Sue Hardy-Dawson interview

Sue Hardy-Dawson interview
Sue Hardy-Dawson is a wonderful poet and performer whose latest book 'Where Zebras go' is shortlisted for the CLiPPA poetry prize.
What made you decide to become a poet?

My dad loved poetry and he had a fantastic memory, he would march around the bedroom at bed time reciting Night Mail or Tiger Tiger, he knew lots of poems by heart and even as a small child was happy to perform them. I’m sure his enthusiasm was part of it.

But also when I started school I was really slow to learn to read and very bad at writing because I have something called dyslexia and although lots of people know about that nowadays then none of my teachers had heard of it. Back then children didn’t have electronic gadgets and computers so everything had to be written down and if you got it wrong you just had to keep writing it over and over. I had to write things over and over a lot. Poems were something I found I liked writing and if I spelt them wrong or wanted to change them they were usually small and easy to rewrite. 

As I grew I really enjoyed poetry and sought it out more and more. I remember being particularly struck by a poem by Ted Hughes called ‘The Thought Fox’. That was the first time I had thought about poems actually being written by people. I know that seems odd but I was a child and authors seemed somehow distant dust aliens.

Finally one day in English our homework was to write a poem, I was really very excited as I loved writing poetry and I was sure that I was going to get a good mark which for me was unusual. I wrote my poem, mum corrected the spellings then I wrote it out lots of times until it was as neat and as perfect as I could make it. However when my teacher handed it back she had written on it ‘If indeed you did write this, very good 9 and a half out of ten’ 

Well at first I was really cross but then I realised that in a way it was a compliment. She didn’t think I had written it, she thought I’d copied it out of a book. If she thought that it must be a good poem.

So I kept on writing poems and when I had my children, I started writing poems for them and some of them I gave to a man called Nick Toczek and he put them in a book called ‘Toothpaste Trouble’. I was so excited to see my poems in a book I put the milk in the dishwasher instead of the fridge. And that is how I became a poet.

Where do you get your ideas from?

I get ideas all the time from all sorts of things, it’s why I carry a notebook. Poems are very slippery and if you don’t write them down immediately they escape. Sometimes because I can’t spell I write them on my phone and text them to myself. Also if I’m walking the dogs I have a Dictaphone which I can turn on and peak into. My dogs think it’s quite normal for owners to recite lines of poetry on walks. Other dog walkers sometimes look at me strangely but I know really that I would forget if I didn’t write them down straight away. And of course if you say words out loud you can hear if the lines are clunky, or sound right.
What’s the best thing about being a poet?

The best thing is doing something that I love and getting paid to do it, it never really feels like a proper job because I get up and want to do it every day. I don’t ever think ‘Oh no’ I don’t want to do this. I love it and it’s always exciting and different every day.

What’s the hardest thing about being a poet?

The hardest thing for me is that I’m actually quite shy, I love writing and working with young people to help them to be creative but standing on a stage is still something that makes me feel anxious beforehand.  I do it though because afterwards it feels brilliant and poems only really come alive when they are spoken.

What’s the silliest thing about being a poet?

I’m not really sure, perhaps some of the things that make their way into your head are quite silly. I think you have to have a bit of an abstract sort of person who is in touch with their inner child to write poetry. Poets by nature stretch boundaries and play with words and ideas. But whilst I love a little humour and even nonsense verse I always seek to make something worthwhile from it. I think children deserve the very best words, poems and stories we can give them. I also think that adults often have to read my words to their children. I would hate to think my books were the ones they dreaded their child pulling off the shelf (as a parent I have been there).
Can we see some of your poems?

This is the title poem from my book with Otter-Barry Books, I decided to not have any capital letters or punctuation. Poets are allowed to do things like that so I thought I would. 

where zebras go         
where the amber river slows
where the alligator wallows    
where the cruel acacia grows
where the hippo haunts the shallows

Where the sleeping lions doze  
where antelope meekly swallows
where the sky and land sit close             
where the trees are dark as gallows

Where the hot wind ebbs and flows
where the grass is coarse and fallow                                        
where the plains grow dry as bones
where the earth is scorched and yellow    

Where the desert soil corrodes 
where the trees are parched and sallow 
where vultures stoop in funeral clothes              
where the clouds are looming  shadows        

Where the dust creeps down the road                          
where the air is still and hollow
where mountains fall and woodlands close 
where the mud is thick as tallow 

where the elephants leave their bones                  
where gazelle and bison follow 
where the great Sirocco blows          
where the rains go, zebra goes  

Do you visit schools / offer performance or workshops? 

Yes I do, everything you need to know is on here: 

Where can we see more of your work?

If you go to the CLPE website there are poems teaching sequences, interviews and videos  

Also on my Website: 
Facebook: Poet Sue Hardy-Dawson | Facebook 
and lots of poems on my Twitter feed 

What’s your latest book?  

I have two current books: my solo collection, ‘Where Zebras Go’ Otter Barry Books which has been shortlisted for the CLiPPA poetry prize.

And a collaborative collection, with poetry Ambassadors Roger Stevens and Liz Brownlee.  ‘Apes to Zebras’ Bloomsbury which came out this spring.

Next Year I have a book coming out with Troika Books called ‘If I Were Other Than Myself’

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