Each year our Pavilion Poetry students assist with the publishing of our new collections, dedicating their time to an individual poet. In this interview, Lara Field talks with author Martha Sprackland about her new collection, Citadel (Pavilion Poetry, 2020).
Could you tell us more about what inspired the poems in your collection?
I’m obsessed with the idea of parallel worlds, of wormholes and timeslip and communication over vast, impossible distances. In this case, I began writing poems on very difficult, personal subjects for my pamphlet, Milk Tooth (Rough Trade Books, 2018), and once that very brutal, direct work was done, I struggled to address the aftermath. Juana de Castilla, the sixteenth-century queen of Spain, has long been someone whose life fascinated me, whose voice I often heard in my head – though nowhere else, really, as we have almost nothing of her writing. We had a lot to say, I think, and it was easier to do so together than alone. So the I in Citadel is neither one person nor the other, but is a woman, at any rate, pushed to the limits and finding ways to stand against the storm.
There isn’t a single story to the collection, though there are scenes that recur: someone is hit in the head (there are ambulance lights, blood, dizziness and confusion); there is a troublesome lover, often absent, asleep or dead; there are questions around fertility and motherhood; there is departure and enclosure and siege, and through it all a makeshift telephone-string stretched between two tins, and the voices that travel back and forth down it.
Where did your Spanish influences come from, and how do they tie into your overall collection?
I moved to Madrid as soon as I’d finished my A-levels, and taught English there for a while. I’ve lived there many times since, for longer and shorter durations. I often think that speaking Spanish is the most valuable and beloved thing I have – the rhythms of the language find their way into my written English, I think; and, of course, there’s a fair amount of Spanish in here, too. I don’t see the point in translating things like cocido into English – what would I say, ‘regional old meat stew’? That would be a shame.
Some of your poems explore themes such as trauma, was there a therapeutic process to writing Citadel in this case? Do you hope to reach out to a specific audience who will be able to identify with your work?
Harder one to answer. I don’t necessarily subscribe to the idea of poetry as catharsis – I don’t think that’s fair on poetry. Though I guess for some people writing can be therapeutic. I write about what I find interesting, and I find pain interesting. I find guilt and shame interesting; I find the body and all the ways it can be altered or damaged or inhabited differently interesting. So it gets into the poems… but I’m not asking for absolution, or a cure. Poetry isn’t medicine.
That said, the idea of who it might appeal to is a different question entirely. I know to read poems about specific pain I was also feeling, or have also felt, is to feel an affinity with those poems. That’s true of anything, I suppose – someone who plays the saxophone will listen to a sax piece differently to someone who doesn’t play.
Are you planning poetry readings for Citadel? If so, where? Do you think hearing your poetry aloud is more effective than reading the words on the page itself?
It’s all become rather unpredictable, now, hasn’t it! I’ll definitely hope to read at Desperate Literature, which is the book’s spiritual home, if it has one at all. I did a Zoom reading for them last week, for the Unamuno author series, which was great fun. In theory I’ll be reading at Green Man Festival this summer, along with Will Burns, and at another couple of festivals, too.
I’m not sure hearing it aloud is necessarily better or worse than reading it on the page… I like hearing poets read their work, if they’re good readers. I get quite nervous, reading. But I am quite keen on euphony, on rhyme and patterning and alliteration and repetition, so it can be really satisfying on the tongue to get to read those aloud.
It also gives me the chance to deliver a ridiculous proem, which I think some of these need – they’re a funny clutch of poems.
Martha Sprackland is a writer and editor from Merseyside, now living between London and Madrid. She was co-founder and poetry editor of Cake magazine, was assistant poetry editor for Faber, and is one of the founding editors of multilingual arts magazine La Errante. She is the editor of independent press Offord Road Books. In 2018 she joined Poetry London as associate editor, and in 2019 became poetry editor. She teaches for the Poetry School. Martha’s debut pamphlet, Glass As Broken Glass, was published by Rack Press in 2017; a second, Milk Tooth, was published by Rough Trade Books in 2018. This is her first collection.