To celebrate the release of Olivia Snowdrop's second poetry collection, Ants in a Jam Jar, I interviewed them about this collection, how it compares to their first (Snowdrop: A Collection), what the future holds for their work and what it is like operating within such a vast and diverse online community. Snowdrop is a writer and you can follow them on Instagram @oliviasnowdrop. Ants in a Jam Jar is now available for purchase, a link to buy will be provided at the end of the interview.
Q: Congratulations on your second collection, Ants in a Jam Jar! Can you tell us briefly how this collection continues on from your first? Or would you consider it a departure?
A: In some ways that’s a difficult question to answer, because it is both. This collection is still biographical, still my own experiences, just like Snowdrop was. I guess really what has changed here is me: this is a snapshot of my life over a certain period of time and as I constantly evolve, so will my writing. I would say it is a continuation in certain themes (my journey with mental illness, for example) and a departure in form compared to my first collection, to something I would say feels much more authentic to me, and more mature.
Q: Ants in a Jam Jar begins with a focus on motherhood and how it is an expectation pushed on people. Can you share how living with this expectation has shaped your identity and experiences?
A: Since completing this collection, I have come to realise that I do not in fact identify as a woman! This realisation, and gradual move into a more fluid identity, has somewhat eased the pressure I felt so acutely before. I felt previously that the expectation for women was to choose: be a mother or have a career, and when neither of those appeal to your values (as they did not to my own), it can leave you feeling lost, limited, desperately trying to fit into either mould, caregiver or capitalist. My future looked narrow, as I’m sure it does for many women, and I feel grateful for my newfound non-binary identity for helping me discover the vastness, not only in myself, but of my options in this world.
Q: Do you feel a stigma continues to exist around those who write about rejecting motherhood? What do you wish would change?
A: I think there is still a stigma around people who reject motherhood, definitely. The assumption that you’ll change your mind, that disbelief, can make even the surest of themselves feel like it’s an invalid life choice. There’s a patronising quality to it, in the same way those who come out are often told it is “just a phase”. And if you DO change your mind, then there’s a smug “I told you so” and you can fear contributing to the same stigma that you were once trying to reject. That is all to say, life is hard enough without us all making each other feel bad for our choices. Pushing motherhood onto those who don’t want it, making out like it’s the pinnacle of what it means to be a woman, is as wrong as making those women whose lives do revolve more around having children, feel like they have missed out by choosing motherhood. Societal expectations, and we as the mechanisms through which they work/are perpetuated, need to take a step back and get out of the way of individual happiness.
Q: Much like Snowdrop: A Collection, Ants in a Jam Jar follows the process of change, with each section denoting a part of an insect’s life cycle, does this structural choice reflect your views on change? What draws you to metamorphosis in particular?
A: Humans aren’t ants, we don’t have a defined cycle of change, and a simple purpose/goal by which we live our lives, so I have never believed our own metamorphoses to have a true endpoint. The final poem of the book doesn’t tie it up neatly; in fact the collection finishes with a question. I have a personal connection to reinvention, to fluidity: both in my gender identity, who I choose to love, and how I choose to present myself. Metamorphosis in particular also speaks to me as a person with mental illness: I imagine my anxiety as a jam jar filled with flying ants, so there’s a visceral draw to that frenetic energy, that constant motion.
Q: In regards to identity, change and perception, you often talk passionately about the constraints put upon us by social media/having an online presence, what have you learned during your time online about people’s perceptions and how it impacts how you view yourself?
A: I think one of the hardest things I find about using social media and building an audience for my poetry on there, is the rigidity and expectation to always do, or be, one specific thing. When you find what works for you (and the algorithm) there can be the pull to replicate that in order to capitalise on your niche. However, as someone ever-changing, I find it difficult to state something definitive about myself, or keep doing the exact same thing, without the fear that it may not reflect future me. There is one particularly significant example of how this static internet identity had real world implications for how I viewed myself: it was actually being perceived and labelled as ‘female’ within the poetry community online that spurred me on to my gender journey. I think social media can be a helpful tool in finding communities and identities that speak to you but, ultimately, if you are looking to Instagram infographics to tell you who you are, you are going to find easy answers that disregard nuance and miss out on the complexity within us all.
Q: One particular poem explores receiving messages from people who barely know you, commenting on who you are, and how false this feels. To what extent does the online community feel false and do you think there a way to remedy this?
A: I’m lucky in that I haven’t had to deal with negative comments on my poetry on Instagram (due to the nature of that community) but I do sometimes struggle with the praise from strangers online! Of course, I am extremely grateful to those who show up consistently, and to the genuine friends I have had the pleasure of meeting through the app, but there are times when I cannot connect the overwhelmingly positive feedback to the negative self-image I hold on my worst days. During those times in particular, it is the faceless quality that renders certain compliments hollow, and I have a hard time believing those dispensing them are truly expressing how they feel towards me, another faceless entity on a screen. I don’t have the answers! I wish I did. I think it is important to foster honest connections within these larger spaces, make sure the support you’re giving is sincere, and be curious about the people behind the posts – although how you keep up with all of this as your platform grows/your relationship to spending time on social media changes, I am yet to figure out!
Q: I recently read an article about how many believe creative writing should be integrated into mental health care, due to research into how it benefits those struggling with depression, loneliness and grief. What are your opinions on this? Would you say writing has become a strategy you use in your healing/periods of recovery?
A: I agree that writing can be a useful strategy in the healing process because it allows you to bring thought into the physical world, to see pain, look at it, examine it, find new ways of coping with it. I also believe sometimes the best thing I can do for my own mental health is not write about it. I would not have said this a few years ago, but as my recovery progresses, I have found rehashing certain traumas in my poetry to be the very thing that keeps me sick. There is the danger that reliving particularly difficult memories over and over in this way can be like sticking a pin in a wound that’s nearly healed. I think it’s up to the individual writer to determine when a topic or experience is exhausted, when they feel they have successfully purged it from their body. There is no timeline for this. I recently had this revelation during Escapril 2022: I realised I was done writing about something significant from my past. To keep dredging it up in the hopes of writing a half-decent poem (maybe in my mind also a poem more people would relate to) felt disingenuous. More importantly, I would be allowing something I have mostly put down and processed to rear back up and hurt me. In that instance, writing about the thing was causing unnecessary pain.
Q: On a lighter note (perhaps), what does Ants in a Jam Jar mean to you? How do you hope it will impact your readers?
A: This collection, for me, is a letter of goodbye to the past. Whether that be past versions of myself, or a farewell to various people and situations, this book is a chapter opening and closing. Or, continuing and closing. I hope anyone who reads ANTS IN A JAM JAR knows that, in whatever form it has burrowed itself in you, there is life after unimaginable heartache. That when the book closes, life goes on.
Q: Is a third collection an ambition of yours? Or is creating dictated more by spontaneity rather than long term planning?
A: I would love to write another collection, although I haven’t started planning what that would look like yet! I definitely have some ideas but I think my next move after this book will be a slower one, maybe a more measured one, as these two previous self-publications did feel as though they were rushed to get out in order to not fall too behind my shifting identity as a poet! I may perhaps pursue the more traditional publishing route but we’ll see! I’m at a time in my life where I really need rest and space to gather my mental energy in order to forge forwards to (hopefully) something exciting and (possibly) something new.