Introducing a new generation to a seemingly anachronistic art, 22-year-old London-based Greta Ballamacina has won renown for her poetry; intricate and lyrical prose informed by her combined interest in fashion, music and art. Publishing two collections of poetry over the last three years, ‘Kaleidoscope’ and most recently ‘To December, A Devotion to She’, the prolific Bellamacina, also an actress, musician and screenwriter, speaks with Indigo Clarke about finding inspiration in love and exploring art forms through language.
Hello Greta, how is your Parisian flight of fancy treating you?
Greta Bellamacina: I’m feeling optimistic in the powers of a new city. Paris always carries me to strange places under the moon. It is a city with endless charm and I always leave wanting to know it better. The train from London to Paris has been a continual source of inspiration. It’s like a lifeline and a bridge from city to city. I’m currently here preparing for a poetry reading, and in the pre-production of making a short philosophical film about the illusions of what love is by challenging the over-romanticized Hollywood vision.
Where did you grow up, and what was your childhood like?
Bellamacina: I grew up in London and both my parents are artists. I am one of five and as a child I never felt lonely because there was always something new to discover. I remember loving being outside, spending hours looking up at the sky and wondering about space.
You’ve become known as a poet, at a time when it’s almost anachronistic – what drew you to poetry as a form of literary expression?
Bellamacina: The honesty, intimacy and the freedom. I don’t think I ever aspired to become a poet as such, but it seems to be an art form that spoke clearest to me. As I child I would try and write song lyrics as my father was a musician, but they always grew into poems.
What is the role of poetry today do you think? I’ve been thinking a lot about the great British Romantic poets, the major role they played in popular culture at the time, the world they helped shape and make modern, the gift they bestowed on generations with words that gracefully and meaningfully shouldered loss, love, questions of mortality and religion – do you think poetry can have the same impact today?
Bellamacina: Most definitely – I think poetry is for the everyman, the mother, the farmer the train driver. It speaks out in so many different ways to people. I think the internet has made poetry become more accessible. Poetry is still a huge part of pop culture and provides meaning and reason in a variety of new disguises.
Who would you say are your favourite poets?
Bellamacina: Anne Sexton for her highly personal and emotive use of language. Antonia Pozzi and Octavio Paz for their simplicity and powerful enquires to romance. Arthur Rimbaud for his beautiful and frank expression as well as his short poetic stories. The 21st century poet Alice Oswald for her exploration into the human ecology of landscape and time.
What do you find you write about mostly – any recurrent themes?
Bellamacina: ‘Love’ is always the initial root of my writing. But as time has passed, I find myself being fascinated by nature and science. I think it comes from wanting to understand the human condition as well as embrace the beauty of the world we live in. Last year, I made a series of film odes questioning various philosophical aspects of the way we look at nature such as an ode to eternity and an ode to the last sunset. These films were mainly inspired by the climate and the way we treat our environment.
Do you have a favourite among your poems?
Bellamacina: I recently came back from travelling around Mississippi, where I did a series of poetry readings and wrote the poem below ‘Delta Highway’. I travelled around the Delta with friends and was stuck by the beauty and sadness that resonated in the air. Mississippi being the poorest state in America seemed to reflect the globalization in the frozen cotton fields. When it got late, we all went to the local juke bars and spoke to strangers about their dreams that only played out under the stars.
There were revelations
That filled the miles.
The empty cotton fields
That were fried between 5-9.
They were growing near roads
Calling beat the clock
Beat the clock
that greedy clock.
But those cars never did stop.
America was news in Jackson, unbless you.
The Delta lived old,
As far as, to live.
You seem quite an all-rounder when it comes to artistic pursuits – aside from writing poetry, you’re also a screen writer, musician and actress…
Bellamacina: I got selected to go to RADA for a year before I went to university. In that time I studied a wide range of plays and became infatuated with the dialogue. I think that’s where I get my love for screen writing and acting came from. I think it comes for the core of the story and the truth behind the language. I also love putting music to my words and would like to explore this some more. Music is a direct passage to the soul.
Your interview with Joyce Johnson for this issue of RIKA was captivating – what is it that made her such a subject of interest to you?
Bellamacina: I think Joyce has a brilliant way with words. She can articulate a story so well that you feel that you have lived it with her. After reading Joyce’s novel Minor Characters about her growing up in the 50’s in Manhattan, you can really understand her strong sense of character and succeeding in directing her own life through her unconventional decisions.
It’s interesting that the Beat Gen was considered to be so radical and forward-thinking, and yet as a movement was quite misogynistic…
Bellamacina: I agree, I think it is important now more that ever to look back and embrace the females who were over looked. The beat generation seemed to embody the values of freedom but as Joyce reflected, it was much harder for a female to prove herself and be taken seriously. Even today, Joyce reflected on the sexist nature of male book critiques reviewing her social life rather than her writing. In an age where we communicate with strangers across the world online, it seems so socially progressive but also so consciously backwards. It is shocking.
Any poetry books in the works, or any other exciting creative projects?
Bellamacina: I am currently about to launch a poetry book I edited last year entitled ‘Natures Jewels’. It is in collaboration with a fourth generation Munich jeweller, Hemmerle. I have also started to write my first novel, but it may be sometime before that arises. I am excited to explore certain themes of gender, virtue and despair. I am also currently in the early stages of researching a six-part documentary on poets and the places they lived throughout their lives.
You released a selection of poems entitled, “To December, A Devotion to She” late last year – what was the concept behind it?
Bellamacina: It is a collection of eighty poems exploring differing aspects of being a female. I am also fascinated by the railway and trains and have a whole selection dedicated to journey.
You collaborated with Vivienne Westwood recently, what was the experience like?
Bellamacina: Very inspiring, Vivienne is a realist and makes you quickly understand the importance of things. We collaborated on a poetry project as part of her ‘Climate Devotion’, based on the premise that art and culture can make the world a better place.
What do you hope 2014 brings?
Bellamacina: To work with people who surprise and inspire me. Explore different art forms through language.
What does the notion of ‘Grace’ mean to you?
Bellamacina: Grace is about timing and investing in virtuous friendships. Grace as a person would be my wonderful friend, A.C. Grayling.