Bookcase Focus: An Interview with Deryn Rees-Jones
Wales Literature Exchange interviewed our Bookcase author Deryn Rees-Jones, about her writing and her influences.
1. What first inspired you to be an author and where do your ideas come from?
When I was very small I knew that wanted to be a writer. I think that was something to do wth wanting to give shape to the feelings I had, and to voice things that were not said, or which at the time I had no way of saying. Reading was addictive and offered a magical alternative; it was a new space of habitation. Because I was more familiar with novels than I was with poetry, early on it was prose that I wanted to write. At university in Bangor in the mid 1980s, I became part of a group of writers who published in a magazine called The Green Fuse, and who met every week to workshop poems. I started writing poems seriously because of that group, and as I started sending poems out to magazines a sense that I could write poems filtered in as a possibilty.
I felt very encouraged and supported by the editors of both Poetry Wales, The New Wesh Reivew, Planet, and London Magazine. It was an exctiting time, and there is still something very precious to me about that feeling of being 19 and my voice being heard. That encouragement by those editors was crucial to my sense of myself as a writer, and has always made me very conscious of the importance of editorial encouragement to not just young but new writers. I have been writing seriously for over thirty years, so obviously my way of working has changed. From early on, however, my creative writing was always tied to my critical writing. Researching women’s poetry in the UK - which was a project I began when I was wrting my PhD in London in the early 1990s - gave me a context for my own writing. I have always been interested in the history of ideas, in philosophy, and thinking that has its roots in psychoanlysis. It has been a huge pleasure now to shift some of that thinking to writing about an artist I have long admired, Paula Rego
2. How would you describe your writing?
I’m interested in both memory and the body, and those are probably the most insistent preoccupations running through my work. I have always been engaged in gender politics, something frames teh way I see the world. I see now looking back how important it has been for me to think about narrative within poetry.
3. Which authors have influenced you the most?
Again that has changed over the years. Important writers when I was in my teens were all modernists – Stein, Joyce, Woolf. I was totally in love with the so-called lost generation of writers in Paris in the 1920s. Poets who made a huge impact include HD, Plath, Bishop, Adrienne Rich. But also Whitman and Auden, Frank O’Hara, Veronica Forrest Thomson, and Denise Riley. Claudia Rankine’s Citizen had a huge effect on me recently. I feel very lucky to be publishing a new book by the very brilliant Bhanu Kapil in my poetry list, Pavilion, this year.
4. In your opinion what are the biggest challenges that writers face today – and do you think these challenges have changed since you started writing?
The new book is very much a response to the current political climate. I wanted to try find a way to explore my own story in the context of what felt like - the rise of the right, post truth - an overturned world. Writing is a very particular way of thinking, and to do it you need to be able to enter a space that is very alive but which also brings the space for reflection. There is a lot of ‘noise’ around writing: competiton, marketing, all that. That noise can be seductive but also very dangerous.
I think my whole career has felt like it has been operating at the edges of the mainstream and I suspect after all this time that I like not being at the centre, because of the freedoms that brings. I have spent most of my creative life teaching full-time in universities. That eats up writing time, and looking back it is only when I have had study leave that there has been real writing space for me. So the challenge is to keep thinking and moving, regardless, while finding a way to push hard at ideas so that the writing can keep changing and developing, responding to the challenges of the world it inhabits.
5. What are the hardest and easiest parts of being a writer?
There are huge pressures on my time – working as I do in a full-time and demanding job, and also having been a single parent for the last ten years. On the whole I think writers need to find a balance between existing within a stimulating community and being alone. Finding that balance – as well as allowing it to keep changing – has been challenging!
6. Which writer from Wales would you recommend to readers and why?
I can’t have just one! So - Gwyneth Lewis, Zoe Brigley Thompson and Tishani Doshi – becasue they are all navigating new poetic territories and do so with courage and brilliance in equal measure.
Erato was selected to the Wales Literature Exchange 2019 Bookcase, our annual selection of recent Welsh literary works which we recommend for translation.