WCK Interviews #2 - Yemi Dipeolu interviews Zakia Carpenter Hall


Zakia Carpenter-Hall is a writer and teacher currently studying for her MFA at Kingston University. Her work has been published in the Callaloo Journal and Magma Magazine. In addition to the US and the UK, she has lived in Honduras and Kenya. Her favourite sport is swimming and she joined her high school swim team just a month after she learn how to swim. You can find out more about her and her work by visiting: http://zakiacarpenterhall.com/ 

When and why did you start writing poetry?
I wrote my first poem at thirteen.  My teacher had just taught us eighth graders how to write a poem.  I don't remember anything from that lesson except that it was outside, the look on my teacher's face when she heard the poem, and what my poem was about.  In the US, we sometimes have graduations at the end of eighth grade (year 9).  I was one of the speakers for my eighth grade graduation, and I read that poem.

What was the poem about?
This is so embarrassing.  But remember I was thirteen.  It was about my name, which I have always loved.

What are your particular interests as a poet?
I am still learning what my interests are.  The poem that I was most known for in undergrad incorporated some rudimentary astrophysics, and I have found myself returning to that subject matter via Event Horizon in a more nuanced way.  Well let's just say I did research this time. Whereas in undergrad I simply wrote what I felt. 

Did doing the research help or hinder your writing? Did it change the process in any way?
Research for me, from my perspective, is almost a spiritual practice.  It is almost sacred.  I think of a line from one of Mark Doty’s poems that goes something like “If study is a form of prayer, she was praying”.  And this is largely my mother’s influence.  For my mom, lifelong learning is a tenant of her faith.  She recently graduated with a PhD, and I grew up in that environment of her being intellectually curious.  So regarding poetry, I just didn't realise until very recently, within the last three years or so, the extent to which I could apply research to poetry or use research to write poems.  Had I known earlier, I would have used research a long time ago.  As far as changing the process, doing research makes it easier for me to write poems; I find it easier to come up with content.  Doing research means that I'm not regurgitating the same experiences or the same ideas over and over without any growth or development.  Personally, even for people who see research as secular, I think research enhances every form of writing.  In my experience, poems require so much fuel – ideas, language, imagery, etc.  And it's the research that keeps them going.  It's integral to the process and how I spend most of my “writing” time.


Are there any particular themes, ideas or objects that you’re fascinated by or like to explore in your work? If so, what and why?
I'm an ideas person so I always have tantalising ideas for poems or writing projects in general. Lately I've been using poetry as a way to explore topics, feelings, experiences that cannot be known or understood definitively.  I think Neil DeGrasse Tyson said that physics accounts for 4% of the known universe.  We might be said to have an internal universe, the body and the psyche, and an external universe, the world at large and everything that is surrounded and connected to that.  For me, these worlds are not separate.  Via writing

everything is connected and potentially anything is interesting.  Writing is a way for me to explore anything and everything.  As an undergraduate I chose to study English because I was interested in so many different fields and realised that through literature and writing I could keep exploring different things with each writing project.  Perhaps the central theme of my first collection is the black hole because any and everything can be sucked up by them, because they can perhaps be symbolic of an endlessly curious mind.

What attracted you to poetry as a form?  Do you write in any other forms?
I don't remember what first attracted me except that it seemed I had subject matter waiting inside of me to be expressed through poetry.  I have always been interested in words, their meaning and to an extent their music.  I started writing poems long before I started to read them, outside of what I had been assigned in school.  And actually I started writing regularly, keeping a journal, when I was about five years old.  So my first genre was nonfiction.  And I hope to publish a book in creative nonfiction too.  But with poetry... the only thing I can say is it just clicked.  I had to do it.  I couldn't leave it.  Some people have to bake, or teach (though I do love teaching), or run... I have to dance and write poems.

That’s interesting that you dance as well. Do you see any parallels between the two forms?
This is a really hard question.  When I think about dance, I don't think about it in terms of language.  Dance’s medium is the body and images that the body can make, that's its language.  The poem’s language is a system of words.  I approach them from different ways of knowing.  So I really couldn't say.  

Science and art are often seen as existing on opposite ends of the spectrum, why did you decide to bring these two things together in Event Horizon?
I think poems are enhanced by contrast, whether it's contrasting ideas or imagery.  But I don't see science and art at different ends of the spectrum.  If we think about an earlier time in Western history, for example The Renaissance period, Leonardo Da Vinci was one of the most highly regarded artists of that time but also made contributions to science through his observations, drawings, and inventions.  In the twentieth century, Albert Einstein played the violin and practiced physics.  He also believed in the power of fairy tales.  Einstein is credited for saying,  ‘If you want your child to be intelligent read them fairy tales.  If you want them to be very intelligent, read them more fairy tales.’  This was also his advice to a colleague on what to give her son for reading material in order to make help her son pursue the sciences as a career path.  (Quoted from BrainPickings).  Einstein understood, and I am only at the beginning of this understanding, that imaginative and creative thinking are the underpinnings of all good critical and scientific thinking.  So for me it wasn't a matter of bringing the arts and sciences together but using two complementary tools.  From my perspective, the two contrasting fields that I bring together in several poems are science and religion.  But I wouldn't have brought them together if I didn’t also think that they have a lot in common.  

Quite a few of the poems in this collection take on a unique form on the page (specifically From the Church of Gravity, DIY Wormhole…, and Fortune Cookie…) Is how the poem looks on the page, for you, as important as its content, and how do you go about deciding how to present your poems to the reader?
The shape that the poem takes on is the last stage of my creative process.  Very rarely it can happen simultaneously as I'm writing the poem.  This is what happened with ‘DIY Wormhole’.  But mostly, the structure comes last.  The shape that the poem takes on the page is meant to help the reader, it's a vehicle for how I'd like the content to be read and received.  In terms of how I decide on structure, mainly through reading lots of other poems and other types of text.  ‘From the Church of Gravity’ has a form that’s been adapted from biblical scripture.  ‘DIY Wormhole’ has a form I’ve seen before, i.e. a repeating line with sections missing, but I adapted this to fit my piece.  And ‘Fortune Cookie’ was inspired by a live performance that I had done.  I wondered how to translate aspects of that performance onto the page.  So through the process of writing ‘Fortune Cookie’, I played around with how to translate the sounds into text.  I also thought of the actual fortune cookie slip of paper that is curved inside of the cookie. 

Are there any other writers that have influenced your work or your approach to writing?
This is such a hard question.  I'm influenced to varying degrees by everyone I read and everyone that I work with.  In terms of poets that I've worked with who have most influenced my work and approach are Malika Booker, Francis Leviston, Vievee Francis, Hannah Lowe, Steve Fowler, and Mimi Khalvati.  But I could go on for a long time in terms of the poets whom I've worked with and have helped me to improve and see things in a new way.  I don't know who my main influences are yet.  I think on different days I would give different answers.  It's always changing.  And maybe it depends on the project. 

What is the significance of Event Horizon as the title of this collection and how does it speak of the collection as a whole?
Each poem is a vortex, an Event Horizon, a threshold, or point of no return.  Although Event Horizon is defined as a notational boundary around a black hole, these poems also explore “event” in a broader sense – the varying degrees to which an experience can change, destroy and reconfigure us and our lives. The problem with physics for non practitioners is often that “we cannot deliver its secrets with our hands”.  But this is a collection that makes the theoretical tangible and thereby brings us closer to ourselves.

What’s next for you? Are you working on any new projects at the moment?
Only my dissertation.  That's more than enough.

Yemi Dipeolu is writer from London. She previously worked as a Journalist for African Voice Newspaper where she wrote about literature, film, music and culture, as well as news and current affairs. She’s currently studying for an MFA in Creative Writing at Kingston University.wordsbyyemi.com

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Videos from our third event at The Picton Room, on Remembering

Three extraordinary talks made for an unforgettable evening on the campus of Kingston University. With world renowned novelist Nell Leyshon and brilliant talks from Winsome Pinnock  et al, all information, videos and pictures reside here! https://www.writerscentrekingston.com/#/remembering/

WCK Interviews #1 : Yemi Dipeolu interviews Molly Bergin


Molly Bergin is a poet and Creative Writing with History graduate. Future Dentist, published as part of the Sampson Low Poetry Pamphlet Series, is her first collection of poetry. She would love to dance for a living, and she knows all the songs from Disney’s Hercules by heart. You can find her work published in 3am Magazine. http://www.3ammagazine.com/3am/mollybergin

When did you first start writing poetry?
I only started to write poetry in my second year of university as it was part of the module which Steve taught. Prior to that I had absolutely no interest in writing poetry to be honest, I hadn't found anything that made me feel I could. Through this module and with help and encouragement from Steve I ended up finding that actually, there was a little corner that my style of writing could sit in. 

What are your particular interests as a poet? Are there any particular themes, ideas or objects that you’re fascinated by or like to explore in your work?
I automatically seem to write about very human things, like love, sex, loss, mostly just what makes up being alive. I just respond to what's going on around me. Like if I'm in the bath, you are going to get a poem that mentions something about being in the bath. That's what really fascinates me (not being in the bath, but being human). I like to scrutinise seemingly insignificant details. I'm unnecessarily observant so I find it very hard to not notice every fucking thing which results in this sort of over awareness and hyper reality, where I'm paying attention to things that really do not matter. I would love to write about much bigger themes and write something less self-indulgent but hey ho, I am very self-indulgent in my writing which is why the editing is so bloody crucial, (which of course it always is) otherwise it would just be poems about being an angsty 22 year old, which isn't that interesting. 

What attracted you to poetry as a form?
I think it is mostly because I feel that poetry doesn't require such a rigid narrative that a lot of other forms do. I have tried writing short stories and I just can't seem to sustain the narrative or quality. I've only been doing this for a short time really so maybe once I've written more I'll feel more confident to try other forms. There's an openness to the form which I feel allows it to be very malleable, which unfortunately isn't taught in school, and thus perpetuates the idea of poetry being very rigid and stationary when I think it is a responsive and adaptable form. 

What is your process when writing poetry and how do you go about editing and redrafting
I'm not really aware of my process to be honest, I would struggle to put it down in concrete terms anyway. I have noticed that if I try and sit myself down and say you are going to write today I will either write shit or really struggle. I've noticed being on the move is very helpful to me, I've written a lot on trains. That seems to allow my mind to relax probably as it's a time where you're in this place for a certain amount of time and you can't really do much else, things are out of your control, you're in a spot for the duration of your journey and you can't exactly change that. I'm inspired by everything so I just try to absorb as much of the world as possible and pay attention. 

You mentioned that you’re fairly new to writing poetry. What has it been like seeing your work published as well as reading at events? It's pretty mental to be honest, if someone had said to me at the beginning of university I would have ended up doing all this I would have kicked them. It's all just very lovely really that anyone even likes it! I'm still learning how to navigate myself correctly within it but it's very exciting

Who or what inspired this collection?
It's about as cliché as you can get really. It's about a 'relationship' of sorts and mostly just the experiences of loving someone, the ups and downs, but it's also kind of an ode to myself I guess (sounding super corny) and how much I grew up and changed through this relationship or at least I hope I have anyway. People can't help but change each other and impact one another. When I initially wrote them I was very much in love and it just being this all-consuming thing and then when I went to edit them later on I was like shit how do I get back into that mind-set again? Time had passed and naturally my feelings had changed. That was probably the hardest thing with these poems, being in a different mental space when editing them to when I was writing them. 

Which writers (if any) have had an influence on your work and in what way? Eimear Mcbride is a beautiful writer, A Girl is a Half Formed Thing astounded me, I have never read anything else like it. It took me about three tries but then when I was finally able to read it, I just absorbed it. The way she writes just captures something really human and you can feel everything. Sylvia Plath- the first poem I ever actually read that I wanted to read was 'You're' by Plath at college, about her pregnancy. I fell in love with it, the line 'O high riser, my little loaf' always makes me happy. And then I've just explored her work further. Steve also gave me a selection of poets’ work and I found that there were poems from a few that I adored and I wrote them all down in a notebook, I've noticed that they are all really about love or at least to me they are. I tend to like individual poems, I'll find one from a poet and it will really resonate with me. Steve has also had a pretty big influence on me as well, I mean he introduced me to all of this and has encouraged me to try it. I'm extremely grateful to him.


Future dentist is an interesting title, can you tell me a little bit about why you chose it, and how it reflects the collection as a whole? Aha I feel like I should make up a more complex reason, but the story behind the title is simply that I was outside the Rich Mix in this 1960s style white dress, talking to a homeless guy whose name I can't remember now, and he said I looked like I was a dentist from the future because of my dress. He then changed it to a dentist’s assistant which I wasn't too pleased about but never mind. I then went and told Steve about it and he was like that's what you should call your pamphlet, Future Dentist. So yeah, the title is entirely separate from the content! 

What’s next for you and your poetry? Are you working on anything new? Boring stuff has taken over since leaving uni really, such as getting a job and moving, but I'm always writing in my head I just need to put it down! I'm hoping to do something with some more visual things I've created, I have a project from my final year that I submitted which is all about how we are identified through documents and the way we are represented through them to the rest of society, so hopefully I can do something with that! 

Our November 9th event features the launch of Strays from Haverthorn Press

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Join us at The Picton room on November 9th for the launch of Strays, a new book by Kingston staff member James Miller and alum Julia Rose Lewis. The launch will take place before the main discussion panel. www.writerscentrekingston.com/remembering

"Haverthorn Press is happy to bring you ‘Strays’, by Julia Rose Lewis & James Miller. To be released on the 9th November 2017, this collaborative full-length poetry collection will be HVTN’s first book. In a series of found poems and response poems, the authors deconstruct and reinvent their source text, James Miller’s novel Lost Boys, which, in 2008, anticipated a dangerously paranoid society. A queer coming of age love story emerges. Sophie Essex, editor of Salò said: Lewis and Miller deconstruct the obscurity of what it is we don’t know and take us – the reader and the motives of another – to an extreme. Together they concoct a cannibalistic stratiform of poetics; a work that is gloriously dense as it operates in the intervening space.

Strays is now available to pre-order! And each pre-order will receive a complimentary copy of HVTN 3.2, also to be released in November. UK Orders (£10) UK Student (£7.99) Non-UK Orders (£13.99) P+P is included in the listed prices. A5 / 116 pages. http://hvtn.co.uk/post/166498531737/strays