Pavilion Author Q&A: Janette Ayachi

Always international in its reach, Pavilion Poetry is poetry that takes a risk. Whether by new or established and award-winning writers, this is poetry sure to challenge and delight. 2022 marks the eighth year of Pavilion Poetry, and we’re taking the opportunity to look back at our brilliant collections with a series of author Q&As. For the latest interview in the series, we chatted to Janette Ayachi, author of Hand Over Mouth Music (2019) to discuss her collection and the disruptive pleasures of writing which flow throughout her work.

What sort of things are you thinking about at the moment?

Many things! I try to keep my thoughts high frequency, even though I do over-think! That is the everyday consequence of balancing out multiple literary projects all the time; the mind and imagination are hijacked in a spinnerette of all sorts of beautiful but different directions.  I’m about to start working on a new poetry manuscript with Pavilion; I’m trying to find a publisher for my travel memoir (currently in transit for an editorial meeting with Polygon – fingers crossed!) and I am also thinking about writing another book of essays and prose about supernatural experiences and the haunting of society called ‘First Sightings’.  I am researching for an essay on poetry and motherhood for a Bloomsbury Companion; I’ve just finished the final edit of some poems for a Canongate anthology, I have been asked to have poems from my collection put to classical music and to prepare to appear live on BBC’s Debate Night if I so desire it! Last week, I screened a film poem at The Fruitmarket Gallery, and now I am thinking about Paolozzi’s Vulcan, Nan Sheperd’s mountain and Berber folklore all separately for projects and missions that require poetic responses before the month is out! Anything I have to research first I love more than anything – the more knowledge I digest the more enthused I am to write.  I love thinking about these things – the chance to be creative is the best love story of my life – the marriage is with the vocation and I wake up every day and think about how lucky and grateful I am.

How might this have changed since the publication of your book?

Well now I have more offers and opportunities, which have often taken me out of my comfort zone and set me to test my artistic capabilities in a way – thinking; can I do this!? after each offering.  But, if you embrace that fear and overcome the anxiety around meeting deadlines without disaster and instead sit with a newfound love each time of sharing language, there is a certain peace found in being productive, despite the turbulence of ideas that needs to be ignited.  Procrastination or empty diaries are not well acquainted with me, though I leave space to counterbalance time for silent contemplation to create room to replenish, of course, to avoid any burnouts. After the publication of my book, I also think more about the layout of my poems now, knowing how margins can decapitate my lines in book pages. I usually handwrite everything first, writing is a kind of painting that way – more in flow with painterly brushstrokes rather than say the tech requirements of a photographer – the movement in typing on a keyboard just isn’t the same for me.  So now I play around with format to fit as I assemble the syntax – I would not have done this before – thinking of length before it is laid flat unless I am writing in a form with inferred iambics, so this has ultimately has made me a neater writer!

Hand Over Mouth Music by Janette Ayachi

Has your approach to writing changed at all since publication?

Even though this statement might contradict what I said about being neat, I tend to write more now – everything has increased in capacity.  I have the courage now to believe in my own work and the tools of my wordsmithery in my craft more – it is so important as a writer – just to have that initial validation of publication – and then by miracle, to be sought out rather than sending out – what a surprise flip!  After all those rejections from literary journals and anthologies, now I am being approached without submission, (though they can still reject the poems if they don’t quite fit taste or style)…still, that kind of recognition is so remarkable for me – thanks to the circulation of my book.  This is my first full poetry collection, a debut is a breeding ground for beginnings.  It has taken me a decade to get here, I am not slowing down now!

Have your thoughts about poetry more generally shifted at all since publication?

Yes, I think so, we are always changing and I like to believe in ‘evolving’.  I have met many poets and read such a diverse array of new work that I feel I am modern tuned now,  rather than say my origins of just revisiting the classics and dabbling with the historical great poets, I am absorbing the newness and experimentation in the poetry of my generation more. I am also learning more about writing, about the business as well as the act, on how to keep things moving. You can allow yourself time out to write, to be under that spell of spelling thoughts, but then there’s everything else that orbits around that; the readings, the publications, the promotions, the sharing and selling, the cross collaborations into different mediums and creating in new establishments.  Poetry in public places is a rising trend, I feel the energy of that, at the moment, we are recognising how much we crave it to consolidate and celebrate inner peace distinct from the router of outer turmoil.  I recognise the double life of poets more directly too; out to live to be inspired, then in to self-reflect and scribe in solitary bouts, then back out again to translate that work to an audience, to discuss it, to exhibit it – it’s quite a cuckoo dance and poetry becomes something on the axel of community, it unites us, beautifies all our shared experiences which continue to remain the habitual hazards of being human. This is the only way for a writer to truly see the world around them, for a woman to truly see inside herself. From spectating to participating, to then going into hiding to document the experiences!

What poetry/books/essays are you particularly enjoying at the moment?

I read as I write – with many pages simultaneously open.  I actually have a body of books that I sleep within my bed instead of a lover!  I am polyamorous with poetry, current collections include Walt Whitman, Bernadette Mayer,  Rosebud Ben-Oni and Natalie Diaz and I’m looking forward to Annie Brechin’s debut The Mouth of Eulalie, I’m a fan of her work and I read at her Edinburgh launch this year. Aside from poetry, I am madly in love with Memoir and right now I am being intimate with Anne Lister’s Secret Diaries; Tracey Emin’s Strangeland and I’m waiting on a delivery, Open Me Carefully, The Love Letters from Emily Dickinson to Sue. I also enjoy a weekly embrace with some of Lawrence Durrell’s stories of vast cities, especially as, at the moment, travel writing is contingent on my methods of escapism, transcendence and journeying – I suppose it always has been, even before we were locked down. I also have some Dickens and Virginia Woolf beside my pillow but I tend to not read novels so much, not fiction anyway – at least I enter them for the tasting of their use of language, not for the narrative main course.  It might take me months to finish them all but I won’t return them to the bookshelves until I’m done, that trip of diving between worlds and styles – some are addictive and I’ll stay longer with them, some I just snap-in for a quickie with before I have to dress for the afternoon.  Poetry collections are fantastic for that, like streaming an episode rather than a three-hour film, they’re bite-sized and instantaneous with their principles of pleasure.  There is so much in a library to be devoured and enjoyed!

You can purchase a copy of Hand Over Mouth Music via the Liverpool University Press website.


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