Harriet Selina is a British poet and novelist. Boasting an impressive output across social media, Harriet has earned a loyal following with her vignettes that blend memoir with poetry. Currently working on her second novel, her first is entering the final draft stage and will be looking for a publisher soon. From April 2020, Harriet will be the Review’s Poet-in-Residence, publishing exclusive work with us and sitting on the judging panel for our summer competitions.
‘Don’t get hung up on being perfect, just write. Practice. Repeat. Find whatever inspires you and chase that…’
Many thanks for finding the time to do the spotlight, Harriet! I know you’ve been incredibly busy with writing. Could you tell us a little bit about you, your writing background, and your current projects?
I completed my undergraduate degree at Buckingham and subsequently went onto to do an MA in Modern and Contemporary Literature in Bloomsbury, graduating with a distinction. My main focus has been on trauma and conflict writing and the challenges posed by that kind of writing – i.e. how do you render the moments and experiences that actually transcend language?
I completed a manuscript last year that I’m in the process of trying to publish. It’s a YA novel exploring change and sameness through trauma and time. I’m amid the publishing process of that at present and in dialogue with agencies, trying to get the ball rolling! I finished a second manuscript earlier this week and I’m at the editing stage of that.
I’ve also been working on my IG account and building my following on there through networking and collaborations with other poets. Aside from these creative projects, I recently acquired a job helping children with special educational needs and disabilities navigate school – and the difficulties posed by their specific needs.
You’ve built up an impressive following from the ground-up on a few social media platforms. What do you think people find in your work that makes them hit ‘follow’?
I try and tap into universal themes that resonate with everyone – transcending borders and identity specifics. There’s a quote by the poet and novelist Kevin Powers that captures the incentive behind the resonant quality that I strive for: ‘all pain is the same. Only the details are different.’
I leave my lyrics open so that readers can attach their own experiences onto them, and there’s a distinct emphasis on the personal. I think that that openness and resonance is what draws readers in. I also make a deliberate effort to appeal to readers’ affective faculties through quite sensory lyricism. There’s a romantic and almost elegiac quality to the tone of the lyrics that (I’ve been told) attracts readers!
‘all pain is the same. Only the details are different’Kevin Powers
What influences your style? Which poets do you admire?
On IG I’m most palpably influenced by Ben Maxfield and David Jones. Their vignettes possess that minimalistic, evocative quality that I strive for. I’ve also got a soft spot for the Romantics, particularly Keats, and the visceral nature of their lyrics. The Romantics’ emphasis on tangibility and their desire to tap into the reader’s affective faculties definitely plays into my work.
What are your aims as a writer and a poet? Do you have any specific artistic concerns that you seek to address through your work?
I think that art is the only place where you can simultaneously face and alleviate aloneness. I hope that my readers find some comfort in the familiarity of the feelings that I try to evoke. I’m also a mental health advocate and I want my literary platforms/output to facilitate dialogue around that. On my social media platforms I’ve tried to create a space where people can share and hold space for each other’s experiences, good and bad. That’s really important to me. I try to broach subjects that people are people are perhaps hesitant/scared to openly discuss for fear of judgement etc. The novel I just completed is actually a YA novel about coming out. The amount of YA fiction addressing sexuality is slowly (but surely) growing and I want to contribute to that.
You are currently in the process of publishing your first novel and have already started work on a second. Do you find that the challenges posed by fiction writing are the same as poetry?
I guess all forms of writing pose similar challenges – establishing a distinct voice, cognitive flat-lining AKA writer’s block, finding your audience etc. For me fiction writing’s more overwhelming, simply because of the scale of it!
‘This poetry is accessible to everyone, there’s no elitism present in the insta community.’
Would you describe yourself as an ‘insta poet’? If so, what do feel are the things that characterise, if any, the genre? If not, how would you describe your style or genre?
At present yes I would, that’s where my focus has been. In terms of genre categorisation I think the ‘insta’ genre’s marked by a certain kind of minimalism. The aim (from my perspective) is to manifest and evoke strong feelings and/or impressions in as few a words as possible. There’s also a ‘confessionalist’ sensibility, a distinct shift toward the personal reminiscent of the 1950s Lowell era. One significant trait of the ‘insta’ style is also its accessibility. I think there’s a real aversion to obscurity (a kind of Wordsworthian simplicity). This poetry is accessible to everyone, there’s no elitism present in the insta community.
What role do traditional poetic forms have in your work? Do you feel contemporary ‘poetry’ has moved away from structure, metre and rhyme?
I think that there’s definitely been a significant shift away from more rigid rhymes and structures, particularly in the insta community. It doesn’t seem like there’s an essential structural/formulaic criterion or fixed rules, as long as it reads well and arouses whatever it’s meant to arouse then it ‘passes.’ That said, the melodic quality still needs to be evident, the breath and pacing has to be right. The lyrical character needs to be palpable, it’s just more fluid and open than traditional poetic forms.
‘Our craving for the physical intimacy that we’ve lost to screens, IG avatars and whatever else manifests in the art that we’re creating…’
The poet Robert Southey once said that ‘words are like sunbeams: the more they are condensed, the deeper they burn.’ A lot of your pieces are extremely brief – do you place deliberate emphasis on economy of words in your work, and if so, what do you think it brings?
I do. I cognitively establish a particular feeling or impression that I want to evoke and then I figure out how to render that as succinctly as possible. I think there’s something poetic in the brevity itself – a kind of microcosm of whatever it is that you’re rendering. Feelings and moments are, often, transient and fleeting, and so it seems poignant that the actual form and temporality of what you’re evoking captures that.
Your poetry focuses almost exclusively on personal relationships – why do you feel this has come to be such a predominant format for contemporary poetry, particularly on social media platforms?
I think that (for the most part) our generation is lonely and lacking connect. We’ve shifted away from literal or physical connect toward online connections and that has cost us a certain kind of intimacy. Our craving for the physical intimacy that we’ve lost to screens, IG avatars and whatever else manifests in the art that we’re creating. There’s a real disjunction between our online and ‘real life’ connections and that’s bound to play out in the poetry that we’re reading online.
If you could impart some advice on any new or emerging writers, what would it be?
Keep writing, hone your craft. Be consistent. Write, write, write. Research too, study the books and the poems that make you tick, that make you feel something – and get to the root of whatever’s manifesting those feelings. Figure out what kind of writer you want to be, what kind of art you want to create, and then work toward that every day – seriously, every day. Don’t get hung up on being perfect, just write. Practice. Repeat. Find whatever inspires you and chase that.
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