Charlotte Guest is a Western Australian writer who has just published her first collection of poetry. Soap is a deeply personal collection of short works that Charlotte wrote between the ages of 19 and 24. Intimate and moving, the book touches on themes of femininity, feminism and family in a beautiful collection that goes beyond a mere coming of age journey to possess broader social relevance.
Claire caught up with Charlotte to talk about the book and pouring your heart onto the page.
The word ‘soap’ connotes intimacy; private moments and rituals; and references the term ‘soapbox’, because some of my poems are proudly feminist statements. Other poems are about family memories and heritage, particularly of my father and paternal grandmother, who I used to watch the ‘soaps’ with on daytime television as a teenager. I think the title brings together a number of themes that run through the collection in a neat and tight way, which I like. I’m a big fan of one-word titles, for some reason: they’re like pulses, or punches, or some other quick, sharp jolt.
What appeals to you about writing poetry?
I write short fiction and non-fiction as well as poetry, but I’m drawn to each mode for different reasons. I like the challenge of poetry: to say the most with the least amount of words; to compress language, be economical with it. My poems tend to be very short because I almost edit them out of existence!
A good poem, to me, always has a sense of being both complete and a fragment at the same time; that is, possessing some division at its core. This idea appeals to me for some inexplicable reason. Maybe because the notion of ‘division’ reminds me of some of my favourite writers: Barbara Hanrahan and Dorothy Hewett, along with a host of others, wrote about the divided self, which was often split along the line of public and private selves. Soap is very much about the more secret and unseen aspects of the self.
When did you start writing poetry?
I started writing poetry quite late, in comparison to other poets. To be honest I started reading very late (the former of course follows in tandem with the latter: you should never start writing until you’ve started reading!). Often writers will talk about how they grew up reading, losing days in books, but I didn’t. I was incredibly outdoorsy and sports-oriented. It wasn’t until late high school that I started taking literature seriously, and not until university that I started writing.
What has the creative journey been like on the path to releasing your first book?
It’s been really rewarding. I’m lucky to be surrounded by supportive friends and colleagues, and without their help I doubt Soap would exist. The poet Paul Hetherington has been especially generous with his time: reading my work, providing valuable feedback, and even connecting me with Recent Work Press.
The experience of having a collection published has also made me a better publishing professional, I think. It’s a nerve-wracking thing, putting into print a work that was previously a private document akin to a diary, and so I’m even more conscious now of the importance of compassionate, empathetic communication between publishers and authors. I think having a positive creative journey myself has made me more determined to make sure the authors I work with have a similar experience.
Is it important to you that the book is printed in hard copy?
It is, it’s really important. Anyone in the book industry will tell you that eBook sales are on the decline, and that print persists. As we always hoped and suspected, it seems nothing will replace the object of the book. Reading is such a tactile, as well as visual, experience, that I don’t think I could have gone ahead with a digital-only book. In fact, Recent Work Press only do hard copy books; something that is completely okay with me. Charlotte
You can order a copy of Soap through the Recent Works Press website over here.