Arts: Earlier this year award-winning poet Julia Copus spoke with Delano ahead of her readings at the Printemps des poètes festival.
On a warm Sunday morning at the Galerie Simoncini on rue Notre Dame a small, but more than capacity crowd gathered to hear a reading by seven internationally acclaimed poets. This was the final act of the eighth Printemps des poètesfestival, a sort of chill-out--complete with soothing double bass musical interludes--after the rave of the marathon reading and jam session at neimënster the previous evening.
The first to read was Julia Copus, invited to the festival at the behest of British ambassador Alice Walpole. Of sunny disposition and looking delightful in a summer dress, Copus is far from the clichéd image of a poet that many of her male counterparts on Sunday morning seem to so carefully cultivate--stick thin, wild of hair and clothed in the manner of a shabby university lecturer.
Copus’s poetry has fittingly been described as “elegiac and buoyant” by Kate Kellaway in The Guardian. This almost contradictory tone emerges most forcibly in what Copus calls her specular poems. This is her invention; creating a poem divided into two parts, the second a mirror of the first so that the opening and ending lines are exactly the same.
The punctuation may change and, in reading them aloud, Copus also changes her inflection for the second half so that the tone of the poem is audibly different and can deliver a surprising counterpoint to the first half or serve to emphasise the emotions of the earlier lines. The effect is at once disarming and devastating, and there is remarkable craft in this achievement.
Finding a voice
Copus started writing as a teenager. “I found I could travel anywhere I wanted to with a pen,” she explains. She came to poetry via Sylvia Plath while in her early twenties. Copus had read The Bell Jar and a biography, but when she later read Plath’s poetry they seemed, she says, “so much more powerful and moved me a lot more. It was very vigorous and alive.”
She readily admits that Plath was a strong influence on her early work and is noticeable in her first collection The Shuttered Eye. “But I think every writer needs somebody like that. You need to imitate before you find your own voice, to work out how people that you admire in your field are doing it.” The more she read, the more diluted the influences became and eventually Copus said she started writing what she wanted to write rather then what she though people would want her to do.
By the time of her second collection, In Defence Of Adultery, she was much more her own woman--the choice of a provocative title, even if semi ironic, is proof of that. Here Copus began exploring the idea of an alternative life made possible by rewinding to a particular moment and making a different choice--a phenomenon she was amazed to find is scientifically explained by the many-worlds interpretation of quantum physics. “What builds a very solid life is actually a series of very tenuous and specific decisions,” she has since concluded.
A move to dream publisher Faber for her third collection, 2012’s The World’s Two Smallest People, catapulted Copus into the sort of world in which she receives rave reviews from the likes of The Guardian and The Spectator.
he collection is her most personal to date, but her poetry is also packed with sharp observation and humour amid the poignancy and reflection of time passing. “It is personal,” she says, “but I hope that they are not self-absorbed. It is really important to me that I am not just writing for myself. I think poetry should be as widely accessible as possible.”