In Conversation with Scottish poet Vicki Husband

2016-10-02T15:37:35+05:00 Faizan Hussain

Vicki Husband is a Scottish poet. Her poems have been widely published in literary magazines including Gutter, Magma, Northwords Now, and The Rialto, and have won prizes in the Mslexia poetry competition, the Edwin Morgan international poetry prize and the Pighog / Poetry School pamphlet prize. In 2015 Vicki took part in a project run by Highlight Arts collaborating with poets from Pakistan. This culminated in the form of book A Change in the Light, published by Sang-e-Meel. This Far Back Everything Shimmers is Vicki’s first collection of poetry published by Vagabond Voices. In an exclusive interview with Weekend she talked about her poetic career and her venture of translating poetry.

Faizan Hussain: How has your trip to Pakistan been?

Vicki Husband: It was wonderful, but short – 3 days in Lahore is not enough. However were lucky to be able to see the Old Mosque at dusk, visit a restaurant to eat delicious Punjabi food, and of course spend time at the Lahore Literary Festival.

FH: What are you currently up to?

VH: I have recently published my first collection of poetry: This Far Back Everything Shimmers. I am currently trying to organise readings to promote it.

FH: What is the significance of the title of your book?

VH: It is a line from the first poem in the book, the poem imagines listening in (with a radio telescope) to the time immediately after the Big Bang. It imagines a party with a jazz band. Even shortly after the Big Bang everything has already moved away from everything else in time and space as the universe quickly expands. It gives us a sense of being alone. Our existence is the blink of an eye. But the shimmering implies there is a lot still to be discovered.

FH: Are you a full time poet?

VH: Unfortunately poetry is not a full time occupation in Scotland! Even the most famous poets need a job in order to earn a living. I work as an Occupational Therapist for the National Health Service. It is a rewarding job, very varied, working with people in their own homes who need rehabilitation due to physical health problems.

FH: You translated Urdu poems into English. How was the experience?

VH: We were given ‘bridge’ translations to work from (a literal translation by a translator) but the Pakistani poets –Kishwar Naheed, Dr Khalid Javaid Jan, Afshan Sajjad and Ali Akbar Natiq– all spoke English so we talked at length about how they created their poems: the language, tone and metaphors among other things. Then we made an English language version of their poems. We called them ‘versions’ or trans-creations because they were not strict translations.

FH: Did your visit to Lahore inspire you to read any Pakistani poets or authors?

VH: In Lahore I bought and read Kishwar Naheed’s selected poems in English and Urdu: Defiant Colours, which is great (published by Sang-e-meel). I also bought a copy of Ali Akbar Natiq’s short stories “What Will You Give Me for This Beauty?’ published by Penguin, which is wonderful. Most recently I heard Mohammed Hanif read at the Edinburgh Book Festival and he appeared both clever and witty, so his novel ‘A Case of Exploding Mangoes’ – its next on my list.

FH: What inspires you to write poetry?

VH: I am a curious person and I am attracted to the outrageously strange and diverse nature of the world we live in as well as the absurdity of modern life. The wonders of the universe, mind-blowing theories of quantum physics, the patterns of time – these ideas have always fascinated me and I use poetry to try and make sense of them.

FH: How does a poem begin for you, with an idea, a form or an image?

VH: In many different ways. It can be an idea: a new theory in physics, a strange fact about an animal, an incident in my life, colourful language, an odd phrase. Images can be inspiring as well although I often feel that is a form of translation – turning images into language.

FH: How do you find the subject in a poem?

VH: I start off many poems from the ideas and write around the subject and explore it on the page. I write a lot then, as if it were a block of stone, I chip away at it, sculpting it into a shape. As the shape reveals itself the subject becomes clearer then I work on the details, polishing it. Many poems don’t get this far.

FH: Do you memorise your poems?

VH: I have terrible memory, which gets worse when I am stressed so I don’t read from memory. If I’m practising for an event I will recite a poem aloud to myself in my car when I’m driving around at work but I struggle to remember it all.

FH: Are there any forms you haven't tried but would like to?

VH: I do like experimenting with forms and working on a form that fits the subject of the poem. By form I mean not just strict traditional forms but also looser structures. So yes there are many types which I would like to try, or make up some new ones of my own.

FH: What are the poets who have influenced you and you continually go back to?

VH: I’m a fan of contemporary poetry, and I run a poetry book group, so I read a lot of recently published work. I’ve enjoyed Selima Hill’s absurdity, Sharon Old’s confessions and Jen Hadfield’s view of nature.The poets that influenced me in my formative years were: Norman MacCaig, Ivor Cutler, Kathleen Jamie, Carol Ann Duffy, John Burnside& Billy Collins. I am lucky enough to own a large number of books so I often dip back into them. Most recently I bought my own copy of Beowulf, translated by Seamus Heaney, so I can read it again. I also like to ‘listen again’ as I have wonderful British Library recordings of twentieth century poets reading their own work, including Edith Sitwell, Stevie Smith, Edwin Morgan, W H Auden, Philip Larkin and Ted Hughes which I’ve played many times.

FH: How does social media fit into your writing life?

VH: I have a blog ( which I use to post information about my poetry activities. I only joined Twitter 6 months ago, to tap into poetry and literary networks and find out about the latest events and readings. I must confess to quickly becoming addicted to it.

FH: Do you have specific goals?

VH: I enjoy having a project to work towards and I may apply for a poetry residency to inspire this process. I would like to collaborate with other people e.g. an artist or a physicist, to make new connections and create new work.

FH: What is a measure of success as a poet?

VH: It depends on your personal motivations for writing poetry. For some people publication is the measure of success, for other sit is awards or performance plaudits. For me: I enjoy the creative process and am happy if I’m pleased with the work I’ve produced.

FH: If you could pass along only one piece of advice to other poets, what would it be?

VH: Be prepared to put a lot of work into a poem, but be patient, I find the best poems take time and a continual process of reviewing and editing it. Find people whose opinion you trust and, who have a good knowledge of poetry, to give you critical feedback. And read, read, read.

Rapid Fire

One worth reading poet...

The American poet Kay Ryan.

What are you reading right now?

George Mackay Brown – a poet, novelist and short story writer from Orkney.

Your favourite subject in school...

Art and English, I loved them both.

Do you have any weird hidden talents?

Poetry is considered unusual by many people in the UK and so writing poetry is the thing I kept hidden from acquaintances, until I published my book.

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