Hi Maxine, thanks for taking time out to answer a few questions. So, you grew up in the remote Shetland Isles, what was it like?
It was fabulous until I was a teenager, then probably the most boring place to be in the whole world. I lived a particularly sheltered life, never once setting foot off the islands until I was eighteen, when I left for good. The culture shock that resulted is with me still, and is the main source of my poetry.
Were there things growing up that still influences your writing now?
The vast differences between my tiny world growing up on Shetland, and the world outside rocked me to the core, and still does. There were things that I had never seen until I was eighteen including...trees, double decker buses, trains, motorways, tower blocks, in fact almost everything most people take for granted!
Can you remember writing down your first structured words at school?
I was a very active creative writer at school and more than once took stories or poems around the rest of the school to read them out. I remember I wrote a poem about the futility of war in primary 5. It was very dramatic!
It seems you had a real love of words back then?
I am OBSESSED with words. Not because I feel I am good with them, but because I always feel I have picked the wrong one, that a better one exists... if only I could think of it.
I have always loved a particular sound, one that is common in Scandinavian poetry (translated). There has always been a lot of Scandinavian poetry about up in Shetland. To my ear it has a wonderful stop/start sound, whilst being very precise and not at all pretentious. That has never changed.
Did you go to University?
I went to uni twice, to do nursing then psychology. I enjoyed the academic world and tried to stay in it for as long as I could, but eventually the need to pay the bills became too strong to ignore. When I started writing seriously I did consider doing a masters in Creative Writing, but I think a decade at uni is enough for anyone!
Is writing your full-time job?
Writing is not my full-time job. It is possible to earn a living as a poet, but it isn’t easy or very profitable, so I choose not to ruin an enjoyable obsession by making it stressful. After a horrendous brush with a childcare gone very wrong, we decided - as a family - that family was too important to miss and so I have been a full-time mum who does a bit of this and a bit of that for cash ever since. The added bonus was that for the first time in decades I had the emptiness in my head I needed, which I promptly filled with poetry.
Tell me about your very first writing engagement.
Well, as soon as I started writing again I had this feeling of wasted years and a strong need to rectify that. So I started submitting immediately, starting with magazines I was familiar with. Unsurprisingly I got very nearly nowhere for a couple of years. I got one poem online but, while I am still happy with the gist of it, I can see so many mistakes in it! Eventually I had success with a poem in Northwords Now, a Scotland-wide publication that pays! I had a poem all over Scotland and I got (a very small amount of) money for it! It was wonderful and terrifying all at the same time.
Tell me about the projects you are working on at the moment.
I always write. I am solely a poet, so I don’t have a pot-boiler on the go or anything. I have reached the stage where I can say I am widely published in the small presses, but as I am still enjoying it I see no reason to start putting together a pamphlet yet.
There’s always another challenge – getting back into that magazine you got into once, or getting into that magazine with the really huge readership, or getting into the same magazine as the Scottish Makar. The list goes on, and I will only move on when I reach the end of my list.
What really inspires you?
It’s the hardest thing to see your work from the outside. I could tell you (and it would be true) that Shetland is in and behind every poem. But usually only I can see it. What I can tell you is when I receive feedback from editors the same thing is always said – I draw poignancy out of the everyday and mundane.
There’s a scientific principle called ‘Reductionism’ which means the most simple explanation that can apply to the most things is always the best one. For me, that what a poem is about. For example, I have a poem due out in Sarasvati in which I discuss death, separation, denial, heartbreak, all via a cheap brown envelope. And of course, my poem Empty Rooms which can be found in LOVE, discusses love via some empty rooms! All my poems are essentially like that – something huge made simple through something every day, but (hopefully) the reader will find that something huge opening up in their mind as they read.
What is the process of transforming that initial moment of inspiration, or idea, into actual words on paper?
There can be no set process, or you would stagnate. I always write on my phone – it’s there, easy, can shape your words into a poem shape, words and lines can be easily moved about. Sometimes the poem comes and all I have to do is get it down before it evaporates. Sometimes I hack at it, change and change and change. Sometimes I throw it away then rediscover it. What I will stress is 99% of what anyone writes is bad and will never see the light of day. It’s the elusive 1% we all keep going for. Knowing if what you are currently working on is good or bad is difficult. This is why all writers edit, edit, edit. Then put it away for a time. Try to see it fresh at a later date. Heartbreakingly, all that work and you might still have to accept it’s no good. Sigh.
Do you have a particular writing location?
No... have phone, will write.
What are your plans for the future?
Keep on going on until I can’t see my way anymore. When that happens I will probably seek out a mentor.
Name your THREE most favourite books and why.
I can’t, too many! My three favourite poets are Spike Milligan; Mervyn Peake; Edward Lear.
Lastly... what does writing MEAN to you?
Writing is my attempt to find the perfect word, the one that will explain everything.
Thanks so much Maxine Rose, and thank you for your wonderful contributions to LOVE. Don't stop writing!
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