‘As a mother, it's my job to tell these stories’: Louise Fazackerley
Wigan performance poet and BBC New Voices winner Louise Fazackerley has broken new ground with her poetry collection The Lolitas. Its subject matter includes sexual abuse and underage grooming, and it’s not an easy read – both because of the issues covered, and the experimental nature of some of the poetry. In an interview with Write Out Loud, she talks about how “it’s ok for poetry to be slow, to be read and re-read”, her dystopian vision, how George Orwell is viewed in Wigan, and how her home town is “thriving artistically and culturally” despite the downbeat image of the ‘left behind’ towns of the north-west.
In the past you have been seen as a performance poet. Would you describe The Lolitas as another kind of performance poetry, or as something else?
It’s an in-between place. Some of the poems are for the voice and work best read aloud. I feel like as readers we sometimes forget it’s ok for poetry to be slow. It’s ok to read and re-read it and think about meaning. Some of the poems stretch what the definition of poem is and are more experimental; looking at the place poetry becomes prose or the place poetry becomes news article, script or puzzle. It weaves truthful poems about my life and the lives of those around me, with fictionalised prose-poetry exploring the same issues.
What was the background and inspiration for this book? What influenced it?
I was thinking about triangles as I wrote it. A triangle of female archetypes; Eve, Lolita and Alice-in-Wonderland. I was also thinking about the triangle in Nabokov’s Lolita of single mother, mum’s boyfriend and daughter, which has been my family experience. Lolita had a terrible experience, mine was far nicer and I wanted to explore what stepfathers can be or should not be through the piece. My own daughters are aged 12 and 13 now and I was thinking about the dangers and joys that await them. It felt especially important to be open in the wake of the #metoo movement.
The subjects in The Lolitas, such as sexual abuse and underage grooming, are issues containing strong messages which you approach in an often oblique way. Is this a way of taking your poetry in a new direction? There is a lot to absorb here. The language is often lyrical, and intricate. This is a book that you need to read many more times than just once.
The issues of sexual abuse and grooming are so complex and hard, it felt right for the poetry to be hard and difficult. Like the Dada, surrealist response to war, my work is an unhappy response to a difficult topic. Form equals content.
Many years ago, a southern journalist and novelist George Orwell wrote The Road to Wigan Pier, in which he revealed conditions of poverty and deprivation in the 1930s north that shocked many readers. How is he regarded in Wigan today? Was he from the outside looking in? And are you on the inside looking out?
Some people think of him as a traitor for portraying Wigan as dirty and unpleasant. However the Orwell Society have done a lot of work with some of the poorer areas of Wigan, sending authors up to work with the children. My community writers group have studied the text and we recognise his depiction is in part politically motivated to encourage the richer South to change conditions in the North. Those conditions wouldn’t have changed without the work of journalists like Orwell. I can see how the plastic arc in the roof in the world of The Lolitas could be seen as a lens, keeping us in a bubble - and glass houses appear in my BBC New voices collection, Love Is A Battlefield.
Reading this book, I did feel at times like a stranger from another planet – or the equivalent, leafy Surrey. This may be a stupid question, but what does the word ‘Spoke’ in the titles of several of the poems refer to, for instance?
It’s in part a kind of a joke about management or council-speak …”this is a hub and spokes model” of delivering service. In the book, the spokes refer to a warren of overcrowded slums. A spoke is a bit like a street. The past tense of to speak. In the new collection I’m writing, I’m exploring the hub, which is the city or ‘capital,’ where the rich people live and play.
Are there political parallels to be drawn? Wigan’s Lisa Nandy kept her seat – and is currently a Labour leadership contender – but many other former ‘left behind’ Labour constituencies went blue at the last election.
I refer to Brexit and leave/remain in the poem ‘Quarry’ – “the same things happen to you and you and you and you” - which references a feeling of despondency by many, that the working class are always trodden on, no matter who is in charge. Wigan is actually thriving artistically and culturally with a forward-thinking council who are making amazing changes in the face of huge cuts. Somehow it’s hard to write a poem about the cheerful stuff!
Who are your influences? Which contemporary poets do you admire? Are any influences to be detected in The Lolitas?
I was reading the more experimental and political poetry of [Forward prizewinner] Claudia Rankine, and Sean Bonney, which influenced the work. The book is inspired by the language of Nabokov’s Lolita and Burgess’s Clockwork Orange and I’m reading everything dystopian I can put my hands on to work out the rules of my own dystopian world. I looked at other artists like the photography of Sally Mann in comparison with the paintings of Balthus, to work out what right I had as an author to tell those stories. I came to the conclusion, that as a mother, it’s my job to tell these stories and talk about often unpleasant things, in order to try and stop them happening again.
Louise Fazackerley’s Glass Arc tour dates include Leeds, Manchester, Leicester, Liverpool and Paris – plus Write Out Loud Sale on 21 April, and Write Out Loud Woking’s Poetry Day at Woking literary festival on 25 April.
PHOTOGRAPH: BENJI REID