those realities as true. The poem quickens and heightens our sense of language to the point where we participate most potently in meaning-making. The aesthetic demands of the poem provide a wonderful way for us to process our thoughts and feelings. Something transformative occurs when the poet, through exploration and invention, discovers those sounds, images and rhythms which open and reveal a unique set of meanings. The poetic imagination makes the world sensible, both literally and figuratively. Wallace Stevens argued that the power of the imagination to transform reality is what enables people to cope with the pressure of reality, the numbness of routine. He’s famous for saying that poetry ‘helped people live their lives.’ It has certainly helped me live my life.

Denise: What a wonderful quote! What are you reading at the moment, poetry or otherwise?

Judith: I have recently reread old favourites: Eugenio Montale’s Collected Poems, Robert Gray’s Cumulus, Eavan Boland’s New Collected Poems, Charles Wright’s Bye-and-Bye, Anthony Lawrence’s 101 Poems. I’ve got the Complete Works of AR Ammons on the go. I often just pick an anthology from my shelves and delve in randomly. I’ve recently finished Robert McFarlane’s Underland and have just begun reading Merlin Sheldrake’s Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds, and Shape Our Futures. I’ve not had too much free time lately as my mother has been ill and I’ve been taking care of her needs.

Denise: I understand, and wish her well. On another subject, the poetry scene is flourishing in Australia and New Zealand, yet do you feel that outside poetry circles there is a lingering distrust of poetry as an elitist art form?

Judith: I suspect that most people simply do not contemplate poetry in any terms whatsoever. If they do it’s likely that they consider it irrelevant and a bit of a mystery, and which can never have anything at all to do with them. I think for some readers, those who read literary novels for example, and who could easily gain pleasure and value from poetry, distrust it because they assume they won’t understand it and so will feel uncomfortable, therefore they avoid it. It’s a great pity because so many poems are accessible and add great richness to one’s life. However, there will always be those people who love it and you have to keep those people in your life and keep them close. We live in a distrustful age in which we close down more than we open up, but poetry opens you up.

Our culture is very oriented towards achievement and triumph; we’re too materialistic, but poetry is not about that at all. It has a different set of values. Writing is often to do with failing, it’s an activity that is rarely straightforward and is a process rather than a program and so it involves the unknown and the uncertain. I believe that one of the primary reasons why we don’t have an engaged audience for poetry – and it’s not just a phenomenon here, it’s in most Western capitalist countries – is that politics and mass media manipulate language so much that when we do have encounters with language that are vital and deep (such as when we encounter a poem), we can feel at a loss to know how to respond. We live in a society in which bland and simplistic language is common. Words become divested of their meanings through a reliance on slogans, cliches, catch phrases. Language is stripped of its beauty and its poetic resources because words become purely functional and managerial. The poet has to keep language from being smothered and buried under the rubbish of easy entertainments that offer very little other than sensational pleasure.

Denise: Which is where the collection of poets you mentioned earlier comes in, too – reading widely reminds us of the richness of language and helps us keep it from being ‘smothered’. We live in difficult times in other ways too. Our natural environment is under unprecedented threat and we are suffering the effects of a pandemic, so my final question is: In such a climate, what can poetry offer us, youngsters especially?

Judith: Yes, the world is in a difficult and awful state. I’ve always felt that one of the functions of poetry is to reengage people with the natural world and with our shared human condition. Poetry can create awe and wonder, and it can praise like no other form of language. One of the most serious dangers we face, with so much of the environment disappearing or slipping into degradation through climate change or vast over-development, is that we can quicky lose connection with the important things around us, the things we depend on for survival such as insects, trees, plants, birds and weather patterns, falling into a terrible self-centredness, feeling safe and smug in our techno-spheres, pop culture, consumerism and corporate value systems.

Paul Shepherd, an American environmentalist, said that the lack or denial of our connection to plants and animals and to ecosystems makes us go mad. We need to be able to perceive and experience those vital connections. Poetry brings the real, specific, and physical world into focus and can protect us against such comments as the one Ronald Regan made: ‘If you’ve seen one redwood, you’ve seen them all.’

Both reading and writing poetry makes us pay attention and paying attention to the world around you helps you connect the inner with the outer and in this way the poet’s role is a deeply interactive one. The popular arts, because they are produced mainly for economic gain, do not generally aim for complexity, and lack the intensity of purpose that poetry has. What we are required to bring to the reading of poetry, and also the writing of it, are many of those qualities which are marginalised or dismissed by consumer-driven cultures, they don’t value stillness or reflection or the careful art of discrimination.

I also believe that poetry is one of the most powerful and effective forms for addressing and exploring deep human questions. Partly this is because poetry is connected so intimately with the breath, much more so than other linguistic expressions. It employs tools which enable both reader and writer to access truths in non-discursive ways: it uses patterns and repeating structures such as rhythm, assonance, alliteration, a recurrence of words, phrases and images. These act as regulating mechanisms, not only for the breath, but also for the movement of thought. Poetry does not necessarily offer solutions. A great deal of poetry is not directly engaged with overt political issues, but what it does deal with is inwardness and this ability of poetry to touch the psyche both at an individual and communal level is one of its most potent virtues.

Denise: This has been a wonderful conversation, Judith! We’re privileged to learn so much about your own writing processes as well as being treated to your invaluable insights into the nature of the poetic art, and how to stay true to its essential ‘inwardness’ in the clamour of today’s world. I feel sure our readers will be as grateful as I feel.

Thank you so much for your time and energy – you’re an inspiration to us all.

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