Summer-2013-Bath-014_740x740I was born in South India, in what was then Madras. Coming to England with my mother, at the age of not quite six, was a shock and I spent the next twenty years feeling I had somehow to “catch up” in a world where I was never entirely at home – where I had yet to learn how to eat with a knife and fork, tie my shoelaces and tell the time. Where the answer seemed to lie in studying hard for exams, going to university, eventually enrolling for a PhD…

It was after my mother died following a brief struggle with ovarian cancer when I was twenty-six and she was sixty-three that I first started writing what might loosely be called poetry. My mother’s early death shaped my preoccupations and for many years I found myself anticipating my father’s death too in poetry, and trying in a sense to prepare myself for it.

My father was a keen naturalist who loved wild, remote places – particularly the jungles of South India and the Amazon Rainforest – and it was through him that I developed a passion for the natural world. When I was a child we used to go walking together and while he looked for butterflies I would be trying to identify wild flowers. We didn’t feel the need to talk much: he was never particularly good at that anyway; it was just our way of being together.

My father died a number of years ago, but when I’m out in the country now, I often feel as if I’m still communicating with him. We were both obsessed with identifying and naming natural things, as a way of holding on to beauty – and the names and the knowledge feel now like a way of holding on to my father’s memory. As do the poems. Not long before he died, my father asked me rather shyly if “all those poems about butterflies” were really about him. The answer, of course, was yes.

My poems are hard won. Unlike many other poets I know, I write very slowly and there have been long gaps during which I have written little, often no more than the strangled beginnings of a poem. My first collection, Birth of the Owl Butterflies, published in 1997, was the product of around ten years’ work, and it has taken me the eighteen years that have passed since then to gather sufficient material for a new submission. Not that there aren’t folders and folders of abandoned drafts and jottings. There are. And sometimes I delve back into this old work in an attempt to reinvigorate an earlier impulse. Sometimes the attempt is successful; at others it’s much like using up the last bit of pastry dough to make a shapeless blob…

For me, writing poetry is a way of processing life experiences. Many of the dark fantasies that invest my first book were born of a marriage turned sour, and the poems I am writing now continue to attempt a kind of balancing act between light and dark, both real and metaphorical. I think of poetry as crystallising experience, imposing pattern and form on flux and change, and enabling me to feel – for the briefest moment – as if I were standing outside time. There’s a sense in which writing poetry feels like living life twice over – living it and saving it.