'Try to write every day, even for 10 minutes' - Finola Scott
Glaswegian Finola Scott’s poems can be found on posters, postcards and tapestries. Her work has been anthologised in many publications including Gutter, New Writing Scotland, The Fenland Reed, Lighthouse and the Ofi Press, and her debut pamphlet Much Left Unsaid was published recently by Red Squirrel Press. She talks to Neil Leadbeater about beginning to write in retirement, focusing on social, political and historical subjects, and how sometimes writing in Scots “brings energy” to her work.
Let’s start at the beginning. Please tell us something about your background and how you first became inspired to write poetry.
While teaching English to secondary school pupils, it never occurred to me that I might write for my own pleasure or self-expression. However, when I travelled after my children were grown, I began to write notes – impressions of places and people. In a sense I was chatting to myself. This I realise was the start of my present compulsion.
Reading has always been a part of my life, like breathing. My parents read constantly clearly finding pleasure in it. Dad loved Thurber and Gilbert and Sullivan so from an early age I recited lyrics along with key phrases from my bedtime fairy tales and my mum's current favourite top ten hits. Que Sera!
What would you say are the main influences on your poetry, and how do they manifest themselves in your work?
At school I was lucky to discover the poetry of Dylan Thomas and TS Eliot. Later I found Sylvia Plath, Gerard Manley Hopkins and Edwin Muir. I admire the tumbling style of Dylan Thomas and Hopkins. I'd love my verse to spring. And Eliot – I so envy the enigma, so little obvious and ordinary. I am also a fan of ee cummings' use of space and lack of conventional punctuation. But the current list is long – Robert Frost, Tom Leonard, Sharon Olds, William Carlos Williams, Kathleen Jamie.
It was only when I retired that I considered writing. Quickly I became hooked, encouraged by my children asking me to record family stories. Joining a local writing group was crucial as I met people who not only admitted to writing but who had work published and who expected me to do the same. Their monthly competitions provided excellent feedback and advice. It was lovely to see many members at the launch of my debut pamphlet. I joined the Federation of Writers and became immersed in the writing world, often discussing line breaks over coffee with pals. One fond memory is of my daughter rapping the car window declaring 'You're writing again!' Yes, it's what I do, what I think about.
When you write your poems, where do your ideas come from?
While the natural world does engage me, my focus lies more in the social, political and historical spheres. How people live and lived is central to my writing. I look under the skin of places – examining Glasgow's connections with the slave trade, learning about the Suffragettes who were force-fed in Perth's prison, discovering that my house is built on top of a recently closed mine. I love the research that this involves, but have learnt that I cannot fit everything into a poem! Being in a new place stimulates me, but in these lockdown times I'm looking at the geo-politics of my own area. I also enjoy reacting to prompts whether for magazine submission callouts or at workshops.
Do you think there is a strong poetic movement in Scotland at the moment - and, if so, how would you define it?
The writing and publishing scene in Scotland is thriving, with events every night of the week. I am greatly encouraged by the growth of the spoken word scene which has expanded into publishing. Taking part in open mic events and slams provides an outlet for my work as well as the pleasure of seeing people respond. I find the company of writers stimulating. Even in this time of lockdown events continue, whether they be daily posts of poets reading their work or online book launches and workshops. My only concern is for the loss of the opportunities for book sales which must be affecting artists and publishers alike.
I don't see myself having a role other than as a friend, mother and grandmother. I don't subscribe to the theory that writing can change the world, but I do feel that perceptions can be shifted. Writing can give insights into the lives and experiences of others which may result in changed attitudes. Often I write to sort out my own thoughts, to find out what I really think. Poetry can, at best, make people consider things from different angles, or see life through another's eyes. It is for this reason I often write monologues in different voices, including in Scots.
Congratulations on becoming the current Makar for the Federation of Writers (Scotland). How do you envisage your role and what are your plans for carrying it out, given the difficult circumstances in which we find ourselves with regard to lockdown and rules about social distancing that are likely to be with us for some time to come?
As Makar I had intended to travel to all parts of Scotland meeting members while running workshops and events. Sadly this hasn't been possible. However, I do intend to run virtual workshops for members in the different regions. Mainly I want to empower writers to find their voices, believe in themselves, to listen and read and respond.
How are you coping with lockdown?
I am writing daily with no distractions, on a wonderful online course with Julia Webb. I'm trying to experiment as well as read, especially the Irish writers Eavan Boland and Frank Ormsby. I do miss the critical feedback of other writers and miss my support teams very much. I've used the time to update my Facebook page Finola Scott Poems where I post my work. It would be lovely to see some of the readers there.
What collections have you had published to date and what are you working on at present?
My debut pamphlet was published early last winter by Red Squirrel Press. I am one of three women poets whose work is featured in the Tapsalteerie Press' anthology of Scots poets 'Modern Makars Yin', to be published this winter (hopefully) I enjoy writing in Scots, as I feel it brings energy to my work. Meanwhile work continues to be published widely in anthologies and magazines. I was pleased recently that one of my poems was selected as Pick of the Month by Ink, Sweat and Tears. I am not currently working on a project, though one may be lurking. My current passion is prose poetry.
What lessons have you learned from writing poetry? Do you have any piece of advice to pass on to other aspiring poets?
Advice? Try to write every day, even for 10 minutes, and don't judge, just keep that muscle flexing. I think editing is crucial. Trim, loose those darlings, leave room for the readers to slip in. Try to surprise – catch your reader off guard with an unexpected word or image. Avoid cliché … like the plague! Read, poets feed on words! Read everything and anything especially new writers and forms -Tishani Doshi, Alice Oswald, Sean Wai Keung, Roseanne Watt, Mary Jean Chan. Always make sure you enjoy it ,even when you are struggling to make things work.