August 8, 2012 § 1 Comment
Interview with Tim Wells by Brendan Pickett.
Author Page – Donut
1. What motivated you to start writing poetry?
Jason King (a 70s detective TV series), and a life of panache & adventure, and the early 1980s Dancehall sound systems, with performers like Eek-A-Mouse. I love the energy and immediacy of deejay toasting… when they catch a moment perfectly.
I started performing “ranting” poetry at these sound systems… which meant I could see gigs for free and meet girls… but soon after I started taking the writing seriously. I’m from a bookish family as well, always reading: which stops one being taken advantage of.
2. There are six prose-poems about Hemingway in Boys Night Out in the Afternoon (BNOA). How has he influenced you?
His persona; his “iceberg approach” to writing; his belief in writing as discipline. Moveable Feast is, I believe, his best book. It’s about Paris in the 1920s. Many people think it’s autobiographical, but is actually a mix of fact and fiction, which I find fascinating.
3. Which other writers inspire you?
The poetry of Martial and Juvenal, (Roman poets) Sei Shonagon and Todd Moore; the short stories of Richard Brautigan, Isaac Bashevis Singer and Isaac Babel.
For their anecdotal qualities… they’re like reggae toasting and pub lies.
5. What’s pub lies?
Two old guys sat in a pub corner… telling the same stories over and over… each week fine tuning their stories’ nuances… gradually honing them to perfection.
6. Is this how you compose?
Yes. I edit a hell of a lot. I call it intensive editing. My style is distillation: I look to get to the essence of what I’m writing about. That’s why I don’t use the word “and” overly. Typically a poem goes through twenty drafts.
7. How do you decide which poems will be in a collection?
Through a lot of arguments with my editor, Andy Ching. Usually I have the final word, but he makes me justify my choices. I trust his critical feedback a great deal.
8. Do you write for performance or page?
First of all, I am not a “performance poet.” The basis of good live work is good writing, so the writing always comes first. However, some poems are more naturally suited to one or the other.
9. Why do you hate the term “performance poet?”
Consider the oral roots of poetry, The Iliad, for example. It was performed, yet is not called “performance poetry.”
There’s power in names. It’s obvious the administration of poetry in this country use the term condescendingly, as a way of encouraging class division. They fail to realise that the wider Chinese Menu of poetry has expanded… in a sexy way!
10. What is the underlying political message behind your poetry?
I’m not preaching a political message – but I do try to express political pressures and desires. More so in the last couple of years because the working-class are being blatantly and openly attacked by Public School wankers. I try to target gentrification in my work, and document how London is changing.
11. Ruth Padel has written that British publishing has “never heard of feminism.” Is British poetry still a ‘boys club?’
After the Oxford Poetry débacle, its hard to see Ruth Padel as anything other than a figure of fun. Interestingly, she doesn’t address the means of production. (I’m much more interested in class than gender.) Being published isn’t a right. I’m interested in people such as Claire Trévien and Kirsten Irving who build their own outlets and media for poetry. There is an excellent crop of working-class female poets at the moment: Helen Mort, Ashna Sarkar, Rachael Allen, Faye Lipson, and more.
12. BNOA is brimming with playful comedy. Why?
I like to laugh at things! I enjoy making people nervous and making people think with laughter. Humour is a very hard craft to write. Ranting poetry was dour, shouty and miserable. That’s why I moved away from it, it didn’t suit my personality.
13. Does using comedy help you to connect to your audiences?
It can make it easier… Stand-up has only one gear: joke after joke. Whereas poetry has many gears, which can twist, turn and manipulate audiences, taking them through numerous emotions, all in the same poem.
Comedy is also useful because academic, or “quackademic” poetry, is continually worried that people aren’t engaging with it. This is due to it being dour and miserable poetry. Although there is nothing wrong with dourness, if it engages with people. Like a needy high maintenance unsatisfying lover, poetry wants to be adored on its own terms: not in this man’s army.
14. BNOA is “unashamedly lowbrow.” Is this you or a persona?
The persona is an edited version of me. I like toilet humour, Carry On films and girls with price-tags on the soles of their shoes. I also read the TLS every week, have an extensive collection of Penguin Classics and once went into the Whole Food Market shop.
15. Is this connected to the melancholic themes in your work?
To a large extent its stage shtick, which is a strong base to work from. Its very easy to be a cultural idiot in poetry, so I’m a deliberate loser in many of my poems, because people will have some empathy with that. I get terribly depressed… which is why I’m a poet… but I do not read self-help books, let me be clear about that.
16. Do you use Pop-culture Icons for symbolic purposes?
I wouldn’t call it Pop-culture… just culture. The culture I grew up in, love and understand. I’ve had this discussion with poets before who say my work won’t last because of those references. I don’t care. If you read Juvenal’s first satire, it opens at an awful poetry reading. One that, if I didn’t tell you when it was written, and changed the names to contemporary ones, then you would swear it was written yesterday.
To answer the question: yes. The archetypes are the same, but the names are different.
17. What advice would you give aspiring poets?
Read and write… And have a business card… I’m shocked that so many people don’t.
18. What do you have planned for the future?