Julie's work explores languages, identity, migration, and much more. Her début poetry pamphlet Whalers, Witches and Gauchos was published by Nine Pens in 2021, and she is also an English Literature PhD student at The University of Huddersfield. Her academic research focuses on Sylvia Plath's complex relationship with England and her transnational identity as an American writer with strong European connections. I asked Julie how she got into poetry and academia, and what it's like to do both!
Rachel: How did you get into poetry?
Julie: Let's start with poetry in French. I hated poetry as a young child because in France the way they teach poetry is to force children to learn a poem and then go up on stage and recite it. I started appreciating poetry at the age of 13 when I studied the French poet Arthur Rimbaud. It was two years after that I started writing it, as a fan of Rimbaud!
In France there isn't a poetry scene as dynamic as in the UK and Ireland and I was living in the middle of nowhere so I was just writing for myself. It was only when I started living in the UK and Ireland that I saw from contemporary magazines in bookshops that there was a scene I could join. I started writing poetry in English at the age of 21 or 22, so seven years ago Rachel: What are your writing interests?
Julie: My pamphlet Whalers, Witches and Gauchos
deals with my Basque heritage. It explores how Basque people migrated to America in the 19th century to find a better life. My family went to Argentina and worked as gauchos in the pampas among other things. And the witchcraft heritage - there were several major trials in the Basque country. There are also a few poems in the pamphlet that deal with my life in Italy. I've moved between the UK, France, Ireland and Italy several times so there's also my own history of migrating. Rachel: And how did you get into academic work?
Julie: It's not cheerful! It was when I had a nervous breakdown. After my Masters degree I thought I needed to find a job as soon as possible. I think I just wanted to be like everyone else, have a stable 9 - 5 job. But I started a 9 - 5 job and it didn't satisfy me whatsoever. I started having regrets and resigned. Then I was unemployed and I thought it was time to really go for what I want.
I had wanted to apply to a PhD for years but I'd had lots of people telling me, 'Ah, it's really difficult to find a job in academia, you're not going to manage.' But I thought I would try because I had nothing to lose and otherwise I would have regrets all my life. It was really a bad time, in the middle of a depression, but paradoxically that gave me the push to do it. It had a happy ending! Rachel: When you went back into academia, did you know what you wanted your specialism to be?
Julie: I was already interested in Sylvia Plath. In the middle of my nervous breakdown I went to a Sylvia Plath event at the British Library and I met a visiting scholar who became my future supervisor. Plath's collected letters had just been published and the event really triggered something. I decided I wanted to work on Plath now that there is all this new material to work on.
In my thesis I'm talking about Plath's transnational identity. My philosophy teacher used to say people do theses and dissertations linked to their lives. I didn't understand that at the time but it's true in my case. Rachel: So I am pretty ignorant as to how academia works. Where are you at now? Are you mid-PhD, are you towards the close, are you just starting?
Julie: I could have finished the PhD in 2022 but because of Covid I couldn't do research trips, there were no conferences, and some difficult things happened on a personal level. So I am doing it in four years now rather than rushing to finish in three years. I'll finish it next year if all goes well.
I think we all need to be indulgent with ourselves given everything that has happened over the last two years with the pandemic. With my poetry as well, I have a writer friend who tried to encourage me last December to get my collection published at all costs in 2022. It's true I have it ready, it just needs a bit of polishing. But I just didn't have the time this year, I needed to focus on my PhD. We need to learn our limits! Rachel: Do you feel that your work as an academic influences your poetry?
Julie: More the other way around. Because I'm a poet, I don't take it for granted that everything Plath wrote is autobiographical or true. I think a lot of people are tempted to do that.
Also poetry has made me more patient. I'm very slow at editing my poems so I don't mind editing the thesis.
And also rejections! As a poet we get so many rejections that I don't take academic corrections or criticisms badly at all.
If I could just mention creative writing teaching, my teaching does influence my poetry. When I create a brand new course with a theme, I have to read as many poets as I can. Sometimes there are authors I don't really like but I force myself to read them when I create the course. Even if I'm not fond of some poems, if they can teach something to my students I include them. I have a broader perspective as a result. And I learn things from my students all the time. And teaching forces me to make things simple. The point of being a teacher is to pass on knowledge and I take that into my poetry. I'm trying not to make my poetry too complicated unnecessarily. That's a teaching habit as well. Rachel: And how did you get into teaching creative writing?
Julie: It was also when I was unemployed and depressed. I just saw a job ad with City Lit and applied. I had been a student with them on short courses before and I'd loved the atmosphere - friendly, diverse, open to people who are older or coming to poetry after difficulties in their lives.
At the time I only had a teaching degree and a couple of poems published in magazines. I didn't have any experience directly teaching creative writing so they really gave me a chance. Miracles can happen!
Especially since the pandemic I've noticed more people are doing creative writing courses to feel better, in particular students with disabilities or with difficult life experiences. Through teaching I feel I'm helping some people at least to feel better or evacuate things in their writing. Rachel: What is your aspiration for your poetry in the future?
Julie: I'd love to get my next collection published in 2023. I feel done with the poems. For myself I want to turn the page. And this might sound idealistic or naive but I hope people are going to connect with the poems. There are poems in the collection about misogyny, toxic masculinity, gender. In the poems about migration and cultural identity, there's xenophobia and Brexit. I just want people to connect with the collection, either because those things happened to them or because the poems could make them change their mind. Rachel: I don't think that's naive! I think that's what all poets hope for.
Julie: Well for some poets it's more about evacuating things, or maybe not in poetry but some people write to become famous or make money. Rachel: If anyone is reading these newsletters looking for how to become famous or make lots of money, I hope I can persuade them to do something else! What is one piece of advice you would give someone considering academia and poetry? Either an academic who wants to get into poetry or a poet who is considering going down the academic route?
Julie: Keep the two because the two nurture each other. Keep your options open, don't shut any doors. Having a published pamphlet might help me secure academic jobs because I could teach creative writing alongside English Literature. Organising and performing at poetry events shows I can speak in public, which strengthens my academic CV. Also I couldn't earn a living through my poetry and creative writing teaching alone. Several poets manage to earn a living by mixing things and not focusing on one career. Rachel: And finally, what's one thing that people reading this newsletter can do to support you and your work?
Julie: Write me a message! What pleases me the most is when people on Twitter or email send me personal messages about why they connected with my book. That's meant more to me than being shortlisted for prizes or anything like that. I've started doing it myself for poets I like, even if I feel shy!
Once a teacher who was teaching kids about World War One reached out to tell me she had taught my poem in her class. They talked about toxic masculinity and the boys in her class had really engaged with it. One of the boys even chose to read it out on Armistice Day. That made my day! It makes me feel like I'm useful, like I've got a purpose on this earth.
P.S. You can reach out to Julie through her website
or on twitter