Tuesday Poem: Kathleen Jamie stops worrying about commas

'I'm aware now that life is finite.  So I'm going to keep at it, keep at it.  Instead of doing my usual thing of finicking around for two months per poem: "Comma in?  Comma out.  No, comma in. Comma out" . . . Well, to hell with that.  Stop worrying about commas.'

In the winter edition of the Poetry Review UK there's a very interesting interview with Kathleen Jamie. She talks about her development as a poet from her first collection 'Black Spiders' at the age of nineteen, to the present day and her expansion into eco-writing with the brilliant environmental essays published in Findings and Sightlines.

For women writers and artists born before the feminist revolution of the seventies and eighties, it wasn't the glass ceiling that was the threat to unlimited achievement, it was their own biology condensed into the image of 'the pram in the hall'. This was a phrase from Cyril Connolly's book on writing the great novel - "There is no more sombre enemy of good art than the pram in the hall". In the twenty first century we shouldn't have to keep talking about it, but the subject still comes up.

Women have always had to juggle their creativity with motherhood. Many famous female authors in the past were childless - Virginia Woolf, George Eliot, Christina Rossetti, Katherine Mansfield, Eudora Welty to name only a few.  Writer Lauren Sandler famously said, as late as 2013, that to be a successful woman writer you could only have one child.  Kathleen Jamie has two. She thinks that having children was the best thing she could do, both as a woman and a writer. 'To think I might not have had those experiences and been deepened out by it, excavated by it. . .  The pram in the hall lasts about eighteen months!  It's nothing.'

Kathleen Jamie busts a lot of myths. When asked by a PhD student about how she had constructed her latest collection of poetry she answered 'I'm sorry, I just put the poems on the floor and shuffled them around.'  Lately there has been a loosening up of her approach to poetry.  'I think I've had enough for now of the "well-made poem".  There's more of a to-hell-with-it attitude in what I've been writing since The Overhaul.' She made a resolution in 2014 to write a poem a week, with a limit of 14 lines each. 'Just go with the vibe,'  she recommends.  'Go with the energy. . . It's great what happens when you just give up.'
Spontaneity, energy, the freeing of the imagination from the shackles of form.  Maybe we've become too self-conscious, too craft-conscious as poets and forgotten the sheer delight of words, that intoxication with language that outruns the pen and goes beyond any kind of discipline. Maybe we have to leave behind what Jamie calls 'well-madeness' and embrace risk and poetic hedonism. And stop worrying about commas!

Kathleen Jamie's interview is part of the Bloodaxe Archive Project in conjunction with Newcastle University.

You can listen to Kathleen Jamie reading her own poetry at the Poetry Archive. 

The Tuesday Poets are an international group who try to post a poem every Tuesday and take it in turns to edit our main web page.  If you'd like to see what the rest of the group are sharing, please click here and take a look!


  1. Thank you for that look at Kathleen Jamie, both the poem, which raised a smile, but also the deeper questions around being a woman and a writer in the 21st century.

  2. This is a great post Kathy. liberating too I have just been thinking on the same topics! Thank you.

  3. Glad you both enjoyed what I think is an illuminating interview. I love both her poetry and her prose.


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