Bookcase Focus: An interview with Zoë Skoulding

Bookcase Focus: An interview with Zoë Skoulding

Wales Literature Exchange interviewed our Bookcase author Zoë Skoulding, about her writing and her influences, as she prepares for the North Wales International Poetry Festival.

What first inspired you to become a writer, and where do your ideas come from?
My teenage years were spent in rural and isolated surroundings so I read voraciously, mainly fiction at that point – poetry came along later. Writing was a natural response, and it remains for me very much a conversation with what I'm reading. Another great source of ideas is travelling, which makes you notice things, abroad or at home, in different ways. Increasingly, translation feeds what I write because it's like reading and travelling at the same time.

How would you describe your writing?
I can't say what it's like for anyone else to read it, but for me it's a kind of navigation between different ideas of what a poem might be. I'm interested in traditional forms but I try to break or restructure them. Emotion is important to my work but I don't believe that language can contain or express feelings. I don't represent places but I make poems as places where I can exist, temporarily.

Which authors have influenced you the most?
In fiction, Italo Calvino showed how playing with structures could open up magical possibilities. More recently, Denise Riley's poetry and philosophical writing have both been very important to me. The scale of Alice Notley's vision continues to amaze me, though I don't know that I would claim it as an influence.

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 erosion of concentration by speeded-up media makes it harder both to read and write poetry. It seems like a new and unprecedented situation, but poetry is, as it has always been, a means of creating deep attention through language. The writer's challenge is to stop time and make you see the world in a new way.

What are the hardest and easiest parts of being a writer?
Paradoxically, given my last answer, the hardest part is finding time – in between being everything else. Writing involves periods of seeming to do nothing and phases of excitement when an idea starts to work out, but I don't find any of it easy.

Which writer(s) from Wales would you recommend to readers, and why?
Lynette Roberts, whose work still sounds futuristic even though it comes from rural Wales during the Second World War. There's something compelling about the strangeness of her language, which hovers just on the edge of English, always promising to become something else.

The Museum of Disappearing Sounds by Zoë Skoulding has been selected to the Wales Literature Exchange 2014-2015 Bookcase, our annual selection of recent Welsh literary works which we recommend for translation.  Read more here.

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