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EMILY BERRY’s first book of poems is Dear Boy (Faber & Faber), which won the Forward Prize for Best First Collection and the Hawthornden Prize. She wonan Eric Gregory Award in 2008 and was selected as a ‘Next Generation’ poet by the Poetry Book Society in 2014. She edited Best British Poetry 2015 (Salt Publishing) and a selection of her work appears in Penguin Modern Poets 1:If I’m Scared We Can’t Win (Penguin, 2016). Her second poetry collection, Stranger, Baby (also Faber), is out now. She has recently been appointed Editor of the Poetry Society’s flagship journal Poetry Review.corsetry (of all things). All this comes with an unsettling uncertainty around voice and purpose; and she is as au fait with outright fantasy as sheis with linguistic nuance. As she says in the title poem of Dear Boy: ‘You know perfectly well I believe / nothing worthwhile is explainable’.February 2017 saw the publication of Berry’s anticipated second collection, Stranger, Baby (also Faber & Faber). ‘It is all about loss,’ she says almost apologetically. ‘When people say they’re looking forward to it, I feel I need to warn them that it is quite a sad book. It talks about the death of my mother, and is about coming to terms with grief. She died when I was little.’ The book is dedicated to her mother, tribute to a woman she only knew for a short amount of time.Although there were certain common aspects to poems in Berry’s first collection – dramatic voices, questionable ingénues, uneasy power dynamics– writing to a single theme is a new approach for her. ‘Before my first book I was just writing one poem after another and vaguely thinking at some point they might make a collection. But the process of writing the second book felt quite different. I was quite clear it was a sequence from the start. I felt like I was in the grip of some sort of process.‘Then it came to an end and I haven’t really written anything since. Maybe there is something about grief as a subject, especially grief for a mother, that’s so intense – once you’ve written a lot about that you don’t know where to turn next.’It takes a brave writer to admit to a dry patch, but Berry seems quite relaxed about it. ‘I went through a phase of not writing after my first book, and was really worried about it. So I was prepared for it this time. It actually feels a bit of a relief. I don’t necessarily want to return to the mode of writing I used before this new collection. So, I’m waiting to see what will happen.’Stranger, Baby is part of her PhD in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia. Likemost creative writing theses, the poems formthe creative aspect; the accompanying critical study is still underway. Balancing her academic commitment with her new role is a challenge. ‘The Review job is taking up a lot of time. I’m not sure how the PhD will fit in, but it will have to.’Despite the workload she must now address, Berry values the opportunity to study for a PhD. ‘If you’re lucky enough to get funding, a creative PhD can be incredibly supportive for your writing – because you are literally being paid to read, and write, and think. That’s much more important to me than the academic qualification; and I’ve been lucky to have two really brilliant supervisors.’The poet Denise Riley, herself on the T S Eliot Prize shortlist this year, is one of them. The subject of Berry’s critical study is ‘elegy’. ‘Lots of people write poems about grief, poems of mourning in an abstract way. They wouldn’t necessarily call them elegies, but we don’t have another word for them. Love and death, as themes in poetry, are two sides of the same coin. I read somewhere that grief is a form of love.’As we talk around this issue, it is clear that US writers are her main point of reference forEarliest memory‘I climbed over a low wall once as a child, to stand on what I thought was some intriguing smooth flat grass – only to discover it was actually a pond covered in duck weed. Whoops!’First writing‘Several anguished socially conscious poems about homelessness written when I was about ten; and stories with titles like ‘Land of sausages’. I had a manual typewriter and I loved writing things on it’Early influence‘As a teenager, The Smiths and Sylvia Plath. Before that, my first crush was Dogtanian’First book that influenced me‘Anastasia Krupnik by Lois Lowry, a US series for young adults about a girl “just trying to grow up”’Advice to my younger self‘The idea of going back into the past and ‘doing things differently’ always seems completely exhausting! Also I’m pretty happy with how things have gone so far’to previous woman editors of the Review. Muriel Spark, best known for her novel The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, was the first female editor; then there wasa significant gap before Fiona Sampson held the role until 2012, followed by a series of guest editors until Maurice Riordan took over in 2013.Berry feels optimistic about the current situation for women in the literary magazine sector. ‘There are woman editors at mslexia and Poetry Wales as well as elsewhere. It isn’t a totally brave new world, but it’s important to me to be open to whatever comes in.’ This is good news for unpublished poets: Poetry Review has always been theoretically open to submissions from anyone, but has faced accusations of elitism (rightly or wrongly). ‘I’m more interested in poems than poets,’ says Berry, adding that her policy is ‘to publish a wide range of poets and poetries’.As you can imagine, the role of Editor involvesa substantial amount of reading – though Berry isn’t sure yet of the exact number of submissions in the mailbag for each issue. ‘But it is a lot!’ She is focusing more on how she can read them all with a fair and engaged eye. ‘I’m still developing a system for that – whether to skim off the top regularly or designate an intense few days for it. The troubleis, if I read too much all at once I lose the ability to concentrate properly on each submission.’Berry’s understanding of the literary magazine scene comes from being both a poet and editor. Before the publication of her first pamphlet, she had appeared in all the A-list journals, including the Rialto, Ambit, Magma and Poetry London. Shethen won an Eric Gregory award in 2008 for her pamphlet Stingray Fevers (Tall Lighthouse) andwas on the editorial team of the Stop SharpeningYour Knives anthology series (2005-13), which published vibrant poetry alongside contemporary illustrations, and was an important early outlet for young British poets like Heather Phillipson, Jack Underwood and Sam Riviere. Then in 2013 Faber& Faber published her first full collection, Dear Boy, which promptly won the Forward Prize for Best First Collection and the Hawthornden Prize.Her poetry success thus far has come from playful free-wheeling poems (although the subject matter is often uncomfortable). In the first poem in Dear Boy, for example, a biographer moves in with – and eventually subsumes – the person she/ he is researching. A sense of entrapment, andhow pain is self-inflicted, are key themes. ‘Don’t be afraid of restraint’ is a line in one poem about48 Mar/Apr/May 2017 mslexiaIMAGE: ANTON WATMAN / SHUTTERSTOCK


































































































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