Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Life of a Poet ~ Viv Blake

by Sherry Blue Sky
Kids, today we're traveling to France, to stop by  Bistrot Viviennne, meet the famous Viv, enjoy some of her cappucino and chocolat, and ask her what life is like for a poet in France. (Can you think of a more romantic place to be a poet?) You will find Viv, on any given day, at Vivinfrance's Blog, whipping up a new batch of poems.

Poets United: Viv, it is so romantic that you live in France!!! Can you tell us a little bit about  your life and family?

Viv: Each of us has two children, married and living in various parts of England.  I have two grandsons, of whom I am unbelievably proud - one at University in London and the other has just started Middle School in Northumberland.  Jock has three granddaughters.

Poets United: And what is your life  like in rural Normandy?  (Sigh.) 
Viv: Life in rural Normandy is very good.  We have a happy house that we designed and had built 5 years ago, with a view that never ceases to calm and inspire me – many of my poems have started life with me gazing from my bedroom window.

View from house

Our previous house was built with his own hands by my retired dentist husband, who pines without a project.   We moved up the hill a kilometre to be nearer the village, as we are getting a bit decrepit.  My six-word-Saturday and I Saw Sunday posts give a wider view of what our life is like.
Poets United: How long have you lived in France, and how did it come about that you moved there from England?
Viv: We bought our first house in France for next to nothing – a stone farmhouse needing a great deal of restoration – in 1989, in order to give Jock a project. This was a holiday home/job until we took early retirement, spent two years working in Seychelles, finally arriving here permanently in 1993, a move never once regretted. 
Poets United: How wonderful! I love the sound of the stone farmhouse. On your war memoir page, you write about being a child in London during World War II. Can you speak a bit about those experiences? 
Viv:  I have written so extensively about those years in my war memoir – to be found at that I doubt if I can add anything much.  Certainly the BBC was a vital part of everyone’s lives at that time, and may have been a subconscious motivation for applying to work there.  My first job at 17, was as a production secretary in the West Indian section of the Overseas Service, a very happy time. 
Poets United: Wow, what a very cool first job! Kids, if you haven’t already, do check out Viv’s war memoirs – she has many very interesting stories. Viv, have  you always written?
Viv: Not really, though my sister and I used to write school stories in bed under the stairs during the bombing raids.  The stories were highly derivative of our regular reading: Enid Blyton; The Chalet Girls books of Eleanor M Brent Dyer;  The Abbey School stories of Elsie J. Oxenham.  We were into midnight feasts, japes and jolly hockeysticks – totally outmoded nowadays, despite the Harry Potter revival of the school story genre!
The first poem I wrote (apart from doggerel batted across the dinner table with my Dad when I was a child) was a group of haiku in French, written as an exercise during an Open University summer school at Caen in 2007:
Le bébé est né
Tout neuf, tout nu, sans cheveux
L’espérance de tous
Le doux bourdonnement
Des abeilles dans la lavande
Soulage mon esprit
and one in English
A wonderful place
I live there still
Poets United: How beautiful! I love the one about childhood! What led you to sharing your poetry on-line? 
Viv:  Soon after finishing my degree in 2010, I was feeling bereft. Like a knotless thread, I was trailing about, unable to settle to anything.  A study buddy – now known as Tillybud, - persuaded me to join in Napowrimo, and that set me off writing with a vengeance.  Finding it difficult to post my poems on the Napo  site, this technincompoop found herself setting up a Wordpress blog, and I haven’t looked back.
The blogosphere and the poets I’ve met there are utterly satisfying to me as a person and as a writer.  I have had a few stories and poems published, but blogging gives me a readership of like-minded folk who would never otherwise have seen my stuff.
Poets United: That's how I feel, too. It still blows me away - here I am, talking to you in France! Who knew such things were possible! Viv, what, most often, triggers you to write?
Viv: Anything and everything!  The poems mostly arrive in response to prompts, for which I am eternally grateful – the much-missed Writers’ Island and Big Tent sites were my lifeline at the start. 
I am also regularly inspired by nature and wildlife; travelling brings on poetry, frequently grumpy; and politicians and bankers inspire angry rants, mostly seen on my other blog
Poets United: What poem, written by you, do you like the most and why?

The tree I see from every window of this house inspired a shape poem which I also re-wrote in French and which appeared in The French Literary Review.

Le Tilleul from my workroom window

The Linden
My skeleton is
bared in purest form,
in slumber for a time through winter's chill.
Equinoctial gales send my branches wantonly waving,
'til comes the rain, replenishing my strength for summer's work.
I stir again. My nascent leaves begin to bud and burst out green.
Birds arrive in feathered phalanx. Calm, all is still.
I preen my regal form in fecund glory.
Summer’s heavy cloak bears down on me,
flower pennants brown to seed. My leaves are liquid gold,
now winter nears.
Inexorable cycle
as my robe
rain, through
frost and snow,
in solitary splendour, I reign.

Poets United: Truly lovely, Viv. And what a spectacular view you have.
Viv: Another favourite, because it reminds me of a very happy time, was written this summer during a poetry workshop run here in Normandy by Penelope Shuttle

The Market in Victoria ~ Seychelles

Victoria Market
The odour repels, yet draws me in
through the grandiose gateway arch in memory
of some bigwig; grubby egrets perched above,
necks drawn in, wait patiently
to pounce on scraps of meat and fish.                                             
A seethe of screeching bustling women,
armed with plaited palm-leaf bags,
jostle me in friendly fashion.
I can’t buy food here … can I?                                                          
An explosion of colour grabs the eye,
such fruit I’ve never seen. ‘Go on, taste it Madame.’
I do, gagging at the reek of whole jackfruit,
drooling at the divine taste of its inner flesh.                                
Give the unsavoury butcher’s row a wide berth. 
Ditto the fish stalls -
those fish must have been caught as long ago as yesterday. 
Look, their eyes are cloudy.


Like Piccadilly Circus, stand there long enough
and you’ll meet everyone you know.                                              
Shula, of the long black rippled hair and gentle nature,
and voice like a screech owl. 
We chat about choir, the problems we have
with intonation and finding the note,
the disaster dynamics - all they know is fortissimo.           
Morag, big and bouncy,
very Grand Blanc, rather posh,
booms on about plantation days
and when can you come for bridge?           
Tiny sparrow, sari-wrapped Reeta -
surprising to see her in the middle of the morning,
away from her windowless sweat-shop kitchen,
preparing the twenty or so pungent dishes
on a roaring primus, to feed Dev,
aged mother-in-law, sons,
arranged daughters-in-law, and hangers-on.                                  
Scavenging dogs in packs
weave through the ricket-bowed legs
of idle gossiping men, crashing dominos
onto a stone slab table.
In a land of abundant fruit and fish,
why would they bother with jobs?  

Driving home, loaded with exotica -
fresh fruit and veg, herbs and spices,
I pass a beach, a pirogue, glittering
just-caught fish spread on the sand.
The babble of bargaining draws me in.
A huge bourgeois is bought for five rupees,
about fifty p in real money, a feast for ten.

* Victoria is the capital of the Republic of Seychelles
Poets United: I definitely feel as if I have been to a market in France J! What was your field of employment before you retired, Viv?
Viv: I’ve done a bit of everything in my time, retiring as a public relations consultant, but my last job was teaching in the Seychelles Polytechnic.  Teaching (totally unqualified, as I left school at 16) proved to be my vocation, something I should have done long before.  I taught commerce to Diploma students and also a course I invented, customer care and telephone techniques to secretarial students
Poets United: It’s so wonderful that you found your chosen profession. I saw on your blog that you recently attained a degree. Can you tell us about that achievement? 

Viv's Graduation 2010
Viv: Next to the birth of my children, the proudest moment of my life was my graduation in 2010,  BA(Open) from the Open University – mainly online courses with a few face to face tutorials in some gorgeous places:  Paris, Florence, Barcelona, Cumbria and Berlin.  I started tentatively with three years of courses in French, and having achieved my diploma, I moved on to Creative Writing courses for the next three years, finishing with a short course in Meteorology, the only science I have ever studied!

Poets United: That sounds glorious! Such awesome locations and tons of writing! What other poets in the blogosphere do you like to read or visit?

Viv: Far too many:  Jock complains that I spend too much time on my laptop.  Favourites  (in no particular order) are to be found on my sidebar, listed as “blogging friends”.
Poets United: When you are not writing, what other interests do you pursue?

Rose Window ~ Fabrics are machine appliqued,
and the piece is entirely hand quilted
Viv: I am a passionate and prolific quilter, which is a good companion to poetry, as hand quilting gives me lots of thinking time.  The Rose Window quilt was made in imitation of a window in Chartres Cathedral, and was given to a friend for her 60th birthday.
I also love most kinds of music, being a very bad pianist, clarinettist and singer.
Poets United: What a fabulous gift you gave your friend. Your quilting is spectacular!AND musical, too! Have you done much traveling? Any special trips that stand out in your memory?
Viv: Not really – when the children were young there was never the money, and holidays were always spent camping in the north of Scotland. The greatest adventure was our time in Seychelles:  I do think you need to live in a country to get to know it properly.  My OU  studies gave me some wonderful travel opportunities and I loved my night-sleeper train journeys all over Europe.
Poets United:  It sounds like a dream life! What is one thing that you know for sure, that life has taught you?
Viv: To love people: we can never have too many friends – though I enjoy being alone too – and to fill every minute as creatively as possible. Life’s too short to waste it idly.

My desk on a tidy day
Poets United: So true. I love the look of your desk. Makes me want to riffle through it to find snippets of poems! Is there anything else you would like to share with Poets United? 

Viv: Gratitude for all the hard work of those who run prompt sites, who give their time to helping us improve our writing, and to all the wonderful blogging friends I have found online.
This is probably one poem too many,  but I would like to finish with this one, because it explains why my poetry is as it is – usually short, direct and rarely ornamented:

To a poet

Never use one word where
three would work much better.
Examples of verbosity,
of words such generosity,
ignoring pure simplicity.
Fill the page, I dare you,
with words and words of wisdom,
beauty, sense, all  buried in
a mound of purple phrases. 
Perpetrate absurdity,
assuage my curiosity
to see how far you'll go
in creating a monstrosity.
To express yourself at length,
is that the right of writers?
No.  Stop.
Try  brevity.
the soul
of -

Thank you for the opportunity to state my case – it really made me think.

Poets United: Thank you, Viv, for the glimpse in at your wonderful life.
So now we have been to France. Wasn’t it a lovely trip? Isn’t it true that the people behind the pen are some of the most interesting folks around? Do come back to see where we travel for our next interview. Who knows? It might be you we talk to next!


  1. Thank you so much, Sherry. I'm blushing furiously!

  2. As your greatest fan, I think it's a wonderful interview :)

  3. I'm in line behind TillyBud...I've often been heard saying (or seen writing) that when I grow up I want to be just like ViV! :) What a delight to wake up to this interview today!

    ~ Paula

  4. What fun, to see all in one interview the many, many things I have pieced together about you through your blog comments, and more! You do have a full and varied life with so many fascinating events. I loved reading your life, ViV.


  5. Viv, it was such a pleasure! I loved my visit to France!!! Enjoy that view for me!

  6. What an interesting life! Not many people live as fully as this. That last poem was a beauty. Thanks for this segment Sherry and Viv, keep those beautiful words coming!

  7. Thanks Sherry for interviewing a lady I greatly admire. You are wonderful writer, and also someone I consider a friend, Viv.


  8. This is another wonderful interview, Sherry. You have a way of drawing out people in the best possible way. Viv, I have interacted with you in the blogosphere for a while now. It was great to read more about you.

  9. What a great interview ... Viv always inspires me and/or tickles my funny bone! Charming ~~

  10. A lovely linden, poem and interview! Viva Viv!

  11. Fascinating! I love the market poem in particular, and it makes me curious now about Seychelles, a place of which I am very ignorant (so far).

  12. Wonderful interview, Viv. Keep the poems and the photos coming. Your blog is the most comfortable place to visit I've ever been. God bless.

  13. A wonderful interview from two lovely ladies! Well done both of you. x

    Viv it is always good to hear more about you. :-)

    PS. That Rose Window quilt is stunning!

  14. I'm so very glad I dropped by, after learning of this interview from Margo Roby. Viv, your life has obviously been quite full. The scenic beauty that surrounds your home takes my breath away, but your poetry and outlook on life do as well. Wonderful interview, ladies!

  15. Sherry and Viv,

    What an interesting lady you have found Sherry.

    Viv, you are an amazing inspiration to many, with all your achievements, not least of which is to be living in France!! I have spent over twenty years holidaying in France and truly regard it as a second home.
    Thank you for your superb poetry too.

  16. Sherry, thank you for interviewing one of my favorite poets/Renaissance women. Viv is an inspiration on so many fronts: I "met" her through poetry, and she creates verse that may be funny one day, ironic the next... and then she knocks your socks off with a lush offering, such as "The Linden."

    Then there's the quilting. Just go to her blog. 'Nuff said!

    She has given me two precious gifts: Encouragement as a poet and throughout my various travails as an M.D. (manic depressive!!), and her tales of being in London during WWII. Ken Burns gives us great gifts in his documentaries, but give me a first-hand account, the honest, gripping truth of war as seen through the eyes of a child who was there and lived to tell. God bless you, Viv, and peace to you an Jock in the years to come! (He's a keeper, for sure. WInk) Amy

  17. Another wonderful piece Sherry. And Viv so nice to get to know you better! I have visited your blog and always enjoy it there!

  18. What a lovely trip and view from Viv's world!
    You are so talented! Great interview ladies :D


This community is not meant to be used in a negative manner. We ask that you be respectful of all the people on this site as each individual writer is entitled to their own opinion, style, and path to creativity.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Blog Archive