Sue Leigh is a poet and writer who lives and works in the valley of the River Windrush in Oxfordshire. Her collection Chosen Hill is published by Two Rivers Press. Sue reflects here on what poetry means for her.
How and why did you become a poet?
I loved poetry as a child, I knew somehow it was important. It was the sound of it I liked, its strangeness. I started writing as a teenager – just a few poems. It didn’t occur to me at the time that they might be for anyone else. Writing felt private, real and liberating.
I continued to read poetry as I raised a family and worked in publishing – it sustained me at some deep level. But I wrote nothing during those years. Later, a space opened up and I found I had the solitude and quiet I needed to write. Since then poetry has become the touchstone of my life.
What are your interests?
I write about the deep past – what we might learn from it, what of ourselves we leave behind. I want to look at the past in today’s light. From my window I can see a small Norman church (built on the site of a Roman villa) and what is left of a deserted medieval village, and beyond, the river that flows on. The past is so close.
I find myself returning to questions of how we might live, how we might respond creatively to being alive. I am interested in the lives and work of other artists – how they express the subtleties and complexities of experience.
I write about the natural world from a place of reverence but also concern.
I cannot say where poems come from except from noticing, paying attention, a kind of intense listening. It is difficult to talk about process. In the end there are the poems and they must speak for themselves. And it is of course all provisional. There are times of writing, there are fallow periods.
Which writers have influenced you?
I have been inspired by many writers but John Clare and Edward Thomas have been important – poets whose vision is often connected to an English landscape with a sense of the local and particular.
I also read what might be called ‘nature writing’ (although I am not entirely happy with the term) by writers such as Nan Shepherd and Annie Dillard.
What is the future of poetry? Does poetry matter?
Poetry won’t stop the worst things happening but poetry can help, by naming things and by focusing on the particular. Language can so easily become debased but poetry uses words charged with their utmost meaning. Poetry is inherently truthful.
Poetry also renews and deepens the imagination and that is as essential to public life as it is to private life. Imagination is close to compassion and that surely is the greatest virtue of all.