I gave myself a straight choice at the age of twenty-two – either I headed for the smoke in search of a mentor a la Lumsden, Donaghy, etc, or I left for the poorest, most remote part of Spain (as described on my travel website at Extremadura Guide), which I knew and loved from my year abroad. I was aware that I’d go for several months at a time without speaking English except a weekly phone call home, living in a dusty town where I’d be the only foreigner. Bear in mind this was when the internet was in its infancy.
I obviously chose the latter route. It might not have helped me in terms of climbing ladders or having someone to tap me on the shoulder and tell me where I was going wrong, but this isolation enabled me to develop a distinctive poetic tone. What’s more, I had no choice other than to write if I wanted to express something in English.
Have you ever imagined how your writing might have developed if you’d taken such a route? Exile sharpens understanding of your home, as it provides an incomparable counterpoint, while immersing yourself for years in a foreign language sheds new light on your original tongue. However, many critics would argue that you lose touch after so long away, that your views lose validity as a result of such a decision. The garden of forking paths, as Borges would have it.
The shortlist for the 25th TS Eliot Prize has been announced, and it's heartening to see a book from Nine Arches Press, Jacqueline Saphra's excellent *All ...