with Tessa Foley:
My social media: Twitter: @unhelpable Instagram: @tessafoleypoet
For Tessa’s new book: https://www.livecanon.co.uk/store/product/what-sort-of-bird-are-you-tessa-foley
Q1: When did you start writing and first influences? Tessa: I messed about writing pidgin poetry when I was in primary school and a teacher, in a bid to help me lash it into something recognisable, lent me “Old Possum’s book of Practical Cats” by T. S. Eliot which I read until the copy fell to bits and my parents had to replace it. Other really early influences included Ian Dury and Dr Seuss who convinced me that language was something to really muck about with it, but later on Jill Murphy and Astrid Lindgren and then in my teens when I became more serious about writing, I was reading Plath and Angelou who opened so many doors in terms of content and direction. Q2: Who are your biggest influences today? Tessa: There are some spectacular poets on the scene at the moment; Jenny Mitchell always creates such stirring poetry that I am always moved to hotpen after reading something by her. Maria Ferguson has also thoroughly inspired me to cover some more specific aspects of my life, for instance working as a bartender because as she demonstrates, there is miles of great material there. And also Rick Dove who does such clever things with language that you’re busy thinking ‘oooh how clever’ and you don’t spot the steel-tipped punchline that’s heading for your solar plexus. Q3: Any pivotal moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer? Tessa: When I was about 8 at Templefield School, a teacher gave the class a title for a story and I realised I could make this anything, but anything I wanted – I could create it all myself and be the boss. I got praise for the story but a slight telling off for using the phrase “I was knackered” in it. The title was “The Missing Clue”. Q4: Who has helped you most with writing? Tessa: The tremendous poet and playwright Glyn Maxwell was not only guest editor for my recent poetry collection, giving me tons of guidance and encouragement but he was also the judge for the Live Canon Competition in 2013, which I won. Equally, Helen Eastman who runs Live Canon which later became my publisher has always been an amazing champion, asking me to get involved in various events and projects. She is also an inspiration when it comes to hard work and enthusiasm – a great artist herself. But most of all, my sister Anna has endured reading every draft, made edit suggestions which I didn’t always receive with good grace, sat through every performance and cheered louder than anyone, spent hours making publicity artwork, designed book covers. She’s always believed in me which is honestly the greatest asset you can have as an artist – a true believer. Q5: Where did you grow up and how did that influence your writing? Tessa: Originally I came from Bedfordshire, but I think I did all of my growing up in Portsmouth, which as an island city has produced what I think is a circular, unending aspect to my work. Stories in Portsmouth are all linked and they spiral in on each other and those spirals pop up in my poetry. Q6: What do you consider your most meaningful work you've done creatively so far to you? Tessa: I would have to say that it’s my most recent collection “What Sort of Bird are You?”. There are a lot of skeletons that I dragged out and reassembled, sometimes upside down to write the book.
Q7: Favorite activities to relax?
Tessa: Historically, I would have said the theatre but that’s been somewhat minimised in the last 18 months so pandemically speaking, it’s all been about dawn walks in the woods with my partner. We have a favourite yew grove in which some of the trees are 900 years old and you can feel the atmosphere change around them – scary but beautiful.
Q8: What is a favorite line/stanza from a poem/writing of yours or others?
The final words from “Sky and Sea”, a poem about myself and my sister included in “What Sort of Bird are You?”
Goes on the rain
Goes on the wave
They threw the bolts of weather and left two
The sky and sea is me and you
Q9: Any recent or forthcoming projects that you’d like to promote?
Tessa: “What Sort of Bird are You?” is available from Live Canon here https://www.livecanon.co.uk/store/product/what-sort-of-bird-are-you-tessa-foley