The Suicide is the recently-published debut collection from Bristol poet, Amy Tollyfield. Ahead of her appearance at Waterstones in Clifton she spoke to Julie Fuster about her writing and her influences.
Why do you write poetry?
I have written since a very young age; I was about seven when I first started writing. I don’t write profusely and I don’t write constantly – when I do write, it’s because I have something I want to communicate, or something I need to ‘get off my chest’. Within The Suicide there are quite a few poems that were written to help me heal from things that were hurting inside of me. On the other hand, I used to do quite a lot of performance poetry, and so there are many in the book that were written with the intention of an audience enjoying them.
How long did it take you to put together The Suicide?
The Suicide is my first book. It took me several years to compose. Most of the poems in the book were written over a period of 2-3 years, when I was living in Bath. I used to perform at open mic nights while living in Bath so that spurred me on to write more poems. I knew my writing was strong so I committed myself to getting published. It’s hard work and you have to be prepared to be rejected if you want to get your work published – that’s the nature of the industry. I stuck with it and here I am.
You studied Shakespeare, theatre and drama; what impact have they had on your poetry, particularly your rhyming style
I do love rhyme – it’s enjoyable and it’s easy to swallow. Poetry is to be enjoyed; it shouldn’t be a task to read. Yes, we all love a challenge, and some of my poems will definitely need to be analysed to be enjoyed, but there are just as many in there that you can simply read and ingest smoothly, without having to completely decompartmentalise the whole thing! Shakespeare now is seen as – and I quote – ‘high art’, but he wasn’t in his day. Shakespeare wrote for the masses and Shakespeare’s theatre was very accessible in his day. Drama and theatre is for pleasure – let my writing be.
Despite the title, this collection is full of hope and humour. Why did you decide to call it The Suicide?
The Suicide is the opening poem and it packs a punch. It’s a poem which dares to take on a difficult subject matter but does so with humour and with tenderness. It’s also the only poem in the book that incorporates swear words. After that, things get softer and yes, more hopeful. The book is a journey, absolutely, but I want you to start with me at the beginning. When you pick up the book, I want you to see where it started. You have to commit to following the journey in order to see how it will end. Are all of the experiences in the book mine? Absolutely not. But it’s a journey I believe in and want to share with you.
In your introduction, you highlight your faith in God. Does your faith have an impact on your writing, and does your writing impact your faith in God?
Despite being a writer and therefore (supposedly) being someone ‘keen on ideas’, I’m actually a big fan of absolutes. I like things to be definite. To me, throughout my life, in both good and very, very difficult times, God has been a definite. So when God pops up in my poetry, it’s as normal to me as writing about the grass, the sky, or life and death. Any mention of God in my writing is not especially pre-planned. This being said, God of course has a stronger emotional meaning for me than the grass or the sky, and so I absolutely want to thank God and mention God in my introduction. But no, in answer to your question, I’m not sure God does impact my writing hugely. But I’ll let you be the judge!
Who are your favourite writers and from where do you get your inspiration?
Shakespeare is, of course, pretty top of the list in terms of favourite writers, however you’ll be surprised to hear that I’m not actually a particularly avid reader! As mentioned in The Suicide – one of the few moments I can tell you is definitely autobiographical – I’m happiest in the bath reading a magazine! Lately I’ve been pushing myself to read a bit more, but currently I’m most of the way through a history book and slightly nodding off. I know – it’s awful. I’m just about to get to the chapter on Elizabeth the first, though, so I’m holding out. My inspiration comes from all sorts – life is very exciting and different. There’s lots to draw inspiration from if you look around you.
What can those coming to your event at Clifton Waterstones expect?
It’s going to be a lovely evening of wine, soft drinks and nibbles, and I will present mostly poems from The Suicide, but a couple of new ones I’ve been writing since the book’s release. It’s good to keep things fresh, and I will definitely try to get my work published again, so I want you to hear a couple of new ones, too. I have done performance poetry previously and of course I studied drama and performance so if you make the effort to come to my event then rest assured that I will absolutely make the effort to perform to you and to give you a good evening.
What influence does Bristol have on your work?
I live in Bristol now and it’s an exciting and diverse city. I have good, genuine friends here. Admittedly, most of the poems were written in Bath, and Bath had a very good knack of getting my creative juices flowing. It’s just such a beautiful and inspiring city. But give it time, and Bristol will do the same for me, I’m quite sure of it. Who knows – maybe my next book of poems will be all about my life in Bristol! As ever, and as suits the cliché, watch this space…
Amy Tollyfield’s poetry collection, The Suicide, is out now. For more information, visit olympiapublishers.com/books/the-suicide
Amy will be performing work from the collection at Waterstones, Clifton on November 9 at 7pm. For more information, visit www.waterstones.com/events/an-eveing-with-amy-tollyfield/bristol-clifton