Forgive the Language author is New York-born Katy Evans-Bush, poet and prolific literary blogger. Her blog, Baroque in Hackney, a pun on the American pronunciation of ‘baroque’, is an amalgamation of poems, essays, reviews, political writing, and commentaries on her life in London, where she has lived since she was nineteen. It was shortlisted for the George Orwell Prize for political writing. Her essays and reviews have been published widely, including in Mslexia, where she worked as a digital life columnist.
Penned in the Margins will be bringing together this first full collection of essays from Evans-Bush, which will feature reviews and re-evaluations of writers and poets, including Ted Hughes, Wendy Cope, and forgotten war poet Eloise Robinson, alongside some more practical advice for writers.
There is a great focus on language, as the title suggests, and a playful and poetic use of language carries throughout Evans-Bush’s writing. There is also a sense of conversation to her words; rather than talking at the reader, there is a personal tone which seems to bring the reader closer to her writing.
What are your hopes for this collection?
Ha! Good question. I’m not sure I really even know yet. I mainly hope people will read it. For me the whole book is about joy, and language, and about the lore of making. It’s about reading. These are things that I think are important far beyond the labels and credentials they get confused with. I hope the appeals to people who don’t write, who want to write, who love to read, who miss something but aren’t sure what it is, who like puns…
Why and how did you start blogging?
I started Baroque in Hackney in 2006. I’d just been made redundant; the title is a pun on ‘broke’, playing on my taste for a rich cultural life and my lack of money. A friend had told me, only half-joking, that if I was ‘trying to get published as a poet’ I HAD to have a blog. The name more or less came instantly, and I then sat with a glass of white wine outside a local café and dealt with the total shock of the blank white screen. It was like buying a new notebook, only everyone in the world could potentially see your tentative scribbles.
I realised quickly that I knew more than I thought I did about what I wanted to write. It was going to be not just about poetry, but about anything that might appeal to people who liked poetry: i.e. people like me. So this meant books, movies, the arts, politics and culture, anecdotes, pictures, rants, movie reviews, and funny things that happened to me on the way to work.
So in a sense I just went on my nerve. I almost deliberately didn’t think about it too much, especially once I understood that I could trust my instinct. It has been a great education in many ways.
What do you find enjoyable about blogging and what are the challenges?
The two best things about the blog have been the people – I’ve grown readers and made friends – and the way it acted as a launch pad for the rest of my writing. I learned a lot about my own style. It was really exciting, creating the voice and growing it into something flexible and capacious.
I used to have a game I played on the blog, like a parlour game: which writers of the past would have had blogs, and which wouldn’t? I think a surprising number of them would have. It’s not a new thing, the desire to write off-the-cuff, in the moment. Or anonymously, which of course many bloggers do. I’ve always loved reading diaries and letters.
The big challenges were also intrinsic to the form: the limitations of the voice, the responsibility to the form, the post you realise you shouldn’t have written, the way it develops its own needs and momentum and becomes like a sort of job. But I have a theory that the thing that’s bad about something is often what was great in the first place. A blog is something you really have to do for love or not at all. I love it – though Facebook and Twitter changed blogging – and that’s another conversation.
This book, Forgive the Language, grew out of the blog in one way, but it also grew out of my more serious reviewing and essay-writing. A few of the essays here do come from Baroque; it was another education, working out which of my so-called ‘best’ blog posts would stand up between paper covers. A blog post is meant to be read quickly and maybe never again; an essay is more considered. Even the best blog posts were often too ephemeral – in their nature, content, style. Dashing off whatever I thought might be amusing in the moment was a bit like how we used to dash off letters to friends in the old days. I hardly ever spent more than an hour on a post. With Facebook that all changed, and the blog posts less frequent, and more like essays…
You also write poetry. How does your process for writing poetry differ from writing essays (and generally for your blog)?
I wrote poetry first. Little children love poetry if you let them, and devices like rhyme, alliteration, lists and repetition are how we all learned language. I’ve written poems as long as I’ve been able to write – obviously, since long before blogging existed. It’s about language for me, and the play of light, if you will, on an idea or a feeling or something so inchoate you can only make it flesh in the form of a poem. It’s like gathering smoke together and giving it embodiment in the form of words. A poem is like a little miracle; it’s a phenomenon that can’t be understood or paraphrased. It occurs. And it might take a long time at your desk to bring it out, to make it occur.
As a child I also read humorous essays, memoirs, all sorts of things. When I was 15 we read Charles Lamb’s ‘A Dissertation Upon a Roast pig’ in school and I nearly made myself sick laughing. By then I understood that an essay is just a discussion of some subject, and that you could be both serious and amusing at the same time. I never thought an ‘essay’ was only some boring thing you had to write for school. And I was beginning to read serious literary criticism. Reading books about books! What could be better? So poetry and essays feel equally natural to me. I also used to write stories…
Forgive the Language will be published by Penned in the Margins and is available to order on our website now. Katy Evans-Bush can also be found on her blog, Baroque in Hackney.