National Poetry Day 2018: An Interview With Roseanne Watt

by Louise Thomason -

Today is National Poetry Day, so to celebrate we had a chat with poet, filmmaker and musician Roseanne Watt.

Currently in her third year of research at Stirling University, Roseanne’s work involves creating a series of film poems and film-portraits which investigate the literary identity of Shetland and the ways in which loss informs the isles’ literary tradition.

She recently won the Edwin Morgan Poetry prize, one of the largest literary prizes in the UK, and is due to release her first collection, Moder Dy, under publishers Polygon in May 2019.

We asked Roseanne where she finds her inspiration, how her film-poems came about, and what impact Shetland has had on her work.

When did your interest in poetry begin?

"I was surrounded by poetry-lovers growing up, so I think I've always had something of a predetermined appreciation for it. But I'd say poetry properly 'clicked' when I was in my 5th year of high school. I remember reading Edwin Morgan's 'Glasgow Sonnets' and Seamus Heaney's 'Death of a Naturalist' for Higher English, and suddenly understanding that this was what poetry could do. It was like watching the words open up the potential of language on the page, and it completely captured me."

When did you start writing – did you begin with poetry?

"It's a great question, which I'm actually not sure the answer of! For as long as I can remember, I have been writing stories and poems. I don't think my younger self would ever have thought my first book would be a poetry collection, though. I don't even think I really thought of myself as primarily a poet until my dissertation year at uni. It was during a creative writing class, and our tutor asked us why a writer might use the second-person voice. I answered: as an address to someone or something. And she replied: That is a poet's answer."

What about film – how did the two mediums come together for you?

"I wish I had a more profound reason than the truth... film and poetry came together as the result of my own indecision! My love of filmmaking grew from my time making films with Maddrim Media. I then studied film and English at Stirling University, but was only allowed to choose one subject for my dissertation. I found a loophole by combining my poetry with film. There were no rules against it; in fact, my supervisor loved the idea, and so that is how I fell into the whole process I'm in today!"

Where does your inspiration come from?

"As far as poetry goes, I'm always on the look out for encounters that feel like they have what I've come to call 'poetic resonance'. Sometimes that's a story someone tells me, or a fact about something, or a place itself; something which feels like it aligns with my own internal landscape. It usually starts with an image, and that becomes a process of investigation through words. I always think of Mark Doty's essay, 'Souls on Ice', when I think about the poetry writing process; 'Our metaphors go on ahead of us, they know before we do'. I find that to be very true for me."

Shetland and its dialect is very present in your work – how much of an impact has it had on your poetry?

"Shetland has had just the most profound impact on my work. I love my home; I love its language, its landscape, its ways of life. The name of my first collection is 'Moder Dy', which means 'mother wave'. The moder dy itself is a piece of old fishing lore; it was said that experienced Shetland fishermen were able to navigate home by the moder dy, which was an undercurrent that always flowed in the direction of home. That is my poetry at its core; always trying to return home."

Shetland has had just the most profound impact on my work. I love my home; I love its language, its landscape, its ways of life.

What are you working on at the moment?

"The aforementioned collection! It's going to be published by Polygon in May 2019, so I'm working on getting the manuscript up to scratch for before the end of the year. I've also just finished my PhD thesis, and awaiting my dreaded viva..."

What are your favourite Shetland poems?

"Oh, too many to list! I'd say my all time favourite dialect poem is 'Midder' by Stella Sutherland, which is a beautiful and vivid meditation on the mother-child relationship. I also love 'Da Boat Biggir's Nefjoo' by Robert Alan Jamieson, and 'Gaet-markers' by Christine de Luca. There are also incredible non-dialect poems by Shetlanders; 'Jerome' by Peter Ratter, 'The Peat Banks' by Ruth Mainland, 'Island empire' by Mark Ryan Smith all spring to mind here."

Kishie Wife by Roseanne Watt

Though some say otherwise,
she was the first
who went to fetch the fire
from the hills. Of course she was.
No one else could bear
a load like that, slung over her back
like an infant; all its brilliant,
burning weight.

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