A cup of tea with Rosa Caines

Interview by Rebecca Rijsdijk

I am a poet based in London. I grew up in Brighton and always feel full near water. I am deeply in love with London and can be found standing on Waterloo Bridge looking out at the lights and feeling sentimental. I want high romance, I want awe and I want it all the time. I am a queer femme, a feminist and a frequent crier. I have been writing poetry since I was small. Always scribbling it in notebooks, on receipts, bus tickets, my arm, everywhere. I kept these poems carefully folded away in a tin, and it felt too much to show anyone. Like peeling off a layer of skin or letting someone look directly down an artery. But now I want to share them and to connect with other emerging writers. My poem London (a love letter) was broadcast on BBC Radio London to celebrate National Poetry Day in 2020.

How did you know it was the right medium for your stories?

I think it is the lack of rules that attracted me to poetry. It is wrong that it can feel stuffy and inaccessible and high brow when it is such a loose, personal, immediate art form. I think also it is the potential for the abstract. This is always where I find most meaning, not from explanation or representation but from something that comes from the subconscious or makes sense in a way you can’t explain but somehow gives you a feeling in the gut or soul or whatever you want to call it.

What inspires you to write?

Nature is always a huge inspiration- big skies, dusk, the sea, dark woods, London and all its corners and spires and the lights at night on the water, my friends and the women in my life who are so hilarious, unwavering and strong, music, I am always listening to music, it is rarely quiet, long baths get me thinking, long walks alone, sometimes it is confessional, like a diary, like catharsis or making sense of a feeling or an experience, it often feels overwhelming like it needs to be written down right there and then in case it escapes.

Who are some of your literary or artistic crushes?

My first poetry obsessions were the Spanish surrealist poets. I was obsessed with Federico Garcia Lorca, his work is so surprising and vibrant and devastating. I was struck by how romantic and theatrical it was, abstract and full of raw passion. I loved Pablo Neruda and Miquel Hernandez as well. Crush by Richard Siken is something I return to, and I think that ‘Night sky with exit wounds’ by Ocean Vuong might be the most beautiful poetry book ever. I used to pour over Frida Kahlos diary and reread Toni Morrison and Margaret Atwood and Angela Carter and of course Sylvia Plath. Mary Olivers delicate poems have provided much hope and inspiration- Wild Geese in particular might be an all-time favourite. At the moment I am reading Heather Christie, Emily Berry, Kim Addonizio, Carmen Maria Machado.

What are you currently reading?

I am reading Magnolia by Nina Mingya, a gorgeous collection of poems. I have just finished reading In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado. It was amazing, and I adore her book ‘my body and other parties’ too, a collection of short stories that are gothic, erotic, queer, feminist and unpredictable.

What are some common themes you see in your own work?

The body and body horror, sexual violence, sometimes poetry is processing, sensuality, heartbreak, the small everyday things, colours red and blue, existentialism and trying to find hope. At the moment I am finding myself writing about all the things I am missing. I feel like I am always writing ‘I only want everything to mean something’ over and over in different ways.

Do you feel that sharing your poetry is a vulnerable process?

Yes it always makes me feel a tiny bit sick because it can be so personal, but it is something I am trying to do more of. Poetry can give so many different things to different people, so you never know whether someone will get what you wrote in the way you did or get anything at all from it. But art should be shared, it should be generous, reaching in to find some truth and reaching out to make sense of it.

What is the first book that made you cry?

Everything can make me cry. I can tear up over an advert or a song or a sky. We read Brokeback Mountain at college and I had to leave the class because I was bawling so much. I am a real loud ugly crier too.

Do family and "real life" friends read your work?

I have a few friends that I often read my poems to or send them to because my friends will so often appear in poems. I will write a line and think that is clearly about this person- they inspire me with their vibrancy and strength and because my poems are in a way confessional they will often be indirectly addressing or referencing people. Not always in a good way- me and my friend have a joke about people who wrong you appearing in a line here and there! And my mum has a shelf full of poetry that I used to raid and is a wonderful writer, thinker and all round person, so I will share some with her- although not all of them feel appropriate!

What does "good poetry" mean to you?

I think it is the same as any art form- it has to make you feel something. Good poetry to me, you feel in your gut or your throat, it tugs at you, catches you somewhere, it makes you catch your breath for a second. Or maybe a line stays with you and keeps circling in your mind.

What is your writing process like?

I will get an overflow of words or an urge to write or a line that appears in my head and I jot all this down in my notes app usually because I will often get an idea when I am doing something else or out and about. I put all these into a document of ‘poetry scraps’ and then they will become something or find their way into something. Sometimes a whole poem comes out in a rush, and it will feel complete, but usually I will gradually refine it and tighten it up over time, returning to it with fresh eyes to tweak it until it feels complete.

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