Celebrating National Poetry Day with Hanan Issa, alumna of Howell’s School, Llandaff

Today is National Poetry Day in the UK and so we were delighted to have the chance to speak with GDST and Howell’s School, Llandaff alumna Hanan Issa, the current National Poet of Wales.

What makes poetry such a special medium for expression?

As Audre Lorde says in her essay ‘Poetry is not a luxury’: “The woman’s place of power within each of us is neither white nor surface; it is dark, it is ancient, and it is deep.” I believe poetry is the best way to excavate these deep, dark places of power within each of us.

How do you deal with writer’s block?

It’s definitely a challenge and the most important thing I’ve learnt – am still trying to learn – is to be gentle with myself. There is success in not beating yourself up too. I’ll generally try to feed my creative soul in as many ways as I can without forcing it to focus on writing – I’ll go for a good walk, read inspiring work, watch beautiful films. This is usually enough to nurture that desire to write again.

Where do you source your inspiration?

Everything! No, literally, everything. I recently wrote a commissioned poem for Arts Council Wales where I combined the theory of quantum entanglement with a malfunction in a Lindt chocolate factory which led to an entire town being covered in chocolate dust to explore the idea of unity. I don’t think anything should ever be off the table when it comes to inspiration.

Why do you like to include Wales in your writing?

I’ve felt a real desire in recent years to learn more about the spaces where I live and spend my time. Like a necessary grounding. Wales is my home and it feels odd to live somewhere you aren’t in love with.

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in the publishing industry?

Nobody really tells you how to get published. It’s all very mysterious and can be quite frustrating unless you are ‘in the know’. So, along with a fellow writer friend Durre Shahwar, I started an open mic series called ‘Where I’m Coming From’ to showcase new writers, predominantly but not exclusively, writers of colour since we kept being told repeatedly there were no people of colour good enough to be published in Wales.

Within Wales, the industry is quite small and intertwined. It can be difficult to break through initially but there are several schemes run by Literature Wales that offer support and funding for new and emerging writers to help them pursue a career in literature.

What advice would you give a young poet?

I always regret taking so long to share my poetry with others, so my advice would be to go for it. Put yourself and your work out there and see what happens. The worst that people can do is say you aren’t any good. Most of the time this comes down to an editor’s opinion and taste and there will always be another press or journalist to send work onto. And, luckily, poetry is like any skill – the more you practise writing and editing work alongside immersing yourself in reading poetry – the better your own work will be.