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Nottingham Castle

Marion Bell interview

7 December 09 words: James Walker
You don't need to swallow a dictionary or do a degree in English to write, argues poet Marion Bell...
Marion Bell "You don't have to swallow a dictionary to write..." 

Marion Bell performed at our first ever spoken word event at the Canning Circus Festival and recently appeared on our second WriteLion podcast. A member of the Notingham Writers’ Studio and a former student of the NTU MA in Creative Writing, she has settled comfortably into her adopted city. Marion is a firm believer that you don’t need to swallow a dictionary to write and that keeping it simple is the key to success. With an interest in relationships and the absurdities of everydayness she is continuing on in the style of the Liverpool poets – the group who inspired her to start writing in the beginning. 

Tell us where you grew up?
Grew up?  Why would I do that?  I was born and raised on a council estate in Middlesbrough and escaped as soon as I could.   Spent a year in London and then went off travelling and to live in Holland.  Meandered a bit more, well quite a lot more, then came to Nottingham.

When exactly?
I came here in 1989.  It’s a great city; green and with lots going on.  And some gorgeous countryside not too far off.

Marion reads at the Canning Circus Festival 2009

When did you first start writing poetry?
When I was a teenager.  It was drivel but you live and learn.  I like to think the stuff I write now is better. I started reading the Liverpool poets – Roger McGough etc. It was completely different to anything else I had done at school. I liked it that the poetry didn’t have to rhyme, there were a wide variety of subjects and it was a bit daring. I learnt that poetry could be exciting.

Why poetry instead of writing?
Not sure what you mean?  Isn’t poetry writing?  I write short stories too and am working on my first novel which I cast aside in disgust from time to time and then get back out and edit. But I love performance poetry, being up there in front of people and hopefully entertaining them.  And poetry is a fine art; every word counts.

What’s the key to entertaining audiences?
There’s a difference between a reading and a performance. Reading can be very formal and the person might not even look at the audience because they’re too busy looking at the page and so don’t know how it’s going down. This means they fail to connect with the audience. 

How would you describe your style?
Ah so you think I have style!  I like simple language that everyone can understand.  Rosie Garner once said I cut right through the surface and reached ‘it’.   I took that as a compliment as she is so eloquent herself. I feel very strongly that people baffle each other with long words and it’s not necessary. In a lot of areas of life people use complicated language for power whereas if things are put in a simple way you can get to the truth of things. That’s how I like to read and write. I don’t want to have to eat a dictionary or get a degree in English to understand references. You shouldn’t need a degree to be a poet or a writer. I like to think that these snotty types that wrap it up with fancy words and references to this, that and the other are showing off.

What about themes?
I started writing political stuff with a small ‘p’ but I found it dated and I lost interest. I’ve piped down a lot over the years from my strident days of womens’ lib. Now I prefer the politics of relationships. What goes on between people, how they interact, what makes them tick. The kind of politics that goes on between people.

If you could invite four poets to dinner, who would they be and why?
John Cooper Clarke because he makes me laugh.  Roger McGough because he is one of my role models.  Mahendra Solanki because I fancy him.  (I also like his poetry very much.)  Whoops they are all men!  Maura Murphy because I would like to catch up with how she is and listen to her wonderful singing voice: I would provide a microphone.

Last words...
Keep writing.  Get other poets to comment on your work.  Network as much as you can.  And don’t expect to make any money out of it.  You have to do it for the love of it.

Hot Stuff

Come frost and snow, come sleet and rain
you share my happiness and pain
and warm me up on winter nights,
there’s never any arguments or fights.

You’re not that sexy in the nude
but when you’re really in the mood
you’re very easy to turn on
and in the morning you’re not gone.

My blues can quickly turn to red -
you really are hot stuff in bed,
my dear electric blanket.

Marion Bell’s website
To see Marion perform live
James Walker’s website


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