Friday, July 11, 2014

A Short Conversation with Poet Kit Fryatt

(Originally published on July 10, 2008 on Yahoo! Voices.)

I first met Kit Fryatt through (I have since deleted my account there) when she wrote an entry regarding an event she attended at which Bono of U2 fame read and gave her thoughts on the whole affair. Being an avid U2 fan, I was highly entertained by that entry in which she was not at all pleased. Since we share a common love of poetry, we continue to correspond and I have learned much from her over the last few years. She is an unfailing support to me poetically. She is also a very good writer as well as teacher and has been published, among other numerous journals, in the Poetry Ireland Review. As a way to give back to her, I asked her for an email interview to be published here on AC (Associated Content, later Yahoo! Voices). Without further ado, here are the results of that interview:

S. R.: Where and when were you first exposed to poetry? How did you come to love it?

K. F.: I don't remember: the first poems I heard were nursery rhymes, probably. I remember laughing and laughing at a silly rhyme my father used to say: "Spring is sprung, the grass is riz / I wonder where the birdies is?" I never got tired of that. I have memories of writing poems on a paper napkin in a restaurant when I was 7. One began "A knight / In sight / On a horse / Of course", which I think has a certain modernist flair. I learnt poems by heart at an American school for military children in Izmir, Turkey. Rose Fyleman:

I think mice are rather nice,
Their tails are long, their faces small,
They haven't any chins at all.
Their ears are pink, their teeth are white,
They run about the house at night;
They nibble things they shouldn't touch,
and no one seems to like them much,
but I think mice are rather nice.

When we were still in Turkey, my mother brought home a copy of the New Golden Treasury, not Palgrave but a new selection chosen in the 70s by Edward Leeson. Books were a special event: even in Ankara, the capital, there were only a couple of bookshops that sold English-language books. There I found:

Sumer is icumen in
Lhude sing, cuccu!
Groweth sed and bloweth med
And springeth the wude nu,
Lhude sing, cuccu!

Awe bleteth after lomb
Lhouth after calve cu
Bulluc sterteth, bucke verteth
Murie sing cuccu!

Cuccu, sing cuccu
Ne swik thu naver nu!
Sing cuccu, nu, sing cuccu,
Sing cuccu, sing cuccu, nu!

That's from the 13th century, and it's really just a slightly -- ever so slightly: note that farting buck -- more sophisticated version of my dad's rhyme. I had a cult of Old England going on at the time, despite or because of being surrounded by the remains of much more ancient cultures in Asia Minor, and I was hooked. I think rhyme and repetition hooks children into poetry, but it's a sense of the strangeness of language that keeps them reading.

S.R.: Which poets are the greatest influence on your work and why?

K.F.: Not for me to say, I think. Influence is a slippery thing. You might think a poet is heavily inflected by Auden or Yeats and I mightn't hear it at all. I've never tried consciously to imitate anyone, except in parodies, but I find I'm always unconsciously imitating. Sometimes imitating very bad stuff.

S.R.: Are there non-poetic influences, such as environment, other interests, etc.?

K.F. : Of course: anything and everything can be material. That said, the Irish bardic schools allegedly encouraged their pupils to compose indoors, in darkness. There's something to be said for sensory deprivation, too.

S.R.: As an academic, do you feel that is beneficial to poetry or not, and why?

K.F.: I'm lucky: I get a lot of pleasure out of close analysis. Sometimes a poem won't really ravish me until I've done the forensics on it. That's not true for many people I think, even some who end up studying English at university. Students often complain that they dislike "dissecting" a poem; a revealing metaphor, because they see the poem as a corpse to start with. I tell them it's not dissection; it's vivisection, except you can't hurt a poem by torturing it, luckily. As for poets making their living in the academy: poets need their patrons; always have.

S.R.: Give a brief anecdote of an experience in your life or at a literary function that has impacted you as a poet.

K.F.: I think all the experiences that have made an impact on me poetically are experiences of reading poems, which isn't very interesting to talk about. Literary events are usually the reverse of inspiring, though sometimes there is free wine. The poets I know personally -- I think I should like them as well if they weren't poets.

S.R. What is it that you most hope readers will take away from your work?

K.F.: Words. In their particular order.

S.R.: Are there any projects you are working on or ideas for future projects? What makes these appealing to you as a poet?

K.F.: I'm sending myself to poetic boot-camp for the summer. Formal exercises, that sort of thing. Starting over is always bracing.

S.R.: If you could could give an aspiring poet advice in only one sentence, what would it be?

K.F.: I *am* an aspiring poet! I saw this on a medieval mazard bowl in the Cloisters in New York: "Reason bade that I should write, think much and speak little".

S.R.: You are originally from Britain, I believe, but have also lived in
Ireland and Scotland. Would you consider yourself a British poet or an
Irish or Scottish one? How do you think that experiencing these
different perspectives has shaped you as a poet?

K.F.: That's a big and dangerous question. I'm bound to offend someone. I was born in Iran, to British parents. I left when I was ten months old though -- no memories. I spent some time in the south of England, and then my parents travelled with me to Singapore and Turkey. Then I was at boarding school for a year before they finally came back when I was ten. I spent my teens in the south of England and moved to Ireland when I was 21. I've been spending a bit of time in Scotland over the last few months too. National identity -- whatever some critics may say -- I think is rarely to the forefront of a poet's mind when he or she is writing, and yet poetry turns out marked by the regional -- perhaps, rather than the national -- in all sorts of ways. Politically, I'm not a Unionist: I think the United Kingdom has come to a point now where it is no longer really sustainable. I would be happy to see an independent Scotland -- making the island of Ireland a single country has particular political and social difficulties which I think would have to be negotiated very carefully, but given that it's done equitably I think it would be desirable in the end. England and Wales will probably remain as a unit: an independent Wales isn't viable economically. The cultures of the British Isles have their distinct differences but they also share a lot. England is often (especially in Ireland) seen as a monolithic imperial nation, but it's actually very various. I see myself as English within a wider british culture. The small b is deliberate. I think the imperialist conception of Britain, along with English domination of the United Kingdom, should and will come to an end. English people often don't think about this stuff. Their relative power insulates them from it. Well, white English people. There's a very different usage of "British" by English people of colour, because they often feel that "English" is a racial as well as a national marker, whereas "British" is inclusive. I'd like to make my small-b britishness somehow cognate with that. Living in Ireland and Scotland has made me think about these things, which I mightn't have done otherwise -- they make their way into poems sometimes. Quite a lot of Hiberno-English gets into them too, and the odd Scots word which makes its way in via the Scottish ballads, which I love.

Wurm Im Apfel, a small press that Fryatt runs herself.
Find her on Goodreads.


  1. I really enjoyed this interview. I am a Poet too. The Poet interviewed shares her views and opinions on nationality and being non-white person in England. That was when the interview really got interesting for me. Her identity being Iranian and not Caucasian growing up and living in the UK was fascinating. I loved her answer to "where and when did you first discover poetry?" Awesome!

    1. She was born in Tehran, Iran of English parents. I'm not sure how she views her race - if she is like me she considers that as complicated as life itself. How many of us, even if told by our teachers to mark all forms "White" or "Caucasian" really are? Someone I know was once asked "Are you pure white?" Her reply: "No - is anyone?" I'm glad you enjoyed this interview. I hope you will continue to follow this blog. There are many more gems yet to come!

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