For those who are tired of clichés about sex and relationships, you may find it refreshing to see a more open and honest take on these issues and more in Deborah Alma’s debut pamphlet of poetry True Tales of the Countryside.
Published by The Emma Press, who were shortlisted for the Michael Marks Awards for Poetry Pamphlet Publishers last year, Alma draws from her own experiences to thread the truth into her poems, and does so with pride. The entire collection is very personal; Alma writes with a responsibility to the truth and speaks to her readers as if speaking with close friends. It is an intimate experience to get an insight into Alma’s experiences in rural Shropshire and Wales. The poems are bracing, humorous and easily relatable.
Alma is also known for her work as the Emergency Poet, prescribing poetry as her medicine to ailing ‘patients’ suffering from stress, heartbreak, grief, anything that can be nurtured by a good poem. The Emergency Poet taps into a deeper purpose for poetry as a truly innovative way of helping people. Alma runs this service in her 1970s ambulance at many different events and venues across the UK, including literary festivals, schools, universities, weddings, and parties.
What first drew you to poetry?
I’m from North London, a mixed race council estate girl who loved books, worked as a bookseller and then for a publisher before having children in rural Shropshire. I love living in the countryside, but it felt unreal for a long time, and I felt a need to write about that dissonance. I have always written poetry, I love what it can do; its potential for music, intimacy and connection. It’s also, among the demands of work and family, easier to have something finished; I can’t imagine having the time to write prose.
What inspired you to start Emergency Poet and how do you think it can help people?
I wanted to do something mobile with creative writing; to go into schools and care settings; I’m interested in arts for well-being and self-expression and have worked with people with dementia for a few years using poetry. This coupled with a strong belief that there is poetry out there for everyone, that it need not be intimidating or for the privileged few. I’m a poetry zealot.
There is a very long answer to the question ‘How can poetry help people?’, but I’ll try to be brief! It’s intimate, empathetic, a hand across a kitchen table, an inspiration, a challenge, a chant, a curse, a blessing, music, meditation, wisdom, spirit, soul ... I’ll stop now!
True Tales of the Countryside has been noted for its ‘honesty and intimacy’ regarding issues of sex and love. What is the importance of honest representations of these issues to you?
I think it’s the friend–over-the-kitchen-table point of poetry for me...I would tell my friends everything; to be my authentic self there and here in the poetry.
What would you most like to achieve with True Tales of the Countryside?
I like that question because it seems to touch the part that asks why we write in the first place...I think I would most enjoy the gift of beginning to like the sound of my own voice . The writing of the poems came from somewhere different, but seeing them in print is like singing in public. Brave for me.