with Becki Hawkes:
Q1: When did you start writing and first influences?
Becki: I first started writing poetry as a teenager. The poetry I liked best then was by Sylvia Plath, Carol Ann Duffy (especially The World’s Wife) and Jackie Kay (I loved her collection Off Colour). My own poetry probably wasn’t very good back then – I’m in awe of all the younger writers today I read who seem to turn out such stunning, polished work. I also had an eating disorder at the time (anorexia nervosa) and, in all honesty, living with that took priority over everything. In my 20s, I was an arts and culture journalist at a newspaper. It was an amazing experience, but definitely meant all my time and energy was spent on writing articles, rather than anything more personally creative. I actually only started writing poetry “for real” in 2020 – perhaps as a reaction to the feelings of isolation and fear that the pandemic brought out in so many of us. I’ve always been a keen poetry reader, however.
Q2: Who are your biggest influences today?
Becki: In addition to the writers above, some of my favourite writers today are the American poet Jericho Brown – his poem Ganymede has blazed in my head ever since I first read it – and the British poet John McCullough (I think Reckless Paper Birds might be one of my favourite-ever poetry collections). I’m not sure they influence my work, exactly: they write stuff that resonates with me, but that is often inspired by things outside of my own experiences, and stylistically very different to how I write myself. But reading perfectly-constructed, emotionally vivid poems can remind you of what poetry can do, and inspire you to keep writing yourself. I’m also a keen Leonard Cohen fan, and listen to his songs almost every day. During a recent relationship breakdown, I kept thinking of these lines from The Stranger Song: “You try the handle of the road/ It opens do not be afraid/ It’s you my love, you who are the stranger”. They can be read in so many ways – and I feel like a lot of the writing I’ve been working on recently is an unintentional reaction to those words, and how I feel when I hear them.
Q3: Any pivotal moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer?
Becki: Not really! I think, during all the years I didn’t write creatively, I’d sometimes get lines and images stuck inside my head – ways of reacting to things, or processing things I’d seen or experienced. And then I’d wonder what they were from, and realise they weren’t from anything: they were just my brain, saying it needed a new language; a new way to express its world.
Q4: Who has helped you most with writing?
Becki: I had a very nice teacher at school who taught me how to do cryptic crosswords. That helped me appreciate the playfulness of language; it’s inherent deceptiveness, as well as its beauty and power (I’ve written poems directly inspired by crossword clues). Every single editor that has taken a chance and published my work has also helped me: just the reassurance that someone likes your work is so, so encouraging. My sister, Emily, has also read everything I’ve written, and offered valuable thoughts and feedback, as have many of my close friends.
Q5: Where did you grow up and how did that influence your work & did any travels away from home influence your work?
Becki: I grew up just outside London, UK, in a town called Bracknell, and London itself has influenced my writing a lot. I also had lovely family holidays as a child to a place called Lyme Regis, which is known for its Jurassic fossil beaches, and my fascination with palaeontology and the natural world is definitely something which influences my writing a lot now. I’m passionate about butterflies, especially UK butterflies, and recently went on an amazing trip to see some of the work the charity Butterfly Conservation are doing in Cumbria, and found that very inspiring. A recent day trip to a site just outside of London, where I went to look at Small Blues and Silver-Washed Fritillaries, is also something that I’ve been trying to write about recently. I was the only person there, just walking among all these tall grasses and ancient woodland, butterflies flying out in front of me, and it truly felt like I was somewhere enchanted. A hidden fairyland. But then, of course, I’m also keenly aware of the fragility of all of this – and the urgent need to protect the natural world and fight climate change. It leads to this kind of combined feeling of awed wonder and desperate, desperate panic.
Q6: What do you consider your most meaningful work you’ve done creatively so far to you?
Becki: My favourite poem that I’ve written so far is either Park Run, published by Lunate Fiction (available online here: https://lunate.co.uk/poetry/park-run-by-becki-hawkes) or Peacock, Orange Tip Red Admiral, Holly Blue (https://www.perhappened.com/peacockbeckihawkes.html). I think of both of them as survival poems, and as celebration poems, and as love poems. Like many people, I’ve had some bad times, and some very difficult years and experiences. There was one period in particular where I felt like I was constantly either in a hospital, or at a funeral, or else just anxiously anticipating the next disaster or world-shattering loss. But these poems are about why I want to be here. They are love poems in the most direct sense: in order to love, we need to be alive.
Q7: Favorite activities to relax?
Becki: I like being outside – and, as previously mentioned, looking for different butterfly species and other wildlife! And I love reading – I read quite widely, but I’ve almost always got some kind of thriller/detective novel on the go – and watching horror movies. I work in central London (although have been working from home a lot recently due to Covid-19) and am lucky enough to be able to walk part of my commute. I always find walking in along the river, coffee in hand, watching the light on the water a very relaxing thing – just grabbing those small moments before the day begins in earnest.
Q8: What is a favorite line/stanza from a poem of yours or others?
Becki: A truly haunting and evocative poem I read recently, which really stayed with me, was published in a magazine called Wrongdoing Magazine (https://www.wrongdoingmag.com ) and was by a poet called Rachael Crosbie. It’s called What kind of vampire are you? I imagine it’s one that might resonate with a lot of people. The last lines in particular linger with me: “You were too young/when he asked to really see you, his body seared/in the next text, grainy and gray like a graveyard when it rained”. I think my favourite-ever poem, if I had to choose, would be Everything is going to be all right, by Derek Mahon, with the amazing lines: “There will be dying, there will be dying/but there is no need to go into that”.
Q9: Any recent or forthcoming projects that you’d like to promote?
Becki: I’ve just finished putting together my first-ever poetry pamphlet/chapbook, which is called The naming of wings, and am currently thinking about places to send it to. So watch this space!