Everyone has a story to tell; each one of us writes poetry – some, without even realising. That stream of consciousness that runs in our veins? It’s poetry waiting to be written. We believe in the power of words, and that power is what urged us set up PoetsIN.
It’s because of those inner streams, that we are bringing you all a regular interview feature, Writer Profiles. An interview with a writer. Some you’ll know, some you won’t. Some you’ll be getting to know soon. This week it’s new member of the group, Beth Alexander.
Sit back, grab yourself a bowl of soup, and feast your eyes on this week’s writer profile.
Who are you and what do you do?
I’m Beth, and I’m a full-time copywriter, part-time jazz singer, all-the-time frustrated creative.
How would you label your writing and/or poetry if forced to label it?
Fiction… rooted in non-fiction.
What is your relationship with words and how has that evolved over time?
I’ve always loved words ever since I was small. My nursery school teachers spotted me sitting in a corner ‘reading’ a book (see: looking at the pictures and making up my own story to go alongside) so decided to teach me early. Enter: obsession with literature. Growing up, the written word was always my preferred form of self-expression. Words have loved me, and they’ve tortured me… and they’ve completely and utterly deserted me. But they always find their way back into my brain and back onto my page somehow.
How long have you been writing/performing?
I produced 8 page illustrated ‘novels’ sat at my multicoloured plastic picnic table, aged 4. I started writing professionally when I got my first job at 19. And I’ve been attempting to write other stuff for my own enjoyment in between and ever since, because really and truly it’s one of the few things that brings me genuine joy.
Is mental health something you feel strongly about?
It might be the thing I feel strongest about in the world. When something touches you in a way that ends up leaving fingerprints burnt into your skin, I think you can only end up passionate about addressing it, preventing it and treating it. Being open about mental health and understanding it to be not a weakness, nor a romanticised act of sensibility, but rather just part of our innate human-ness caused by our wonky ape brains, is something I will never shut up about.
Please describe your writing process.
Blank page. That annoying little blinking vertical line. Blink. Blink. If I have a brief at work, I’ll reread that half a dozen times before an idea slithers its way onto the page. If it’s my own fiction work, I generally find I’ll have been inspired in the middle of the night and made some half nonsensical notes on my phone which I can refer back to. Blink. Blink. I’ll just launch into a paragraph somewhere in the middle, not editing because I believe it’s easier to go back and polish than it is to torture yourself at the end of every sentence. Once I’m done with a few pages or a chapter, I’ll reread, and probably rip chunks of it out or mix them up or go off in a huff because oh God I can’t write what am I doing. But I always come back to write again. Because that process is half the fun.
Some of us write our best stuff when in a rage, heartbroken or fighting depression. Are you affected in similar ways and do you use writing as a venting mechanism?
Sometimes my mood causes me to clam up so tightly that absolutely no words would be able to force themselves out even if they wanted to. Sometimes the emotions pour out and the words do alongside them. But either way, I’m incredibly inspired by the painful parts of my life and, even if I haven’t written anything down while I’m actually in that place, I can very easily draw on the experiences at a later date. Pain is such a universal medium that, when you’re inspired by it, people can’t seem to help but relate.
If you had the chance to perform one poem or read one excerpt to someone that sums you up, which is it?
I’ve been obsessed with this spoken word version of Simon Armitage’s ‘Last Words’ for some time now. I don’t exactly know why I relate to it so heavily, but I do.
If you could collaborate with anyone out there (alive or dead), who would it be and why?
Tragically, all my favourite musicians are dead so I think I’d have a massive ghostly singalong a-la the ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ video, with Freddie Mercury, David Bowie, Syd Barrett, Jimi Hendrix, Frank Sinatra, Nina Simone and Etta James. Why? Because it would be incredible.
Who are your writing influences, heroes and villains poetically, musically and/or lyrically?
I’m influenced by the macabre (take from that what you will) so I’m heavily influenced by Chuck Palahniuk, Stephen King, Aldous Huxley, George Orwell etc. Musically, my influences are too many to name but include every jazz great… and every Pink Floyd song.
What quote/song/poem inspires you the most and why?
“And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” ― Sylvia Plath. Because no excuses, right?
Writer’s block, is it real or a myth?
Very real. I think true writer’s block can last weeks, months or even years, particularly if you feel like your creativity has dearly departed and you wonder if you’ll ever be able to write again. But you will, someday. Something clicks back in place again and you’ll be even better than before.
Finish this sentence… Words and music are the epitomes of…
Humanity. Without them, to quote Tim Minchin, we’re just fucking monkeys in shoes.
What’s next for you?
I’m going through an exciting (terrifying) period of change right now and it’s marking both the end and the beginning of an era. I’ll be writing new things, singing new things, and, above all, hopefully finding out some new stuff about myself that I might actually like for once.
Huge thanks to Beth, who you’ll find as a recent and welcome addition to our Facebook Group if you’re a member. If not, search PoetsIN (all one word) and request to join.
If you would like to feature in a Writer profile, or indeed if you would like to submit your own blog piece on writing, mental health, wellbeing or anything relevant then get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org