National Poetry Competition 40th anniversary: Q & A with Fran Lock

In advance of the National Poetry Competition’s 40th anniversary readings at Kings Place on 20th March, The Poetry Society speaks to one of the ten poets featuring at the event, Fran Lock who won third prize and was commended in the National Poetry Competition 2014 and 2015 respectively with poems ‘Epistle from inside the Sharknado’ and ‘Gentleman Caller’.

What first encouraged you to write poems?

I don’t know that I was encouraged, which sounds entirely too gentle, so much as I was provoked. I remember that I knew quite early on that quotidian English wasn’t adequate to the things I needed to say, and in any case belonged to people and institutions I wanted nothing to do with. I have a fraught relationship with the English language, but it’s the only language I have. Poetry is a way of reclaiming it, of occupying it, of feeling a little less at its mercy. I think about my use of poetry as a textual counterpart to squatting: repurposing and subverting stale structures, making something new, in the same way an abandoned block of government offices becomes a community café, or a derelict Georgian townhouse becomes a gallery, a studio, a rehearsal space, a home.

Do you remember the first poem you ever wrote?  If so, can you tell us a bit about it?

The first ever poem I wrote was about dogs.  I was about seven, and obnoxiously zealous about animals and animal rights even then.  This was at school. I don’t think we were asked to write poems, I just decided my report would be in the form of a poem because reasons.  Actually, I think it was probably because we’d been reading poetry in class. It was silly stuff, kid’s stuff, but instantly more exciting to me than prose.  I was hooked. I liked the urgency of poetry, its precision. I’d also recently discovered the metaphor. My poor teachers.

What words of encouragement would you give to those considering entering the National Poetry Competition this year?

I suppose the only words of encouragement I’m qualified to offer are those aimed at poets like myself who struggle with the notion of themselves as poets, who feel isolated and alone, and that their voice will not be valued or accepted by the wider writing community. For people who are socially marginal, or struggling with conditions of economic precarity, I’d say that we need your voices most of all and more than ever. Life is such that there’s already a queue of people stretching half way round the block ready to do you down: don’t become complicit in your own failure by not trying.

Even if you don’t place the first time round, the work that you’ve done honing your piece is important and necessary work, and just taking that leap of faith, putting your piece out there, that act has meaning too. I really struggled with this. I struggled to justify the money it cost to enter, to myself more than to others, but ultimately I had to decide it was worth it, that my work was worth it. Realising that is already a win.

What top tip or tips would you give to a young poet or a poet starting out?

Perhaps the best I can offer is read widely, observe closely, and don’t be afraid to make a fool of yourself. Also, more importantly, if anyone should tell you that you can’t or shouldn’t write, that it isn’t for you, that you should be realistic. Ignore them. Vehemently.

Book now to hear Fran & nine other poets at Kings Place on 20th March at the National Poetry Competition 40th anniversary readings