Thursday 8 April 2021

'A City Waking Up' by Sue Wallace-Shaddad (Post 3: Q&A With the Poet)


For those of you who have been following my mini-series on A City Waking Up by Sue Wallace-Shaddad, here is the continuation of my Q&A with Sue, constituting the third and final post of this mini-series. Subjects addressed include the collection and assimilation of material and the route to publication. Do read on.

If you missed Post 1, you can read it here.

If you missed Post 2, you can read it here


It would be helpful to know something about your approach in terms of assimilating and incorporating biographical and autobiographical material. I wonder, do you keep a diary? The ‘I’, of course, is always of interest to poets. 


I used to keep diaries in my teens and as a student, which might make a good source of inspiration if I dare re-read them! Recently, following advice on the Newcastle MA summer school, last year, I started keeping a journal but I have to say I have not as yet used that to inform my writing. I do make notes or even draft short poems on my iPhone quite often when out for walks during lockdown. Mainly I write from memory, in the moment. Of course, sometimes I research information to flesh out my ideas, usually doing a google search.


I have much appreciated your evocations of place and situation; when it comes to the crafting of your poems, what aspects are important to you? 


Most of the poems were written in situ in Khartoum so I was surrounded by my experience, the colours, sound, smell, taste and sight.  I would read some of the poems out to family as I wrote them. I was concerned that the poems should be accurate and always checked with family members about my use of Arabic. The visual is very important to me, having a heritage of painters in my family. I like to say I am painting with words. When I first wrote the poems, I was not experienced in making decisions about stanza length and form. The final shape of several poems was crafted only just before submission and even after that in one case, thanks to my very helpful publisher Janice Dempsey. I use rhyme from time to time and that comes naturally as I write, so I also included a few poems with rhyme.

More generally I would say that I like to be succinct in my poems so the words need to carry a lot of heft, emotionally and visually. I have become much more aware of how assonance and internal rhyme contribute to poems; some of that is instinctive but once I have seen a pattern I develop that further. 


How did you go about finding a publisher and what have you learned about the road to poetry publication?


I knew that Dempsey and Windle had published ‘Sprouts’ by Alexandra Davis in 2017 – Alex and I had previously done a course together with Rebecca Goss. Alex had had a good publishing experience. Derek Adams, a fellow committee member of Suffolk Poetry Society also had his pamphlet ‘Exposure’ published by them in 2019. So I thought I might be in good company if I got published! I had submitted a single poem to their annual competition which was commended and published in their 2020 anthology, which was encouraging. I had also chatted to Janice Dempsey at the Poetry Fair in London so I knew a bit about the publisher. I was not sure that my subject matter, Sudan, would necessarily be of interest but decided to submit to their submission window without any expectation. I was delighted to be accepted and have my short collection ‘A City Waking Up’ published only months later on National Poetry Day 2020.

I have submitted pamphlets in the past to other publishers but looking back, I can see that I was doing this too early. The poems were not cooked enough and the arc of the pamphlet was not in place. I am hoping that new submissions will be stronger with my greater experience. It is definitely good to get to know the editors which might be by going to readings they organise, doing poetry reviews, noticing who gets published by which publisher, keeping up with Twitter etc. My first publication ‘A Working Life’ was in fact self-published in 2014, another route, which I may still go down again, particularly when it comes to an ekphrastic set of poems which would benefit from the images alongside.


You wear several proverbial hats, including the one assigned to the Secretary of Suffolk Poetry Society. How do you go about fitting the writing and editing of your own poems into your schedule? Do you draft in a particular pen or notebook, or have a particular working space and routine? 


I don’t have a routine as such, but tend to have more time to write towards the end of the week and at weekends.  My poems get edited at my computer which is by a French window looking out in to garden and park, so I enjoy that light and space. It helps if I have a complete morning or day free of other commitments. Some days I will be doing organisational matters, other days writing poetry reviews so it is always good to then spend time on my own poetry.

I partly decided to do the MA in Writing Poetry to help me structure both my reading and writing. Now that is finished, I am not quite settled into a structure. I often read poetry as I walk. I find movement helpful and we are not on trains much at present! Doing submissions gives me deadlines which can help write new poems and improve older ones. I also take part every year in the national poetry writing month in April and that creates a discipline – I am trying to write a poem every morning.

I always write very quickly, usually in a spiral ‘Reporter's Notebook’ and then start the editing process as I transfer the text to the computer. I leave the poem for some time before returning to see what needs reworking. I like to use a ‘Papermate’ ballpoint pen as it is very free flowing and suits my style of quick writing.


Sue Wallace-Shaddad

I would like to express my gratitude to Sue for sharing so much information in these posts about the creative process, and about the writing of A City Waking Up, in particular. Thank you, Sue!



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).  


Sue's website can be found here.  

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).  


Tuesday 6 April 2021

'A City Waking Up' by Sue Wallace-Shaddad (Post 1: Mini-Review)


I am delighted to welcome Sue Wallace-Shaddad as my guest poet for this mini-series of posts. Sue and I both live in Suffolk and have known each other for nearly a decade. Sue is Secretary of Suffolk Poetry Society.


Sue Wallace-Shaddad


Following the publication of Sue’s poetry pamphlet, A Working Life, Sue had her first short collection, A City Waking Up, 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).


Sue has been visiting Khartoum since the 1970s, and has recently begun to draw her poetic inspiration from the city itself. Khartoum is not only the place at which the Blue and White Nile converge; but also, as Paul Stephenson points out, the ‘Meeting Point’ (the title of Sue’s opening poem) at which so many aspects of Sudanese life, not least ‘city and countryside’, come together against a backdrop of tradition and fast-moving political change.


First impressions are important, and the glossy cover photograph, taken by the poet herself, invites the reader into this sun-baked land as day begins. Sue’s poems are often tight, and not infrequently short in length, which means that each piece has been given what I might call its own space in which to breathe. The glossary of Arabic words at the back of the book is brief and helpful. The Arabic words for food items in the poem Al fatur – Breakfast add a sense of the exotic to a piece that is almost a list poem.


Sue’s palette is a colourful one. In a few deft strokes, she conjures up cameo after cameo before the eyes of her readers; take for example her vision of Sudan in the early morning. Pastel-green houses, we discover, dot the khaki landscape, scattered like fresh mint. I am drawn to the poet’s description of pyramids of cucumber, tomatoes ready to be sold (A City Waking Up, p.10). Sue’s images are crisp and visual, but we are also invited to experience Khartoum via the senses of hearing (‘unseen ghosts screech into life’), touch (‘the desert smothers us in its sticky embrace’), smell (‘the scent of pink grapefruit lingering in the air’) and taste (‘Feta, hard squares, salt to the tongue’).


I have barely scratched the surface as I hope you may choose to encounter Sue’s poems for yourselves. I have not, for example, included comments on the narrative elements of the wedding and its feast, or on the very real sense of danger surrounding the 2019 uprising.  


You can listen to Sue reading three poems from the short collection here on her Wordpress site. To whet your appetite further, Sue will answer some questions about her poems and writing practice in my next post. Please stay tuned!