Continuing my occasional series with writers, actors, artists, choreographers, sculptors, and other creatives around process, I’m delighted to introduce Deborah Alma, Emergency Poet….
Deborah Alma is a UK poet, with an MA in Creative Writing, taught Writing Poetry at Worcester University and works with people with dementia and in hospice care. She is also Emergency Poet prescribing poetry from her vintage ambulance. She is editor of Emergency Poet-an anti-stress poetry anthology, The Everyday Poet- Poems to live by (both Michael O’Mara), and her True Tales of the Countryside is published by The Emma Press. She is the editor of #Me Too – rallying against sexual assault & harassment- a women’s poetry anthology (Fair Acre Press, March 2018). Her first full collection Dirty Laundry is published by Nine Arches Press (May 2018). She lives with her partner the poet James Sheard on a hillside in Powys, Wales. Her website is: https://emergencypoet.com/
What first drew you to poetry?
I remember loving it as a child, as I think most of us do, but it connects me very much to my much-loved grandmother Jess Alma; I lived with her until I was six or seven. We shared a love of poetry and some members of my family wrote it too…my Dad and my uncles. But I hold my grandmother as the source of a love of literature for all of us.
What was your big breakthrough?
I don’t think there’s been a ‘breakthrough’. A writing life for me has been long and slow in coming; I was a bookseller, worked for a publisher, then I did a creative writing degree in my forties whilst a single parent and working; and a few years ago my MA, I worked with people with dementia using poetry…I suppose a moment of significance was setting up Emergency Poet and the success of that project meaning I could give up my paid job to become freelance in the world of writing. It was a brave step.
What is the most challenging aspect of your work/process?
I have 2 strands to my writing life; that of my alter-ego Emergency Poet and then myself as a poet. The most challenging aspect of Emergency Poet has been that it is such demanding work, both physically in driving and setting up all over the country and in all weathers, and emotionally, in giving people in pain, or stress my undivided, good attention- this is exhausting.
In my own work as a poet, I am soon to have my first collection, Dirty Laundry published by Nine Arches Press (May 1st), and the challenge has been to take the writing properly seriously. I think this may be more common amongst women writers; that writing is the thing we do after all of the others jobs have been done. This means that I hardly give myself time to write or to submit. I am amazed and delighted to have had my collection accepted by Jane Commane, who has been such a supportive editor.
Is there a piece of art, or a book, or a play, which changed you?
I find that question really hard to answer, although I’m enjoying thinking about it! I was a short-sighted shy girl who escaped her noisy family and council estate in books. I think the thing that saved my life was the local library. It may be cheating but I consider that to be a piece of art!
What’s more important: form or content?
Another difficult question. Obviously both in perfect harmony is the best answer; but you know I have worked so long in primary schools and with people with dementia to make poetry that I am all about the process being the thing.
How do you know when a project is finished?
They are never finished, they merge and connect to the next one.
What advice would you give a young writer/practitioner?
Read. And read. And read. And after that, be very generous; enable and support others and in a hippy-karmic sort of way, it will come back to you. Have fun.
What work of art would you most like to own?
I think your questions are agony! Ha…that’s the most impossible question! I think something by the US artist Gigi Mills, whose work I love at the moment and whose Nude with Poppies is the cover of my collection.
What’s the biggest myth about writing/the creative process?
That it’s hard. Obviously doing it well takes time, but I would always advocate having a go at something. We all are capable of being creative in some way in our lives.
What are you working on now?
Today I had a parcel of the new book I have just put together in response to the #MeToo campaign; ~MeToo- rallying against sexual assault & harassment- a women’s poetry anthology (Fair Acre Press). I’m working on the promotion and publicity for the book and putting together a series of readings/ performances/ panel discussions all over the country.
What is the piece of art/novel/collection/ you wish you’d created?
To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
What do you wish you’d known when you were starting out?
That my own work was worth something. I’ve hidden it in corners.
What’s your greatest ambition?
I am in the process of buying an old iron-mongers shop and turning it into a poetry pharmacy/ cafe/ performance & workshop space, writing retreat. My ambition is that this might actually work and not just be a mad idea!
How do you tackle lack of confidence, doubt, or insecurity?
I don’t know. I am riddled with it. I used to never finish/ edit my writing so that when it was unfinished it still had potential to be good. I have learnt that ‘good-enough’ is OK.
What is the worst thing anyone said/wrote about your work?
‘That’s not a poem! I’m sorry, I just can’t see that it’s got any poetic quality whatsover!’Oh dear, that was a bad moment.
And the best thing?
This from Jane Commane at Nine Arches Press when she accepted my MS!
I enjoyed these poems immensely, I knew after the first few pages I was going to. I found them immensely rewarding, funny, powerful and sexy. It just feels like exactly the right poems at the right moment, and they feel cohesive and engaging as a whole. These are powerful poems and I love the fact that they don’t hold back, they feel daring and exciting.
If you were to create a conceit or metaphor about the creative process, what would it be?
Building a sand-castle and trying to dig a long channel to the sea to flood the moat, which keeps back-filling!
What is your philosophy or life motto?
Be playful. Try to be your authentic self in all that you do.
What is the single most important thing you’ve learned about the creative life?
It feels like being properly alive.
What is the answer to the question I should have – but didn’t – ask?
Dirty Laundry is available from Nine Arches Press on 1st May 2018. Cover Nude With Poppies by Gigi Mills
#MeToo is available at Fair Acres Press A women’s poetry anthology
Edited by Deborah Alma. Introduced by Jess Phillips MP.
All profits to WOMEN’S AID
Publication Date: 8th March 2018 ~ International Women’s Day
Cover image and design by Sandra Salter
7 B&W illustrations by Jessamy Hawke