Poet of the Month, Claire Wong, on Fusing Classic and Contemporary Poetry

Every month, Writer's Edit selects one work to feature as our Poem of the Month. This year we're going behind the scenes of the writing to discuss inspirations and influences with the authors themselves.

We spoke with UK-based writer, Claire Wong, about her poem 'Etymology in the Buffer Zone' and the mythological inspirations behind her work.

What’s your writing history like, and what are your accomplishments so far?

I've been writing short stories and poems since I was a child, and by secondary school I got into the habit of carrying a notebook and pen with me wherever I went!

I've had some of my work published in The Cannon's Mouth poetry magazine and won a few poetry prizes along the way. And now my first novel, The Runaway, is due to be published in February 2017 in the UK by Lion Fiction.

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What do you enjoy most about writing contemporary poetry? Would you say you have a 'style' or 'voice' that you draw from, or a particular structure you work within?

I love the way that contemporary poetry gives you a lot of space to create your own pace and rhythm. However, because it's not as structured as more traditional forms, I think it's good to impose your own framework or else you can get carried away by so much freedom!

I think my voice is very much a product of my background. I was born in Wales, so grew up surrounded by a tradition of song and poetry. It's hard not to be inspired to write when you have stunning landscapes all around you.

Then I studied Classics at university, and my head became full of epic heroes and Latin word roots. The end result seems to be a love of playing around with words and a determination to see the beauty in everything!

Where did the inspirations for the images and motifs in ‘Etymology in the Buffer Zone’ come from? Tell us about the links between mythology and domesticity…

A few years ago, I was being shown around Cyprus by a wonderful couple who grew up there. The wife told me how her family left suddenly one morning to flee the invasion. Their home now stands in the UN-patrolled Buffer Zone and they have never been able to return. I was so fascinated by her story, and from there I imagined Eleni's journey which forms the core narrative of this poem.

I think that to understand a place you need to know its heritage, and that plays out in the way that even household chores in this poem are undertaken in the context of a rich heritage of mythology, particularly stories of heroes who were separated from their homelands, like Odysseus and Teucer.

Who are your literary influences? What are your favourite, must-read books?

My favourite poets are T.S. Eliot and W.B. Yeats. I love how they both weave mythology into the modern world, yet with such different results.

In terms of authors, I love C.S. Lewis and Niall Williams. Lewis has so much depth, I could re-read his books a hundred times and probably take something new from them at each reading. Williams has a beautiful lyrical style and there's a strong undercurrent of hope in many of his novels.

What advice would you give to other writers? What has been your best lesson so far?

Know why you want to write. What's the message or story that you're bursting to share? I think that sense of purpose helps focus you as you craft your work.

Also, know that you have permission to ignore all advice offered to writers! We're always learning, but it's OK to experiment and try things your own way rather than follow someone else's rules. Writers have been doing exactly that for centuries, and we have an amazing varied world of reading to dive into as a result.

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