Kate Maxwell’s Never Good At Maths – Q&A
With her recent release of Never Good at Maths, we wanted to know more about Kate Maxwell beyond her inability to do maths…so we interviewed her.
Q: Your book doesn’t actually explore math. How and why did you choose to title it the way you did?
A: There’s some truth in the title that maths has never been my strength, but I chose the title primarily to express the way it often feels to be pigeonholed as a ‘type’ of person. As a predominantly right-brain thinker, it’s also a tongue-in-cheek way of dealing with a fairly dismissive label. Mathematicians are often very creative, and creative poets are often good at maths. I’m just not in either group. The title is my quirky introduction to a level of satirical and self-deprecating humour I sometimes use in this book. I’m trying to tap into the self-conscious feeling many of us have when we are conflicted about our abilities and the way in which we are perceived.
Q: You cover a lot of different themes in Never Good at Maths, how did you choose what to cover, what inspired you to cover so many themes and did you have to do a lot of research?
A: Many of the poems span decades and original versions have been tweaked over time. Some themes are of the simple every day, little curiosities, character portraits, and more global and political themes. Most of the time, if my interest is sparked in something, then it leads more naturally into forming images and builds into a stronger piece. Unless I’m writing to purpose; for a competition or special journal issue, I don’t usually pick a theme first. It usually comes as I build the poem. A few poems do require research if I’m describing something historical or quite specific e.g., White Man in a Hole or Katy, Bar the Door and many poems are inspired by what I read, watch, and observe.
Q: Did you face many personal challenges when addressing the various themes when writing Never Good at Maths?
A: Some topics are inspired by road trips, emotions, the news, literature, art, or characters I find interesting. If I write in somebody else’s voice, then I can remove myself a little from the poem. A few of the more personal and biographical poems can pose personal challenges as it’s not easy admitting who you are, or how you’ve felt at times, but it can also serve as free therapy. Obviously, not everyone will agree with the messges portrayed or political stnce I take but that’s why it’s called freedom of expression.
Q: How and why did you get started as a poet?
A: I don’t know if I can answer that as clearly as I’d like. As a child, I think I liked playing with rhyme and the sounds words make. When I worked out that you could make a succinct and powerful little package with words and messages, then I started to become entranced with poetry’s power. I still love the puzzle of placing just the right word or phrase but am not always as keen on the frustration when I know I’m still missing pieces in my self-made puzzles.
Q: From the Poet’s point of view, how important do you think it is for readers to be able to understand the meaning of a poem? Are some better left unsolved, or do you believe that readers should work to know the underlying meaning/s?
A: I am not an obtuse poet. I love writing stories as much as poetry and find the narrative very important. I love to paint pictures with my words, take on other voices, and tell stories. It’s important to me that my poems are relatable and strike a chord with readers. My favourite poems are ones where language and emotion blend to bring you a slice of life that you can almost se and feel. I know many talented poets who embed their poems with oblique layers that make meaning either unclear or reliant on prior knowledge. I can often enjoy these poems too, even though I may not always be able to access what the poet really intended. Sometimes the beauty of the words, or strength of the mood is more important than the narrative. But that is their skill set, and not necessarily mine.
Q: This is your debut release, what were the biggest lessons you learned and what do you plan and hope for the future?
A: I supposed the lessons learned werethat you should always let your work rest for a while and return to it with fresh eyes before editing again. On the other hand, poems never quite seem finished but at some point, you have to let them go. Also, an editor’s eye on your work is so valuable. You get to close to your work and can become blind to flaws and repreated ideas. I’m hoping this is my first of many anthologies. I’m writing quite a lot right now. I also have some children’s book manuscripts that I’d like to see out in the world.
Q: Your debut covers a lot from personal recounts to views and belieds, do you think you’ll take the same approach for your next book? Why or why not?
A: Yes and No. I have enough collected works for another book of poetry and a short story collection. Both have no obvious unifying threads but there are patterns and repeated themes. Following that, however, I would like to attempt to write more poem suites in order to flesh out veryin perspectives, voices on theme or topic. As my experience grows, I’m hoping my breadth and voice will also develop.