August 13, 2012 § Leave a comment
Interview with Andy Brown by John Miller
1. What was the first poem you read? How did it affect you?
The first poems I chose to read for myself – that is, poems I wanted to read rather than ones I was told to read by a teacher – were by Shelley. They changed my world. I still have bits of Prometheus Unbound by heart. I was so in love with them I wrote music so I could sing the poems as songs. This was when I was at University. I also read Auden at that time – all the early work, which I devoured. At the same time I also read Hughes properly for the first time.
2. Have you always enjoyed writing poetry? Did you do much of it in school?
I didn’t write any poetry at school as far as I can remember. I must have, I suppose, when I was much younger, but I didn’t start writing poems properly until after I’d left University. I used to write a lot of music, and songs, and when the bands I played with dispersed I was still left writing lyrics. “These things are really poems” – that’s what I remember saying to myself.
3. How did you get your work published or heard? Did you confront any difficulties?
I moved to a new city, Exeter, in 1994 and went to an open mic at the Arts Centre. I read a few poems out and someone came up to speak to me about what I’d done. She said I should go to Plymouth to join in with the poetry scene there. So every fortnight thereafter I drove to Plymouth to talk poetry with the folks there. One of them – Tim Allen – was editing a little magazine called Terrible Work. He really liked what I was doing and published my first poem. It just took off from there really. Nothing happens in a vacuum – you have to be involved and engaged for the publishing/public side of your poetry to take off.
4. When writing poetry, is there a particular mode/form of poetry that you feel most comfortable with?
I’m essentially a lyric poet. Sometimes that means traditional lyric form; sometimes free lyric; sometimes ‘experimental’ as in the techniques of the OuLiPo. But it’s always lyric of some sort.
5. Where and when do you write, especially when writing about strong emotions – is it immediate, or on reflection/from memory?
You come to realise that there are many sides to writing. The actual writing bit I do anywhere; in notebooks, on trains, on my computer, scraps on the backs of envelopes or agendas from boring meetings. That stuff just gets written down and stored. Eventually I’ll type it all up into a big document and start thinking about what to do with it. I very rarely just sit down to write a single poem. I tend to work on all that material at once and start dividing it up, seeing what goes with what, cutting, shaping and adding more. It’s a very physical and tangible activity for me. Eventually, once I’ve turned that initial written stuff into a group of poems, I can start editing. That’s a very different activity. I think I like that the best – it’s the bit I’m best at. That’s when form, and shape, and structure, and music and image come into it for me. And emotion. I build emotion in. I’ve very rarely just sat down to write a ‘strongly emotional’ poem – that’s just not me.
6. Do you face difficulties in transferring an initial idea for a poem/collection of poems into a final piece?
As Hemingway said, the difficult thing is getting the words right. That’s funny. But No, if it’s not a pleasure, or it’s not working, I ditch it and do something else.
7. How long does it usually take you to write a poem? What sort of drafting/editing process do you go through, if any at all?
Twice as long as when it’s half finished. Some poems take days, some take weeks, some take months… but as I said before, I’m usually writing/editing many at once, so it never feels like “This poem has taken me two weeks to write”. I don’t think I could do it if I was just devising, writing and editing each poem, one by one, in sequence.
8. What advice would you give young writers to encourage them to write poetry?
Writing is about writing is about writing is about writing. It’s also about rewriting and rewriting and rewriting. The most important thing is that it is about reading and reading and reading and re-reading etc… You must read everything you can.
9. How did you bring all the ideas together for you book The Fool and The Physician?
A year of thorough research and non-stop reading and writing. What they call ‘a creative flurry’.
10. Are you able to find as much time as you would like to write poetry with commitments working at Exeter University?
I get a ‘research day’ every week; the holidays are long; and every 4 years there’s the joy of a sabbatical. I’m just finishing one now. I’ve read tons, written tons, thought very hard, and worked with gusto and pleasure. What’s not to love? It’s the best job in the world.
11. When you have collaborated with artists and musicians, how has your poetry been affected?
Collaboration is a way of entering into dialogue with the world and the work of others. It opens your own work up to all sorts of developments and challenges. I’ve worked with musicians, sculptors, painters, filmmakers; all sorts. When it clicks, it’s intensely rewarding.
12. What is poetry – both in contemporary society, and for you personally?
In society, poetry has fallen from the most highly esteemed art to the most undervalued art. That’s intensely liberating, and challenging at the same time. For me, personally? I love enthusiasts – they make my life richer. Poetry for me is a way of joining in with the enthusiasts.