Read this inspiring interview with Rebekah, Lucy and Cambridge Creative Writing MSt. alumna - how poetry enabled her to be seen and understood
How or why did you originally become interested in creative writing? What were your inspirations?
I started writing poems when I was a teenager. I went through a patch where I wasn't particularly good at expressing myself verbally - I was very quiet and low. Poetry was my secret way to make sense of the world; to take a feeling that felt unwieldy, inexpressible and capture some part of it in writing. One of the first authors that really captured my imagination was Lavinia Greenlaw. I remember reading the first line of her poem The Literal Body - "That for all her young womanhood a broken instrument lodged in her jaw" - and immediately feeling somehow understood, seen. I read continuously from that point on and began developing my writing into something I could share - very much an ongoing process!
What made you apply to Lucy, what do you remember about your time there?
I'd heard mixed opinions about Creative Writing degrees and applying for one wasn't the easiest choice. For one thing, I knew I'd need to work full time alongside it to have any hope of supporting myself. I also felt a bit like an imposter - I'd barely shared any of my writing at that point. However, the MSt course I undertook at the University of Cambridge ended up being a great move for me. With few family or friends who read poetry/or read much at all, this was the first time I'd been able to talk about writing, to get creative feedback and support. My degree cohort and the Lucy Cavendish community gave me some much needed confidence, and they've been building me up ever since. I'm so grateful for how the College champions its students and alums.
I chose to study at Lucy Cavendish in particular, because I really liked the idea of a small, close knit community. I remember visiting the College before making my decision and being won over by the friendly staff, the librarian who told me to make myself at home. I'd studied for my undergraduate degree at Homerton College - which I chose for similar reasons. Both colleges were the opposite of what I'd feared Cambridge would be - unapproachable, reserved for a single kind of student. Lucy Cavendish could not be further from this - a truly open and supportive academic environment.
How do you feel about your work being published in The Emma Press Anthology of Illness?
I had Emma Press anthologies in my university room as a student. I've long admired founder Emma Dai'an Wright's creativity and central ethos - that poetry should reflect as many people's experiences as possible and be accessible, welcoming. I'm especially proud to be a part of this anthology in particular, which brings together writers to explore the impacts of illness. My poem is entitled 'Checkup' and is drawn from my own experiences of Hemiplegic Migraine Disorder - a rare kind of migraine which occurs in attacks accompanied by symptoms such as paralysis, visual disturbances and problems with speech. Like many chronic/invisible conditions, migraine disorders are under researched and largely misunderstood - amongst other things, I hope this anthology will start conversations which lead to better understanding of illnesses such as these.
What are your plans for the future?
I've got a few projects coming up - I was recently a finalist in the Frogmore Papers Poetry Prize, so that poem will be published soon in their autumn edition. I'm also going to be working on a theatre project alongside a fellow Cambridge graduate, Hannah Sands - we're in the process of applying for funding to lead some research in UK schools and to start working on a script centered around young people. This will explore ideas of youth disenfranchisement and how community, mental health, freedom and opportunity have all been affected by recent events. I've also been working on a novel which I started writing for my final year project at Cambridge and a poetry collection - hopefully these will materialise at some point in the future!
The booklaunch for the newest poetry anthology: "Call and Response", edited by Amy Mackelden and Dr Dylan Jaggard, is hot off the press this month. This free event will be hosted by publisher Emma Wright, and feature readings from the poets and Q&A with the publishers. Register here
The book's blurb: From interactions with hot oncologists to life-threatening hospital stays to a really bad case of glandular fever. Whether a diagnosis is life-altering or treatable, a total surprise or painfully invisible, The Emma Press Anthology of Illness explores what we wish people knew about being ill, and whether finding that ‘new normal’ is ever possible. Read more or buy a copy here.