Pause for a Poet: Karen Ankers
Karen Ankers discusses her writing versatility, and her works in progress
[This interview was comprised via email correspondence between Laura DiNovis Berry and Karen Ankers in June 2018]
Karen Ankers hails from Anglesey, North Wales, and is a poet, playwright, and novelist. Her curiosity about the human conditionprovides her with a wealth of inspiration for her works.
Laura DiNovis Berry: Hello Karen! Thank you for agreeing to this interview! Let's dive in!
I have noticed that you are not afraid of traversing between the world of poetic verse and prose. Has this always been the case for you?
Karen Ankers: Ok, yes, I write in various forms—novel writing, poetry, plays, and short stories. Basically, I enjoy playing with words! But it's all storytelling, really, and I find stories find their own shape. For example, my meeting with a young woman in my poem, "Meeting At Euston" could have been told as a short story, or a play, or even expanded into a novel. And it's possible that she may reappear in one of those forms. But at that moment, I felt the best way to concentrate the emotional response I felt was to put it into a poem. I started my writing career as a poet, when I joined the Chester Poets when I was seventeen (forty years ago!). Certainly as a teenager, poetry was the perfect vehicle for expressing the complicated feelings I had about trying to find my way in the world. Feelings that didn't always make sense, and the great thing about poetry is that it doesn't have to make literal sense, it just needs to have resonance. It works on gut level, which is sometimes where I need to be. I think the resurgence of interest in performance poetry is an indication of society's change in attitude—people all over the world are reclaiming their right to feel and to share emotions. Sorry. Enough politics, back to writing!
And do you find that you have different processes for creating a poetry collection and novel?
I find my early grounding in poetry immensely useful. It has made me a much more disciplined writer, and the art of concentrating language tightly feeds into other forms and makes them stronger. I tend to use poetry as a warm-up exercise when I'm writing, even if I'm working on a longer project, so writing poetry isn't really a conscious act until I come to edit it. It's a bit like an athlete warming up their muscles, and it means that my subconscious can explore everyday experiences, and help me understand them. When I write plays, it's usually because I want to solve a problem. I find it a very useful form for focusing on a problem, and exploring whether a solution is possible. "Dance Before Dark," for example, focuses on climate change, and is essentially a conversation in which two people with opposing views find that they share the same fears. Novels tend to be an exploration of a 'what if' scenario. I'll see something happening and think, what if something else happened. It's a bit like putting two and two together, making five thousand, and then spending a long time working out how that miscalculation occurred!
I love that you use poetry as a writing warm-up! Was that a trick you developed yourself?
I used to write poetry only, until I got to the stage (about twenty years ago) when I was really struggling, because I was taking it far too seriously, and self-censoring. Then I moved to Wales and met my lovely poet friend, Fiona Owen, who told me to 'just write'. The best piece of advice I've ever had, and I started to learn how vital free writing is. So my poetry comes as a result of my free writing exercises.
Congratulations on completing your first novel, and on wrapping your second! That's an immense accomplishment! Do you have plans to work on another full length poetry collection?
My first novel is currently out of print, as my publisher went out of business, so I'm looking for a new publisher while I work on the second one. It had some really good reviews, so I think it deserves a second chance!
I'll put another poetry collection together when I've got enough poems. But a publisher has invited me to do a collection of short stories, and I want to get some more plays out... So poetry might have to wait a little while!
I see—I'm so sorry to hear about the publisher going out of business. I'm sure you will find another one soon.
Thank you so much for agreeing to this interview!
Karen Ankers' debut poetry collection, One Word At A Time, studies society and family. She is currently working on her second novel, "The Stone Dancers."