Wondering about the individual sheep: Susan de Muth in bed with Elizabeth Jennings

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I'M HOMELESS at the moment, which is very unsettling. My lovely landlady suddenly died and now I don't know where I'm going to live. I'm in a B&B temporarily, but that makes writing rather difficult. I need a certain peace to write.

The main problem with the B&B is that there's a very contrary undergraduate staying there - you daren't get up any interesting subject because she'll start arguing with you. I rather dread coming down for breakfast.

I've been advertising for new lodgings in the local newsagents, but nothing's turned up yet. I only need one room as I don't have many possessions. I thought when my poetry went on the A-level syllabus that I was going to be rich for the first time in my life, but I'm still impecunious - poetry doesn't seem to pay. I had to sell the best part of my book collection when I was hard up. I've still got my musical boxes and doll's house though - they need a home.

I spend most of the day in a cafe, making notes, writing reviews and doing puzzle books. I bring my notebooks and papers in a collection of carrier bags. All my important documents are in a 'bum-bag' I wear round my neck. I suppose that's my own wild way of having a card index system. Most of my poetry writing is done in bed, however, at night or when I'm ill. I'm no good before 1am. I have to be sure of the quiet.

I never sleep before 4am and if I'm not writing, I read. I quite often suddenly wonder if I might have mislaid one of my notebooks. I get out of bed and check my carrier bags just to make sure they're all there. Not that it would be any great loss to literature if I did do lose a couple. But I couldn't rewrite a poem, that's the thing.

I pray every night, as I have done since I knelt at my mother's knees as a child - I'm a Roman Catholic. I have a rather primitive, ritualistic approach, which irritates me because I sometimes forget what I'm actually praying about by concentrating so on the form. I try to pray for my enemies, but say their names quickly and pass on because I don't want to think about them really.

Because my conditions have not been very good recently, I've been getting insomnia. I have a deep sense of unease and start thinking about terrible things like my poor friend who committed suicide after seeing Schindler's List. She was a Jewish refugee, you see; I told her not to go . . .

I have tried counting sheep, but I start wondering about the individual sheep. I'm a great list- maker and run through the past making chains. I don't keep a diary. I did when I was a child, but I realised that all I ever seemed to write about was the weather. What I consider important usually ends up in a poem. But this all sounds terribly egotistical - please don't think of me tossing and turning in agony all night.

People have said to me: 'Maybe you don't need much sleep', but if that's so why do I always nod off in the cinema? I love going to the cinema, although I must say that 12-year- old children nowadays seem to be able to take a lot more than me . . . I have to be careful what I watch or the fear comes back at night and shakes the curtains.

I live alone but have quite a few friends. We have nice dinners together and sometimes play Scrabble. If I lose, I go very quiet and they say to me: 'Why do you mind so?' and I reply: 'Why do you play if you don't want to win?'

The thing I really dislike is big literary parties where I'm the only person who's not a VIP. I have a horror of being left on my own with nobody to talk to.

I did nearly marry once, just after I graduated. It was very nice having a carnation brought to me every morning and a Pimm's Number One at night. He bought me an engagement ring and then we went to see my father who was watching cricket. I don't know what irritated my father more - that his cricket was interrupted or that a young man had bought me a ring without asking him first. Anyway, it all fell through and father told me afterwards that he didn't think it would have lasted.

My love poems are about real people, for I've had a lot of admirers in my time - not lovers, though, because of my religious beliefs. I don't regret being a spinster. Had I married and settled down, I wouldn't have done the writing . . . that really is so important to me.

Elizabeth Jennings, 68, is one of Britain's best-selling poets. She lives in Oxford.

(Photograph omitted)

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