Photo © Siobhan Harvey
We recently kicked off a series here on the blog in which we talk to erstwhile Structo authors, finding out what they’ve been up to since appearing in the pages of the magazine. We would usually wait more than one issue before catching up, but Siobhan Harvey just had her issue eight poem ‘Considering the Autistic Boy as a Cloud’ selected for the Best New Zealand Poems anthology, so it seemed like a fitting moment.
How long have you been writing poetry?
I have been writing poetry since I was 16 years old. When I was at school, creative writing began to be considered as an accepted part of the curriculum. In the journey towards O-Level/GSCE exams, my English teacher asked us to write stories. From somewhere unknown, somewhere I am (for various reasons) unable to name but can ‘touch’, narratives, long and complex poured out of me. Neat short stories. Epic, cliff-hanger mysteries. I wrote them all. In the journey towards my A-Levels, we were encouraged to make the inventive leap into poetry, and I fell helter-skelter into the form. Within a few years and a move to London, I was spending much of my time at the South Bank Centre, at the Poetry Library, reading, writing and gathering poetry competition entry forms. To my surprise, to my wonder, poem publications in magazines and competitions followed.
Can you share the back-story to ‘Considering the Autistic Boy as a Cloud’?
This is an extremely long and complex back-story, and one which, as yet, I know hasn’t achieved its resolution – because that’s the nature, the essence of living with a child who has Autism/Aspergers/ADHD/Autism Spectrum Disorder. The expedition of child and parent through this (I dislike the word) “disorder” is incremental and on-going. But for the sake of concision, I can say that at the age of seven years old, after five years in which I knew instinctively something was different (not wrong, or defective, just different) about my son, he was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum. If that seems straightforward, the path to reaching that diagnosis, and indeed the path we have trodden thereafter has been very complex and nuanced. For instance, my partner and I were told by educators (kindergarten teachers) that our four year old son was not playing “normally” with other children. It wasn’t long before we were told that our son was “gifted”. But the essence of the definition over that which is “normal” and that which is “other” stayed with me and became so deeply apparent to me when my son started school. By then, at the end of each school day he was dragging me to a local park to look up at the heavens and lose himself in decoding the pictures presented to him by the clouds. And this indeed seemed deeply “different” from his peers who dragged their parents down to the local park to play swings, slides, see-saw and, indeed, play with one another. At this point, I made the additional realisation that though my son’s nephology was his creative venture, it was also a vehicle by which he became an outsider, divorced from the everyday world of his peers. The motif of the cloud-watcher who (a truism it seems to me relevant to all hobbyists) in his fixation becomes something akin to the object he is fascinated by was the spring board into ‘Considering the Autistic Child as a Cloud’.
How did you come across Structo?
As a writer who spent most of her life growing up in the UK, and only moved away a decade ago, I’ve sought to retain strong poetic and cerebral ties to that country. I have written a cycle of poems themed around the motif of ‘Considering the Autistic Boy…’ published in the UK, in magazines like Stand; poems in my previous collection, Lost Relatives, which charts the experience of the migrant and universal relevance of the migrant story as narrative held within us all, are presented in spoken word and text on my poet’s page on The Poetry Archive. So, though not thorough, my knowledge of the UK poetry publishing scene remains strong; and a friend had leant me a copy of Structo to read. I was really taken by the vibrancy and energy of the work I found there – a freshness and elan which enabled me to realise that much has changed, strengthened and deepened in the world of the UK poetry magazine since my departure from the UK shores. I wanted to submit something to Structo right away, but decided to defer until something which seemed to fit in with the cutting edge, poetically innovative feel of Structo arrived on my white pages. In ‘Considering the Autistic Child as a Cloud’, arrive it did, and once the poem – and a few others – were polished, I submitted.
Can you explain Best New Zealand Poems, to those who might not have come across the site?
Best New Zealand Poems is, as its title suggests, a collection of the best (25) New Zealand poems published anywhere in the world during a given year. It is an annual anthology, and is found online. It has been running since 2001 and each year the organisers, our pre-eminent creative writing school, The International Institute of Modern Letters appoints a different editor. Essentially, any poem written by a New Zealand poet published anywhere in the world during the year can be entered into the anthology. The appointed editor selects their best 25 poems. It is a very high profile anthology and is, additionally, in this day and age a vital digital resource for teachers facilitating the writing and/or study of New Zealand poetry.