Cheryl Pearson: Poet Interview

Please join me in welcoming Cheryl Pearson to the Poetic Asides blog!

Cheryl Pearson

Cheryl Pearson lives and writes in Manchester in the North West of England. Her poems have appeared in publications including The Guardian, Southword, The High Window, Under The Radar, Poetry NorthWest, Crannog, and Envoi.

She won first prize in the High Sheriff’s Cheshire Prize for Literature 2016, and third prize in Bare Fiction Magazine’s national poetry competition in the same year. She has been shortlisted for the York Literature Festival Prize and the Princemere Poetry Prize, and was nominated for a 2017 Pushcart Prize.

Her first full poetry collection, Oysterlight, was published by Pindrop Press in March 2017.

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What are you currently up to?

Oysterlight was published this Spring, so I’m really still focusing on promoting the book as much as I can–going to readings and events, and using social media to help the poems out into the world. In terms of writing, I’m three-quarters of the way to a second collection, so a lot of time is currently spent working on that–finagling the poems into an order, working out what fits, and where the gaps are.

When the manuscript for Oysterlight was accepted, I was absolutely over the moon, but there was a tiny bit of terror in there, too. Effectively, it cleared the decks in terms of my writing, so that my “poems ready to submit” folder was left completely empty. I’m normally quite relaxed about my writing–I write when I feel a poem breathing on the back of my neck, rather than forcing myself to write at prescribed times–but for a few weeks after I got that yes from Pindrop Press, I made sure I was writing something every day.

Even when I didn’t think a poem was necessarily the best thing I’d written, it took the pressure off to see that folder filling up again, and it created a gap for the good poems to start filtering through. The poems for the second collection have been written over the last eight months or so–a really short space of time compared to the poems in Oysterlight.

Oysterlight, by Cheryl Pearson

How did Oysterlight come together as a collection?

I didn’t even know I was working towards a collection in the beginning! I was just writing poems, and learning how to get better at that. I started sending poems out to be published in journals and magazines, and that went on for about 10 years, by which time I had a folder that was thick with writing. I started to think that maybe I could put together a collection, and spent weeks sorting the folder into three piles–yes, no, and maybe.

From there, I went through the yes and maybe piles looking for recurring themes and trying to work out what I wanted to say with a book, which was very different from what I wanted to say with an individual poem. Some of my favorite poems didn’t make the cut, simply because they didn’t fit the feel of the collection that was starting to take shape.

In the beginning, it was hard to name a running theme, but I gradually realized that all the poems were transformative poems. In each one, something is changed–by light, or by love, or by history, and so on. When that dawned, the poems fell together quite naturally–I took out a few more, and wrote some new ones to make the collection more cohesive.

Were there any surprises in the publishing process?

I hadn’t expected to like the editing part of the process at all. I knew that it would be all about amendments and revisions, and I felt so protective over those poems! Some of them had been with me for a decade, and those old ones in particular felt absolutely fixed in their original forms. I knew that I would have to be open to making changes, but I had a vague idea that it was going to be all compromising on my part–I wanted the book to be published, after all, and so the editor had to be happy with it!

In the end, the editing process was nothing like I’d expected, and I actually loved it. I was so stimulated by it, and I got excited by the poems all over again. It helped that I had a brilliant editor in Sharon Black. It was a gift to work with someone with such a good ear and keen eye, and almost all of her suggestions were exactly what the poems needed.

Have you done anything to promote the book since publication?

In terms of bringing work to a wider audience, social media is a godsend. I use Twitter and Instagram primarily, as it’s easy to share information in a clear and concise way. If someone comes across a line they like, maybe they’ll want to read the actual poems. I try and update social media fairly regularly–5-10 times per week. I’ve done a few interviews with bloggers, and I have a Goodreads author page which I’m still feeling my way around!

I think the most important thing, though, is getting out to do as many readings as possible–local open mics, and poetry festivals, and regular spoken word events. Plus you get to meet other poets that way and hear their work, and I love that, it’s so inspiring. I usually find my way into a writing spree after I’ve been to a poetry event.

It, of course, takes several poems to get a collection together. Do you have a writing routine?

I don’t have a routine in the sense that I write at a certain time every day or anything like that. I think I mentioned earlier that I write mostly when I feel a poem start breathing on the back of my neck! I’m a compulsive note taker, though, and always, always, always have a notebook in my bag for any stray lines or ideas that might come my way.

When I do sit down to write, I always write on a laptop. I find writing on a page quite restrictive. I much prefer being able to cut and paste–lift words from here to there, and delete at whim. My only weird thing is that I have to use Georgia 12 pt when I’m writing a poem. I change it to Times New Roman when I’m done, but it has to be Georgia for the actual drafting part. Don’t know why, but it works for me!

Many of the poems in your collection were previously published in other publications. Do you have a submission routine?

I use a beautifully color-coded–and ever-expanding–spreadsheet to collate details of all the publications I’d like to submit to, any competitions coming up that I’m thinking of entering, and then a tab for all current poems and whether they’re out for submission or available to send.

I try and submit at least twice a week, although this varies, depending on what poems I have available. Sometimes I submit much more frequently, sometimes I miss a week or two altogether. One thing I never do is submit a poem to more than one place at a time, even where a publication says simultaneous submissions are ok.

In the early days of submitting, I got stung a couple of times where two places wanted the same poem and I had to say no to one of them. As well as being unprofessional, I felt really badly about it.

One poet that more people should know: Who is it?

One of the things I love about Twitter is that I’ve found so many poets whose work I love through other poets’ retweets. It’s such a lovely and supportive community, and poets are constantly sharing the work of other writers. There are a couple of poets in particular whose work I’ve tracked obsessively after seeing their poems on Twitter–Ruth Madievsky and Lindsay Lusby are both phenomenal, and I also get really excited when I see a new post from Leila Chatti–her writing is just wonderful.

If you could pass along only one piece of advice for other poets, what would it be?

Always carry a notebook. Always, always. And outside of that: read as much current poetry as you can, join a writing group for feedback and support, and let a poem sit for a while rather than sending it out as soon as you think it’s finished.

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Robert Lee Brewer is the editor of Poet’s Market and author of Solving the World’s Problems. Follow him on Twitter @robertleebrewer.

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