Q&A With Kate Barnwell: An English Poet

Kate BarnwellKate Barnwell is a creative writer of modern, romantic poetry and lyrics. Her work reflects a desire to touch the soul; find new and beautiful ways to enhance and describe life. For more about her go to katebarnwell.com.

Q. In one sentence, who is Kate Barnwell?
A. An English, romantic poet and writer; living a variety of lives in and amongst the diversity and beauty of the city, sea and countryside.

Q. How is writing poetry different from writing lyrics?
A. Songs are essentially poetry put to music. A poem will stand alone and requires no accompaniment. Lyrics are enhanced by music and require the work of a composer.

I have worked with two composers: one classical and one young modern. I found it fascinating to see the different ways they interpreted and experienced my words.

The classical composer took the words and added a deep orchestral score, which when performed by a mezzo soprano, at an International Composers Festival, received a standing ovation with many members of the audience in tears. For me, this was both surprising and somewhat gratifying!

The modern composer took another set of lyrics and turned them into a guitar lead folk approach. This was perfect for me as I was able to connect my work and the appeal of the words to different listeners, age-groups and styles.

With lyrics I don’t feel you have the opportunity to explore the same depth of feeling as you are conscious of needing to make an impact rapidly. With poetry there is more time to create imagery. I spend time working with the imagination exploring the use of metaphors and similes, life and nature and enjoy the process of presenting the world and emotions in new ways.

Kate's Books
Books by Kate Barnwell

Poetry can be read time and time again, at different stages in your life; it has more layers and depth of meaning and can be a great companion.

Q. I love the poems read on your website www.katebarnwell.com. Talk about your reaction to hearing your work read by someone else.
A. We recorded both CDs in a professional London recording studio – so the silence of the soundproof room made the impact even greater.

On the day we recorded I was busy working with the actors, ensuring the emphasis and understanding was as I wanted it – as well as suiting the right actor with the right poem. It may sound obvious but some poems are male and some are female and you have to make sure which is which! When we had finished I was exhausted but the next day I returned to the studio and the recording engineer played me the finished works. We sat together in silence as the words came out of the speakers and I was overwhelmed. These were my words, my work; I felt part of the poetry world; these pieces belonged, they were complete and they felt alive – taken off the page and into sound, gave them life and truth.

It just isn’t possible for me to read my poems with the same effect as a highly trained actor. The actors brought both gravitas and humour as appropriate and I thought the effect was wonderful. I write with many voices and ages; my poems can appeal to men and women; they cover a wide breadth of emotions – romantic, humorous, heartbroken and happy as well as descriptive passages.

Q. You have a wonderful blog that is part history and part free ranging thought, all related to poetry. Where do you get inspiration for your posts?
A. I travel a great deal and live both beside the sea on the south coast of England and in central London (which are greatly contrasting lives). My academic background is in History of Art and I love to read classic stories and collections of poetry. When I discovered poetry was my oeuvre I realised that suddenly so much of what I was doing and seeing became an inspiration for my work. The more I write, the more I see, the more I take photos of objects, places and people, so the more inspiration I find and ideas develop. I like to incorporate areas of knowledge, a sense of humour and occasionally use the blog as an opportunity to impart facts I find interesting. Most of all I love words and I enjoy using them to their full effect; often words come together naturally (romantically and playfully), occasionally I enjoy extending their meaning into the body of my blog.

Q. Your poetry feels like breathing out and breathing in, natural yet ethereal. Do the words and pacing come effortlessly or do you spend hours fine-tuning your work?
A. Some poems do come just naturally; others require an enormous amount of work, with painfully intense concentration.   Sometimes I enjoy the restriction and challenge of sonnet form (a 14 line poem, 10 syllables per line, with a rhyming structure) and then I prefer to work in free verse, allowing ideas to flow more freely without limitations or precision.

I have, on occasion, found it hard to sleep having spent hours over just one verse or section, feeling I have really got nowhere (this is very frustrating). However, generally, time is never wasted and new directions and ideas can form quickly. I also find that walking by the neutrality of the sea, or through the intensity of cityscape, both can affect the ease with which ideas, perceptions and impressions are conceived. The fine tuning is always alone, just me with paper and a pencil – I write everything longhand first – notes and scraps of paper all over the place!

Q. I like the description of your writing that reads, “…find new and beautiful ways to enhance and describe life.” Talk about why this is important to you.
A. I think the modern working world is an extremely hard and competitive arena for everyone and it isn’t getting easier. My generation has watched our parents working themselves so hard. In some cases it is seen as a badge of honour or status symbol to be working all the hours possible. You used to be able to walk into a cafe, meet people and talk, yes talk. Now everyone is too busy on their computers, iPads, Kindles, mobile phones or discussing business strategies that the art of sharing yourself and ideas and being with new people is lost. No one knows how to talk or write and express themselves to one another anymore. We are happy to extend our lives in the world but our feelings and emotions have dissolved into texts and replaced by abbreviations or quick emails.

I believe we have to stop for a while, running on the working wheel, and take a look around us. I try to find areas in which beauty can be brought into a working life; it doesn’t allow itself to be excluded. I try to be the voice in people’s heads that is whispering, ‘look at life, see the beauty of the world, try to find time for yourself, your life and the people you love and care about.’ Aspirations in life must be not just the desire for a good job, but for a good life; this is the balance.

Poetry offers respite in a busy and often emotionally inarticulate world.

Q. You focus on themes of love, romance and romanticism. In a world with strife on every side, talk about why these themes are or can be a balm in a hurting society.
A. The first poem in my first book was called ‘Tell Me of England: Soldier to Mother.’ It is a letter written from a war zone by a son who misses home and all the warm memories of childhood and being safe. I wouldn’t want to sound like someone who only writes love poetry. This letter to his mother is poignant and moving. Crawford Logan, the excellent actor who read this poem brought an enormous depth and quality to it. In fact when I heard the reading I was slightly taken aback at the intensity of the words: the gentleness and the pain, the anger and the assurance, reflecting a soldier’s fear and loneliness. Sometimes the simplest words and rhyme can have the strongest effect. I didn’t realise, until I heard it read by a man, the powerful impression or influence of this poem.

When no other form can quite express what one feels and thinks, for that moment there is always poetry.

Q. What has influenced your work most?

A. I travel extensively and meet and talk to new people of all ages and generations, giving me a terrific insight to different lives and people’s perspective. I like conversation (so much has gone with the advent of Smart everything). I am restless by nature and writing has been a great source of expression and allowed me to act as many people in my own style. My main home is a Georgian house (1796) in Hastings Old Town in East Sussex. It has a tremendous history and has been visited by every famous British artist and poet: Dante Gabriel Rossetti who married Elizabeth Siddal in our local church; Lord Byron and John Keats have visited; Rudyard Kipling lived half an hour away.

Q. You seem to have an artistic and creative soul. How has that shaped who you are as a person?
A. History of Art has had a profound impact on my work and my observations on life and the beauty of language and description. I revel in the major art works, whether artistic or written and have found my world of poetry to be a great source of expression. I am certainly sensitive and thoughtful; maybe a bit of a dreamer, and a romantic in every sense. I am only too aware of exposing myself by sharing my poetry – not all responses are favourable and criticism can be harsh. In everything I do, I am constantly learning and evolving. I am particularly fond of the word soul or spirit; this is the inexplicable, magical part of us. This is essentially the part that connects us to other people, and should be nurtured to grow and shape us.

Q. What is the one thing you wish people knew about you?
A. A few years ago at sunset I visited India Gate in Mumbai. It is a very popular late afternoon location for Indians and tourists to stroll. On this evening I was approached by one group of young Indians after another asking if they could have their photograph taken with me. I must have been in 30 different photographs – it was an unusual experience (I missed the sunset, but I did feel more and more like a movie star!). A minute of fun fame went to my head – I think it was my new flashy sunglasses!

Q. What’s the latest news in your career?
A. I am currently in the final editing stage of my first adult short story – this genre is rapidly gaining popular momentum. The story is unlike anything I have written before and it has been an exciting new area.

In the stuio with Tobias Menzies
In the studio with Tobias Menzies

My books and recordings are currently being studied in a private school in China for lessons in Modern English as prep for International English University entry – ‘Poetry exaggerates the natural rhythms of English speech, which are very different from the Chinese.’

I’m hoping to have more of my work read and listened to in other countries, particularly the USA. Richard Blanco (President Obama’s Inaugural Poet) received and acknowledged my book.

Link to YouTube video: http://youtu.be/9yK8e0trvrQ Tobias Menzies reads ‘In Fields’

The beautiful English countryside, minutes from the writer and poet Rudyard Kipling’s home, with the words of my sonnet and a small stream of music. This video has received over 2800 hits and made a huge number of female Tobias Menzies (Game Of Thrones, Outlander) fans happy!

My WordPress blog: katebarnwell.wordpress.com has gained a wide global interest. My website www.katebarnwell.com for Books, Readings, Lyrics, Reviews, Contact, and a daily flow of news via Facebook, Twitter: @KBarnwellPoetry and Blog.