29 July 2021
Posted by Megan Laing
Can you summarise your previous experience of mentoring / being mentored?
“I had three mentors since I started writing seriously. I had Pascale Petit from Jerwood/Arvon, Ahren Warner from Creative Future Award, and a mentor from the Philippines, Marjorie Evasco.
Being mentored was very important for me, because when I was starting to write, I didn't come from a literary background. My main job is a nurse. Through my mentors, I got to learn my craft. I think their overall support, not just craft-wise, but support in finding my own path has been really important to me.”
How has this influenced the way you’re delivering sessions with your mentee?
“That's actually a very good question. My mentors have been really respected poets themselves - they are award winning. What I found really helpful though, is that they were very person-centered. They would ask me about the things that I'd like to work on, and wouldn't necessarily impose things on me. They would recommend a few readings, or things to try out or techniques to do, but I think the most important thing was they didn't impose a certain type of doing things. They made it more focused on what I needed at that time.
I think, apart from the technical stuff, the knowledge that I share with Eve, I think it's really important that I allow them to be their own writer, or, you know, allow them to write whatever they want to write about. If they want to practice a technique, or try different ways of crafting their poems, then that's what we work on.
I think it's really good to have a kind of review or a regularly talk with your mentee to check about how things are; what stage in their journey they’re at. To work with them without necessarily leading them. My mentors have never led me. They walked beside me, and I think that's how I do things with Eve too.
I think walking alongside the mentee is important because, especially nowadays, it's very easy to advise a young poet about all the things that they should be doing or could be writing about. As a poet myself, I had people advising me ‘write about this, because you're a migrant’. I think it's okay to get advice, but at the same time, we have to ask the mentee what they want to write about. Authenticity is important in that way.”
What links your practice as a poet to your role as a mentor?
“I suppose I think you have to obviously know your stuff and to be knowledgeable about what's going on, not just in terms of technicalities, but also about the whole poetry community and what's going on there. What opportunities are happening right now? What are the exciting things that we should be focusing on? What should we be keeping our eyes on? As a poet, I get to understand and to explore not only Eve’s work, but also what's happening around the poetry community. So I get to advise them and I get to allow them to see that these things are existing and things are happening. For example, we talk about certain awards or schemes that they might find interesting or be willing to work towards, if not now maybe in the future. Like the Eric Gregory award, or other free entry competitions that would give you significant awards, for example the Creative Future Writers award which I had in 2017. That's how I got to be mentored by Ahren Warner. One of the award prizes was mentorship, plus the monetary award, which was really helpful as well.
So, as a mentor, it's not just about the actual craft, but also focusing on how to move forward, because there will come a time when you might have to let go of your mentee and they will need to work for themself. So mentoring is also a time to explore other areas or other ventures for their progress.”
How has meeting with your mentee changed / influenced your plans for further sessions?
“During our first meeting, I really wanted to have a clear idea of what they want to get out of mentorship, and what kind of things they may need help with. So on the very first session, we explored what their goals are, and that involves both short term goals and long term goals.
What we do after each session is we try to evaluate not just their set goals, but also the session itself. I really want to encourage that transparent working relationship and also the necessary regular review. I know that things may change depending on our circumstances, or it might be that something about the session might not be working for my mentee. It's important for me to review how things are because, at the end of the day, it's not about me. Whatever I think would be helpful for me might not be helpful to them. Whatever I think might be helpful for them might not be helpful for them. So evaluation of our goals and our working relationship is vital.”
Has there been anything that has surprised you or made you reflect on your own writing practice while working with your mentee?
“Yes, definitely. They are a very young writer, they’ve just turned 18. And I have a sense that they also have this very good level of self awareness as a writer. They know what they want, with help. If you asked them, they might not be able to tell you straightaway. But when you try to explore it together, they’re able to tell you what's running through their mind.
And as an artist, I've always focused on the importance of my reflective practice. Because I think, as writers, we really need to reflect. On our thought processes, our actual writing, plans for the future.”
What pieces of wisdom / advice would you give to other emerging poets?
“To find things that can help you.
For example, whether that's a workshop, or joining a scheme, like Poetry Ambassadors, or having your own private mentor, or going to universities to try to find things that would help you improve your craft. Look at how other people do it, especially people you're inspired by. But the bottom line is, also focus on your own work.
Because it's so easy to just look at how others do things, or how others became a published poet by doing this or that. At the end of the day, it's going to be your own journey. And while you need to appreciate other people's help, you also need to honor your own practice, without comparing yourself to other artists, and honor the people who helped you along the way.
The poetry world, in particular, is a very small world. But at the same time, it can also be very big. When you go into it, you don't know much. You might not be very well networked, but then there might be a day when you find out ‘Oh, my God, everybody knows everybody’. So just be kind because you never know who you're gonna meet along the way. You might meet someone who you think is, you know, an average artist, and then next morning, they're working on a big project with you. Be kind and humble.
Try to create real friendships, but also honor the people who came before you and keep your foot on the ground and just work hard. Focus on your thing. That sounds easy, but actually, it's quite hard.”