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THE BERRY METHOD► The initial spark for a poem might come from a line or phrase that comes into your head. Make a note of it. Relax. It doesn’t matter if there is no plan at the beginning. You might know whether an idea will be part of a sequence, or a particular project, or you might not.► You can take notes in a physical notebook or on your phone. Go back to the idea later and add to it, developing handwritten drafts until an actual poem starts to take on shape. At this point it’s ready to type up.► But it’s not finished. So you work on it some more, making sure ‘the editor is switched off’ all the time – i.e. that you are working on it as a poet rather than as a critic.► If you’re used to analysing other people’s work you can become paralysed when you look at your own. Or you may find yourself deleting lines in yourthis kind of poetry. ‘I’ve always been drawn to US poetry, and to American literature in general. As a teenager I read a lot of Sylvia Plath, like many girls my age. John Berryman too. Then in my 20s I discovered Frank O’Hara. They were people I read early on who formed the mulch of my style or voice.’This combination of influences makes sense. Berryman and Plath are both adept at tackling emotional turbulence within the poetic structure, while O’Hara’s work would have given her a grounding in the potential of control and montage.And now? Berry still reads a lot of American poetry, such as Mary Ruefle’s ‘very humane and funny poems’. She rates Anne Carson highly too, and feels that some of Carson’s contemporaries, like Luke Kennard, ‘shaped parts of my first book’.The links between British and American poets and poetry have, of course, always been fruitful. But I quiz Berry on the implications of having a self-confessed Americanophile editing the UK’s flagship poetry journal. ‘I believe it’s important that the magazine represents the breadth and variety of poetry being written in English – in the UK and internationally,’ she says. ‘So American writing will, of course, feature – as it always has. But I’m not editing the magazine for myself; I’m editing it for a broad audience. So I will always bear that in mind when selecting the work. My personal taste is bound to affect my choices, but it’s only one strand of a bigger story.’Because we’re both frustrated that poets are rarely asked what fiction they read, our discussion veers away from poetry for a while. ‘I’ve probably read way more fiction than poetry,’ she confesses.‘I read novels primarily for escapism, so I’m maybe less inclined to read a difficult or experimental novel. Whereas with poetry I’m prepared to tackle something that isn’t necessarily going to be easy.’ The power of fiction to engage the reader feeds into Berry’s poetry too, she thinks: ‘Some of my poetry does have a narrative aspect’.head before you’ve even written them.► So try not to think about someone else reading, and reviewing, your work. You may share drafts with poet friends (usually...) but the person you should most want to please and impress is yourself. Making a poem to satisfy yourself is the best way to switch your editor off.► Some poets you know seem incredibly prolific. They aren’t you. At your most productive, you might write one poem a month. At your least productive there may be nothing for several years. You just don’t have the inclination. But that’s OK.► In the meantime, get involved with projectsthat excite – such as compiling anthologies ofpoets you admire, or contributing to a book about breakfast (The Breakfast Bible). Keep an eye out for opportunities in micropublishing and online.► If you’re rejected try not to lose heart. Getting a knock back is not the signal for permanent retreat. Be brazen and carry on.This is strongly evident in the boyfriendsand creepy fairytales in Dear Boy. And it’s carried through in Stranger, Baby’s treatment of grief, in which there are some child-like imaginative connections – as in ‘Ghost dance’, which merges Bambi (with its quintessential maternal death) with a dramatic dialogue between two selves: ‘There was a child in my head. / I asked her these questions, or she asked me them.’ The child is ‘so small, but she knew everything’; which is perhaps the starting point of Stranger, Baby.To tackle such deeply personal material is quite daring for such a private poet. ‘I’m not looking forward to coping with criticism of any part of it,’ she says. ‘Positive or negative, any review of this collection would feel very personal. I might try not to read them at all, but that’s hard to do with social media.’ A high-profile editorship will also surely invite personal scrutiny.As I leave, I have to ask what all mslexia poets most want to know: What does Berry want to discover in her waiting postbag of submissions? ‘My impression is that the current submissions are quite dominated by men,’ she says. ‘But everybody is welcome to submit and I’d be delighted to receive more submissions from women.’ You heard it here first! ❐100 WAYS TO WRITE A BOOK‘I was quite clear it was a sequence from the start. I felt likeI was in the grip of some sort of process’ALEX PRYCE reviews books and writes about contemporary women’s poetryin magazines and journals. She lives in Oxfordshire and works for the University of Oxford.mslexia Mar/Apr/May 2017 49PHOTO: POETRY SOCIETY

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