This Saturday, Adham Smart is performing in one of Ledbury Poetry Festival’s “20 Minutes with…” slots; intimate sessions combining live readings and informal Q&As where up and coming poets showcase their work. I sat down to talk to Adham about his experiences as a successful student writer with the hope of siphoning some of his expertise and enthusiasm to catalyse the growing popularity of University of Birmingham’s own flourishing creative writing society, Writers’ Bloc.
Born in Egypt and educated predominantly in the UK (currently studying Georgian and Linguistics at School of Oriental and African Studies), Smart is the kind of man who cites learning foreign languages as a “hobby”, alongside writing poetry, which goes some way to explain his proficiency with words.
By the time he was 17, Adham Smart had won the Foyle Young Poets’ Award 3 times (in 2006, ’07 and ’09) and was commended once more, in 2008. But it wasn’t always like this. Apparently, “when I was young I used to tell my family that I hated poetry. Look how that turned out!”
BN: So, how did you go from being apparently apathetic to (or even fervently anti-) poetry to winning FYP 3 times?
AS: I suppose I used to think that I didn’t like poetry because I could never sit down with a book of poetry and read it like I could prose. I still can’t, really, but then, I don’t really think that’s the way to do it. I don’t think poetry collections are designed to be read from cover to cover, and that’s where I was going wrong. I still wrote poetry in school even though I claimed that I didn’t like it, and I enjoyed writing it, so I must’ve just been deluding myself.
BN: The pieces that won you the FYP are all markedly different. Do you feel like you’ve finally found what might euphemistically be called your “voice”, or do you think that writing style constantly evolves?
AS: If anything, I find that I’ve found my style to too great a degree – all my most recent poems sound exactly the same to me! I think there’s a fine line between finding your voice and getting stuck in a rut, which is why I think it’s good to write outside your comfort zone, whether that be by trying new ways of writing or choosing different things to write about. There are even certain words that I’ve banned myself from using because I find that they crop up in almost every poem I’ve ever written! Your style should mutate every now and then to keep your writing fresh, I think.
BN: As Literary Events Officer for Writers’ Bloc, I meet a lot of young writers with an abundance of talent and enthusiasm, but who are somewhat daunted by the world of publishing and/or live performance. What advice do you have for someone trying to make it in the world of C.21st poetry, and what did you do to successfully get your work out there?
AS: The only advice I can give is probably the same advice as anyone reading this will have already heard: practice makes perfect, and spend lots of money on stamps. Keep writing, and show it to people whose opinions you respect, because they will tell you when you’ve written a stinker, and then submit submit submit. Stamps cost a lot nowadays and it uses up a lot of paper, but it’s the only way. Besides, there are also plenty of top-quality online poetry publications which are just as worthy of your time as any print magazine, and some are set up specifically for young people. I used to help run Pomegranate with other winners of the FYPA 2006 till about two years ago, when other things got in the way, and when I read poetry publications now, I come across names who were first seen on our site. Pomegranate’s in hibernation right now, but there’s still the excellent Cadaverine, and the Young Poets’ Network (not a publication per se, but an invaluable online resource for young writers with worksops and features, and they do publish some things). It’s definitely the case that once you’re published once, it’ll be easier to get published again, so go for it!
20 Minutes with Adham Smart is on Saturday 30th June from 3:40-4:00 in the Shell House Gallery, Main Street, Ledbury. What’s more it’s free, but there are a limited number of seats, so make sure you book early to avoid disappointment.
Adham is also chairing the 2012 Foyle Winners’ Showcase earlier that day, from 12:45-1:45, in Burgage Hall…also free!
Get your tickets on http://www.poetry-festival.com/bookings.html or by calling 0845 458 1743