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27 September 2021

Wasafiri Wonders: Cecilia Knapp

Ever wondered what your favourite author’s first drafts look like? Or which book they love that nobody’s heard of? Wasafiri Wonders is a series that asks these questions for you. To celebrate the launch of Wasafiri 107, we spoke with poet Cecilia Knapp, the 2020-21 Young People's Laureate for London, about first drafts, playlists, and themes she gravitates towards in her writing – motherlessness, the body, what we inherit from the women in our lives. Her poems have appeared in The White Review, bath magg, Magma and Ambit, and she was shortlisted for the 2020 Women Poets Prize. Her debut poetry collection, Peach Pig, will be published by Corsair in 2022 – as well as her debut novel, Little Boxes, forthcoming from Borough Press in 2022. Read a new poem by Cecilia, 'My Brother Quit Drinking Maybe Five Times', published in Wasafiri 107.  * 1. Describe your first drafts in one sentence. Messy. 2. Tell us about your writing rituals.  Collect notes on my phone, often at inopportune moments (on the loo, at a family dinner, in the middle of a meeting), try and set aside one day a week to read through them. Procrastinate. Read. Eventually write a new poem in one frantic burst. Briefly think it’s sublime. Swiftly see its shortcomings. Tentatively WhatsApp it to a writing pal. And repeat. It mostly happens this way. Of course sometimes I take my time, I don’t wish to be flippant, but writing isn’t as simple as just sitting down to do it, is it? 3. What themes do you gravitate towards and why?  I’m still working hard to find a language for my grief. Each time I think I’ve got it, it shape-shifts into something else, so I imagine I’ll be writing it forever. Other themes I suppose are the anxieties of inhabiting this precarious world — that one’s creeping through a lot lately. My body. Motherlessness. What we inherit from the women in our lives. What we tolerate from men in our younger iterations. I’m quite into moral ambiguity at the moment, the slippery dilemmas and double standards we all turn over in our heads each day. 4. What’s the book you haven’t written yet, but want to be known for? Something that has something new to say about female friendship. What a fascinating and utterly unique subject. 5. What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received? Make writing a habit. 6. What is your favourite book or pamphlet published in the past year and why? Crazy by Jane Feaver. What a piece of sheer craft and depth about power and what we tell ourselves we deserve, or don’t deserve. 7. What is a classic you recently read for the first time? I read "Orestes" by Euripides, translated by Anne Carson. I found it profoundly moving, as well as funny. 8. What is a book or pamphlet you love that no one else has heard of? I’m not sure I could say what people have heard of or not but I loved Rheuma by William Gee, published by Bad Betty Press, who do some truly amazing work. It’s a tiny slim pamphlet but it is packed with guts. 9. If your newest work were a music album, what would it be and how would it sound? A compilation burnt onto a blank CD with the track list written in Sharpie. Some country music (Patsy Kline, Dolly of course) some Spice Girls, some early noughties forgettable indie bands, Bon Iver, a couple of soul numbers full of yearning, some Talking Heads and The National. 10. Which books or authors are relevant reads in our political climate — or one you’d recommend to current world leaders? Too many to list! Let’s go with How to Wash a Heart by Bhanu Kapil, Don’t Call us Dead by Danez Smith, Citizen by Claudia Rankine, Luster by Raven Leilani and Weather by Jenny Offill.   * Listen to Cecilia Knapp read her poem 'My Brother Quit Drinking Maybe Five Times' on our YouTube channel, or read the poem in Wasafiri 107: Crisis/Recovery.
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