Interview with Donna Sørensen
The Author of ‘Dream Country’ on writing, reading & the idea of home.
What was the last book you read?
Currently reading the new Costa Book Award winner Nathan Filer, The Shock of the Fall. Last book, the excellent How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran!
Who would be some of your favourite authors and poets?
Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Atwood, Tolkein, Fitzgerald, Waugh… I’m quite a run-of-the-mill classics kind of gal. As for poetry, I’ve got to say Seamus Heaney still knocks my socks off, as do modern poets like Caitriona O’Reilley and Leanne O’Sullivan.
Why do you think so few people read female authors?
I don’t think only a few people read female authors – I think less people read female authors than male. I can honestly say, hand on my heart, that I never consider the name or gender on the book. It’s only what’s in it I’m interested in. But then… the fact that less books by women are reviewed than by male counterparts is a serious issue which needs to be looked at, because someone like me, saying it’s what’s in a book that counts, can only know what’s in it if I’ve heard about it.
And there’s still a staggering amount of gender brain-washing going on in publishing. Books with women on the front cover, handbags, clothes – I tend to avoid them like the plague. And men definitely do too. So that’s me and all the men – they’re already losing more than half the market publishing obviously gender-biased covers!
Why do you think so few people read poetry?
As to why so few people read poetry, that is something which saddens me greatly. If we could get kids accessing a wider range of poetry at a younger age, then great. And if we could drop all the ‘What was the poet thinking here’ stuff, where a young reader feels tripped up, as though they haven’t understood something because they haven’t interpreted it the way it is on the syllabus, then this might help.
As a female poet, do you feel doubly-marginalized?
No. I feel that of my contemporaries and people I’ve had the privilege to meet at poetry events, festival etc., there are equally as many women as men getting success and recognition. As a poet, yes, I do feel marginalized. When you say to friends that you’ve written a poetry book and they kind of shudder and back away out of the room like you might bite on their arm, then it brings home how far away from poetry people feel in their everyday lives.
Your poetry is focused largely on movement and transience of place. How does Copenhagen fit?
Copenhagen fits in as the latest dot on my mental map, but, though it is my home and I really truly love living here, I don’t find it particularly inspiring. Scandinavian culture is something I’ve been thrust into and now my child is equally as much Danish as she is English and this means I will be pulled down deeper into that world I’ve spend 6 years deciphering and adapting to. I seem to pull away from it creatively.
Does it feel like home?
Yes. I love this city and my own little family is here now. But I think using a language other than my mother tongue every day adds to a feeling of separation from what’s around me. I am not my instinctual self here. As a writer, it’s a strange exercise, to feel limited in what you can communicate each day. I am sure it’s been really useful for my writing actually, to go through learning a language to fluency.
Do you enjoy reading/performing your work?
I adore it. I didn’t realize I was such a raging narcissist until I started performing poetry! I also love listening to others reading. There is nothing more mesmerizing than a poem which resonates with you being read as it was meant to be.
Do you think that performance poetry might be a way to reignite people’s interest in poetry?
Absolutely. And thankfully there are more and more opportunities to bring poetry out to people, also with the move towards social media. So there’s plenty of potential to wow people with the words of fab poets.
What would be your favourite period of poetry e.g. the
Romantic Poets or the Beat Generation?
Don’t say ‘Romantic Poets’ to me! It makes me shudder a bit and think of school. As does ‘War Poets’! I’m definitely into 20th century stuff in general, from the Imagists to contemporary poetry.
What is your writing process like?
It is controlled by others, by the bigger things in life, like poo and what will Ivy (my 15 month old) eat and have I put my knickers on the right way round for work. Writing gets squeezed in around all that, as does the Write for Your Life podcast, which I co-host each week.
Get out and listen to other writers reading their work or talking about their work. And then do readings yourself – there’s nothing like immediate feedback from an audience on what you’re working on.
Where do you write?
In front of a massive Mac screen, wherever that happens to be propped. Right now, it’s in my bedroom in Copenhagen. Not massively exciting. Instead, I’ve attached a picture of where I would like to write my next book!
In this debut collection, Donna Sørensen writes poetry for a new generation. She writes about belonging and the feel of different places, as well she might an Englishwoman who now lives in Denmark and who worked for three years in Ireland.
Her imagery is rooted deeply in natural experiences and alive with colour and imagination. She writes convincingly of life, of love, on being an outsider and the challenges of growing into adulthood and change.
Praise for Dream Country
‘A confident debut that benefits from youth while displaying wisdom… A predominantly contemporary and urban work, it finds time to marvel at nature and physics… Fittingly, it opens with an excerpt from Heaney’s Postscript and concludes with a Shakespearean quotation. In between is a young woman torn between the lands of her predecessors.’ – The Sunday Times
‘There are many beautiful lines in this collection (“the smudged sky hung weighted”) and they’re wedded to a great sense of consideration and depth…Sørensen has previously been published in Poetry Ireland Review, The Stinging Fly and THE SHOp – and Dream Country marks her out as a bright young light on the literary horizon.’ – Sunday Business Post