I’ve been familiar with Fran Critchlow’s poetry for a few years now, and it’s some of the most hard-hitting work I’ve had the pleasure to read/hear in a long time. Fran is a local Sheffield poet, and appropriately her favourite day is Halloween. We were lucky enough to be able to publish her poem ‘A Cascade of Rain’ a few months ago, and now I’m happy to bring you an interview and three more poems for October’s Fresh Featured. So without further ado, let’s find out what Fran had to say about books, Gothic stories, and the freedom of poetry…
FC: I think ever since I’ve known how to write, I’ve written things down because I love reading. I’ve read since I can remember, and it’s evolved into poetry because it helps me make sense of my thoughts.
KG: What inspires you most to write?
FC: What inspires me to write the most is that I love words, I’m fascinated by them.. Words are like my toolkit for understanding and making sense of life. If I have an issue with something then I’ll sit down and write it out to make more sense of it and it always makes me feel better about it. I love reading and other people’s words can often inspire me to try and write in new ways. Words are the way I define my life, that’s what inspires me to write.
Setting fire to a Daisy
I picked a daisy today,
I’m always picking daisies,
Trying to turn them into pretty things but this one was different;
I set it on fire
And watched the petals singe and curl.
I lost my favourite silver button again,
If you find it either come and give it back or throw it away.
Don’t play games with it this time, they’re not fun anymore.
I’m not the same person I was; I don’t know how to be that person anymore.
I’m kind of over my rainbow laced teenage rebellion,
It was pure mindcandy but it caused enough trouble for a lifetime,
So stop expecting that from me, I’m sick of it; the record’s changed.
I’ve chased so many dreams that I’ve forgotten what most of them were.
I just couldn’t do it again even if I wanted to.
I’m older, quieter and tireder these days.
So, for a change, you chase me.
Sometimes I feel like I move from place to place at 100 miles an hour..
But I do stop.
If you want to come and find me I live in an ice blue coloured room full of fantasies,
That’s what feels like home.
Hidden underneath thousands of comfy blankets
And surrounded by lavender, smoke, safety and musical words.
I’m bored of making daisy chains, they always break.
It’s better sometimes to ignite,
Set fire to things, see what happens
Nothing last forever,
The beat just goes on.
Destruction sparks creation
And life is about more than flowers.
KG: Who are some of your favourite writers – not only poetry, but fiction or music or otherwise?
FC: I love Anne Rice books at the moment, I’m going through a phase of Vampire fiction geekery and I think her books are philosophical and fascinating while still being very readable and entertaining. Dracula by Bram Stoker is also a book that made a lasting impression on me – it goes round and round in my mind. I love anything Gothic or about the darker side of magic. I read a lot of Jack Kerouac and other Beat writing when I was younger, On the Road open up my mind probably more than any other book I have read. I love children’s fiction like Roald Dahl, Lewis Carol, Rudyard Kipling. It was listening to Bob Dylan’s lyrics that originally made me appreciate poetry – before that I found it inaccessible, now I think poetry is everywhere. I won’t sit down to read a poetry book the way I will a novel but I love to hear poems, love to watch them performed, and they are my favourite thing to write. At the moment my favourite poem is ‘Bluebird’ by Charles Bukowski because it is so simple but at the same time so deep and haunting and beautiful. If I had to pick a favourite book of all time it would probably be Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, I read it at a very significant time in my life and it changed the way I looked at reading, made me realise that books could be deeper. I think it’s somehow perfect. There are probably loads of influences I have missed. I have read ever since I can remember, I read all sorts of books really. If it’s good I’ll read it, I guess there are never enough books.
KG: What is your favourite word? Least favourite?
FC: I don’t know if I have a favourite, the first word that comes into my head is queer, I don’t know if it’s my favourite word but it’s a word I like. I like words that have double meanings: queer can mean strange and mysterious, but it can also make a statement about sexual equality. I like that, I think it is a taboo word, taboo words seem rebellious to me, it is seen as an offensive word by some people, but I like that because it allows you to redefine it. A word is only offensive if you use it offensively. If a word is used as an insult I think that allows you to redefine it and turn it on its head and use it to empower. It’s a word you can be creative with I think, attach your own meaning. I also like swear words just because they make everything sound more rock n roll.
While You’re Still Pretty
You’ll know I liked you when I don’t like you anymore,
When your baby blue eyes have turned steel,
When I don’t look as pretty
And you realise how pretty you were.
Rainbows I project
See inside to dusty cobwebs.
I wanna reach out and touch you but I’m too scared I’d break you.
You’re still floating with clouds and sunshine
I pretend I’m floating too; even higher than you,
But really I fell out of the sky a long time ago,
Things got too deep.
I’m living underwater now and I’m not taking you with me
While you still believe in the dreams.
I’m gonna leave you there that way.
I can stay pretty to you, play the games of fantasy.
Life kicks you back harder when you kick out at it,
It blows off your face and replaces it.
It’s still beautiful but the colours have got darker.
I wish I could have stayed younger forever,
I miss the wide eyes and the butterflies.
I can feel the voices of experience following me,
Digging into my shoulders.
Being older doesn’t make you wiser,
It just changes things,
The lens gets wider and more narrow all at once;
Immortality is replaced with pretending smiles.
You are facing more shaded realities
I couldn’t tell you how pretty you are;
It would shatter the illusion.
Instead I’ll be cool and try to look vague and interesting.
And you’ll never know this poem is about you,
Not until it’s too late and I can’t fool you anymore.
Not until you know you’re pretty, but once you know you’re pretty
You won’t be pretty anymore.
KG: Do you have a specific writing process?
FC: Usually I just sit down and write, ideas go round and round in my mind constantly. I’m one of those people who’s thinking all the time, so I’ll just sit down and write what’s in my head and try and make it sound pretty. I write about my problems a lot because I find it a cathartic way of dealing with them. To be honest I write a lot, I find it relaxing. Most of the things I write are just ramblings I do nothing with, but occasionally I think that’s good enough to turn into a story or a poem. I find more structured forms of writing hard, I’m rubbish at things like haikus and sonnets. My writing style is definitely shambolic. It’s spontaneous, I just sit down and begin and see what appears really, let my imagination splash all over the page.
KG: Share some random wisdom with us – writing advice you’ve received, or otherwise.
FC: I think to write well the biggest thing is you have to be honest with yourself, don’t write a bunch of made up things that you think sound interesting and clever but aren’t relevant to you – even if you think you’re boring write about yourself, what you know, how you see things, your real experiences. It’s better that way because it’s your own unique voice. Never think you’re beyond criticism. I think you never stop learning and there is always room for improvement, I think it’s good to know the flaws in your own writing, that’s how you can improve and get better. At the moment I’m reassessing a lot of the things I have written and looking at the ways I can make them better – never stop doing that, understanding your mistakes is how you get good. And read, I love reading other people’s writing, I love stories and ideas but I also just love the tricks that can be done with language, the more I read the more varied and interesting my own writing seems to become.
The Flower Girl’s Eyes
A roar of celebration echoes across this city
But she hardly notices, she’s too busy tending to yesterday’s flowers
These dirty skies and vandalised walls spell home,
But she wears it like a queen
She only loves the sun when it’s dangerous and the moon when it’s forgiving.
The stars confuse her, her eyes are saucers catching passing flood waters;
It’s the rule of thumb,
If your laugh is naughty enough you belong; learn to giggle like a criminal.
It doesn’t matter where you come from, it’ll help you.
She knows this
Walking around smiling mischievously at the law,
She knows they’ll never be clever enough to catch her
After all she just carries around other people’s poppies;
Champagne for one and Valium for five
Looks like it’s worth nothing to untrained eyes,
But believe me it’s dynamite
You can call us crazy people
But I could tell you stories that would make you cry.
I can’t cry anymore
And I don’t wanna tell any of those stories, no point,
I live in feathers and matchsticks and daydreams.
Nothing to cry about
If a superstitious flower is completely blue,
That means I’ve found you,
I can live that way if I want, it doesn’t hurt anything
This life is edged with a knife but I like it like that.
Just raise your glass to living not to anything else.
Follow the pretty meaningless lies, why not?
Teach yourself to forget,
If you’re an emerging or unpublished poet, and would like one of your poems to appear on our weekly blog, Fresh, find out how right here. Fresh Featured is currently full until March, so I won’t be considering poets for this again until January – but we always need new weekly emerging poets (which comes with a chance to be in the best of Fresh anthology next summer). So don’t be shy – send them along!