The career of a poet is one that not many people pursue occupationally. What was your first exposure to poetry?
As a young writer, I never considered it poetry. I was more interested in combinations of words. I would endlessly write down things that sounded powerful together, but I didn’t have any understanding of why it sounded good. I developed a style and started writing more and more. It wasn’t until I did poetry readings later that I considered pursuing poetry seriously. I didn’t realize there is such a strong culture of poetry. People were responsive.
So your love for poetry was organic and was always there?
Yes. Every person loves at least one poem or has written one poem. I thought it was something innate [to love poetry]. I explored other art forms and tried to come to term with language. I eventually studied English and explored drama.
Do you remember the first poets whose work you read?
I loved female poets like Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton, so deathly and depressing poets. [Laughs] I loved reading them but I didn’t really understand them. Now, I love the exactly same poems but for completely different reasons. Only when I started editing books and collections did I realize what sort of poetry why the poems spoke to me.
Do you have an example?
Studying poetry in school was a good way to discuss poetry, but only when I edited a collection of international poetry about nature and beauty did I develop a researching mind and discover what I really loved. And I was about to become more critical.
So growing up, was this the career path you envisioned?
I always knew I was a poet, but practically envisioned being a writer. Whether I was making a film or writing a poem, I just knew I would do something with storytelling.
You mentioned that you love the English language. Were you ever interested in studying other languages?
My degree was English literature and language. They make you study a language every year, not to speak the language, but just to understand the phonetics of the language. I did 3 years of different languages – German, French, and something else. It was quite interesting because you won’t really learn the language in one year unless you immerse yourself into the country, but it was a great insight into language because you look at how language is made up. It’s developing the tool of understanding how language is made up and the structure. You realize so many words have different meanings. I was watching a documentary and an Italian painter explained how ‘love’ in Italian means ‘trust’, whereas in English it means the person you ‘connect with.’ In France, ‘sleepless night’ is ‘white night’. I like the imagery around that translation.
What language would you study?
I’m intrigued by French writers and poets, and I would love to be able to read the original poetry translation. I always read the translations and finding a different translation is an art form in itself.
So what draws you to poetry over a more popular genre like fiction?
The power within a poem. When you read a novel, it can be more diluted. It’s played out. With a poem, it takes you way to so many different places instantaneously. I see poetry more as an art form, in that it is limitless. A novel has a more direct purpose and more or less follows a form where it tells a story. With poetry, there are more options that you can delve into. I love the complexity.
Do you consider yourself more of a writer or a reader?
Both – what I find is that in the process of writing, I like to read poetry before I write. It opens your mind. I have become a better writer by reading more poetry. I’m probably more of a reader, but I started co-writing writing with Robert Montgomery [my boyfriend], and through writing with someone else, it magnifies yourself as a writer. You realize how you write. Writing is a solitary act and you can be quite self-indulgent. When you write with someone else, everything has to have an intention. Reading contemporary poetry has helped me grow as a writer too.
So reading contemporary poetry is keeping you busy right now. Who are some poets on your list?
A female poet – Alice Oswald – is probably my favorite contemporary poet. She releases a poetry book every year. There’s such a magic in her writing. She also has a real frankness to her work. There are two writers – Emily Berry and Rebecca Perry – who both express ordinary situations in such a way that takes you away and takes you back to reality. I think that some poetry doesn’t always do that.
I know that in terms of your role as a storyteller, you’ve also dappled with modeling for companies like Burberry. Why didn’t you decide to pursue modeling as a more permanent career?
I actually did do that in university, purely as a job to pay for my university fees. It is an incredible industry because it takes you to so many places and I met many of my best friends through modeling. But after three years, I felt that unless I was the instigator of the story and idea, I didn’t really feel comfortable. You have to be okay with giving your body away to someone else and subjecting it to how they visualize the story. I didn’t like how I was being represented at times. I definitely am open to collaborating. What is interesting is putting poetry on unpredictable places, whether it is film, fashion, music, wherever.
And now, you’re a new mother – congratulations! Have you started writing poetry again since giving birth five weeks ago?
Yes! While I was pregnant I wrote a collection about being pregnant. We spend so much time promoting ourselves or how we want to be perceived, but being pregnant is the one time you feel this power and aura of something else. It takes over you. I think it is quite fascinating state of mind. It’s personal because no one else can see it or feel it. There’s something quite mystical about it. I wrote a series of poems called Stockholm Syndrome, which is when you fall in love with your capturer. As a female, you have to give your body away to this other being and completely let go. And you oddly fall in love. Even after giving birth, you can’t explain it but you have this huge attachment for someone you don’t know and someone who can’t even speak. It’s a thing only a female can write. I realized that when I was researching and reading things online, hardly anyone has written about it. I think that process in itself was something that I didn’t think I would be inspired about.
Over the past years, your life has changed, whether it be meeting your boyfriend or starting a family. Looking at your first book of work, Kaleidoscope, versus your most recent work in collaboration with Rob [your boyfriend], Points for Time in the Sky, do you see differences?
Absolutely. When I did Kaleidoscope, I was exploring my own style. A lot of the poems are more philosophical and less so pointing at something in particular. A lot of them are exploring different concepts. As I explored what interests me more, I’ve built up a body of work. Things I write now are more direct and are written with a purpose, rather than writing for the sake of writing something.
You’re based in England now. Do you see yourself moving in the near future?
It’s funny because I was just having this discussion. Rob works a lot in Paris, but I was born in London and I still live here. I love going to different places and I love tapping into different cultures, but I don’t know if there is one place I would want to live. You can gain so much from a weekend trip. [Laughs] If you go to a city and the people in the city mold your experience for you, and if you’re lucky enough to have that, you can get the best of everything. The challenge of London still inspires me and I’ve never been to a city which suits my ambition for language, if that makes sense.
What cities have you enjoyed visiting?
I did really love San Francisco. I still like gritty cities that have an edge. The city also has to be engrained with music. I really like Vienna it’s like the “Lost Paris.” The gardens, ruins, palaces, and galleries are really grand but not many people see Vienna as a destination. It’s very eerie and quiet, and I love that. I’m really intrigued by Istanbul. I’ve only been once but I want to go back. Istanbul is amassing more poetry and art and fashion into their culture. It’ll be interesting to see how the city grows in ten years.
And lastly, a question we as everyone: how do you define beauty?
I define beauty as authenticity. That’s the key to all beautiful things. [Laughs] Beauty has the same pathos, bearings, and pain as love.
For more of Greta’s work, check out her website.