Rebecca Tantony has been a major part of the Bristol poetry scene for several years, not only as a writer but also a performer, curator of the Harbourside Festival’s poetry stage and a Creative Writing teacher. Currently working on her third collection, Singing My Mother’s Song, which will be published in 2019, she spoke to Julie Fuster about her work and inspiration.
How did you start writing?
As a child, I was always getting lost in books but I was not particularly comfortable with the education system. I would not go to school so that I could sit and read a book. When I was 18, I travelled in Andalusia and lived in a very isolated place for months. I was a part of the beautiful landscape, there was nothing of the normal things… going to the pub, going to the cinema, there was none of that. Nothing to do but reading and writing and it reminded me how much I loved to get lost in words. I started writing more and more, to create stories. I decided to go back to the UK and to University where I studied Religion and Creative Writing.
You’ve had two poetry collections published, Talk You Round Till Dusk and All The Journeys I Never Took. What inspired them?
It was definitely travel. In 2012 I did an internship in an amazing Creative Writing Centre in San Francisco called 826 Valencia. And then I travelled in Mexico, India and Cyprus. My writing is a lot about the people I met along the way. In both collections I think it is clear that there is an obsession in me with ‘home’, and what ‘home’ is.
I was wondering about your feelings toward ‘home’ and Bristol, you seem to have a double-sided relationship with the city…
I have just finished a show which has the same title as my book, All The Journeys I Never Took. The show was delivered to one person at a time, in a car, for 30minutes. It questioned this idea of leaving – when do we stop leaving and work with what we have at home? And it was really interesting because it was created during this weird period of time with Brexit and then Trump. Somehow the show became very political. That choice whether to keep leaving or not reflected the refugee situation, the fact that some people have to constantly leave their places and find a new home. It really made me realise that it is time for me to stop leaving. This is the time when I know that I have to stay and I have to find a way to work with what is here.
What is your relationship like with the poetry community here in Bristol?
There are so many poets and I feel very close to a lot of them – if not in terms of friendships then as good work relationships. Often we read at the same events. We just started a female writers’ group, with Vanessa Kisuule, Sally Jenkinson, Laurie Bolger and Lydia Beardmore. We edit and criticise each other’s work. It is great. I feel very supported.
You describe yourself as a poet and flash non-fiction writer. What is flash non-fiction ?
Flash non-fiction is about a moment. With a short story or a novel you extend a story over a period of time. Poetry and flash non-fiction are about using as few words as possible to portray the vastness of being alive. To condense. Every single word needs to deserve its place on the page. And I always feel like editing is more important than the art of creation. Editing is the real craft.
What are you working on at the moment?
My new collection, Singing My Mother’s Song, will be launched in 2019. It is a bit of a dream come true. I put in an application for funding with the Arts Council, which has been successful, to explore the linage of my mother’s side of the family. She and her siblings were adopted when she was 8. They are from South Africa. No one knows anything about it and I feel it is leading into our lives, somehow, as it does when you have ancestry. In so many cultures, they know their ancestors by names, professions, characters, and they use that information for their lives. And I feel that when it comes to my ancestry there are so many gaps. I know it is the same for so many people but I just reached that point as an artist where it is important for me to explore, to look at the intricacies of mixed-race relationships and diasporas. So in March I will be going to South Africa and I will be writer -in-residence at Johannesburg University where I will be lecturing, working with two dancers and a couple of poets from South Africa. There will also be some film makers. And then I will be back in Bristol to work on the collection during the summer.
Rebecca Tantony’s poetry collections are available from Bristol publisher, Burning Eye Books: burningeyebooks.wordpress.com/?s=rebecca+tantony
Read more: Bristol has a New City Poet