‘I confess I draw on my own life a lot.’ Roxy Dunn answers questions (and makes confessions) about her new Verve Poetry Press pamphlet Big Sexy Lunch.
In the wake of the publication of Roxy Dunn’s wonderful new pamphlet Big Sexy Lunch and to an extent in lieu of the postponed launch that was originally planned for March 18th at Foyles on Charing Cross Road, I thought it would be a good idea to talk to Roxy about what kind of poet she is trying to be and what kind of poems she is trying to write. She doesn’t say this, but I will: she is a fresh and compelling new voice in contemporary poetry – modern and sharp, sassy, funny, but with an uncanny ability to disarm and move the reader at precisely the same time. (How does she do that?). Roxy has a big future in poetry. One look at her pamphlet will tell you why.
This is your second pamphlet, following 2017’s Clowning which you published with Eyewear. What’s changed in your writing since then?
Well, my initial response to this question (which sounds very basic as an answer!) is that my poems have become longer. (Clowning had a couple of four liners in it if I recall.) Expanding on an idea/pushing it further is something I’ve been actively focussing on. I also think this pamphlet is perhaps more cynical than my earlier work. Not in a bad way necessarily, hopefully just in an honest way.
As well as writing poetry, you’ve been in Babylon (Channel 4) and your Radio 4 comedy ‘Joz and Roxy are Useless Millennials’ has just come out. How do you think your work as a comedian and an actor interacts with your poetry?
I think I try to look for the humour in whatever it is I’m writing about. Not always, but you’ll often find at least small examples of it in most of the poems in this pamphlet. I also think I have a sense of hearing the lines as I write them which probably comes from my being an actor and wanting not only to read and write poetry but my desire to speak it aloud.
Damon Albarn, Drake, Netflix, Socrates, Hedda Gabler, Virginia Woolf — so many of your poems mix pop culture and ‘high culture’. How important do you think it is for poets to engage with the contemporary?
I actually think one of the pitfalls of my work is how contemporary it is. I remember another poet in a class of mine once very reasonably posing the question, ‘will this poem last?’ And it’s a very valid point. It feels like maybe it’s a trade off – that by writing in a way that people right now will immediately engage and relate to, you decrease the chances of that poem surviving beyond its immediate lifespan?
Frank O’Hara appears twice in the book. What do you think his influence is? Who or what else influences your work?
I really love his poems and he’s definitely influenced the way I write in terms of showing me how conversational and direct the language in a poem can be. In terms of what else influences my writing, I confess I draw on my own life a lot (which feels like I’m now confessing a confession!) This isn’t to say my poems are autobiographical but they all come from a place of having experienced either a similar situation, thought, or feeling to the one I’m writing about and then changing the specifics to fictionalise/poeticise it.
You have a sharp, breezy, very modern voice, so readers might miss the formal work going on, but there are Hannah Sullivan-esque couplets in ‘Weeds’, there’s a subtle enclosed rhyme scheme in ‘Sweet Casanova’, there’s even a glosa (a complex Spanish form of court poetry!). What’s your relationship with form?
I’m delighted you’ve alerted readers to the ‘formal work’ in that case! It’s definitely an aspect of poetry I feel less comfortable with but the Poetry School classes have been instrumental in alerting me to these forms/rhyme schemes you mention above. In fact, I remember Kathryn Maris introducing me to Hannah Sullivan’s work in one of the classes I took there. [Verve Stablemate] Ali Lewis was in the same class! Small world!
I know it’s sometimes hard to think forward when a pamphlet of yours has just been released – but do you see this is something that could lead to a collection some time in the not too distant future?
Ha, I feel so very far away from thinking about a collection! I’m still continuing to take classes and work on honing my skills as a poet. I feel like the stuff I’m writing at the moment is quite different to what I’ve previously written and I’m currently trying to push myself to be less literal when I write (which is a challenge for me!). I’d love to bring out a full collection at some point in the future but I’m not in any rush to. Right now my focus is on developing my craft, and also continuing with my other writing projects which aren’t poetry related, but feed into my poetry nonetheless.
You can read Roxy’s poem ‘July 24th’, which was Poem of the Week on the Oxford Brookes Poetry Centre newsletter (and features in her new pamphlet Big Sexy Lunch) HERE.
…and her poem, Exes at Lunch, which was Poem of the Week at the LRB Bookshop HERE