One time at school our teacher made us do this thing to try and work out how conversations unravel. We were meant to talk to the person sitting next to us for a few minutes, then try and write down what we had talked about and explain how we got from one topic to the next. It was, for school, pretty interesting. Sometimes I like to try and work out how I got into things in the same way. One band led me to this book which had a line from this thing in it which led to this other thing which for some reason or another took me to something that ended up being my favourite thing ever.My route to Deborah Alma's True Tales of the Countryside isn't too complicated, but does involve a few bits of luck. It went something like this. Last year I was on Twitter and I saw someone, maybe Lauren Laverne, tweet a link to something called the Northern Writers Awards. Apparently it was closing soon. On a whim, I typed up a bunch of poems from my notebooks and sent them off. Fast forward a few months and I'm at the Northern Writers Awards ceremony avoiding both conversation and Ben Myers out of total insecurity.The award, as it turns out, involved a poetry course taking place over the next year or so. This would involve group meetings every now and then - weekends away with different focuses where we could, I suppose, learn what the hell people who are professional poets (yes, I know) do with their lives.The year progresses and I find myself in Manchester on one of these weekend group meetings. The delightful Emma of the Emma Press is giving us an inspiring talk about setting up the press - and has managed to convince me that her books would be actually be readable even by a brain as stubborn and idiotic as mine. So, when the talk finishes, I visit The Emma Press website and decide to pick up a couple of books.The first one is Deborah Alma's True Tales of the Countryside. I read the back cover and see that "Deborah Alma...works with people with dementia and at the end of their lives using poetry". I open the book and read the first line - I put a pen in my cunt once. Right, I think, I need to find out more about this woman.
True Tales of the Countryside starts off with I put a pen in my cunt once. Was there a motivation behind starting the reader off on such a strong note?I think that the poem serves as an introduction to what follows; it ends with the line 'and this is what it wrote'...and is an indication that the rest of the pamphlet is likely to be concerned with relationships, with sex and with a direct way of talking about these things. I know it to be a powerful word. I don't think I use it again.There's one poem in True Tales, He Sees Me, that I'm a bit fascinated by, especially the conclusion - "I begin to charm even myself, he sees me so lovely." Do you think it's rewarding to be able to find a reassurance of self-worth from the way others view you, or do you feel it's a sign of a kind of insecurity?Many of these poems are intimate and personal, although many have strong elements of fantasy or of fiction; they are not all ‘true’ in that sense. This poem is one that is directly from my lived experience and I can see how you might read the poem in that way; but the poem for me was written at a time when, as now, that I felt strong, capable, without much insecurity and also loved. This poem is not about a lack of insecurity for me, but about how someone might be ‘charming’. I had not, at the time seen myself in that way. We seldom see ourselves as ‘lovely’ do we? The poem in a sense, although about a ‘me’ is actually about the other person; about someone who communicates how they see the other, so well that the other person can see it!Has operating as the Emergency Poet affected the way you use poetry for yourself in your own life?That’s a good question! I am always reading and researching for my Emergency Poet work, so yes, I am often moved by poetry as I do this. The lovely thing is that I know a lot of poetry and can carry the sense of a poem, its feel if you like, around in my head and can use it in difficult times as a chant or as reassurance. I see the world through these poems which is a bit odd at times! Also if I’m honest, at the end of a long day sharing poetry I can have enough! It makes me a very critical reader!Your bio mentions working with ‘people with dementia and at the end of their lives using poetry’. I feel like most people I know have quite a direct personal connection to someone with dementia. Is poetry a tool people could be using in these situations? Oh this is a huge question! I really think that poetry, like music, is a wonderful way to communicate with people with dementia. Either through sharing new and familiar poems, or through helping the individual to write their own. (I wrote an article on this work for the journal Lapidus http://www.lapidus.org.uk/index.php/tag/poetry-dementia/)Poetry is short, often with a narrative and works better than long pieces of prose which may be difficult for a person with dementia to retain even for a few minutes. It usually has rhythm and music, and best of all, it can change or lift a mood, or take you to another place in your head entirely.Finally, what was the last thing (book, song, artist, place, etc) that you totally fell in love with?I fall in love like this all the time and every day! I have just fallen in love with the band Camera Obscura. And I’ve lived in my present house near Montgomery on the Powys/ Shropshire border for a year and a half and I’m just starting to properly fall in love with it; to put down a few roots, to love the hills here and call them home. That takes a while!