On this Unabridged, we hear from poet Victoria Adukwei Bulley (Quiet: Poems) and her editor Matthew Hollis about their process in collaborating on a book. They talk about the secrets shared between editors and authors, how the poems look on the page and the art of punctuation and line endings.
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Traci Thomas 0:11
Alright everyone, it is The Stacks Unabridged. And this episode comes by request, someone in The Stacks pack said, I want to hear about the process of editing poetry from a poet and their editor. So I, I found some I found a poet and an editor. Believe it or not, I did it. I did the hard work. And I’m joined today by Victoria Adukwei Bulley, who is the author of Quiet and her editor Matthew Hollis. Welcome to The Stacks.
Matthew Hollis 0:39
Thank you for having us.
Victoria Adukwei Bulley 0:40
Thank you. It’s great to be here.
Traci Thomas 0:43
I’m so excited to have you. I first of all, just have to say, as an American, I’m obsessed with your accent. And I’m sure whenever you talk to Americans, they say annoying things like that.
Matthew Hollis 0:51
Well, we ham it up terribly on the radio or the wireless.
Traci Thomas 0:59
So before we get into the process, Victoria, will you just tell us in about 30 seconds or so about the book Quiet?
Victoria Adukwei Bulley 1:08
Yeah, so Quiet is a kind of meditative text I feel that thinks about interior about the black feminine interior and the kind of ways that it filters the world. So essentially, I’m thinking a lot about the different ways that existing in this world racialized as black and gendered female creates the kind of struggle between how one sees oneself and how it wants to be seen by the external world. And I think it’s, it’s a book that looks at the spaces inside the self, that one creates to not necessarily escape, but just the spaces that exist inside, in all kinds of emotions, in all kinds of weathers, and the kind of responses that come from that place to the external world. So yeah, it’s it’s definitely a book that, I would say, is equal parts humorous and serious. And I would say, yeah, it’s almost like a journal in some aspects. But yeah, that’s the best way I could put it.
Traci Thomas 2:18
It does totally feel like a journal. And like, the word meditative really sticks out to me. And I think, you know, you’re right. It’s like, there’s some really fun parts. And then some parts that are sort of like, gotcha, like seething like a, and then some parts that feel like really heavy, and I think you did a really good job of explaining it as what I’m trying to say. Um, okay, so this is sort of a huge question. And I’m assuming this is going to take time, so I’m gonna have follow ups on this. But can you two together separately, walk me through what happens when you create a poetry collection? Because I feel like for a lot of collections, whether it’s essay poetry or short story, you know, the author maybe has a few from six years ago, and then maybe they have one that they just wrote, and they’re like, maybe this all goes together? And then they take it maybe to an agent? And they say, is this a thing, and then they take it out? So I’m sort of wondering how that process works? Like, from the start when Victoria when you decide you’re ready to make a book, and then Matthew, by the time it gets to you? Are you asking her to add poems take out poems say, this isn’t a collection, we need more, you know, like, how does that sort of bigger process work?
Victoria Adukwei Bulley 3:33
I mean, I can’t speak to the editorial side. So I’ll leave that to Matthew. But yeah, um, how was it? How did it come together? I guess, there are poems in the book that are maybe about six or seven years old now. And I, their poems that I had sort of put aside in my laptop, and not really known what to do with them. But I, for a long time, I was thinking about the kind of collection I wanted to write. And it took me a very long time to come to a kind of solidifying concept because I never really wanted to write a collection, I wanted to write a book. And that’s just the way my brain works. So what really brought me to that point was, I always mentioned his name, reading the sovereignty of quiet, which is a scholarly text by Kevin quashy, who teaches at Brown University. And that book really gave me a sense of a poetics of quiet that my work already I think, embodied. But also thinking about that interior space and how one navigates it and carves out space for it. So I would say around the time around, say 2019, that’s when I encountered that book. And that really gave me a sense of direction. And that’s also when I I had a meeting with Faber with Matthew Hollis and Lavinia singer. And that’s when I got to hear what they might like to see from such a text. So I guess I could hand over it at that point. So Matthew,
Matthew Hollis 5:17
I think that’s beautifully put Victoria and of course, M behind the question Tracy is actually long, long before Victoria was even in that mode that life was leaking in, wasn’t it Victoria for all of the experiences that would even have put you in the thought mind about writing those poems. So one thing that happens often Tracy with the first book of poems particularly is it tends to be the longest and the slowest book of poems you will ever write. And it’s not uncommon that a debut book of poems might take a decade to assemble partly because as Chaucer would say, This life’s so short, this craft so long to learn. And actually, in those opening years, that’s when you’re learning your trade as he as you might do in any other apprenticeship in life. And that takes a long time. And you can have craft and you can be the best crafts person in the world. But you may not yet have had the intersection where something in life cuts across that. And the two things meld into something that is worth writing about and worth reading about and worth listening to. And so some of the things you hear Victoria talking about there are she she was talking really about a moment in which something external to what she was doing internally, and with a cell phone, the poems made a wider sense. And that was a moment in which POWs begin to enter a more public sphere, sphere, and that’s often when the publishing and the editor and that question starts to step in. And those conversations begin.
Traci Thomas 6:47
Okay, so she comes to you, Matthew, she or you all come together? I don’t know. Maybe there’s an agent who knows who cares. We’re not talking to agents. Today, we’re talking to editors and poets. You guys get together? You hand over a manuscript of some sort? Or is it like pieces of paper floating around with like, eight or nine poems? Like, I literally have no idea how poetry collection comes to be? Yeah. So what is that first meeting? Like? Okay,
Matthew Hollis 7:16
Victoria, Okay, So I went back, I went through back through the little diary and had a look, because trying to sort of piece together this question, because there are, there are secrets that could never be revealed, because there between an author and an editor, and it’s quite right, they say that way. And there are others that are not so secretive, though, they might surprise some of your listeners that I think, you know, Keats used to talk about it of poetry saying that if it does not come as easily as leaves from a tree, it should not come at all. If it does not come as easily as leaves from a tree, it should not come at all, because he thought it was a very natural thing, poet’s reach up and pluck down, like an apple off the tree, there’s your poem, there was experienced off the go. And I think one of the things we might share with the listeners on this show is the fact that actually, it’s a very slow, careful conversation that happens over a great deal of time, if it’s, if we’re lucky. And if it goes well, that itself might move the the circumference of what it is, we’re sort of putting a line around, and we sometimes think that here are our 20 poems, or our 30 poems, or our 40 poems, would you please publish them. And that’s often a starting point. But actually, the final point, it’s something that can be not necessarily completely unrecognizable. That’s, that’s unusual. But something more like a mirror image or a sibling version of the TypeScript you began with, or something even slightly more distant for me the cousin relationship, you recognize it as where you began. But if it goes well, those conversations trigger things that actually changed the course and the direction of the book in itself, and sometimes even generate new material along the way. So I suppose that’s the bigger picture. And I mean, Victoria, and I will have to decide how much we’d be willing to sort of disclose publicly about how we worked on the poems. But it did begin by meeting face to face. I remember Victorian coming into favors where you were engaged in a program to support new writing for women. And we talked a little bit of that, and you were so modest that you almost wouldn’t talk about the fact that you wrote at all though, I suspect that you did. And conversation started after that. And we did manage to tease myself and Lavinia who I worked with a Faber and Faber, some poems from Victoria, and they first came in in the format of a collection of 12 poems, didn’t they? Victoria, you remember that?
Victoria Adukwei Bulley 9:47
Yeah. I mean, I was Yeah, that’s a good place to start, actually. Because at the time when I received that email, you know, essentially saying, you know, we’d like to read work for you. I didn’t have a collection. It didn’t have Um, I didn’t have a collection, I have an idea that was, you know, thinking into a collection. But, I mean, the thing is also to receive such an email was very much a case of, like, really? Because, because I think the thing is, um, you know, this is this is this is, you know, no, no shade to favor like favor is really is really that publisher in the UK like it’s really that place that, you know, if you’re taking yourself seriously, maybe they might publish you. So it wasn’t even, I wasn’t even at the point where I was like, Okay, I’m going to send my work their favor right now. So when I got that email, I was like, Ah, this is a little bit early. I’ll see what I’ve got. I’ll take a little time to see if I can really polish it up. But I also my supervisor, supervisor at my, I’m doing a PhD and my supervisor at Royal Holloway, University of London is Lavinia Greenlaw, who is a favorite poet herself. And so I told her about this email, and she was like, You need to take this seriously, by the way. Sounds like okay, yeah, I think I think I will. So yeah, it really began with 12 poems that I sent through, and I tried to send to our poems that I felt represented the thread of everything that I could currently do at that time. And I guess, yeah, Emma, my agent who’s a fantastic agent, Emma Patterson. She stepped in a little later on. But yeah, we then had an online meeting, myself, Emma, Matthew, and the video. And I think what was incredible about that was that for a collection that wasn’t finished yet, which was very much still in the ideas phase, I really felt that Matthew and Lavinia understood the spirit of what I was trying to do. And I’m very much someone who I’m very much up here, I really think about concepts. And, you know, I’m really fascinated by things which are a little bit metaphysical, and just sort of beyond reach. And being that kind of person requires other people that are also I sense a bit like that. And I really sense that Matthew, your poetics, your, your understanding of what’s happening beneath the line, not just at the level of what’s visible on the page was just exemplary. And I really felt understood. And so, you know, after that meeting, I felt, you know, because I did have other options, I had no other options. But for me, it’s about, um, so money, who I will write, if I have conversations with people who, who trigger those sparks in my brain, I will write it will just follow, it will just happen. If I have that kind of nourishment. And I, I knew that I had to go, where I felt that kind of connection in a poetic sense. So I think, for me, I just, I just knew that Matthew completely understood what I was trying to do. And that, to me, is the most important thing.
Traci Thomas 13:34
I have to go back to something that Matthew said a little bit ago, and you don’t have to reveal them. But can you explain what might be hypothetically a secret between an editor and a writer, you don’t have to say what your all secrets are. But just like the kind of thing that would be I love a secret. So I just want to know, like, what the secrets are.
Matthew Hollis 13:57
I think the point would be that a writer has to have be able to have be encouraged to have a kind of trust in a relationship, editorially, where they’re allowed to fail. And they were allowed to fail privately before experiments go out into the open and Beckett talk about, you know, fail, fail again, fail better, and so on. And that’s, that’s an intrinsically part of the process of writing and drafting and working out what it is because we talked a little bit at the beginning about craft and I mean, one of this incredibly striking things about reading those 12 poems, and this is even before we got to the full typescripts and so on was was was the astonishing grip on on craft at these poems represented that the author had and, you know, they seem to a team with grace and dignity and they seem to be completely artful in their shapes. They seem to sort of know they seem to know themselves in their own shape their own skin or they had a sharp intelligence about them. And they were already incredibly well forged. And so you could you could see in those 12 poems that there was no way this wasn’t going to be a formidable body of work when it arrived at a lot longer and longer standing. And as Victoria says, when she’s received that she thought, what she wasn’t ready, the response we got back, which was that, okay, thanks. But I don’t have it just yet, was the best thing you can possibly hear oddly frineds, because you realize that Here is somebody that isn’t going to simply throw you what’s under the bed that they couldn’t do, but they’re gonna go back and think about everything that they’re doing with this and where they’re going to go with it. And so from the very beginning, is that well, the wellspring goes up. And at that point, you begin to be able to have a conversation about ideas, craft form, redrafting of a poem that are there almost like stepladders, into, into dream and unconscious, that need to be those need to be necessarily private, because they are only real, if you really believe they’re real. And that’s where we get to write these poems that how we get to make the best versions of the whatever artwork, we’re interested in the best versions of themselves that can possibly be. And in a way, those are the things that I think we can talk and we might talk a little bit about poems, or the shape of the book and how we brought things in and out, oh, yes,
Traci Thomas 16:25
Matthew Hollis 16:26
But actually, that that idea, itself is a sort of sanctuary. And that means that kind of privacy for the for the author’s sake, I think.
Traci Thomas 16:35
okay, I love that I love it’s almost like writing therapist sort of, like, it’s like, you have to have a safe space to kind of throw the ideas and have someone to kind of talk you through, like, what I’m hearing is what I’m seeing is, and having like that sort of collaborative and then maintaining the sort of privacy of all of it. I want to ask another question, I guess this is sort of both of you, Victoria use I guess you sort of spoke about this, that you felt like there was a connection there between yourself and Matthew and Lavinia. And that perhaps they understood, you know, your style, or your vibe or your heaviness or whatever. But, Matthew, you’re working with Victoria on this book, and other books and other authors. So for you, how do you get yourself in a headspace to be able to sort of hold the secrets and be collaborative and be a partner and keep your brain moving in a way that is, like, Dexter, so that you can be with someone like Victoria? And then maybe you have another person who has a totally different style? And how do you manage that balance? And, you know, being present for all these people, but also helping them like, how do you know how to help? I guess? I don’t know, it’s a really hard question.
Matthew Hollis 17:48
Ya know, if I knew the answer to that question, I’d be richer than I am. But it’s a perfect question, Tracy, because I think if there is an answer, it possibly. My predecessor, the founding poetry editor at this house favorite favorite was TS Eliot. And he used to say that an editor should not impose themselves upon the poem or on the body of work or on the writer. The point isn’t to try and make somebody’s work. More like the kind of work you’d like to read yourself, or you think your publisher would like to publish. I mean, the rub, perhaps that happens, sometimes I don’t know. But I think the point is to, to be a listener. And I think if it works at all, it’s because the true heart of of editing is is oral, it’s about listening, not only to the, the way the poem is communicating to you through your eyes, through your ear sense and so on, but also listening to the kind of self mining that the author is interested in. Because after all, you are something akin to a gardener helping them to get what they’ve planted, and they’re trying to nurture above the surface in his best possible shape, you’re not trying to make you something that you recognize that someone has written before you’re trying to help them make it be the best possible version of itself. So in that sense, you just have to be able to clear your head, clear your sound channels, not perhaps, be running around with all the kinds of things that we get caught up in day to day life, whether it’s families or travels to work, or all the things we do and find a sort of dream space where you can, or you can share a dream space with somebody else that is not your own. But as close as you can get to the to the mental space that they may be wanting to inhabit.
Traci Thomas 19:41
Matthew, do you ever get poems that come across your desk where you’re like, these poems are fantastic and I’d love to publish this and then you meet the person or you talk to the person and you’re like, you know what? No, I don’t care how good these are. I couldn’t possibly I couldn’t possibly meet you or I need to meet you because of energy or vibe because I get a sense that you’re definitely a vibe guy, man. I feel you you have vibes with people.
Matthew Hollis 20:04
They say but never meet your heroes I I’m also I also work in my writings as a biographer, where I have written about Elliot and I have written about Ezra Pound. And those are two at times very difficult characters with some very difficult political opinions. You know, poets that would you necessarily want to spend your time with personally. But could you understand the quality of the work that they were engaged with? Yes, you can. But those things are not always that’s not easily assembled together or comfortably assembled together, and it takes some scrutiny. But I think the hope would be, and perhaps unconsciously, one of the things I look for when we’re talking to writers that we might bring to the list is a sort of responsive conversation of a kind that you can hear just listening to Victoria, and this show the way she thinks about her work the way she thinks about the conversation of it, that somehow that that could only go well,
Traci Thomas 21:10
yeah. Okay, now, let me ask you this, Victoria, in your book, you have a lot of poems, this is something that I always talk to poets about, because it is my personal obsession, which is about how the poem looks on the page, which is different than the words that are in the poem. And it is different than the punctuation and you know, the poem that is sticking out in my head from the collection is the redacted poems with the brackets. And I’m just thinking about when you when you write that out, and you write those drops, and you’re working on it, and you’re figuring it out? What are you signaling to us? And how much of how much of like, as you’re writing the form of it, are you saying, okay, Matthew, I have this idea, I want it to feel like x, and then you show him what it looks like on the page. And then you say, does it feel like x? Or, you know, like, what, what is that process of visually bringing a poem to the page, because, of course, everyone knows, you could just write it, you know, line line line, line line, and indent at the end of the line. And some of your poems have these like visual styles and this look to them. So I’m wondering how you kind of craft that.
Victoria Adukwei Bulley 22:19
I think it’s, I think it’s just as much for myself as it is for the reader because I, I am an incredible, I’m an incredibly visual person, I think sometimes I could be watching a film, or listening to a piece of music and visual, but you know, I’m very sensory. And I think the way that I experience poetry, but reading it, and writing it, is very much through image and sound. And so it’s difficult then to think about a book as just about words, I don’t think about a book is just a, you know, concerning words. And I think poetry for me is a really massive opportunity to do really interesting things with the page that are not just about lineation, what not lineation, but you know, not just about the vocabulary, but also just what the spacing does to how the reader hears it. Sometimes I think the way I’ve spaced something is just simply to signal to myself for reading it, that there should be a kind of emotional pause or a break in thought. And that’s not necessarily necessary, because that’s what you know, a dash could be for that’s what a coma could be, for, there are so many ways to signify a kind of like a says Euro, or a kind of, like, tension or, you know, thoughts that are kind of scattered, it doesn’t have to be all over the page. But I think for me, as someone who works visually thinks visually, it just, I’m so fascinated by the atmosphere that’s created when you turn the page and you see one shape, and then you turn the page and you see another shape. And, and what that opens up in the reader because I think it basically says, sit down, you need to take your time with this and think and think about, you know, what kind of scene is happening such that the poet wanted to, to do this, it’s really hard to answer that question because I think some of it is quite intuitive and quite experimental and I say experimental to say that I don’t when I’m doing it, I don’t know for sure that it’s going to hit with the reader how it occurs in my head. But, but I really trust it though. I really do trust that if I space certain words out in a certain way that the reader will also experience the language in the same in a similar way to how I’m hearing it in my head. I do I do try Stop, but it’s not it’s not random. I think there’s there’s still a logic of line break is happening, if that makes sense.
Traci Thomas 25:07
Yeah, I mean, so I have a background in theater, I studied theater and I studied Shakespeare for a year. And I love Shakespeare and I love verse and I love iambic pentameter. And I and I studied with with a British person, Tim Carroll, from, you know, he’s, he’s out there, he’s doing things anyways. A theatre guy, Shakespeare guy, and he was very aggressive about the iambic pentameter, line endings, and all of that. And so now, when I go into poetry, I’m always thinking, like, even if it’s not a period, the end of the line means something, it means something, and you need to make some sort of a choice as the reader, whether it’s in your head or out loud. And, and because of that’s how that’s how I think about reading it. I often talk to poets, and I asked them and many poets don’t agree with me. And they, you know, they don’t, they don’t necessarily see the line ending, like they say, read to the punctuation. And I think some of it is interesting, because when I’m reading the poem, and then I hear a poet read their poem, they’re not reading the poem based on what it looks like off the page, like, they’re not necessarily reading out loud, how I would think they would want me to read it, you know. So I’ve just always really fascinated and I talked to maybe nine or 10 poets now at this point, and everyone has a different answer, or different opinion about the punctuation versus the line ending versus the spacing or whatever. But it’s to me, aside from the content of the poems, I think my favorite thing about poetry is kind of sleuthing around in the the way that the poems look. So I don’t know, Matthew, what do you think about the way that the poems look on the page? I know you have opinions, I know, you’re a home guy.
Matthew Hollis 26:50
Well, I think you open the lid on some of the biggest quarrels in poetry in the last 100, and so on years, and it’s one of those reasons that you do have different styles developing because people have different views on that. I think, you know, most of us would agree working in poetry that the use and the choice of our form is an expression of time and its expression of breath. And there are very strong ideas, of course, about the AMO pentameter, because it is extremely linked, intimately linked to the human breath. Because actually, most of us deliver that many syllables roughly in a certain amount of time before we have to breathe. And that’s why it’s one of the most effective forms of delivery of memorable information and communication. But there are many great experiments that have become standards in their own right since then. And in key of that is the relationship between what we call whitespace on the page and and the ink, and how we use silence, which is an absolutely key idea to Victoria’s book, because a book explores all kinds of silence whether it’s silence foist upon us or the silence, we try and find when we hear the inner thoughts that we’re listening to. And when we talk about shape, it’s probably worth just saying to the listeners that to describe a little bit about Victoria’s poems is that they are so radically original in the way that they think about space on the page. And they’re so different from one another, that the effect can almost be like moving through a house or a gallery in which every time you enter a new page or a spread of pages with the poems, it’s like entering a new room where you’re encounter a different shape. And this is terribly important to Victorian the way she thinks visually thinks in her organization about the world. But it’s what’s rare about her work in that sense, also is that she is absolutely attuned to sound patterns, as well as the visual patterns, and to how those play off across the form of shape. And if poetry does have something that separates us from prose, it is probably about that tussle between the language that we want to express and answer and explore and is tension as we pull it across different shapes of form, some of them better known than others, like iambic pentameter, and some of them that might be known to poets, but less obvious to read it. But it’s part of that friction and energy that we get the dynamism that makes poetry such such a motor and such an energy.
Traci Thomas 29:23
You’re good advocate for poetry. Very, you’re selling me on poetry. I am such an insecure reader of poems, but I’m like yeah, I think that’s why I like to read poems out loud because then you can kind of even if you don’t know what the scheme is, or what the rhythm is supposed to be when you start to read it out loud. You can feel it or you know, we read a book a few years ago on the on the podcast and it had so many consonants the words had so many consonants, but I never would have noticed had I not read it out loud, but then you start reading it and it’s like, in your mouth, and it’s like you’re, you know, versus when a man When there would be vows, you’d be like, Whoa, we have slowed down here. But as far as the visual look between the two of you, Victoria, you’re coming in with things. Matthew, how much are you, you know, questioning or pushing back on, on that, like, sort of rhythmic stuff? And like, you know, is there a conversation that’s like you have a really spaced out here, but I’m not sure that that’s doing what you think it’s doing? Or like, is that sort of stuff that you all are talking about in your secret secret meetings?
Matthew Hollis 30:31
I think we can reveal something like that. Can we agree? Absolutely. That’s exactly the kind of conversation that would go on. And I think moving on from those first 12 poems. And then when we began to see a body of work that was large, and that’s something that that Victoria and I would call her a first type script. Quite early on in that process. Victoria, didn’t we, we had a we had a conversation based on my reading of the text that would have annotations all over it. And, in fact, these were handwritten annotations and poor Victoria it was, it was like seeing a TypeScript that as if the whole thing had gone to prison and come out with tattoos or something like that. It was absolutely scrolled on. And in fact, there were more pages that came back then, actually came in Victoria, because there was all these annotations. And at that point, that’s in a way where the conversation gets going. And Victoria would then be thinking about some of those things saying, well, that’s possible. And that’s interesting or thinking actually, no, that that pushes this into somewhere that I didn’t think there should be. And it’s those sorts of, if that’s used, talked about it as pushing, and perhaps it’s a push, but it’s certainly a kind of it’s certainly kind of sounding chamber, where we’re thoughts and particularly ideas about is there an accidental trip wire there? Is it possible that a reader could fall over that, because of something that you haven’t quite anticipated in your own writing. And if we remove that, does that give you a clearer direction, or if we remove that, does that oversimplify things and sound didactic, when actually what we really want is space for the reader to move in to move around, to think about it for themselves. So a lot of our conversations are about not only the poem, month, they Victoria but the space that we’re trying to create for the reader to inhabit exactly what you were talking about Tracy, where you, you want to listen to the poem and you want to be in with it, you know, you don’t want to sit there being taught talk to you by the poem being told what to think, and say, Oh, I have to understand it this way. Here’s my crossword my grid, and I can see that this is I am big pentameter. And therefore this is going to happen to me as the E want to be involved as if you’re part of the process. You know, it’s not up there in ground, you are in there, your sleeves rolled up, you are with it. And it’s those are the sorts of conversations that Victoria and I would have about it, is it getting to what she would want it to be? And also, how is somebody else who’s not part of our conversation going to lean in here? And what’s it going to feel like when they do that?
Victoria Adukwei Bulley 32:57
I mean, it’s really fascinating to hear you Matthew speak about, like, how, how it might have felt for me to receive, like all of those notes, but I just loved it, because the like the detail like down to a comma down to a full stop down to it, like more detail than one would expect. But at the same time, there was still a spacious a spaciousness to the kind of annotations that Matthew came back with. And I really loved that. Because by that point, it’s very easy for the poet to be absolutely bored with their work. I think it’s so easy, that at that stage, when you’ve got a manuscript, that sort of, it’s now calling itself manuscripts, you spend so much time ordering the poems thinking, is that going to go? And is that going to, you know, be taken out? What, what are the poems that are going to make this book, you’ve spent so much time on that, that by the time it comes back to you, you’re terrified that you’re going to hate it, but I did. I actually opened up the work more for me. And, you know, I do feel fortunate, I just, I don’t really take it for granted that you might have an editor who shares a kind of, I think, shares a kind of poetics that, you know, they hear a language in the same way that you do. But I really felt like that. So for me, it wasn’t a difficult process at all, to look at the notes and I never felt like I was being you know, pushed to change the music of the work. I never felt like that. I felt that I was fine tuning things. I felt that some of my inclinations, even just words that were used quite often were made apparent to me in ways that made me think right now I know that I do that a lot. So I think it’s it’s really incred able to have that kind of experience where being edited actually makes you love your work more. I think that’s something which it should be aspired to.
Traci Thomas 35:13
I love that. I mean, you’re speaking just to the power of collaboration and that sort of stuff in art and creativity, which I always love. Okay, so this question is something that I asked basically everyone who comes on the show, Matt, they’re gonna have to edit the question a little bit for you. But the question for Victoria is, how do you like to write how many hours a day how often do you listen to music? Or no, where are you are their snacks and beverages are their rituals? And then Matthew, the question for you is, how do you like to edit? Where are you when you do that? Are there snacks and beverages? Are you listening to music, and the snacks and beverage part is very important? So I see Matthews laughing about it, but you’re gonna have to tell us I see you have a goblet of water. He’s got like a wine glass of water, which I think is very fancy. And I’m gonna attribute that to your Britishness because I drink out of a plastic tumbler, but you know, whatever. America, England, we’re different places. But please tell me about both of your processes. Victoria, why don’t you go first?
Victoria Adukwei Bulley 36:13
Yeah, I mean, it’s, it’s crazy right now because I have a one year old and it’s just like, oh my gosh, I know. Like, I was still adjusting to like, just just the facts of that, that that person came out with me. I just really. But yeah, I like to write at night. I’ve been writing at night since I was about 15. I don’t know. I don’t I’m not really a morning person I can get up can make it happen. But I I love the nighttime. I love the nighttime I love everyone else being asleep. It’s not even a new thing. It’s like ever since I was 15 I would love staying up listening to music. I love low light. Like we have this thing that apparently is like a European thing like a big light. We don’t use it in the evening. Like I can’t I can’t have the main light on the ceiling on past past sunset. It’s it does something to my brain. So yeah, like I just said it has to be low light, it has to be ambient there has to be some kind of usually music and I’m not listening to the music. I’m not really listening to it. It’s just atmosphere. And it just gets my brain into a kind of space where something opens up. I don’t tend to I can write without music, but I don’t choose to very often.
Traci Thomas 37:37
Snacks and beverages don’t forget!
Victoria Adukwei Bulley 37:39
Ooh, you know, I might need to get into this. I might need to get into this a bit more. What do I I mean, the time of the night means that I’m not really having much in the way of snacks and beverages but I mean maybe you chamomile tea and a tea person like how am I come in?
Traci Thomas 37:57
How do you take your tea?
Victoria Adukwei Bulley 37:59
Oh like as in like British tea tea?
Traci Thomas 38:03
Do you take it with milk and sugar? Do you put Honey Do you do anything to it?
Victoria Adukwei Bulley 38:06
If it’s chamomile it’s just it’s just coming Well, it’s just like yeah, like Twinings. And honey is my is my tea. But if I’m having like a sort of like a builder’s tea, I’ll have like, milk and sugar. Yeah, I have both mocha sugar. I don’t drink that much. Sort of tea tea. Yeah.
Traci Thomas 38:29
Matthew, your turn?
Matthew Hollis 38:30
Yeah, no, of course Victoria when you take your tea is in bone china and you keep your little pinky finger-
Traci Thomas 38:36
Listen, I have fancy tea cups like that I take my tea, like a British person. I went to England one time. And now I take it with milk and sugar. And I love it. Very good.
Matthew Hollis 38:45
I love what Victoria is saying about the the music and the kind of almost ambient. And there is something about as it were the the numbing have a certain activity in your brain in order to to engage with the activities that are going on going on somewhere else in your brain. And I would say that the writings of the activities of writing and editing are fundamentally opposed to these two things. I think, in writing, Ted Hughes, the poet Ted Hughes used to talk about it as escaping your inner policeman unwitting, your inner policeman escaping them. And he would say that, when you achieve that, he has a metaphor, he says that the prison walls break down and the prisoners run free. And those are the moments where your activity is going and you’re able to write the poem. Or hopefully, or at least explore the terrain that might lead you to writing a poem. I think when you’re editing, it’s almost the reverse you are that you almost have to become a sort of police or a prison warden of that text. And it’s, it’s the equivalent of writing into the dark as a writer and writing with the lights on as an editor because what you’re looking for are sometimes quite pedantic things. So that might be confusions as almost literals. And that’s incredibly important. At somewhere along the line, though you do have to do even as an editor, what Victoria was talking about, which is, which is the sort of tuning in. And that is a hard thing to do, especially with young children, as Victoria describes, and especially with busy lives, does that involve a particular tea? I don’t it probably too much tea, but I don’t think it’s a particular tea. I think it’s just about finding that that piece that you can within the daytime, if, in some ways find it at night and sometimes find it very early in the morning, and I happened to be the opposite I when I’m writing it was it can be very early in the morning, before the brain is quite woken up. But I wouldn’t edit that way.
Traci Thomas 40:48
You edit more in the middle of the day,
Matthew Hollis 40:52
with several cups of coffee inside me.
Traci Thomas 40:56
And how about this one for both of you? What’s a word you can never spell correctly on the first try?
Victoria Adukwei Bulley 41:02
Oh, this happened to me just yesterday maneuver. Like I can I can maneuver? Yeah, I can see it maneuver. Yeah, I can see it, but I just I every time I think I’m gonna get it right. I didn’t get it. Right. Yeah. miniver.
Matthew Hollis 41:17
Millennium always used to worry me. I’m glad that’s over. And I don’t have to save that for another several, several years.
Traci Thomas 41:25
Okay, and then this question, I don’t ask everybody. But I’m gonna go out on a limb and see, because I have recently become an English Premier League Soccer fan. So my question are football fans. So my question is, Do either of you have a team? And who do you are a club, as you all say, and who do you root for?
Matthew Hollis 41:40
Oh, certainly don’t say franchise. If that helps. We don’t have sporting franchises. Comes I don’t mind jumping in because my tail is a tale of woe. Tracy, because when I was seven, my team was the best in England and was playing in Europe. And these days, they’re in the third tier, which is a no not quite like Sunday League football. But it’s it’s been a it’s been most of a lifetime of pain. I don’t encourage anyone to go there. Really. I mean, poetry can be painful enough without having to follow a football team.
Traci Thomas 42:15
And you follow them all the way in the third tier.
Victoria Adukwei Bulley 42:17
Is that Norwich?
Matthew Hollis 42:20
You’re so close. And it’s Ipswitch.
Victoria Adukwei Bulley 42:24
Ipwitch? They’re enemies, they’re enemies- How?
Matthew Hollis 42:27
I This isn’t this is probably why I’m I mean, poetry has because I born in one place, and I supported the wrong team. So from the start, I was in a difficult position. So no wonder ended up as opposed to
Traci Thomas 42:39
you need to write poems about this long- we had a poet on the other week who was talking about being a long suffering sports fan. And I said I love this for you. What about you, Victoria, do you have a club?
Victoria Adukwei Bulley 42:52
I don’t really follow football. But I mean, this is gonna sound so ridiculous. But I think probably asked No, I think there was a phase when Arsenal which is like, the most attractive team. So I don’t know what they’re looking like now.
Traci Thomas 43:12
They’re very cute now. Yeah. But they’re, they’re really good. They’re really good. They’re in first place right now. But my team I root for man, city and work close behind. Okay, got one game on us. And they’ve got one or two points on us because they tied the other day. And we play them next weekend. Okay, very excited over here. So I’ll have to take you out. And famously Pope Do you know, Clint Smith, the poet here in America? He’s an Arsenal fan. So he and I fight a lot about this.
Victoria Adukwei Bulley 43:43
How did how you got into this? I feel so like,
Traci Thomas 43:48
it’s a Premier League. Yeah. You know, my brother is I grew up always very into sports. And my brother went and studied abroad in Costa Rica. And or he worked in Costa Rica. And soccer, you know, is really big everywhere else in the world besides America. So he got really into soccer. And he started watching Premier League because you can kind of watch Premier League everywhere in the world, I guess. And then he brought it back home. And during the pandemic, I had my twins. They were very small during the pandemic. And so I went and lived with my brother because my husband is a physician. This is Long story. And so my brother was watching so much like, Premier League old games, because there were no new games during the pandemic. And so I got into city with him and my sister in law, and then my husband was back home and we made him watch too, so we can all have something to talk about. And so now we’re all city fat. It’s like the weirdest thing, but it’s now it’s the sport. i It’s one of my favorite sports now. And whenever I talk to anyone who’s like, not from America, I’m like, Who do you root for? Because I think it’s so great. I think like the global pneus of soccer is just so enjoyable to me. So yeah, that’s how we got into it very weird, but we can go back to poetry now.
Matthew Hollis 45:02
I’m fine, I feel very left out of this premiership conversation. So let’s move on and go back to poetry.
Traci Thomas 45:07
Back to where you’re back the center of attention. Here we go. Matthew, this is a question. I’ve never been able to ask someone. How did you know you wanted to edit?
Matthew Hollis 45:18
Because I think you just do it. You don’t even notice. You know, when they talk about why do you call a mountain to mountaineer and they say because it’s there. I mean, I think I, when I was at university, I founded a small press magazine, and you would call in submissions. And I got to love typography and typesetting. And it was a way to read work at the time, I have to say it was even a way to to publish a superb, cheekily, here’s a secret for you. I used to put my own poems in the magazine under ridiculous pseudonyms. Because it was a way of testing the waters a little bit in those days. And I was so I was so ignorant at that stage, because I didn’t do English, even at a level level in university that I once published one of my poems under a pseudonym that I thought I’d made up which was Gothia Lorca only to was a storm in university when people said, wow, they’ve got an unpublished poem by Garcia law here in the edition. And it was it was backed by me. So there you go. And I’m sorry, wiser those days. But it was it was a way of self educating, which is what I did both as a reader and writer of poetry and as an editor, too, but you can’t you can’t help yourself. Really, it’s just part of the conversation of poetry. And Victoria is an editor too. I mean, all poets are they edit themselves, they edit their friends. What I do in the way Is it perhaps it operates on a larger scale, and it produces something that we hope is a really beautiful thing in the world, and beautifully well made typeset sound book with lovely covers, and so on. But actually, the ACT isn’t so fundamentally different from what power does every day when they sit down at the typewriter, or with the fountain pens as we’d like to in England,
Traci Thomas 46:59
of course. With jewels or whatever British people do. Okay, well, so here’s my last question for both of you. For people who have read and enjoyed quiet, what are some other books that can be poetry collections, they could be prose that you might recommend that are in conversation with quiet.
Victoria Adukwei Bulley 47:24
Oh, I mean, I, I mean, you know, the answer to that question is very much at the back of the book, because I really wanted to, to kind of say that some of the stuff I’m talking about in this book has already been said, and I don’t really feel precious about you know, that concepts but But definitely, Sula by Toni Morrison, I think is such an incredible text for, like, there’s this incredible scene in there where someone’s mother burns to death. And the child isn’t staring into the flames because they’re horrified but because they’re interested and that just got, it just makes you shiver. Yeah, and who else I think Tanizaki there’s, I don’t know how to pronounce his name very well, I’m gonna butcher it. But it looks like Junichiro Tanizaki. There’s a really small book by him called in praise of shadows. And it just basically talks about the world becoming too bright. And what’s being lost by that brightness, what’s being lost about the shadows, the quality of different different things that we can look at. Yeah, I think that that really is on brand with the book in quite a deep way.
Traci Thomas 48:47
I love that. Matthew?
Matthew Hollis 48:51
just thinking about that question, listening to Victoria. And I think there are many specific books that you could pick. But I do think one of the great gifts of this book of Victoria’s and I think it’s worth saying to listeners is that I think it’s particularly remarkable for so many reasons, whether it’s to do with culture, race, sound, gender, all of the things that absolutely feel the book and it’s interiority, but actually, in another sense, it doesn’t matter where you’re coming from with this book, because it is it has such an accessible, meaningful platform to all comers. And it also serves as a kind of portal to so many imaginations and readings that you could take on afterwards that I just I just think it’s sort of somewhere in the middle of everything that we should be and where we should go. And I really urge people to look for it, pick it up and really spend some proper time with it because I just think it will change your life.
Traci Thomas 49:48
What a good note to end on. That’s very sweet. I feel like a lot of authors wish that they had relationship with their editor like the two of you seem to have so I love that for you both. Um Hey, everyone, you can get quiet wherever you get your books, it is out it is published in America. I have it. It’s beautiful. And, and I’m excited for people to read it and talk with me about it. And Victoria and Matthew, thank you so much for being here.
Victoria Adukwei Bulley 50:17
Thank you. Thank you so much. Thanks, she I’m just, you know, this has just been such an honor. And you know, you wouldn’t know this. But Matthew and I did this whole process over zoom, you know, so Oh, my gosh, yeah, I haven’t seen Matthew since 2018. I think, when that meeting is happening, but there’s just it’s just been the most incredible experience. And I’m so grateful to Matthew, For for being that person. So thank you, because I never seen you, thank you.
Matthew Hollis 50:44
I know we meet like this, that we Victoria, but likewise and you know, thank you as an answer. Because if there’s something that keeps you going with the work and if there’s something that keeps you going in the jobs that it is it is work like this and at moments like this, and I’m Tracy it’s very lovely to have you to have us on and to give us your time as well. So, as Victoria said, it’s an honor. Thank you.
Traci Thomas 51:06
Thank you all so much and everyone else we will see you in the Stacks.
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