Two poems and an interview with Joanna Hollins, the 2015/2016 recipient of the Ink Sweat & Tears Poetry Writing Scholarship at the University of East Anglia.

 

Iona   i

The losing of faith isn’t easy. So many years
and words – times you’ve sat, half-drunk
on divinity or cider, arguing

the case, cases, offered prayer, wisdom,
verses – it gathers in crooks, fills in
where bits of you are absent. After service

when all the kind bits of yourself,
are at the pub drowning
a week’s shit in ale and chips,

admitting your faith is as clear
as the swirling wood grains
at the bottom of your pint glass.

You’ll know it at your time – it’ll be ordinary.
No thunderbolt realisation, no swirling clouds
or angel ladders irkfully ascending;

only godless silence
which no-one dares to mention.

 

 

Iona II

The finding of faith is harder. So many years
and words – times you’ve sat, half-drunk
on divinity, talking it up – either way

there’s the heady taste of the argument, the dare
of circumspection, the sticky rush
of obstinacy heading into your thighs,

belly, heaving chest (tapping the mic:
‘hello. hello. God is dead.’ Said twice
for laughter)

Admit to this lack of faith: in church
after sex you found yourself thinking
about how you’d ease his shirt off

(eyes averted from the altar Jesus
and his taunt ribcage) – and come
back to the room mid-prayer

and find your mouth moving, the body
faithful, the spirit less than willing

and faithlessly asked for faith many times,
like the radio-lovers who code their data
into waves and broadcast out

into the unknown. Like anyone might hear.
This being the hardest part of faith:
the asking for it. Constant doubt,
yes, but always constant.

 

 

1.Where do you write? (do you have a place that you find yourself and your writing?)

For me, nothing beats working in a library. It has to be a very quiet environment, but I don’t mind having other people around – knowing people can see you is a great way to avoid procrastination! I like to nest – shoes off, in a comfy chair or surrounded by cushions, and with as few visual or auditory distractions as possible. Going out to write can look a little like a camping trip…

2.How do you write? (into a notebook or straight onto a computer?)

I carry a notebook for rough ideas, but mostly I write on my laptop. I prefer to work on Notepad, as it looks very clean, less distracting than Word.

3.Roughly how much time do you spend each week on creative writing related activities? (writing, editing, correspondence & submissions)

It really varies. I’m editing a little more at the moment, which can be time-consuming with long pieces, but as I enjoy it it’s easier to concentrate and get it done. It does vary hugely. My dissertation involved an intense burst of writing, so I’ve been enjoying making more time to read. I’m a reflective learner, so I’ll read something and a few months later I’ll find myself coming back to it in my writing.

4.What time of day do you usually write?

I like the late afternoon, into the early evening. Being a night owl, I don’t feel like I’m properly awake until early afternoon. I’ve found I can work with this – if I have a whole day to work on something, I’ll read and plan in the morning, and move to writing later in the day.

5.What does it feel like to write?

It feels like a gamble. Sometimes I know what I need to say, but not how to get there. And sometimes I think I know what I’m doing and it takes me somewhere else entirely. The best feeling is when you can look at something you’ve written and feel like you know something you didn’t know before you wrote it.

6. Are there any stimuli that will usually trigger you into writing?

Being outside works for me – I’ve always loved the city, but recently I’ve started to discover the countryside, and even gardening. A long walk in silence helps me to think.

7. What are you working on now?

I’m in search of a new project! Most of my writing recently has been stand-alone poems, so I definitely need something new to sink my teeth into. In a few weeks’ time I will be moving to Wales to spend a year with a monastic community, which should be a great place to look for new inspiration; I wrote a collection of devotional poems for my master’s dissertation, and have a particular interest in the way poetry can explore spirituality and faith.

8. How has the scholarship affected your writing?

There were points during the course when my confidence in my writing dipped, and I was very anxious about whether I was good enough to continue. I think this is a pretty normal state for most writers to go through at some point! Knowing I had the support of Ink, Sweat and Tears motivated me to keep going, and to believe in myself.

The scholarship also introduced me to some incredible people – reading alongside Jay Bernard and Jonathan Morley at Café Writers was one of the highlights of the whole year for me. I’m in total awe of the poetry community in Norwich and their skill and dedication. Wherever I go from here, being part of that community will stay with me, and will continue to inspire me to keep writing.

 

For details of UEA’s Ink Sweat & Tears Poetry Writing Scholarship established by IS&T’s Kate Birch please go here.

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