Home Art & Illustration Galleries Original Artwork for Sale Writing AA Independent Press Guide
Publications Biography Curriculum Vitae Contact Information Links



I was born in 1953 in Leigh Park, a huge housing estate north of Portsmouth. My parents had nothing in common apart from a sense of abandonment and a love of animals. My father was a manic-depressive and an anarchist, and my mother, who had an aversion to snakes, was an Irish Catholic with high principles (my dad had a large snake tattooed across his back). As you might imagine there were plenty of sparks flying around in our house, and even after my dad left when I was thirteen there was little peace. The only subject I liked at school was English and I was awarded with some book tokens after achieving the best exam result in my last year. I went off to our local bookshop and bought Jean Paul Sartreís, Nausea, and the Children of Albion poetry anthology. After completing a secretarial course, I left home to do temp work in London in 1972. After that everything went haywire. I now live in Southsea with my third husband and younger daughter. I studied English part-time in my thirties and went on to gain a distinction in an MA in Creative Writing. My need for poetry, which began when I was eight, has become an essential part of my life. And right now Iím happy.

An Interview with Maggie Sawkins
by Dee Sunshine(August 2007)

Dee - How would you feel if God appeared before you one night and offered you the gift of divine inspiration for one month, but that it was conditional upon four things: that the final manuscript would be published anonymously; that all proceed would be donated to a charity of God's choice; that you are bound over to never confess authorship, even to your nearest and dearest; that you would never again after that period write anything of any significance? Bearing in mind that your month of divine inspiration would result in the best poetry ever produced in the history of humanity and that it would sell in hundreds of millions, would you be willing to sacrifice the ego for the sake of poetry?

Maggie - Well, as I donít believe in God, Iíd probably think I was hallucinating. But if I did believe in God Iíd have to agree to all four conditions, especially if the book sold millions and all the money went to charity. You canít argue with that. Iíd probably have a bit of trouble keeping quiet though.

Dee - And how would you feel if God laid down a fifth pre-condition, that you would be incapable of writing anything creative after the month was over?

Maggie - Iím used to that feeling. But if I thought only one of my poems would be remembered long after Iíve gone, Iíd be happy.

Dee - As a poet, do you see anything mystical in the creation of poetry? Is there a Muse? Is there a God or some sort of cosmic force at work, trying to guide the hand of the poet?

Maggie - I donít think so. For me itís more about the ability to tap into a kind of creative collective unconsciousness: the world of dreams, symbols and metaphor; nurturing something youíve a gift for; cultivating an imaginative state of being, and about gratification. But I could be wrong.

Dee - You've just recently published your first collection of poetry. So, how do you feel about it?

Maggie - Itís great that itís got the validation of a good new publisher (www.tworavenspress.com). The collection contains the best poems that Iíve written over the past thirteen years, so I had faith in them. Iíve written a lot more but these are the real ones Ė the ones I was moved by. I hope others will feel the same when they read them. Robert Frost said, ĎNo tears in the writer, no tears in the reader; no surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.í Iíd go along with that.

Dee - The first collection of poetry is a bit of a milestone. It can also be a bit of a millstone too. So, after the event are you pumped up, writing ten-to-the-dozen; or have you had a slump?

Maggie - Iím writing the same as I always have, which is off and on. I seem to go a month or two without writing anything much and then two or three poems will start to form. I donít have a routine, though I try and keep my hand in by writing things to amuse myself, like poetic descriptions of my dinners or short short stories based on my dreams, and Iíve a stack of notebooks full of ponderings.

Dee - You could be at the very beginning of a glittering career as a poet. Ten years from now your name might be mentioned in the same breath as Carol Ann Duffy, Andrew Motion and Simon Armitage. This (or something like it) is probably every poet's fantasy when their first book is published. In all honesty, is this a future you could foresee for yourself?

Maggie - If I was younger I might have had those thoughts, especially if Iíd just had a first collection published. But I wasnít so much aware of the poetry world back then. I bought my first books of poetry at the age of fifteen and thought all published poets were gods. Now I realise there are many equally good poets around, and most people have never heard of them. All three poets that youíve quoted are prolific writers, and in other genres too. I would say I wasnít prolific enough to be in the same league Ė there are other things I enjoy doing as well as writing poetry.

Dee - Of course, as I'm writing these questions there is no way I can surmise what your answers are going to be, but I am going to hazard a guess that your previous answer will be fairly modest. Humility is something that is drummed into us Brits from the day we are born. Would you agree with this assessment of our national character? And do you think it's a good thing?

Maggie - Iím not sure if my previous answer is humble, just realistic. I think humility is a good quality though. There are plenty of pompous Brits around but I wouldnít want to share my plate of spaghetti with them.

Dee - Okay, chances are you'll be lucky to sell more than a few hundred copies of your poetry book. Even if you luck out and get a few good reviews in the national press you'll still not sell more than a few thousand copies of your book. No matter what you do, no matter what you write, no matter how talented you prove to be, you will never make a living by writing poetry. So, please explain to the pragmatic majority out there why you bother writing poetry at all.

Maggie - Iíve never thought Iíd make a living out of writing poetry so thatís not the reason for doing it. Perhaps in the back of my mind thereís always been a secret reader, but now I know there are real readers who actually enjoy my work I feel encouraged to carry on. So, yes I write to be read but only as long as the workís worth it. If I ever start writing drivel I hope Iíll have the sense to stop (I hope this isnít drivel).

Dee - So what do you do to earn your bread and butter?

Maggie - I live with Ed, who last year took early retirement from the arbitration service, Acas, so fortunately his pension pays most of the big bills. I work three days a week at South Downs College near Portsmouth. I teach students with specific learning disabilities, teach a creative writing class in the community, and support students with mental health needs.

Dee - Does it satisfy you?

Maggie - Yes. If it wasnít for poetry, or if I lived on my own, Iíd probably be working there full-time. I worked in offices for years and felt like an alien. Itís a privilege to work with like-minded people and to do something creative everyday. Last year I organised a Poetry Challenge for a group of students with disabilities. They all learnt a poem by heart and recited it in front of an audience that included the local press. Now, if sheís short of money, one of the students has taken to reciting her William Blake poem outside the Kings Theatre in Southsea. Thatís what I call Skills for Life Ė the funding body doesnít have a tick box for it though.

Dee - Could you tell us a bit about yourself? Who is Maggie Sawkins?

Maggie - If you think about it long enough you begin asking yourself whoís the I whoís asking the question, and I havenít found an answer to that yet. In the end the I becomes meaningless, or meaningful, depending on where youíre at on the path of self awareness. I suppose Iím the same as everyone, struggling to find meaning in the seemingly meaningless. Iím lucky to have found it in poetry, which is relatively harmless, unless you start living it out like Sylvia Plath. Others do it through religion, family, music, politics, betting, alcohol, drugs, tiddly winks, work Ö the options are endless.

Dee - Aside from writing poetry, what other hobbies/ interests do you have?

Maggie - Youíve probably guessed that I belong to a Zen meditation group where every now and again the teacher throws in a koan for us to ponder on, like, ĎWho am I?í Iíve also been doing yoga since the age of 24 and have almost perfected the headstand. I like being by the sea, especially with my dog, listening to musician friends such as The Elderly Brothers in Pompey pubs, reading, cooking and watching wild life. I also organise Tongues and Grooves poetry and music events in and around Portsmouth. Iím a Poetry Society Stanza Rep and was recently appointed as a local Creative Champion for my work in promoting poetry in Portsmouth.

Dee - Do these interests inform your poetry?

Maggie - Most of my poems have a psychological edge to them Ė psychology interests me greatly though Iíve never studied it. I learnt most it of by trying to work out what made my parents tick - Iíve given up now theyíre dead. Animals seem to make their way into many of my poems even though most of them have got nothing to do with them. Iíve written poems about silence, poems about family and strange relationships, poems about mental illness, and poems informed by politics.

Dee - In your opinion, who is the greatest ever poet? And why?

Maggie - I was introduced to Shakespeare for the first time when I was 30 and I thought his insight into the human condition was spot on. I could have studied him forever. His command of the English languageís not bad either.

Dee - And if not the same, who is the greatest living poet?

Maggie - Bob Dylan! ĎA poet is a naked person Ö some say that I am a poet.í

Dee - Also, are there any poets out there who you believe have been under-rated or overlooked?

Maggie - Lots. My friend, Pauline Hawkesworth, for instance. Sheís been writing great poetry since she had a revelation on the top deck of a bus when she was nineteen. Sheís never attended poetry classes or an Arvon course, but managed to win a Redbeck poetry award some years ago. Sheís had hundreds of poems in magazines but is still trying to get her first full collection published. I think there are probably many poets like that.

Dee - Is there any place for politics in poetry?

Maggie - Thereís a place for poetry in politics. Think of Martin Luther King Jrís ĎI have a Dreamí speech. Poetry can make you think, imagine and empathise in a more subtle way than politics. I believe it can make things happen, as do those regimes where poets have been suppressed, imprisoned or killed.

Dee - And what about your politics? What side of the fence do you sit on?

Maggie - To the left Ė more Tony Benn than Tony Blair.

Dee - Did you know that there are quite a number of different predictions that date the end of the world at 2012? So, what do you think, does humanity go "poof" in five years time?

Maggie - I didnít know about that, although I think the poet, Paul Birtill might have mentioned it when he last read at Tongues & Grooves. Iím not really into predictions, conspiracy theory, etc Ė it seems too simplistic. Life is a lot more haphazard and slippery.

Dee - Assuming these predictions prove to be wrong and the world carries on revolving regardless, where do you see yourself in ten years time?

Maggie - If Iím not dipped in oblivion by then anyway, I expect Iíll still be living in Southsea Ė perhaps somewhere overlooking the sea. Then again I might move to the Isle of Wight or Dorset or even County Cork where I have some family. I hope to have visited my musician friend, Gregg Buchanan and his wife Jan, in Port Douglas (Gregg sang ĎLike a Rolling Stoneí at my wedding, and I might even have enough poems for a second collection.

Dee - And finally, what epitaph would you have inscribed on your gravestone?

Maggie - Iíd like my poem The Zoo Keeperís Song but it would probably be too expensive. I could always have the last five lines but it wouldnít be quite the same:

When I come back
I want to be the leaves
of the tallest trees,
I want to be devoured
by those magnificent tongues.

If thatís too difficult for whoeverís in charge, then ĎThe Endí will do.

© Dee Sunshine & Maggie Sawkins, 2007

Seven Poems by Maggie Sawkins
Maggie Sawkins Website
Two Ravens Press
Tongues And Grooves

Home Art & Illustration Galleries Original Artwork for Sale Writing AA Independent Press Guide
Publications Biography Curriculum Vitae Contact Information Links