In Conversation with Joanna Nissel

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What drew you to submitting to ATG?

For me, trust was the most important thing. There’s relatively little education available that explains the process of having your first pamphlet published so I wanted to know I could trust my publisher, both from a literary standpoint and a legal one. 

The literary side of things was very easy to confirm! The press’ back catalogue of poets were extremely high quality. I’d been to several readings with a range of their poets like Sean Magnus Martin and Olga Dermott-Bond and had been so impressed. I knew I’d be lucky to join them! 

I also did my research on who the editors of the press were and what experience they had in publishing their own work. Since Jess and Abegail had both published collections with Nine Arches Press, I knew they had experienced examples of best practice in the industry and would likely base their own publishing contracts on these principles. That’s quite a dry answer about the creation of a book of poetry, but it’s true and it’s important! 

What was the initial concept and how did it develop?

Well, now this is an interesting question because to an extent, I was trying to step away from planning in my creative process when I wrote the pamphlet. I didn’t actually have a pamphlet concept in my mind at all. I just wrote. I had been working on a different pamphlet for a few years and had put enormous amounts of thought into it, but I think it left the pamphlet like overworked dough – it had lost its pizzaz. For this pamphlet, I tried to abandon my over-planning instincts and just go with it. 

The majority of the pamphlet was written during the first UK lockdown. As I have an autoimmune disease and was shielding, outside spaces were often too crowded during the day for me to access safely. That meant I got up before dawn most days. I live right by the sea, so I was walking on Brighton and Hove seafront pretty much every day, watching the sunrise. Now, the first lockdown also fell across National Poetry Writing Month (NaPoWriMo). If you haven’t heard of this before, it’s a challenge where you write a poem every day for a month. I was part of a NaPoWriMo group where we provided prompts and inspiration for each other. No matter the prompt, I kept writing about the beach! 

How long did it take to gather the poems and when did you realise a pamphlet format would best showcase the work?

Not long at all – maybe a few weeks. I emerged from NaPoWriMo with a body of poems all featuring the beach or the Sussex landscape. Though the poems aren’t just about the beach. They are often springboards for wider contemplations about society, inequality, love, and loss (among others!). But, because of this central setting, there was a very concrete aspect of the poems that would serve as its theme, which is important to be able to publish a book and answer the question, “So, what is your book about?” 

That’s a very practical answer. My more instinctual, creative answer is that I knew it would be a longer piece of work when I wrote the first poem in the book, “Hove Lawns to Brighton Pier – March”. I remember starting that poem in a workshop with Tears in the Fence and the poem just spilled out for pages and pages. There was just so much to say. I knew it wouldn’t be contained even in a single long poem. It had to be a pamphlet.

Can you give an insight into the editing process so other poets know what might happen?

I was thrilled to be working with Karen Dennison as my editor. The process was very two-way –a conversation more than instructions. I handed in a manuscript with a finalised list of poems in August 2021, with some questions about the book, such as whether to remove certain poems that didn’t seem as strong as when I first submitted them. Karen then reviewed the entire pamphlet. I really appreciated the precision with which she reviewed the work. Tiny little tweaks like the right word choice or clarifying certain images were immensely helpful. There were a couple of lines in one poem for example that were always a little clunky and she helped me figure out how to make them flow. We went back and forth a couple times to refine these aspects and when we were both happy, we signed it off!

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Hove Lawns to Brighton Pier – March

and every morning the beach
the dawn pale as pink innards of seashells
getting earlier now

and then back to the basement flat
and I find myself thinking of my university room
with the window that overlooked the lakeside path
and the trees that clutched their orange their embers

for the longest time
and every morning the beach
the pebbles in taupe and ivory and charcoal
and some almost mustard as the sun rises

The clocks go forward on Sunday
life ignoring our begging
for more time when time has become
every morning the beach

and that boy I was with back then
I think now he must have been scared
having been bitten by a first teenage love
scared of me in my thoughtless strides toward

every morning the beach the runners
slipstreaming around each other like fish
on the promenade and I walk the hem of sand
between the shingle and the sea foam

and think of my mother’s cooking
her slow roasting and stewing of onions
tomatoes and cumin her measured chunking
of carrots and garlic she lost

her sense of smell before the tremors came
Down on her hands and knees she scrubs the floor
and asks me if her house smells like lemon polish
and every morning the beach

the shift under my trainers as I pad
the clusters of fat rocks then crunch over tiny ones
A friend complains to me of crowds parking
outside her lightless flat

and streaming to the beach
It is the only garden I have she says
and yet they flock here desperate for the green
of the Lawns and every morning the beach

and nobody talking to each other
just the call of the waves like too-loud chapel whispers
and the couple squeezing in tai chi before the tide
robs them of their sturdy patch of sand

or else just sitting on the banks of stones
staring into the horizon for as long as they can stand
If I could speak to my younger self I would tell her
that she is allowed to be angry that she is allowed to throw stones

and every morning the beach The helter skelter in pinstripe
and the whirly gig I never dared ride House turned
upside down all the furniture stuck to the ceiling
by bored people who wanted more perspective

and every morning the beach that smells lighter
without ice lollies and portable barbeques
and vats of sun cream on lounging bodies
no sand churned up in buckets by bright striped towels

Lucky beach the benches say in turquoise typography
Everything is a matter of typography
how bold the words how they curve into each other
the simple prayers spoken between the kerning

shop-2

 

Joanna will be launching her pamphlet with Sarah Mnatzaganian on Sunday March 20th at 3pm

Eventbrite link for tickets: https://joanna_sarah.eventbrite.com 

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