To help celebrate the launch of this year’s Fenland Poet Laureate Competition, we sat down with five former Fenland Poet Laureates, to find out a bit more about them:
Who are you and when did you win the Fenland Poet Laureate Competition?
My name is Poppy Kleiser. I am a poet and writer from Suffolk, now living in Fenland. I have performed in various places around the UK, from art exhibitions and festivals to museums and weddings. Mostly inspired by place, nature and the history of land, I try to portray the trials and mysteries of the wild East Anglia marshes. I won the competition in 2014.
How did you hear about the Fenland Poet Laureate Competition?
I heard about the competition the year before through browsing poetry stuff in the area. I entered in 2013, and was shortlisted but didn't win. I became started going to Fen Speak though, and became really interested in local poetry. In 2014 I won and was thrilled!
What inspired you to write the poem you submitted to the Competition?
My inspiration for my winning poem came from the unique effect of the Fenland landscape, which came as rather a shock after living in the city. The sense of desolate wildness despite the area's obvious cultivation felt sudden and strange, and unlike anything I had ever felt before. There was a mystery around the land, and I became fascinated with local stories, both mythical and factual. The competition came after I had visited Belgium's Founder Fields, and somehow the effect this had on me must have merged with the comparable landscapes of the two places, and I came up with Digging, a poem about a soldier from the Fens.
What did you do with your year as Fenland Poet Laureate?
My year as FPL was very exciting. I immediately started doing things I'd never done before - going on radio shows (including BBC Radio Cambridgeshire), writing my first commissions, and actually getting paid to read my work at events! Some of my highlights include performing at the John Claire Cottage ( next to a statue of the man himself), and helping to create a localised version of Three Acres and a Cow; a show of land rights history in story, poetry and folk song, during which I got to explore and write about the alternative history of the area I have become so passionate about.
I also edited and produced an anthology called Poems for Peace, a response to the centenary of WW1. Almost 30 amazing poets are featured in the book, and there is a foreword by visionary pacifist Benjamin Zephaniah. I am very proud of it! Curating the book and its launch was a lot of work and a massive learning curve - but I enjoyed every minute. I also started running workshops in schools during my tenure as laureate, which I still really enjoy. I now help to run the competition, as well as hosting Wisbech's Fen Speak
What advice would you have to people entering the competition this year?
My advice to anyone entering the competition this year is to simply write what is real to you. It sounds corny, but that is when good poetry reveals itself. Poetry is about the individual. When we read a piece that is unique, honest and opens our eyes to the writers' perspective, it stands out amongst the cliches that can be so common when writing to a set theme. But this theme is so wide - we all have different stories and feelings that relate to Fenland. Use your imagination!