Riding out the flood: a conversation with poet Imogen Downes

Rosie interviews her friend Imogen, who will be publishing her first poetry pamphlet this year

A guitar rests at the end of my bed. It taunts me e​ach and every day. A lockdown opportunity missed: to become a skilled guitarist strumming away the hours. I have little hope that lockdown two will advance my musical career. In reality, my guitar sits glumly – untouched and unloved. I am led to believe the others share the same frustrations with their lockdown pursuits, adopted in zeal but ending abruptly. However, a friend of mine did not fall foul to the common dance of I-can​’​t-be-bothered-anymore.

I am led to believe the others share the same frustrations with their lockdown pursuits, adopted in zeal but ending abruptly. However, a friend of mine did not fall foul to the common dance of I-can​’​t-be-bothered-anymore.

Imogen Downes ( known to me as Imo) has written a poetry pamphlet to be published by ​Against The Grain Poetry Press​ ​next year. It is called Becoming Noah​​.​​ She’s already a fellow content creator for ​​Rife​,​ Bristolian and traveller (a term I am using literally as we met travelling across Laos), and now she can add published author to the list. I am, of course, equally proud and amazed.

Imo started at the beginning of lockdown, she tells me, because April is National Poetry Writing Month. With prompts and suggested topics from poetry organisations, she wrote one poem a day. Her motivation was not to get published – i​t was simply to flex her creative muscles and seize a “big opportunity” of having less hustle and bustle, to just think, and write. By the end of the month, she had a catalogue of verses and a well-earned sense of achievement. It was then that Imo spotted the opportunity to get published.

Her motivation was not to get published – i​t was simply to flex her creative muscles and seize a “big opportunity” of having less hustle and bustle, to just think, and write.

As April turned to May, P​oetry W​riting M​onth turned into “Imo’s poetry editing month”. This was the most difficult part, she said, and the one that receives far less attention. You have to re-engage with the emotion of the piece and untangle what it is trying to say. This involves fine-tuning your writing so a first draft is transformed into a final piece. Imo posted an editing tip on ​Twitter​ each day to keep the momentum going and encourage herself to sit down and get on with it.

The first publisher she approached decided not to publish her work. The second, ​Against The Grain Poetry Press,​ did. “I was really surprised… and pleasantly shocked​,​” she told me. She is now eagerly looking forward to the release of her work in Autumn 2021. Her success comes as little surprise to me or anyone who knows her.

The pamphlet is called ‘Becoming Noah’ after the Biblical Noah’s Ark story. “I really like the metaphor behind it. The idea of building your ark in preparation for the flood and the idea that there’s always a flood coming.” Her poems elicit the notion that there is “going to be suffering and there’s always going to be crises… and you need to prepare for that and build your ark.”

“I really like the metaphor behind it. The idea of building your ark in preparation for the flood and the idea that there’s always a flood coming.”

What does building an ark mean? I ask. It’s, Imo replied, building your life in a “solid way” that can weather storms. “It looks different for everyone, but for me, it was about having a focus and finding meaning in my life”. Part of it relates to “adopting responsibility”, she adds. Not flinching from challenges. Making sure you love and are loved. The importance of nature and how we all come from it. Finding balance. A form of checking in with oneself. Imo is particularly proud of the title poem, Becoming Noah​, and We A​re A​nimals D​on’t F​orget I​t is another favourite​.

My friend’s achievements, to me, demonstrate that creativity and ingenuity can still breed in the darkest of days. Imo showcases that – as young people – we are still innovators and narrative-writers. Her success is a lesson for us all. Do. Not. Give. Up. Hope.

Keep up to date with Imo’s work over on her Twitter

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