“My poems arise out of an experience.”: Q & A With Kim Whysall-Hammond, our 2023 ROAR Showcase Finale

“[M]y poems arise out of an experience, […]”: Q & A With Kim Whysall-Hamond

Q. What is your earliest memory of poetry?

A: My earliest memory of any poetry would be of Nursery Rhymes – my favourites were Mary Mary Quite Contrary and Baa Baa Black Sheep. I always, even at an early age, questioned why a little boy got stuff and not a little girl.

I first wrote poetry in the Infants section of Primary school. We wrote about sunrise and sunset, learning new descriptive words as we went. Of course, all our poems rhymed. A new teacher introduced us to poems that didn’t rhyme. I can remember being shocked! Later on in my schooling I won prizes for my poetry.

Q: You said in your submission bio you got into poetry late. When did you become drawn to the
art form and what were the first steps you took into publishing?

A: Actually, I have always read and written poems, but I came to sharing and publishing poetry late (in my early fifties). In 2012 I started working at a Physics Lab 30 miles north of where I live. The twice daily car journey across rolling green hills inspired a burst of poems, which I eventually started sharing on a WordPress blog. Someone left a comment suggesting my poems were good enough to send to magazines. Amazingly, the first poem I sent out was accepted straight away, by Helen Ivory at Ink, Sweat and Tears. Of course, I’ve had the usual tide of rejections since then, but enough acceptances to keep me submitting. I still share poems on my blog.

Q. There are hundreds of types of poetic forms. Is there a particular form that speaks to you? Why?

A: No, there isn’t. I tend to write the poem as feels right. I always speak a poem out loud once I think it is finished, to check the flow. Most of my poems are free blank verse.

Q. Do you ever experience writer’s block? How do you overcome it?

A: There are times when I don’t write poems and times when poems or poetic phrases and ideas keep popping into my head. I tend to accept the quieter times as part of the process. After all, I can always edit some existing poems to make them tighter and better.

Q. Some writers have methods that help them write. Do you? Will you share it with us?

A: Virginia’s solution – a room of one’s own. That is, make space and time for your writing. It doesn’t need to be regular hours, you don’t need to write every day, just give yourself some time. If in trouble, go for a nice long walk. That helps with practically everything!

Recently, while developing a collection of poems for possible book publication, I realised that I probably needed a few more. I was in a fallow phase and so I used an excellent book from Happenstance Press to get me going. It is Unlocked by Sue Butler & Helena Nelson. They present a poem, discuss it then give ideas for writing your own poem in response.

Q. Several of your poems in this collection are about daughterhood, particularly in regard to the maternal bond (or lack thereof). Will you share with us why you chose this subject?

A: I loved my mother, but this love often felt unrequited. After her death, I began to think about what had happened between us. Why she may have resented a daughter who had opportunities she did not have and whose birth caused her to lose a job she loved. Many of us have had similar experiences and so I thought these poems may speak well to your readers.

Q. In regard to poetic form, what does ‘confessional’ verse mean to you?

A: A poem where the poet is sharing an experience with you, where you can take part in the experience. This encompasses a lot of poetry! Good confessional poetry can help us empathize with other people.

Q. Singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen once described poetry as “[…] the evidence of life.” Do you believe this to be a true or well-thought statement? Why or why not?

A: The full quote is “Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash.” I love Leonard’s body of work, but to me, this is one of those quotes that sounds great but is all show and no meat. I don’t think it is true for me. Poetry to me is an expression of feelings, reactions, thoughts, all set in a certain form that distinguishes it from prose. Good poetry talks to you. The quote I would prefer would be from Adrienne Rich*:

“Most often someone writing a poem believes in, depends on, a delicate, vibrating range of difference, that an ‘I’ can become a ‘we’ without extinguishing others, that a partly common language exists to which strangers can bring their own heartbeat, memories, images.”

Q. Do you think trauma and poetry are connected? If so, how?

A: Poetry is one way of expressing trauma, of telling it, of making sense of it. In this sense, then trauma and poetry are connected. But poetry cannot always be about trauma, and certainly should not be. We need joyous poems and especially now we need poems that tell of a better future. Those are the sort of poems that I am now working on.

Q. What place does poetry hold in your life currently?

A: Reading and writing poetry is a very important part of my life. I self-identify as a poet! I enjoy all parts of the writing and publishing process, including the rejections – long ago I read that you should aim for 100 rejections a year and I do.

All my poems arise out of an experience, something I’ve seen, felt, survived, witnessed, a story from a friend. They help me capture those moments, something I’ve been doing since my teens. Even my Speculative poetry is sparked by things in my life. I have been recently writing and publishing a number of SolarPunk poems, poetry that tells of a better future. For example, a scary rainstorm became an emergency on Mars and my fear of heights informed a poem about floating in Space.

Q. Do you think a poem can save a life?

A: Yes of course. Poems can speak to people on a deep level. Early on in the pandemic I shared “Everything is Going to be All Right” by Derek Mahon on my blog. This poem had calmed me. A reading of it was broadcast in Ireland, and I think that reflects the Irish relationship with poetry. I’m a great fan of Anthony Wilson’s* curation of Life Saving poems.

Q. How or why do you think poetry is important to the world?

A: Poetry has always helped us to understand and appreciate the world we live in. Its importance is reflected in the way we use poems in wedding ceremonies and at funerals. Reading and writing poetry is now an important part of many people’s lives. The internet abounds with poems of all sorts, and long may it do so. People are using poetry to express themselves, to fulfil that urge to create – both of which are important human traits.

*Editor’s Note: Link to Adrienne Rich’s essay Someone is Writing a Poem

*Editor’s Note: Link to Anthony Wilson’s Life Saving Poems Series

Kim Whysall-Hammond grew up in London in a working-class family, but now lives deep in the English countryside. She obtained a degree in Astronomy from UCL and has worked in both Climate Research and Telecommunications. A late comer to publishing poems, her poetry has appeared in American Diversity Report, Alchemy Spoon, Amsterdam Quarterly, London Grip, North of Oxford, Ink, Sweat and Tears, Marble Poetry, Crannóg and others. Her speculative poetry has appeared in Andromeda Spaceways, Eternal Haunted Summer, Frozen Wavelets, Kaleidotrope, On Spec, Silver Blade and Star*line. She also has poems in anthologies from Palewell Press, Wild Pressed Books, Milk and Cake Press, Experiments in Fiction and Brigids Gate Press. Find more of her work at https://thecheesesellerswife.wordpress.com/


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