Hannah M. Teasdale’s collection ‘Laid Bare’ is a beautiful selection of autobiographical poems built around themes of love, loss, longing, physicality, the body, motherhood and relationships. The book tells the story of the poet’s relationships with her family, with a lover, and with herself. And as such it is a powerful work, deeply honest and frequently mesmerising in its use of language.
I’ve known Hannah for a couple of years and her performances are equally assured and honest. She connects with the audience with a measured insistence that feels easy, allowing us to glimpse the human within.
Your poetry is very autobiographical. How useful is writing poetry in order to explore your own feelings and emotions?
The emotion is already there. The writing of it comes as a natural process, as a consequence; it is simply a way of ‘setting the emotion free’ from my mind – and to some extent, my body. The only way I can manage my feelings is to pour them out onto a page.
That said, I enjoy writing commissioned pieces where I am given permission to use language without the blood-letting.
The entirety of Laid bare was written ‘in the moment’ – some of the pieces, when they came to editing, I had barely any memory of writing. I estimate I wrote around 500 pieces in a six month period. Clearly, only a small selection made the final cut.
Clive Birnie was very clear from the outset that he wanted the book to follow a narrative, a natural arc. Therefore, I chose poems that followed this brief and could take the reader on a ‘journey’. I hope that it has been successful in creating a story that readers can follow, in a similar way to a short novel but also that the poems can stand alone, in their own right. There are poems, that for their literary quality, I wanted to keep, but knew they would take the reader off-course from the story. By the same token, I have included pieces that helped to knit the narrative together. I never censor myself during the process of pen to page, however, there are pieces that will never see the light of day due to their potential impact on other people. When I was a child, I wrote a story about my best friend’s family and was completely baffled why she didn’t speak to me for a month after I read it to her. I haven’t completely learned from that experience as sometimes, I have overstepped the mark, but I do put out a clear caveat to anyone who might become intimately involved with me, that I do have a tendency to speak my truth…
Some of the pieces were written for performance, and editing them for the page, was difficult. I began as a writer for page, screen and theatre. It was only after my first pamphlet was published, that I began to read my own work out loud. It has been an almost excruciating process and even at my first book launch, I couldn’t read my own work – I had friends ‘perform’ my poetry.
I learnt the ‘art’ of performing by watching others and understanding the need for flow and rhythm in my writing. This has stood me in good stead with other genres of writing and I am now more competent at both writing and performing. When it comes to answering the question, ‘which poem has received the biggest response?’, I think it would be true to say that sometimes, a poems such as ‘How not to say you love me’ and ‘Simply enough’ , have always been enjoyed by an audience but maybe for their lyrical quality and the ease at which I can perform them. However, there are other pieces that I don’t generally perform, like ‘Torn’ and ‘The Phone Call’ that I receive positive feedback for when people have read the book.
Do you write specifically for performance?
I do keep in mind whether a piece of writing is intended for performance to a live audience, or to be read on the page by the reader. This debate over ‘performance’ and ‘page’ poetry is a palpable hot potato currently and one that causes so many unnecessary divides at a time, when as writers, we should be embracing the art as a whole and not seeking to label and divide. It was said to me by a Professor of Poetry that ‘poetry is not meant to be accessible’, that it requires intellect to analyse and unpick. Others have argued the very opposite and have found great solace in discovering a genre that is not reminiscent of their claustrophobic school-days texts. Some have said that ‘Laid Bare’ dares to attempt to bridge that gap, but I am sure there are many critics who would argue against that.
Who are your literary influences?
My literary influences are broad in genre and writing style. I am naturally drawn to writers who speak a truth about human existence in a way that hits you in the stomach. Deborah Kay Davis consistently surprises me with her succinct use of lyrical but slicing language. She hits ‘that spot’ so effortlessly. Ted Hughes will always provide me with a come-back-to point of reference. If I am ever ‘stuck’, I open Birthday Letters and perhaps find a couple of words to write from. I will always be awestruck by his ability to draw upon the natural world to express the human consciousness. And it goes almost without saying, Dorothy Parker is a complete stand-alone in her ability to pull strands of light through the darkest of black.
What projects are you currently working on?
Over the past year, I have been working on a third collection that consists of much shorter poems dissecting the psychological and physical impact of brief sexual encounters. I hope that it pushes even further through the uncomfortable boundaries of the sexually taboo – without being too explicit.
Recently, I have been involved in a number of creative art’s projects – working with young people and vulnerable adults as a creative writing facilitator but also with artists on collaborations.
What advice would you have for aspiring poets?
I don’t know if I feel qualified to be giving aspiring writers or performers ‘advice’ as it is such a personal journey; what may be right for one person, is not for another. There is a fine line between pushing yourself just far enough out of your comfort zone to grow as an artist but keeping yourself safe and sane enough to keep going, without destroying yourself in the process. A very fine line indeed…