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by [caterina14 ]

2011-08-13  |     | 

Maggie Sawkins

Where did you spend your childhood?

On a large council housing estate near Portsmouth in England.

What schools and universities did you attend?

In Leigh Park I attended Riders Junior School and Broomfield Secondary School. I returned to education when I was 30 and completed a degree course in English and Art at Chichester University. I later went on to gain an MA with distinction in Creative Writing.

Which is your current occupation?

I teach students with specific learning difficulties at a further education college near Portsmouth. I also facilitate creative writing workshops in community and health care settings. Currently I’m involved in writing projects with people in recovery from substance misuse and addiction.


Charcot’s Pet (Flarestack Publishing 2003)
The Zig Zag Woman, Two Ravens Press, 2007
The first section of The Zig Zag Woman contains poems about my childhood and how it was influenced by my parents’ past. The title, The Little Box remembers her Childhood, is borrowed from Vasko Popa’s poem, The Little Box. The poems, written over the last thirteen years, are arranged so that they seem to tell the story of my life - though this wasn’t a conscious intention in their writing. The earliest one, Into the Silence, begins with a memory of myself as a baby in my father’s arms. Something that concerns me is the difficulty of breaking away from the weight of the past – what Larkin called ‘the coastal shelf.’ I’ve noticed that even when I try to write upbeat poems, a little bit of darkness manages to slip through! I think poems are like dreams - they know more than you do.
The middle section entitled My Mutant Butterfly has poems about my elder daughter who was diagnosed with a serious mental illness in 2001. At the time I was studying for an MA in creative writing and I found it useless trying to write about anything else. The last section is a kind of ‘coming through’ with themes of displacement, acceptance and an opening up to wider issues.
The title of the collection comes from The Zig-Zag Girl illusion – a trick where the magician divides his assistant into thirds so that her middle appears to be displaced to one side. Sometimes in life you have to displace your heart in order to survive. Writing helps you to make sense of the past and the present - even if the subject matter is disturbing, the act of creation is a positive - art allows you to find resolutions that can’t be found in life.
I wrote my first poem when I was nine after finding a book of children’s poems by Robert Louis Stevenson in a parcel of clothes sent by an aunt in Denver. But my fascination with words probably stemmed from my parents’ use of colourful language. One of my mum’s favourite idioms was, ‘When poverty comes in the door, love flies out the window.’ I used to imagine poverty as a tall thin man in a long coat, and love as a small white heart with wings - and it was all happening in our kitchen! I have used some of these sayings in my poem Brass Monkeys.
When I was sixteen the book that shook my world was Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. I was inside Raskolnikov’s head from start to finish. I was also influenced by the lyrics of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, translated writers such as Tolstoy and Herman Hesse, and poets like Emily Dickinson and William Blake. I’m drawn to writers who use understated language to write about metaphysical, psychological, existentialist themes. The poet I’ve been most able to relate to over the last ten years or so has been Selima Hill. I love the hint of humour that simmers away in most of her collections.

Plans for the future:

I’m slowly gathering material for a second collection of poetry and prose. The working title ‘The Wild Mouse’ is named after a fairground ride on the seafront of my home town of Southsea.
I’m hoping to receive funding to enable me to work as a Writer in Residence at a drug rehabilitation centre in Portsmouth next year.

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