SW Writer Profile
Sonia Hendy-Isaac has an MA in Creative and Critical Writing; her poetry has been anthologised and widely published in poetry journals and e-zines. She was an editor of Iota poetry magazine until 2011.
Sonia has a keen interest in all things literary, shoes, wine and vintage wiggle dresses.
Sonia can be found on Twitter ranting about the poetic, the political and the professional @SoniaHendyIsaac and will be releasing poems from the collection throughout March.
This is your debut collection of poetry. How did the collection come together?
The foundation of the collection was written as part of my MA in creative and Critical Writing in 2008 - it was originally accepted by Bluechrome was due to be published in 2009, and was then delayed until 2010. However before publication, the press collapsed and I was left without a publisher. In hindsight, I'm relieved that it didn't get published at that time, because I realised that the original manuscript was still relatively immature in terms of style and content. Although a number of those original poems are in the collection, I think it has been strengthened through revision of some of these poems and the addition of newer work. The writing process is always an organic (and sometimes manic) one and I feel that the collection now has a better balance; Ronnie Goodyear, my editor at Indigo Dreams Publishing has been brilliant in terms of his patience with my revisions!
Your poems are full of characters presented in vivid detail so the reader feels they know these people intimately; do you take inspiration from observing people?
Firstly, thank you, I'm so glad that you felt that way! I do love to people watch; I work on the basis that whatever your story, everyone has their own - I think it is the writer's job to capture these stories. It is important to witness these moments or snippets of a narrative, and try to place yourself in their experience - this may not capture the exact story as they themselves might tell it (some people don't want to write or express their own), but I do hope that some of the poems reflect an empathy and understanding.
Your work gives a nod to other major poets including Sylvia Plath. Why is she such an inspiration to you, and do you think it’s important for contemporary poets to acknowledge their influences?
Christina Rossetti's poem 'After Death' was the poem that made me want to write poetry - the ambiguity in that poem, both the sadness, and the unspoken within it, is something I see in Plath's work too. It is all too easy to get caught up in the tragedy and romance of Plath and her work, and I think her commitment to craft and the dexterity of her language is all too often overshadowed by it. I love her ability to use adjectives with such power - when I taught creative writing I would always ask my students what the adjectives they used were for, what was the intention behind them - if they couldn't answer I would recommend an edit (for 'edit' read 'cut'!); with Plath you rarely question the adjective. Her ability to write and evoke emotion is also astounding.
I also think too few writers read enough - you can not profess to be a writer without having some understanding of what went before you. The key for me is to be able to understand how a text works, whether that's poetry or prose; I love Raymond Carver's advice to writers - put simply - "no tricks" - tricks are too easy and leave the reader unsatisfied - you always hope you never leave your reader in that state of dissatisfaction.
As well as literary influences, some of your poems seem more personal. How do you incorporate your own experience into your work? Are these poems harder to compose than those where you have more distance?
There is always a danger when female writers write from their own experience; the female tradition of confessionalism is steeped in a perception of hysteria, and yet male writers are more readily indulged in this, with less judgement. Personal poems are often cathartic, but there is a danger in simply telling the story 'just because it happened' - the craft comes in extracting the elements that hopefully make it interesting for the reader; it's the extraction process that gives me the distance to write these. There is something of me in every poem, and I don't mean that in a narcissistic way; I think it is essential to find something of your own experience to hang an idea, concept or emotional response on, without this I think poems can be mechanical - they may be technically good - but the nucleus of the self is missing.
Which poets are you reading at the moment? Do you have any particular recommendations for our readers?
I have read and re-read CD Wright's Like Something Flying Backwards: New & Selected and I'm reading her latest collection One with Others - both through Bloodaxe. Her ability to construct narrative is incredible.
My partner, Daniel Sluman, is in the midst of writing his second poetry collection, so I'm also reading that as his manuscript evolves!
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Read - read all you can - you will never understand how to write well until you have learnt how to read and deconstruct the text so you know how it works. The poem 'Persistence' in my collection was inspired by a summary of a conversation that happened between Plath, Sexton and Lowell about suicide and the machinery of it; reading is the tool that helps you to learn how the machinery works - it's down to you to reconstruct the machine so it does what you want it to do.
Thank you Sonia.