How do you write your poems?
I work with pencil or pen and paper and I usually jot down the idea as soon as it comes and in whatever form it comes in and I write as fast as I can when the idea is fresh in my mind so that I don’t lose anything. The second stage is where I decide what the poem is going to look like on the page. Sometimes the poem dictates that to me, so sometimes when I'm writing I think I'll write this poem as a villanelle and the poem refuses to be written until I change it into something else. The same goes for the language I use. Sometimes I start writing in Jamaican patois and the poem will not be written until I change it to English and vice-versa though that's usually the second stage when I'm refining it. I do that over and over until I get it right, so sometimes some poems take two or three drafts, sometimes they take ten, twenty and so on.
What is a form poem?
Now this is a poem called a pyramid and as you can see it's set out in the shape of a pyramid. I like experimenting like that with shape poems. Now this is a nonet and as you can see the lines get shorter as we go down. That's because we have nine syllables in the first line, eight, seven, right down to one at the end. I thought that was a fascinating form. Over here we've got the tenon, which is reversed, starting with one syllable, going down to nine.
How long does it take you to write a poem?
Poems vary in the length of time they take to write. Sometimes, when I'm warming up I like to write short poems, which take a minute or so to write - my shortest poem I think for instance is one called 'Ode to Twelve Chocolate Bars' and it just goes like this -
Ode to Twelve Chocolate Bars Oh glorious doz that woz. And that took about a minute to write but others can take half an hour, a day, two days, a week and my longest poem which is actually an alphabet picture book took ten years to fruition, from the time I thought about the idea. Sometimes poems need a long time to sort of germinate in your mind. Poem from Duppy Jamboree (Cambridge University Press, 1992), copyright © Valerie Bloom 1992, used by permission of the author and the publisher. (Out of print, now only available on Amazon)
Does music influence your writing?
Music is a big influence. I came from Jamaica. In the Caribbean, the art-forms are not separate. You don't just have poetry in one section and music in another, they are all inter-related. And so you would get a poem which has singing and dancing and so on and I draw on that culture when I write, so a lot of my poetry draws on folk songs quite a lot and I use rap in my writing and all those musical forms that I grew up with influence my writing.
What do you like doing when you're not writing?
I like cooking, I like gardening, especially working with my bonsai. I get very calm and peaceful feelings working with my bonsai. It's very good for writing. I like playing word games. Games like Scrabble, though nobody will play with me any more. They say I make up words, but I don't really.
Who do you think of when you're writing a poem?
Mainly I'm thinking about myself. I'm thinking about what excites me, what makes me laugh, what makes me sad or whatever. If I can write for myself and the number of people who are inside me, the child, or the old person, or the man, or the boy or the girl, then I think I will reach other people. Occasionally, when I'm writing poems for performance I think about the audience and I think what they would like to do and what I can give them to do so they can become part of the poem.
Where do you get your ideas from?
Ideas come from all over. Sometimes I read something, I listen to the radio, I watch television, I listen to people talking - I eavesdrop quite a lot I'm afraid, I get ideas from that. Sometimes they just jump up and hit you over the head when you're least expecting it, which is why, wherever I go I have a notebook, because as soon as the ideas come, I jot them down.
Why do you write poetry?
I write poems because I like to be able to say a lot in a few words and you do that with poetry. I love playing around with words which you are at liberty to do with poetry, not so much with prose, I do write prose as well, I write novels. That's a completely different discipline, I enjoy doing that as well. But the other thing about writing poetry is that you can write a poem and have a finished product in a very short time, so I can write a poem in the bath, I can write a poem on the train, I can write a poem in my hotel room, so I can have a book finished in a relatively short time.
Where do you write your poems?
I write in a number of places, but this is one of my favourite places, the conservatory. I sit in here and I look at the bougainvillaea, I look at the orchids, the anthirums, I look at the bromeliads and think I am back in the Caribbean. I used to have a secret place in the Caribbean where I used to climb up into a tree and write up there and make up stories in my head, so when I come in here I feel a little bit like that and so that's why this is one of my favourite places. Sometimes I get inspiration in the garden as well. I remember when I first got my bougainvillea it was just a stump and for a long time I didn't think it was going to grow and then suddenly one day there were two little tiny bits of purple coming out and I got so excited. My children thought it was very funny, but I wrote a poem about that called 'Sprouting Bougainvillaea Stump':
This is 'Sprouting Bougainvillaea Stump' Two pin pricks of purple She swore to me were leaves, Two pin pricks of purple. No one would believe The joy those pin pricks gave her, The way she smiled all day. She was happy as a proud new mother With her newborn on display. Two tiny pricks of purple No one could ever love Except of course, my mother, And the gardener up above. from Let Me Touch the Sky (Macmillan, 2000), copyright © Valerie Bloom 2000, used by permission of the author and the publisher. (Out of print but copies available from author and Amazon)