PDBY interviewed the University of Pretoria’s own Caitlin Tallack, author of debut poetry collection, A Birthday Card in May. Caitlin gives us insight into self-publishing, being an author, and her unique view of the creative process.
Please explain more about the title of your poetry collection, a Birthday Card in May?
I suppose it’s not any profound meaning. I had the idea for the collection and how I wanted to lay it out
before I really started. I knew that I wanted to use special holidays throughout the year as prompts, so it was pretty much always guided by this calendar- like format. When the title idea of A Birthday Card in May popped into my head, it kind of fitted in the bigger scheme of how the book would be structured. My birthday is in May, so the title hints at the autobiographical nature of some of the poems. It just
felt right, more than anything.
What influenced you to classify the poems under months, and do the different months have different significance to you?
I think I was looking for a good way to structure a reflection on life so far, and I think because life, in the bigger scheme of things, is structured so chronologically, it relates to time. It made sense to do something time-based. So, having poems structured across the year was just a really nice way to structure that reflection. As for the months meaning something specific, not really. I think that the organic, underlying trends in the way we feel about certain months, comes through. Maybe we are super optimistic
about months such as January, but generally fatigued by months such as July. I think the natural rhythm comes through in some of the poems, but it was not anything intentionally thematic in terms of how the months were split up. If there is a larger narrative, it occurs naturally.
Do you have a favourite “month” of poetry?
Not necessarily. Not because of the content of the poems, but again, I think there is an affection towards
certain months in the real world. I really like January because it feels really optimistic, like you could be anyone or do anything. New Years’ resolutions are always fun and helpful. I have an affection towards January in that regard. I think that in December, in terms of the poems and in terms of the general month, there is a lot of closure that comes with the end of the year and I think that came through in the poems of December. I would say that the beginning and the end are my favourites.
When did you start writing poetry and what inspired you to do so?
I started writing poetry when I was eight years old, and I wrote a poem about my Great Dane puppy.
It was probably a terrible poem, but it was the beginning of my attempts to express myself through that medium. Obviously, at eight years old, I did not understand the greater meaning of poetry. I think that I just turned to poetry as a very natural expression of my thoughts. It was not even a conscious decision to write poetry, it was just a very organic means of expression. It is a portion of my identity, and I say a portion because I study Industrial Engineering and that occupies me on a daily basis. Poetry is just as much of a real part of me as my studies are, and it is a vivid part of how I see myself. I guess that poetry is my “creative” side, but I hate separating my poetry side and my engineering side as “binaries”, because I think that is quite reductive. I would say that I am a more structured creative than some of the other creatives I know. My creative process was very structured in the sense that I decided to write every
single day, whether or not I was inspired. I had a structure, and a plan laid out that I stuck to, to create my poetry.
On your Instagram, it says that you did not tell anyone about the development of your poetry book because it was something that you were doing for you. How did you decide that it was ready for publishing, without the feedback of those surrounding you?
I read a quote while I was working, and the quote was: “Art is never finished, only abandoned”, and this was said by Leonardo Da Vinci. I got to the point with the book, where it was time to let it go. Even though
I do not think I would ever feel like it was totally finished, I just got to the space eventually where I knew that I was done with the book. Of course, I am very proud of the book and I am very happy with it. I would not have compromised on quality standards, but it was more about a feeling and a sense of finality. My intuition helped me know that it was done. There is always something you feel like you need to change, but the 700th time you have gone through the editing, you look at poems and think “I could probably rewrite this entirely” and you have to draw the line somewhere. You rely on your own intuition on where to know to draw the line.
Are there any authors that inspire your style of writing? If so, who are they?
I first evolved my poetry style watching slam poetry. I watch YouTube Channels that present slam poetry. I was more influenced by slam poetry than any other written work. I’ve never gone out and tried to recreate anyone’s style, it’s more what I’ve assimilated from reading poetry and literature over the years. I developed a style that was comfortable for me.
Please explain the publishing process you had to personally go through to publish A Birthday Card in May.
I self-published. There are a couple of reasons that I did that, but in self-publishing, it can be as easy as opening up a Word document and starting to type your poems. At the end of it, you find a printer willing to print the book for you. Very loosely, that’s the process that I followed. In-between that, there is some basic admin you need to do, such as developing your website and getting an ISBN number. Honestly, it really is as easy as opening a document and starting to write. The most exciting part of publishing was having full creative control over my book. This includes the choices of colours, images and layout. One major benefit of publishing through a publishing house is having a publicist that is very connected in the industry, but I enjoyed getting to decide what image my book would take on and how I wanted it presented to people. I enjoy being very in control of how my book is received. Pros and cons, obviously, but I was never looking to write a huge best seller, so this intimate way of doing things really worked for me.
How long did it take you to write all the poems found in your poetry collection?
Well, some of the poems were written when I was 16. In that regard, you could say it took about 7 years. A year ago, I decided I wanted to publish within the new year, and I set myself a hard deadline. That is when the Word document was opened, and that’s when it got serious. It depends how you want to define the start and the end of this process. I think it’s wonderful for creatives to point to a time when they started, but it’s difficult because if you are creative, you have probably been creating stuff for a while so there’s no hard line as to where you started.
Is there anything you are currently working on that you would like to share with us?
Honestly, right now, I am just trying to get A Birthday Card in May on its feet, which is exciting, but it takes up a lot of my time. I am writing casually, but I am not working towards a book or anything. My focus is on promoting A Birthday Card in May.
You can check Caitlin out on Instagram: @caitlinannetallack or have a look at her website: www.abirthdaycardinmay.com.
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