5 Questions with Pamela Crowe

Author of The Bell Tower.

Could you tell our readers a little about yourself?

I’m an artist and writer. My practice centres on words. I’m interested in how we say things, either written, verbally, silently; by occupying a space together, by being apart. I love love stories but I’m also deeply circumspect and private, so films, books and art are great spaces to explore these themes! 

I grew up in Stockport, south of Manchester. I went to a large state school, our year was the last intake of all girls; after that it became mixed. I’ve always felt inequality because of my gender and I’m horrified by it. It makes no sense. You can detect this same horror and confusion in the work of so many women artists and writers. I always wanted to be a writer and make art, but it seemed something others did, until whatever was stopping me fell away. 

Books have been the anchor throughout my life, going to the library as a child was complete heaven, both safe and exciting. For many years I worked in the arts facilitating other artists’ practice. Now I propel my own too.

How would you describe THE BELL TOWER?  

It’s a book about loneliness, desire and love played out across a semi-fictional year – woven through the home and everyday life and all the ways I find people, and myself, ridiculous. It’s funny! The central voice is mine. The poems draw on themes and feelings that recur throughout my life – and writers who have influenced me: Austen, Cope, Forster, Plath, Woolf. There’s a lot of anger in it! That’s where the humour comes in! In my head, it’s Motherland meets Fleabag.

As you mentioned, your literary heroes – Wendy Cope, Jane Austen and Sylvia Plath to name a few – make their way into the collection. What do these writers mean to you? 

They’re extremely funny, clever writers. They make me howl with laughter. I adore them and I exist because of them. I don’t think they care what people think and they laugh at themselves as much as they laugh at others. They notice things and enjoy absurdity. They write with freedom and their voices ring out. I aspire to have their courage and to make people laugh! I adore Helen Fielding too. The day I read Bridget Jones’s Diary my life changed. It liberated me to behave more freely, to not worry about other people’s judgement or approval. And to hold out for respect.

Do you have any writing rituals? 

I have none really. I write daily: I make notes on my phone, email myself, text myself. Sit up in the night and type. If I don’t, then I miss poems, they won’t get written. So my ritual, if I have one, is honouring the instinct to write and always noting things immediately. I often write poems in one go, straight to the page. 

I see the images or films in my head and I describe them. Many of my poems are written like that with few or no edits. Others require some tuning, the rhyming ones! I’m interested in long stories, and lifetimes. With the fence poems, I wrote two immediately, so there was always a pair from the beginning and it felt natural and fun to write more. 

While the collection explores intimacy, loss and personal power, domestic spaces and who we share them with. What is it about these motifs that resonate with you?

I think they ultimately spotlight the intense loneliness of our lives. You can have people around you but you can still feel very alone. The poems also explore the extent to which love is a delusion – a very glorious and important one. But it’s based on projected and often imagined aspects of a person. And desire too of course. These feelings are wonderful but they’re brittle and can end suddenly. They’re what we long for and form our lives around. 

I’m obsessed with love. Love is the ultimate negotiation of power, it really matters who we end up with. I strongly identify with other writers who have this fascination: Proust, Barthes, Stendhal, Calvino – and Austen of course. Meanwhile, we have to hang the laundry out and fix fences…

Pamela Crowe is the author of The Bell Tower, published by The Emma Press in May, 2022. Interviewed by Imogen Davies.

Cover Image: ‘Washing-day in Volendam, the Netherlands, about 1955.’ from Nationaal Archief, via Flickr Commons.

Pamela Crowe is an artist and writer based in Leeds. Her practice focuses on words and how we say them, on text, voice and performance. Her work has been shortlisted for the 2019 Bridport Poetry Prize, longlisted in the 2020 National Poetry Competition, and published in The Poetry Society’s Poetry News. The Bell Tower is her first book.

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