August 11, 2012 § Leave a comment
Interview with Wayne Burrows by Anneliese Hill
1. What was the first poem you read and how do believe this has affected you?
The first poetry I remember hearing was probably the rhymed captions that told the stories underneath the Rupert Bear cartoon strips in the annuals my grand-dad used to read to me, but the first I read quite obsessively on my own were in some of the Dr Seuss books, particularly One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. I sometimes wonder if early exposure to that had anything to do with my almost instant receptivity to Surrealist writers and artists when I began discovering them in my early teens.
2. As a creative writing student, I am finding it difficult getting my name out there and my work published, how difficult did you find getting into the industry and getting your own work published? Do you have any advice for aspiring poets/ writers trying to get their own work published and name recognized?
I’m probably not a very good person to ask about strategies, as I’ve always taken quite a circular route to everything, but I was lucky that a few magazines like Poetry Wales and Poetry Review did support what I was doing at crucial times. I feel a lot of ambivalence about the growth in academic writing degrees and courses as a sort of professionalized route into the business, but I appreciate it’s more useful to some writers than others. When I’ve worked with other poets I’ve always given roughly the same advice: “learn to recognise the quality in your own work and ignore as completely as you can the seductions of external validation”. If you buy into your own successes too much you might also believe the rejections mean more than they do. I don’t think either can tell you anything very reliable.
3.When reading some of your poetry I noticed that a few had Welsh titles. Is there a specific reason for this?
I was brought up in South East Derbyshire, an ex-mining area, but when I was ten or eleven my family moved to Aberaeron, on the mid-Wales coast. That meant I picked up some Welsh in the compulsory school classes and so I now sometimes draw on that extremely minimal knowledge of the language to produce versions of Welsh poems that happen to catch my attention. Generally, these are noted as being ‘after’ the authors of the Welsh poems rather than presented as proper translations, which they never are.
4. Do you have a favourite form or mode of poetry which you enjoy both reading and writing?
I think the one tradition I’ve always returned to and still keep finding new inspirations in is that of Surrealist writing around the globe, from Andre Breton to Jayne Cortez. I was first drawn to poetry by snippets of poems by people like Rene Char, Paul Eluard and Benjamin Peret in books about Surrealist art and my interest really grew outward from there. As far as sheer enjoyment goes, I’ve been taking great pleasure over the last year or so in writing English versions of the lyrics from pop songs of the 1960s and 70s, mainly songs from Poland and what was then Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic and Slovakia).
5. Have you always wanted to become a poet? If so, at what age did you become particularly interested in poetry?
I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to be ‘a poet’ and I probably tend to bristle a bit at being called one. I always preferred the broader term, ‘writer’, which seems less pretentious and far more open to the possibility of different ways of working co-existing inside a single body of work. Poetry as an effect that can be created by a piece of work in any medium, or none, is more important to me than poetry as a specialist sub-category of writing with its own rules and conventions. I got interested in it, along with many other things, when I was about 13 or 14, and came to all of it from a background where it wasn’t taken for granted or even considered a particularly valid thing to do.
6. Are there any particular poets who inspire or influence your writing?
Some very obvious names like Hughes, Plath, Geoffrey Hill, Derek Mahon and Robert Lowell were always clear models early on. But alongside them were many others: Christopher Okigbo, Blaise Cendrars, Vasko Popa, Adrienne Rich, Gottfried Benn…all the writers featured in those Penguin Modern European Poets paperbacks and mass market anthologies you could still pick up at jumble sales through most of the 1980s, really.
7. Do you have any regrets as a writer?
I think at a certain point I was frustrated that I hadn’t gone to university but after I managed to do an MA (with no degree) that feeling kind of passed. I also wish I’d better understood how things worked at an earlier stage. It was years before I understood the necessity of networking and personal connections and stopped assuming that if I focused all my energies on the work someone would just sort of notice when I sent it out.
8. Do you find it irritating when someone misinterprets your work?
I think the final meaning of any piece is decided by the reader so I find the various ways people interpret work I’ve done endlessly fascinating. It can reveal things I hadn’t realised were there that I can develop in other pieces. It does irritate me when certain readers misinterpret work for reasons related to attempts to enforce their own preconceptions on the writing but that’s a slightly different issue, I suppose.
9. In your poem ‘Binary’ who is the female ‘dreaming water’ and what sort of emphasis were you hoping to create by italicising the final words ‘A veil of breath’?
The woman in many of those poems from Marginalia is in one sense the dedicatee of the collection, since many of the poems trace the early years of a relationship, but it’s both her and not her at the same time. The italic in the final line was intended to shift perception from the external perspective of the (male) narrator describing the (female) subject to a sudden, direct transcription of thought that blurs the positions. I hoped the glimpse of a face through that ‘veil of breath’ would place narrator and subject inside the same mirror-reflection and break down the distinction between them on some level.
10. Do you have a favourite piece of poetry which you have written?
Like most people, I suspect the most recent thing is always the favourite, though perspective – even that of looking at it again the next day – can change that. A couple of annoying but very minor typos aside, I’m still fairly happy with The Apple Sequence, which is a collection I published late last year.
11. In the poem ‘After Englynion’ how did you bring together the different ideas and inspirations? Is there a specific reason why you dedicated each stanza to a different individual?
‘After Englynion’ is a sequence consisting of versions of eight Welsh poems, each one an ‘englyn’, which is a very short Welsh strict metrical form that is pretty much impossible to render accurately in English. Because the englyn form can’t really be done in English I cheated slightly and used a rough equivalent, the epigram quatrain, then expanded the content of the englyn to fit the new shape, but held on to some of the cynghanedd – the Welsh metrical pattern that also lay behind Gerard Manley Hopkins’ ‘sprung rhythm’ in the nineteenth century. Each stanza is therefore written ‘after’ the poems of the original englyn authors, so those names in brackets aren’t dedications but attributions of Welsh source texts.