Wednesday, 7 April 2021

'A City Waking Up' by Sue Wallace-Shaddad (Post 2: Q&A With the Poet)


Sue Wallace-Shaddad with A City Waking Up

Welcome to Part 2 of my mini-series on A City Waking Up, a recent short collection of poetry by Suffolk-based poet, Sue Wallace-Shaddad. 

If you missed Part 1, in which I offer my initial thoughts on Sue's book, you can find it here

I thought it would be good to ask Sue about her practice when it comes to writing poetry. I also felt it would be interesting to learn a little more about the background to her book, so I asked her to answer a few questions. I will share some of her responses in this post and I will post a couple more tomorrow.  



Q & A


Sue, when and how did you first encounter poetry in a way that made you appreciate its power, and who are (say) three of your go-to poets these days?


My mother kept a poem I wrote aged 12 so I clearly had an interest in poetry early on. As I child I was very fond, and still am, of RL Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses. The musicality and visual nature of the poems have really stayed with me and recently I used lines from this in a poem. I bought myself the selected poems of TS Eliot for my 16th birthday which must have been a sign of the future! As a 21-year-old student at university, I was very struck by Edna St Vincent Millay’s ‘Renascence’ and copied out a stanza into my first poetry notebook.


Three poets that I have particularly enjoyed reading recently have been Arundhathi Subramaniam with her rich Indian heritage, Rachel Boast with her use of astronomy-related imagery and Abeer Ameer who draws on her Iraqi heritage. But there are many more including Imtiaz Dharker, Raymond Antrobus and Seán Hewitt.



Perhaps you could tell us briefly how these particular poems came to be written; as a Newcastle alumna myself, I would be interested to know if they were part of your Newcastle University/Poetry School (London) MA? I wonder how much your international career contributed to these texts.


I have been visiting Sudan for over 40 years to stay with my husband and his family but had never written about Sudan. On retiring from the British Council in 2014, I decided to devote my time to poetry, so it made sense to me to start writing about my experiences during a visit there in the summer of 2016. Most of the poems were written then but the final set were written in the UK at the time of the political protests in Khartoum January – April 2019. I had been sending poems for peer review since 2016 to poetry friends and also to Helena Nelson, Happenstance Press, who, at the time, offered a feedback window twice a year. The learning I gained from the Newcastle/Poetry School MA (2018-2020) also fed into editing and sequencing decisions, particularly at the submission stage, but the poems were not directly part of my MA course and my tutors had not seen any of them!


I think the fact that I have had an international career with the British Council must feed into how I view the world and how I write, hopefully with sensitivity, about another culture. But the poems spring from my personal life and how I have engaged with my Sudanese family over the years.

My thanks to Sue for sharing these thoughts with us. Please keep an eye out for Part 3 of this mini-series, which I plan to post around noon (UK time) tomorrow. 

A City Waking Up was published last year by Dempsey & Windle. The book costs £8.00 and can be purchased here by PayPal (UK) or by contacting the poet (international and other orders).  


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