JULIA DEAKIN INTERVIEW
Julia Deakin is a respected performance poet based in the north of England. With two fabulous books under her belt, she regularly performs her poetry around Yorkshire. Here, in an exclusive interview with Steve, she waxes poetical about her passion for getting wordy…
Hi Julia, how are things, and what’s been going on in your world?
In recent weeks, I’ve read in York, Saltaire, Brighouse, Morley and Cheltenham. Meanwhile, we’re having some work done at home so there’s a hole in the bedroom ceiling and floor. It’s a new academic year, so I’m busy at Bradford, where I teach. Today, I pack for Walking the Line, the forty-seven-mile Stanza Stone Trail from Marsden to Ilkley with Michael Stewart, Gaia Holmes, William Thirsk-Gaskill and anyone else who wants to join us. Otherwise, my world is much the same as everyone else’s, so I’m glad alternatives to bombing Syria are being considered, impressed by Malala Yousoufzai’s courage and articulacy, and appalled by what people do to children etc.
You are a renowned poetess from the York area. How long have you been penning poetry, and what was it that first piqued your interest in such an art-form?
Poetess? I’m just a poet, thanks. As Adrienne Rich put it, ‘Being called a poetess brings out the terroristress in me.’ I’ve been writing poems for ten years now, but I’ve loved reading them since I was in my teens. My mum appreciated poetry, my dad admired rhyme and rhythm, and my first published effort – in Puffin Post in 1968 – was, ‘It’s odd I suppose/ and God only knows/ why tomorrow will be another day/ and today’s tomorrow will be today/ and today will be yesterday.’ Hmmm. For twenty years after that high-spot, I never really thought about writing poems. I began at the start of the twenty-first century, but that was a coincidence – not a millennial decision.
Which themes do you enjoy focusing on the most in your work, and why?
Oh, the usual – life, love, loss, work, play, art, science, the universe, the doorstep, everything. I start with an idea for a poem rather than a theme. Enjoy might be the wrong word to use, but I occasionally find myself focusing on social injustice – man’s inhumanity to man. That’s on a good day. On a bad one I find myself sharpening my pencil, broddling my ears, and writing to-do lists.
Looking back at all the poems you’ve written to-date, do you have any particular favourite? If so, why that particular one?
There are some I particularly enjoy reading aloud because the words seem to demand an almost physical engagement. Like mantras, they work you up somehow. So… Checkpoint, Lost, There, Presence, and Wheee. Of course, the ones that win competitions have a knack of endearing themselves.
Given that you’re a performance poet, where would you say are the best places in and around York to perform?
Wherever the audience is comfortable is good for me. Jacob’s Well, Merchant Adventurer’s Hall and The Black Swan are impressive, The Riverside Basement Bar is cool (and sometimes wet), the Library pleasant, Fibbers dark and funky, The Yorkshire Terrier friendly, and the Theatre Royal foyer swanky.
As a writer, once you’ve ‘finished’ your poems, do you leave them as they stand for good, or do you find yourself constantly re-tweaking poems the more that you perform them?
No. Once they’re done they’re done. I rarely tweak. However, that finishing process can take months or years of lost sleep, and I don’t perform them till I’m sure. I’m a great believer in road-testing poems with colleagues and smaller audiences at workshops… and then I tweak.
Do you still get nervous upon taking to a stage, or does the rush of adrenaline see to it that any nerves are overcome?
I love reading so much that I don’t get nervous. A bit apprehensive, maybe, and I do like to check out venues first, but a few seconds in, and that apprehension has usually gone. The bigger the audience, the better. I realise that makes me sound like some kind of megalomaniac, but it’s not exactly me up there, it’s the poems. I’m quite a private person in many ways.
What advice would you give to those who aspire to perform their own poetry, but who are too nervous to do so?
Slow down and practice in front of the mirror, in front of your auntie, your kids. Maybe take singing lessons, which will teach you to breathe from the diaphragm. Hold your head up and open your mouth, make eye contact if you can (you can’t always see into a dark auditorium), and keep the poems short. This gives you a break and a chance to read your audience. Respect their limitations and yours.
What does the rest of 2013 hold in store for you?
Well, I’m Walking the Line with four evening readings culminating at the Ilkley Festival on 20th October. Then, once our builders have gone, I’ll be seeking clean clothes, a tidier house, and maybe some quiet time for writing: something I haven’t had for ages.
Finally, what’s the best way for folk to learn more about you and your writing?
Though my first book Without a Dog is out of print, there’s a CD of twenty poems from it with an interview about the writing process. That’s probably the best way for a quick overview. Eleven Wonders, my second book, is still available, as is the Poetry Business Pamphlet entitled The Half-Mile-High Club. In addition, there are poems – and prose – on my website at www.juliadeakin.co.uk should anybody care to visit.
This interview was conducted on 20th October, 2013.
If you enjoyed reading the above, there are hundreds of other interviews that Steve has conducted over the years on www.thisisull.com for your perusal…