To celebrate the return of the Manchester Writing Competition, Georgia Green speaks to 2019 Manchester Poetry Prize finalist Karisma Price.
Karisma Price is a poet, screenwriter, media artist and assistant professor of English at Tulane University, LA. Based in New Orleans and New York City, she has published poetry all over the world. Her debut collection, I’m Always So Serious, blossomed from reflections on her identity and upbringing, with a focus on blackness, family and loss.
Price’s work has appeared in publications including Poetry, Indiana Review, Oxford American, Four Way Review, and the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-A-Day series. In 2019, Price was shortlisted for the Manchester Writing Competition, the UK’s biggest prize for unpublished literary work.
We caught up with Price ahead of this year’s Manchester Writing Competition to find out their own creative process and advice for writers considering entering the international competition.
What was your initial reaction to finding out you were shortlisted for the Manchester Poetry Prize?
It was a great feeling to find out I was a finalist. I had just recently graduated from my MFA and didn’t have a book out, so it was validating that I was in the running for a prestigious prize. I hadn’t submitted to many contests and it made me feel like a “real” writer.
Do you have any tips for writers who might also be taking part in this year’s Writing competition?
My tip would be to send in what you think is your best work. Don’t try to guess what you think the judges might like or try to cater what you think their style is. Your submission is a reflection of your creativity and your own poetic voice and that’s what they want to see.
Did you ever struggle with being vulnerable in your poetry and how did you overcome that?
In the beginning, I only wrote persona poems because I was afraid of people knowing things about me and judging me. I’ve gotten over that now, but I think the way I overcame that fear was through an experience in an undergrad workshop where I brought in a poem about my late grandmother. I remember seeing everyone’s reactions when I brought it to the workshop and someone (who I’d taken several workshops with in undergrad) even said “this is the best poem you’ve ever written.” My personal connection to the subject matter really helped the poem shine. I consider it my first “real” poem.
Which writers inspire you?
Terrence Hayes – my thesis advisor and mentor at New York University. Both his teaching, and his poetry before he was my teacher, have been very helpful in the way I approach a poem. Jericho Brown’s first book Please also showed me how one could write a very strong personal poem. His work in general has taught me so much about line breaks and how to break lines in poetry. Also Natasha Trethewey, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Lucille Clifton.
Your work explores race and identity, do you feel a responsibility or pressure to cover these themes?
I wouldn’t say I feel pressured. I write about race, identity, home, how I move through the world and how others perceive me. But I don’t see that as my only marker, even though it may be the only marker for [others] who see me.
Do you follow any poetic rules in your writing?
I don’t go into poems thinking they have to go a certain way. It usually starts with an image or line or sound that I incorporate into a poem. I do like to experiment when I’m writing poetry, I find that the poem is smarter than the poet and it usually shapes itself.
Do you feel like you need your own voice or style as a poet to be successful?
When I first started writing it was for fun, I was a lot more expressive on my page. Now that I’m more experienced, voice is essential. I find I’m inspired by others around me a lot. Voice is really important for the poet and the reader. I found that when I started writing lots of my poems were personal, I then started realising that they don’t all need to be personal. Only your own voice is important. What you write about others might not have experienced and only you can say it in a way your brain works.
Do readers’ opinions affect the way you view your own work? How do you deal with criticism?
I try not to let criticism matter too much. Constructive criticism can be helpful. I accept it and it can help, but I don’t [change my work] to please other people.
On average, how long does it take you to complete a poem?
I just left a poetry retreat where we had to write a poem everyday which was new to me. But I have had poems that have taken years to finish, some months. The first draft is easy, then I will get a friend or go to a workshop to realise what my poems need.
Your new collection, I’m Always So Serious, and older works feature connections to both New York City and New Orleans, which city do you prefer?
Which do I prefer? You are going to get me in trouble! I’m joking. Well, New Orleans is home and in New York I became a poet. They both have importance for different reasons. I wrote about New Orleans in New York. Both show [how I’ve grown up], one as a person and one more as a poet.
I’m Always So Serious by Karisma Price is out now from Sarabande Books. The 2023 Manchester Writing Competition is open to entries until 5 pm on September 1, 2023.