Lesley Burt’s poetry has been successful in writing competitions including a first prize in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly (August 2016). She has also been widely published in magazines and websites over many years, including: The Interpreter’s House, Sarasvati, Reach, Dawntreader, Prole, Sentinel Literary Quarterly, Tears in the Fence, The Butchers Dog, The Poetry Kit, Long Exposure, The Poetry Shed, Algebra of Owls, Strange Poetry and Ink, Sweat and Tears. Her pamphlet was Highly Commended in the Mslexia/PBS pamphlet competition 2018.
Lesley has always loved language, literature and poetry, although her career was in social work and social work education. She worked with children in residential care, then with adults who have learning disabilities, followed by teaching social work students in practice, and then in university. Lesley has teaching and social work qualifications, and finally, in 2016 a few years after retirement, an MA in Creative Writing from Lancaster University.
Lesley was born in Christchurch, Dorset and has lived there all her life except for a few years when her ex-husband was in the army, so she lived in Germany, then rural Hampshire, for a few years. She has a son and a daughter – she can hardly believe they are now past half a century old – and two grandsons. She also shares her partner’s two grandchildren.
Lesley Burt – The Monday Writer Interview
The Beginning – ‘Almost very good’
I wrote a couple of poems while I was doing my B. Ed in the 1970s, as part of the module on teaching creative writing in primary school. I remember we were sent off for 30 minutes to write about ‘something that grows’ and I didn’t think I’d be able to write a word until the last 10 minutes. My tutor said the result was ‘almost very good’ with ‘a resemblance to some poems by DH Lawrence’! I started writing seriously round about the turn of the century, and my first published poem appeared in Tears in the Fence in 2002. That poem wasn’t difficult to write, although I’d written a fair number of forgettable pieces first, and when I look at that one now there are things I’d change. I’m not sure that writing gets any easier, although I do believe my technical skills have improved with practice.
There are some recurrent themes in my writing, I think. One concerns the oddities about time – past, present and future and how they overlap. I often return to myth and fairy-tale themes too – and related to that, I think, rooks and forests seem to crop up quite often.
On why she writes
I write because it feels satisfying. If I examine that more closely, I think it’s something to do with creating a dialogue – I am able to think better in conversation than locked into my own head, and writing, even if nobody else reads it, is perhaps a kind of dialogue. I also believe that everything we think to be true is a story about the world: our personal interpretation of things. My writing is not exactly autobiographical – I don’t want to tell my life history, or expose too much of my own feelings. However, I do call upon personal experience, sometimes more directly than others.
On challenges she has faced
The biggest challenges have been getting a poem started, finding the angle that sparks the poem. I do still get patches where I feel I can’t write anything worthwhile. When that happens I try and read instead, and also write notes that might be useful when I can get going again.
On advice from writers and non-writers
The best advice I have received from other writers is to read, read, read. I would advice other writers to do the same. From non writers? To eat and exercise sensibly!
Any books in the works?
I have not published any books yet, in spite of having many individual poems and sequences published separately, but I am always working towards putting that right.
On her top five books
I have read so many brilliant books – novels and more factual books as well as poetry – that I can’t say which 5 are the best. One of my favourite novels is Beware of Pity by Stefan Zweig. I recently read Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield, which I found a brilliant read. I love Sara Maitland’s Gossip from the Forest, a combination of in-depth information about woodlands with personal experience and fairy-tales retold. At the moment I’m reading Ian Seed’s latest collection, Operations of Water and The Space Between Black and White by Esuantsiwa Jane Goldsmith.
On her influences
I think everything I have ever read influences my writing. I don’t tend to consciously imitate any other writer, although I have sometimes thought of Frank O’Hara’s Lunch Poems when I’m writing, so I guess you could say there’s influence from those. I have worked a great deal with Jim Bennett who runs The Poetry Kit (PK), and he has been a major influence for me, as have many of the people who workshop their poetry on the PK List. I am a regular participant at workshops run by David Caddy, editor of Tears in the Fence, so all who attend those influence my writing too.
On being misunderstood and secrets
I don’t think there is anything I feel misunderstood about in my writing. I guess that’s because I have ample opportunities to discuss it – online only at the moment – with other writers. There may be things people don’t know about me – but nothing I want to tell!
Corfe Castle at sunset
From a turret, the raven discharges
another series of discords. Jackdaws
peer out of fissures, thresholds gape.
Watch from the motte: a train’s fat steam-trail
channels parallel hedges, stops, swells,
disperses among village chimneys.
Footfall ruffles only dandelion-clocks.
Below, on the station platform, a guard
blows a whistle, raises a lantern. Wheels clank,
dining car rattles; women in feathered hats
sip tea, titter into gloved fingers – never
notice a raven launch into flight.
She deserves more, the woman,
than heaving his autumn leavings
while he rides northerlies south –
than to blanket corms in warm loam,
graft buds in bark, bank up moss
while he palms a turquoise shoreline –
than to quilt leaf mould, stoke
sets and dreys with chestnuts and worms
while he sinks grappa with buddies –
than to brace up for the bite
when he storms back to her forest
to sprinkle his killer silver dust.
Avoid mosaic confusions.
Sweep intricacies from arches,
ceilings, spires and buttresses.
Carve no craven imagery
and do not sing of it;
swing no censers, swish no brocade.
Do not embroider hassocks
or stand before brass lecterns.
You have no need to kneel. Or lecture.
Build, instead, plain tree-trunks;
stroll dung-scented silence, bold
with cattle and flowers.
Parish without postcode
A sink-hole opens, just where the Priory sat in scrutiny of tweedy textures on Hengistbury Head and, beyond, on asterisks of sunlight that dazzle jet-skiers who ruffle the Solent. Bones of a thousand years drop in underneath daisies they pushed up, plus the man on a sit-on mower who beheads them every week. The confluence of Stour and Avon cascades in, mingles with mill-tail and Mill. Dozens of dinghies wobble among bobbing ash-filled urns. Ducks dabble in horse-chestnut leaves, mackerel gleam between dandelion clocks, salmon leap over slouching gravestones and swans bow necks before guardian angels. The clock paddles its hands and chimes out waves of Westminster Quarters. Brides are bedecked for the bells on Saturdays and a choir sings on the cusp of Christmas. The mower-man hears nothing beyond ear-defenders as he navigates undercurrents, sticks, stones and bones. Street signs are buried beneath the broken church that named the town. Parishioners flounder in all directions.