Denise Bennett Interview

Denise Bennett, the second of our Contemporary Poets, interviewed by Editor Jacky Dillon

Jacky: Tell us a bit about yourself and your writing, how would you describe the work that you do?

Denise: Well I have always written since I was a child. I like to use history, sometimes local history, to inform my work.  I think that my work has an element of spirituality about it.  I usually go around with a notebook observing people, writing down eaves-droppings and picking up little seeds of writing and that’s how the poems start.

Jacky: What is your earliest memory of writing or appreciating writing?

Denise: I think I really liked writing and appreciated writing when I was actually at Junior School.  We had poems to memorise or even the lines from hymns, I just liked the beauty of language and the rhythm of it.

Jacky: What has been your creative journey to the point where you are now with your writing?

Denise: I am now trying to put together my fourth collection and I have a publisher in mind who has requested it, but of course that is not to say it will be published.  I have always written it just something I have to do, it’s a compulsion.  I studied for a BA with the Open University and finished this off at West Sussex University doing creative writing and then followed this with an MA.  I go to various workshops, so I have always got it in the back of my mind – it is part of my life.

Jacky: Do you have any strategies for clearing the mind and achieving focus for a day of creativity?

Denise: Quite often when I can’t write, I sit myself down (when I have cleared myself from all the tasks I have to do) and read a poetry book because that will stimulate me.  I think that is one of the key stages that I go through to write because if you don’t read poetry then your own writing is not informed, and it enriches your poetry.  I will sit down and read for a good 15 minutes from a book that I take from my poetry library, just off the shelf, to get myself in the mood for writing.

Jacky: Can you tell us more about the appeal of connecting to local historical events for you?

Denise: I think that Portsmouth is a city very rich in history.  I have always loved local history so if I find something that is interesting, I want to put it into a poem.  I have recently been looking at a wonderful sculpture at the D Day Museum – I am not particularly in favour of war, but this beautiful sculpture spoke to me.  It is a man kneeling down, who was the first man at D Day to be killed and instead of holding a grenade in his hand he is holding a dove.  He is kneeling on a pile of bullets (2,000 or more) for the number of men killed on D Day.  His name is Den, my name is Denise, he had a daughter named Margaret and my middle name is Margaret.  I used to gather bluebells in Southwick woods, quite nearby where the D Day events were planned, so I felt that we had a connection between us and I had to write a poem about him.

Jacky: How important is your research to you – do you complete this before you start writing?

Denise: Research is very important if you are referring to historical artefacts or events, you can’t say that the Victory has six masts if it hasn’t (that type of thing), so you have to do your research.  No – I get the creative work finished first, I think that is most important, then you can look up the details and make sure that you have got it right.  Then you often find things along the way that you want to put into your poem, other ingredients – it does come from the heart, but also from the research as well.

Jacky: Can you give us some of the background to your most recent publication ‘The Water Chits’?

Denise: That is a poetry pamphlet and the title is taken from a marine who was at Gallipoli where their water had to be brought in kettles (a big container).  A lot of the troops who died at Gallipoli would have died from lack of water, they couldn’t cook, they couldn’t bathe the wounds and there was a terrible lack of hygiene.  The person who collected the water from the ships would have had to provide a slip of paper with the following written on it ‘please give the bearer 8 kettles of water’ – the water chits.  If he didn’t bring the water back with him then men would die. The soldier had joined up to play in the band and had no idea of the conditions and heart-breaking circumstances he would end up going through.

Jacky: Do you have a favourite line, verse or paragraph in your works that you have written over the years?

Denise: As I often write about relationships one of my own poems which I found satisfying to write is a love poem called ‘Open Air Concert.’ It was inspired after hearing a Welsh male voice choir singing Let it be me by The Everly Brothers at an open-air concert in Saundersfoot when I was on holiday a few years ago.  (Read the full version of this poem at the end of the post, but here are the final stanzas.)

that evening when they sang
Let it Be Me by The Everlys
and I reached for your hand

on the quayside;
that evening –
I blessed the day I found you

Jacky: Which writers/poets working at the moment do you admire?

Denise: One of the poets whose work I admire is Robyn Bolam.  I find her work very beautifully crafted, inspiring and thought provoking.  Her latest collection Hyem by Bloodaxe Books is a treasure.  I also greatly admire Carol Ann Duffy’s work which opens readers eyes to the world.

Jacky: Can you name a book or poem that has had a big impact on you and why?

Denise: One the poems which has had a big impact on me is Clearances (5) by Seamus Heaney. This is one of a series of poems written about his mother after her death.  It hints at of the loving relationship between himself and his mother through the simple act of folding sheets.  Heaney uses language in very subtle way to express the tenderness between them.  The poem is about the ‘unspoken love’ between parent and child.  I often use this in workshops to promote discussion.

Jacky: I know that you run poetry workshops in the local area – could you tell us about these?

Denise: I run poetry workshops as part of creative writing sessions including a U3A (University of the Third Age) poetry group for people who want to learn more.  It is wonderful because a lot of the group have only been exposed to poetry at school and I give them something that is quite modern about everyday life and it is really lovely to see them engage with something that they didn’t know was there for them.  Most of the sessions are in Havant, but I also run a creative writing course at the Havelock Centre in Southsea.


Open Air Concert

For Tom

That evening when I heard
the Tenby Welsh Male Voice Choir
singing Hallelujah at Saundersfoot,

when the notes rose and fell
like birds wings, were carried
in the air over the bay,

that evening when I heard
the song about the pit,
miners coming up to the sun,

when those strong words
were lifted on the salt wind
to the sky,

that evening when they sang
Let it Be Me by The Everlys
and I reached for your hand

on the quayside;
that evening –
I blessed the day I found you.

Denise Bennett


Denise has contributed two poems to the England Remembered Book; ‘Edith Silvester’ and ‘Letter to…’.

Read the first part of Denise’s interview with her poem Edith Silvester paired with Edward Thomas’ As The Team’s Head-Brass here

Denise Bennett’s pamphlet collection – ‘Water Chits’,  was published by Indigo Dreams (2017).  Her first pamphlet collection ‘American Dresses’ was published by Flarestack in 2000 and her two full length collections, ‘Planting the Snow Queen’ (2011) and ‘Parachute Silk’ (2015) were published by Oversteps Books.  Denise has a Masters in creative writing and teaches at Portsmouth College. 

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