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This interview is taken from PN Review 269, Volume 49 Number 3, January - February 2023.

In conversation with Rory Waterman Carol Rumens
RW: When I congratulated you after the 2018 Michael Marks Awards for poetry pamphlets, which you had (quite rightly) won for Bezdelki, you said you were ‘in shock’. What most shocked you about winning? And is that work especially important to you? It is, of course, much more directly personal than a lot of your other poetry.

CR: I’ve been on a few shortlists before, and learned never to raise my hopes. These were not only poetry shortlists. In my first year at grammar school there was a competition for a scrapbook about Ancient Greece. My work in progress got terrific praise from the other kids and various teachers, and when my name wasn’t called out as the winner, I was truly ‘in shock’ and had to learn instantly how not to show my feelings. It was formative: it taught me not to lean heavily on other people’s praise or condemnation. These judgements, I began to understand, are very subjective. My Greek book was full of fantastical paintings and drawings: the winner (as I recall) had lined hers with essay-like pages of impressively neat handwriting.  

I like the poems in Bezdelki, and the Marks shortlisting was very good to have. But I didn’t hold my breath for a second. I was completely convinced it wouldn’t win the award. I hadn’t read the other pamphlets. I just knew!

My favourite among my recent full-length collections, Blind Spots, got the most negative review of any I ever had for any collection. The reviewer died not long afterwards: maybe he’d felt terribly ill or depressed as he was writing. Or ...

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