August 15, 2012 § Leave a comment
Interview with Clare Pollard by Sabrina Prescott-Nelson
1. What was the first poem or poet that you ever read? How did this affect you or your writing in the future?
I had a wonderful treasury of poetry when I was younger, full of many famous poems including ‘The Raggle Taggle Gypsies’ and ‘The Owl and The Pussycat’. The first adult poetry I got into was by John Donne and Sylvia Plath. I loved both of their work and discovered them whilst studying my A Levels. Reading Plath blew my mind when I was only sixteen; she is really good at angst. Both writers influenced me whilst writing my first book.
2. What do you enjoy most about being a poet?
I have always wanted to be a writer that is just how I like to express myself. I began writing musicals at the age of four, since I could remember that is what I loved. I am quite easily bored and a poem is just a little thing, whereas with a novel you keep on working on it for a year or more. But poems you can do in a couple of hours and it’s done, you can be pleased with it and then move on to the next one. I suppose that is what is nice about poetry. Also I like the oral side to it; I have always liked performing and reading, so I love that aspect of it as well. It is very social; I get to do a lot of readings and workshops, rather than a Novelists life which I think might be a bit lonely.
3. Your first play was The Weather and it was performed at the Royal Court Theatre. How do you prefer to hear your work? In poetry, plays, reading it yourself or other forms?
I found having a play on a really mixed experience. As a poet you are very use to controlling your work and every word used. So to have a play on and their saying the lines in ways you don’t expect and they change the stage directions, I found it quite horrific really. Having it out of my control made me feel really angsty. So not theatre, probably reading my poem myself is probably the best form for me.
4. When you began writing what did you imagine it to develop into, a hobby or a career?
I guess I saw it as a career, which is quite naive actually as I didn’t realise how difficult it is to make a living as a poet. But I always wanted to be a writer; there was no question about it.
5. Do you ever get torn between writing novels, short stories, plays or poetry?
Yes I do, I am still am torn between all those things. I think I just found poetry easiest, so that’s what I got my success in first. I do write short stories and I have written novels that haven’t yet been published. I recently published a children’s novel and I’ve had a play on, so I have written all different genres. I think the one thing you can’t do in poetry is storytelling, so that is what draws me to other forms because I want to make up stories. Although there are some of those stories in my new poetry book, it is harder to tell a tale.
6. Before writing a poem how much research or planning is needed?
It really varies; some just come to me from things like the news. I wrote some poems about the Pendle Witches, I grew up near there so I knew it would be a good subject for me. I really wanted to find out a lot about them, so I did a lot of research and read all the transcripts from the original trial. I spent ages thinking how I can approach this subject, that took a lot of research, but other things can come more easily.
7. How do you see your work different from other contemporary poets?
In my earlier years I was known as the “The bad girl of British Poetry”, I was known for my confessional style and I was very honest about being a young person. Including sex and drugs in my work made me stand out. My new book is very different from that, it’s much more immersed in folk and a lot more political than most of my contemporary work.
8. When you began writing how did you get your work published or heard?
I started sending stuff to poetry magazines, I was very lucky to have my poems published in some of the bigger magazines like Poetry Review when I was only sixteen or seventeen.
9. Why do you use particular verse form, mode or style?
I am very interested in form, but only as far as it goes to serve the content. I wouldn’t write a sonnet just for the sake of it, I would write it because the poem needs to be short, tight and maybe have a little turn in the middle. For me the subject and the form always have to fit, although I don’t always use form or stick to one. Ballard is the form I have been interested most in lately as it is a story telling form like a narrative.
10. Why did you write about a certain social or political issue in your poems?
In my new book there are a lot of poems about social and political issues like honour killings, capitalism and the banking crisis. Many issues inspire me to write like the gangs in Dalston helped to create the poem ‘The Skulls of Dalston’. I am always interested in people and relationships; I think that it’s interesting in cities because you’re in these strange relationships with people you don’t know. I feel like if there was stuff happening on my street it would be nothing to do with me, it’s like a separate world going on next to you.
August 15, 2012 § Leave a comment
Interview with Maitreyabandhu by Ashlee Morris
Author Page — Poetry Business.
1. What was the first poem you read? How did it affect you?
I don’t remember the first poem I read. I come from a fairly uncultured background: poems, and literature generally, didn’t really feature. On top of that, I did poorly at school. I must have grown up feeling that poetry was beyond me. I did read TS Eliot quite intensively when I was an art student, but the important moment was in my early 30’s when a friend read me the first five verses of Shelley’s Mask of Anarchy. Even then I didn’t write poetry seriously until my 6 month sabbatical in 2005.
2. Has Buddhism had a strong influence on your poetry?
I hope that all of my poems are expressions of my Buddhist practice. There are those poems that are explicitly Buddhist or inspired by Buddhism, and those that aren’t. The first group contains quite a few poems about meditation – quite often using parable-like forms – as well as a few poems explicitly about the Buddha. I am still writing a long dramatic monologue about the first people to meet the Buddha after his Enlightenment. The second group of poems contains quite a few poems about my childhood and youth, which seemed to want to be written. I hope nevertheless that they all (whether overtly Buddhist or not) express human qualities – such as awareness, sympathy, intelligence, honesty and so forth.
3. What can you express in poetry that you can’t in another literary or art form?
The great power of poetry is in its resonance. Poems resonate out from the words used, into some deeper and richer meaning. So when Robert Frost finishes his famous poem ‘Stopping by Wood on a Snowy Evening’ with the repeated ‘And miles to go before I sleep’, we know that the first time means ‘I’ve a long way to go before I get to bed’ and the second time that something universal is being expressed about what it is to be alive – it’s inner lived reality that can never adequately be communicated in words. His poem resonates: you feel some larger reality being apprehended, even though you cannot say exactly what it is.
4. How did you bring together the different ideas and inspirations in your poem, ‘The Small Boy and the Mouse’?
The poem came directly out of a meditation experience. I remember it well – the egg for instance. At the same time I needed to find a way of expressing it that didn’t begin with ‘Well, I was sitting in meditation…’ At the time I was watching We’re Going on a Bear Hunt with my 3 year-old niece. She wanted to watch it again and again. The structure of the poem comes from that. It’s a basic fairy story/ children’s story structure. But then all this stuff about my own childhood poured into the poem – that was the first time my own childhood came in. So the meditation experience was the catalyst, but then it took off in its own direction, as poems must.
5. Does it irritate you when someone misinterprets your work?
No, not really. Some mis-readings are creative in themselves it seems to me. Poetry is by nature ambiguous – that’s its strength – it can mean many things, even apparently opposing things at the same time.
6. Speaking of interpretations, what is the purpose/function of the wolf in ‘The Viewing’?
This is a poem about the death of my grandmother when I was a child. She was very important to me. I wanted to write the poem – if possible – from the point of view of the child I was then. So the wolf is from Red Riding Hood – where the wolf dresses himself up as the grandma at the end. But it also stands for something other, something mysterious. As if my grandmother had become a completely new being. For me, her death provoked vital questions about death and meaning.
7. What is the significance of the repetition of “Whatever else there is, there’s this as well” in your poem, ‘This‘?
It’s partly inspired by Robert Frost. It’s a ‘refrain line’ and fairly common in lyric poetry in as much as it gets very close to song. The This is ostensibly the song of the thrush, but it stands for the whole positive side of life. The poem is trying to justice to both the negative and positive aspects of life. Partly it is a protest against ‘miserablism’ – where the darker side of life is assumed to be in some way more real, more genuine, which of course as a Buddhist I don’t agree with.
8. How do you create poems that touch the heart, without being sentimental?
Sentimentality is emotion on the cheap. It is false emotion. We don’t really mean it. Often ‘sentimental emotion’ is to do with being admired…with having emotions we hope will be admired by others. This is why we can have sentimental love, or pity, or even indignation, but not sentimental spite or resentment. At the same time real emotion, genuine feeling is very important, and for me it is the heart of poetry (or at least an aspect of that heart). I want to be moved by a poem. The way to avoid sentimentality in poetry is to work hard at telling the truth. At the same time, we shouldn’t be so afraid of sentimentality that it stops us expressing any emotion in poetry at all!
9. How would you describe your contribution to 21st century British poetry?
I think I have something new to say, or at least a fresh perspective to bring – one informed by twenty-five years of meditation practice and twenty-one years as a Buddhist teacher. Buddhism is still fairly new to the West. Although it has influenced western poetry indirectly – from TS Eliot to John Burnside – it is still a relatively new voice in western culture. It’s spiritual vision, free from a creator God or religious dogma and yet refuting the assumptions of materialism, offers a way of being that many people feel drawn to.
August 15, 2012 § Leave a comment
Interview with André Naffis-Sahely by Pandelia Kyriacou
1. How long have you been writing poetry? Why and how did you start?
I began writing at fifteen. Or at least that’s when I started pretending I was writer. My initial ‘technique’ involved stealing long, highly-wrought sentences from my favourite novels – Russian, German and Arabic for the most part – and chopping them up into mediocre poems; a pathetic start perhaps, but one that taught me discretion; the first inklings of that amorphous thing we call ‘taste’. This was before I came across Eliot’s dictum: ‘Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal.’ Not that one shouldn’t steal and imitate. It certainly made a lot of sense to me. I held off submitting too many poems to magazines until I was well into my twenties. There’s enough bad poetry out there, why add to it? I started to write because even thinking about literature seemed a subversive act in the United Arab Emirates, where I grew up: There were no public libraries in the U.A.E., hardly any bookshops, and certainly no real, ‘home-grown’ literature; no writers I could go listen to or pester for advice. There was only oil, money, suffering and identity crises; not necessarily in that order.
2. How has your work changed or developed since you started writing?
It has definitely become more political; a result, I imagine, of my reading Bertolt Brecht, a criminally underrated poet and one of the past century’s finest; as well as Robinson Jeffers, another underestimated poet who is currently undergoing a revival. There have unfortunately been attempts to pigeon-hole Jeffers as a Whitman for ecologists and nature-writing buffs, whereas he was so much more, and tremendously engagé; who went from being featured on the cover of Time to being disowned virtually overnight because of his terrific The Double Axe (1948) – a savage indictment of U.S. involvement in World War II, which appeared with a disclaimer from the publishers. Surely a first in the world of modern poetry. I am not partial to staring at flowers and using an intricate vocabulary to depict that flower to the reader in a linguistically unusual manner. The reader can see that flower as well as I can. I am more interested in the guy pissing on that flower late at night when half-cut, and why he is doing that. Or something like that. Life is gritty, raw, boring, uncomfortable and depressing. Poetry should reflect that. I can’t stand lazy, obtusely self-conscious verse that refuses to work outside a single tradition. Being political, as I conceive it, has nothing to do with being a partisan to any specific ideology; it is about unravelling the dense layers of our disordered world.
3. Which other poets inspire and/or influence your writing?
Michael Hofmann is a poet I keep coming back to. In the words of Craig Raine, who first took Michael on at Fabers, Acrimony (1986) is a better book than Lowell’s Life Studies, a sentiment I most definitely share; others will catch up as and when, I have no doubt as to that. Michael is also one of our finest critics and translators. No serious reader should be ignorant of his work in all these aspects. Other poets I continually re-read include Auden, Lowell, Creeley, Pushkin, as well as of course the Romans: Ovid and Horace, but especially Propertius and Martial. Of late, I have added Jack Gilbert – who I can’t seem to tire of – to that list.
4. Do you think strong emotion is needed to make a good poem?
No. I think it can actually get in the way of crafting a good poem; like rational thinking, a cool, detached perspective often works best. This is not to say one shouldn’t be passionate about their subject or their craft, but that the heat of the moment tends to facilitate the overlooking of crucial details, of nuances best picked up on a tranquil morning when the night’s excitement is behind you. Take writing a poem about a foreign country. Why bother doing anything more than jotting down a few notes while you are actually on the move; you’ll have all the time afterwards to describe your trip. But first you must experience it; not shuffle through it with one eye already on the future poem that’s meant to come out of it.
5. Can you retrace your thought process when writing/or editing ‘Retribution’?
The early drafts of ‘Retribution’ were utterly dishonest. I attempted to distort the events depicted in that poem towards my own, obviously biased point of view. I first wrote that poem in 2006 and it was published in a Tower Poetry anthology that year. I always tried to hide that little red pamphlet away, somehow unable to come to terms that such a dishonest poem had been published. Almost five years later, I took the poem out and re-wrote it, whittling away and adding to its rotten frame until I’d knocked it into a less embarrassing memento of that occasion. Though the poet’s desire for dramatic effect often trumps honesty, this – as with everything else – always comes at a cost. There’s likely to be a better poem hidden under all that truth anyway. Playing around with form can usually a help a poem define itself, to contract or expand into the shape it wants to take. The poet can only steer that process; the rudder to the poem’s boat. I’m not sure what the boat is floating on, but I would bet it’s mostly frustration.
7. Do you think poetry like ‘The Journalist Speaks of The Dictator’ can make a difference in the 21st century?
How could it? Very few people read poetry today. Politicians are frightened of being labelled as readers. Both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition have gone on record as saying they don’t read novels because they don’t have the time for fairy tales. When people do however read poetry to better understand the world around them, the engaged, unsparing, worthy poems always come out on top, regardless of current fashions. It is appalling to think that in the aftermath of 9/11, readers in the U.S. turned to Auden’s ‘September 1, 1939’. Had nothing been written in the seventy years since that poem’s original publication that they could turn to? Evidently not; and they were right. Poets often complain about the indifference of their audiences, and yet they retreat further and further into a labyrinth of in-jokes and tropes inaccessible to all but the most pedantic. Who could blame them?
8. What advice would you give young writers to encourage them to write poetry?
The first would be to avoid undergraduate creative writing degrees – an unavailable option at the time I matriculated – like the plague. You can write on your own time while you challenge your mind with any topic unrelated to literature. The further the better: philosophy, history, politics, sociology, any of the sciences, etc…many poets have often remarked on how reading non-fiction rekindles their inspiration during a dry patch. Postgraduate creative writing degrees can be a good idea if you are actually invested in the work of the writers teaching that course, and have heard good reviews about their teaching methods and attitudes. A lot of writers take on those jobs merely to pay the rent; therefore, if they don’t really want to be there, chances are you’ll leave the course feeling short-changed. I studied with Don Paterson – a gifted, thought-provoking teacher, who as a publisher, poet, and critic is particularly well-placed to teach younger poets – at St Andrews, and frankly speaking, I would have preferred to see Don for a couple of hours each month rather than go through the academic motions of an M. Litt. But then again, that’s what you pay them for: their time, experience and inclination. If established poets took aspiring protégés on gratis, they would have never have the time to write; or eat or sleep for that matter. Write. Heed rejections and welcome criticism. No poet worth their salt was spared from the meat-grinder.
August 15, 2012 § Leave a comment
Interview with Reza Mohammadi by Todi Quadri
1. How long have you been writing poetry? Why & how did you start
I have been writing poetry since my childhood but officially from the age of fifteen when I became the best teenage poet in Iran. After that I was invited to several poetry festivals. Why I started writing poetry I would say was probably because everyone in my family loved poetry and I had a greater chance than them to study, write and educate myself on poetry and also the chance to read more professional poems.
2. Did you always want to be a poet? When did you know that you wanted to be and when did you officially start calling yourself a poet?
To be honest, I did not actually want to be a poet. I was the best student in my mathematics course at college but poetry ruined my life in terms of my future plans with maths. I knew that I wanted to be a poet, when I started entering poet meetings. I began calling myself a poet when I became the best teenage poet as everyone including my family was calling me so.
3. I enjoy writing free verse poems in quiet surroundings – What is your favourite form or style of poetry (to read/to write/to perform) and where do you enjoy writing them?
I like writing my poems rhyming in Persian Ghazal which is an ancient Persian form of poetry writing. I also like to write freely as you said in free verse but with different structures borrowed from theatre and aspects of modern industrial life. I enjoy writing as I walk and in a noisy surroundings.
4. So what do you enjoy most about being a poet?
I enjoy knowing what is happening beyond language and words. Also, being a poet, you recognize a new way of thinking – different and deep thinking.
5. Which other poets inspire and/ or influence your writing?
I am firstly inspired by Persian poets Rumi, Bedil and Hafiz of Shiraz. I also like American poet Ted Hughes, Russian poet Vladimir Mayakovsky, Kurdish poet Shirko Bikas and South American poets Jorge Luis Borges and Pablo Neruda. I also gain great influence off a range of poets from Turkey and Spain and languages such as Persian, Pashtu and Arabic.
6. Wow, you mentioned many poets. I like that your inspiration comes from poets around the world. I am also a fan of Hughes and Mayakovsky’s writing, but what is it about these poets that inspires your poetry the most, and why?
What I find inspiring about Hughes is his local childhood dialect which breathes across his poetry, holding them together like a staple and his attention to writing so freely with a new and original view of the world. I also like his wards of self indulgence and how he is so modern just like Mayakovsky. Mayakovsky inspires my poetry simply because he is so crazy. He specialises in a style of Russian futurism to enter industrial age tones to his popular poems.
7. Is there an aspect of your life that is particularly influential on what you write?
My student life is definitely an aspect of my life that is influential on most of my poetry or maybe more my childhood as a refugee boy in a refugee part of the Mashhad city in eastern Iran. There I learnt that people are divided into different categories, sections and nations without even knowing it. It was an important part of my life so I like to include it in what I write about.
8. Do you think that strong emotion is needed to make a good poem?
Poetry, and in fact all arts, tell secret stories and these stories come from human dreams and searching for mystery utopias. I think for a poem to be considered good, it absolutely needs to include some strong emotion as I think it is almost impossible without strong emotion to turn back to purity.
9. I find it difficult knowing when a poem I have written is finished, so at what point do you decide that a poem you have written is completely finished?
You’re right; it is really difficult to feel your poem is finished at an exact point. A poem is an open text which has no specific beginning or ending, especially if you decide not to write in a strict format. Form makes it easier for me to know when I have finished a poem. I have to choose the safest way to express all I want to say. A poem is not complete if you are not satisfied and this is why I have so many unfinished poems.
10. With your poem ‘Spring’, how did you bring together different ideas and inspirations? And I love poems that use repetition, why do you include this particular form in this poem?
A. Repetition is part of the Persian Ghazal format. Sometimes it means overlooking meaning and just focussing on rhythmic words and sounds. It isn’t the narration or the meaning of poetry; it is the energy of words and sounds. Several of Rumi’s poems represent this, for example a poem of his begins with this meaningless verse: “Tan ta ta tan ta tan ta tan, tan ta ta tan tana tana…” I think it is beautiful – you cannot translate it but you enjoy it like a piece of modern art.
11. Lastly, as some people believe that poetry is a dying art, what advice would you give to young writers like myself to encourage them to write (or continue to write) poetry?
Poetry has been around since the ancient eras so I do not think that poetry will ever disappear because it allows us to look beyond the surface and swim in language – it’s the easiest way of revealing feelings. I would simply advice young poets to really work hard and just keep writing.
August 15, 2012 § Leave a comment
Interview with Aoife Mannix by Sasha Bhardwaj
1. What was the first poem you read? How did it affect you?
I can’t really remember. My mother loved Emily Dickinson and I remember her showing me ‘Because I Could Not Stop for Death’ when I was about eleven. I loved the rhythm and the image of the grave as a kind of house and the idea of writing from the point of view of eternity. When I was about eight or nine, I loved Hilaire Belloc and used to learn his poems off by heart from a book I had. My favourites being ‘Matilda who told dreadful lies and was burnt to death’ and ‘Jim who ran away and was eaten by a lion.’ I loved the humour and the rhymes.
2. Which other poets inspire and/or influence your writing?
There’s so many it’s hard to say. I love Jackie Kay, Brian Patten, Roger McGough, Carol Ann Duffy, Roger Robinson, Malika Booker, Jacob Sam La Rose… I could go on.
3. What do you enjoy most about being a poet?
The chance to meet lots of different kinds of people and be inspired by them.
4. How did you get your work published or heard? Did you confront any difficulties?
I entered a competition and failed to read that the small print said if you were a finalist you had to perform the poem in front of an audience. I found the idea of performing terrifying and nearly didn’t go. Luckily I kept my nerve because I won the competition. One of the judges was the editor of a magazine called Gargoyle and she asked to read more of my work. That’s how I first got published. I think I’ve been quite lucky but like most writers I have a stack of rejection slips!
5. Is there a particular process you use when writing poetry?
6. Have you ever made up a word in a poem? Why is it effective to do so?
I’ve mainly made up words in poems I’ve written for children. I think kids enjoy having fun with language and discovering the possibilities of invention.
7. How did you bring together the different ideas and inspirations in your poem ‘Unwanted Gift’?
I can’t remember!
8. Can you retrace your thought process when writing and/or editing your poem ‘Learning to Skate’?
It was based on a memory of something that happened to me as a child. I originally wrote it in the first person but then changed to the third when I edited it. I think it gave it more of a sense of a story. Also it became part of a series of poems about my life called ‘Growing up an Alien’ which I performed as a poetry and music show that toured the UK.
9. What is poetry – both in contemporary society and for you personally?
Poetry for me is somewhere between music and prose. It’s a way of expressing how you experience the world. It can be both intensely personal and intensely political. I think in contemporary society people still turn to poetry to mark the most significant occasions in life such as weddings and funerals. Poetry is a compact and powerful means of revealing our inner most thoughts and feelings.
10. What advice would you give young writers to encourage them to write poetry?
Don’t be afraid to find your own style and voice. It’s very important to read and listen to other poets for inspiration. However your poetry should be about what you really care about and what you really want to write about. It’s important to be emotionally honest and not to just follow somebody else’s idea of what poetry is.
August 13, 2012 § Leave a comment
Interview with Helen Mort by Jon André Hafslien
1. How long have you been writing poetry? Why & how did you start?
I started writing poetry when I was a child – my mum says I dictated a poem about trains to her when I was very young! But I started writing more regularly after I entered a competition called The Foyle Young Poets’ Award when I was twelve. I was lucky enough to win the competition and that was the first time I started to think that other people might be interested in what I had to say, that I might have an audience for my work one day. Mind you, I think I would have written without that sense of audience anyway, I just might not have sent my work into a public domain. Writing never feels like a choice, more like something I’m compelled to do.
2. How did you get your work published or heard? Did you confront any difficulties?
I met my publisher, Les Robinson, when I was eighteen – we were both at an event in London. He’d come across my work through the Foyle competition and was interested in seeing more with a view to publishing it, so it was a very straightforward process. Last year, I was approached by Chatto & Windus to see if I’d like to publish my first full collection with them. So I’ve been lucky and haven’t faced any difficulties in publishing my books. But that brief summary says nothing of all the years of sending poems to magazines (often getting them rejected) and all the readings I’d do to help get my work ‘out there’: there’s always a lot of background work.
3. Is there a particular process you use when writing poetry?
Poems start in my body. More specifically, they start in my legs and lungs. That’s because I don’t write my best poems when I’m sitting at my desk, but when I’m moving; walking my dogs round the back of Oaks Farm and through the half-hearted woodland behind it, rock climbing on Stanage Edge in the summer, or, most often, when I’m out running and short of breath. I go out with an idea and redraft lines in my head as I run or walk. By the time I get home, the lines I can remember are usually the strongest ones. I think it must be something to do with the rhythm that helps refine a poem.
4. At what point do you decide that a given poem is finished?
As Paul Valery said, ‘a poem is never finished, only abandoned’! I write by ear, so when a poem ‘sounds’ right (when it says what I wanted to express in a musical, well-balanced way) I’ll usually stop drafting it for the first time, but then I’ll send the poem to a couple of other poets I trust for feedback before I decide it’s ready to be sent out into the world.
5. What inspires your poetry the most, and why? Is there an aspect of your life that is particularly influential on what you write?
I suppose an obsession with particular places (whether it’s rooms or entire landscapes) and the strange melancholy feeling they’ve always given me. I’ve always wanted to live everywhere at once. I’m obsessed by places. To me, one of the most mesmerising, sad things to do is to walk down a street at night when you can see into other people’s lit living rooms. I think a lot of poetry comes from a kind of greed – a longing for the lives you haven’t led, the places you haven’t lived. Poetry allows you to capture something of those places, those lives. It’s a strange thing.
6. What do you enjoy most about being a poet?
The feeling you get when you’ve expressed something, however small, in a way that connects with other people. I wish that feeling weren’t so rare! Like many poets, I feel quite inarticulate 99% of the time. But just occasionally, when I’m writing, I succeed in saying what I really want to say.
7. What do you feel you can express in poetry that you can’t in another literary or art form?
Everything. There’s nothing that comes close to poetry for me. I love the fact that all my favourite poems by other writers can’t be paraphrased…
8. What advice would you give young writers to encourage them to write poetry?
Don’t censor yourself too much early on: there’s time to worry about what other people think later. Enjoy the freedom writing offers. Most of all, read like there’s no tomorrow. Reading is the most important part of the writing process and, if you can find a handful of poets whose work inspires you, really makes you want to write, then that’s even better.
9. Can you retrace your thought process when writing your poem “Other People’s Dreams”?
I wrote ‘Other People’s Dreams’ one evening when I was living in Grasmere, doing a wonderful residency at The Wordsworth Trust. The evenings were a great time to go walking because the village seemed so still and eerie at night. As usual, I heard the first line of the poem when I was out and it started to obsess me: I began to think about the strange idea that, when other people dream about you, they create a kind of parallel universe that you occupy. Having established that idea, some of the writing was more mundane (for example, I tried out several different images before I happened on the idea of the SPAR store room with its oranges, or the Scottish layby), but I was surprised by the poem’s final image which seemed to appear unbidden, about a week after I’d started the poem (again, when I was out walking). It’s not unusual for me to hold the skeleton of a poem in my head for months before I finish it – I carry ideas around for quite a long time.
10. You seem to have achieved a lot, and look quite merited at a young age for a poet. Where do you see yourself in 10 years? Will you try out other kinds of literature or remain a poet?
I’ll always write poetry as long as the poems don’t abandon me! I can’t imagine giving it up, unless it gives me up. I’ve written plays and short stories in the past and I can see myself experimenting with other forms in the future, but I’ll save my strongest ideas for poetry, the ones that are hardest (and therefore most important) to express.
August 13, 2012 § 1 Comment
Interview with David Morley by Perry Wilson
1. Did you always aspire to be a poet?
I had no clear idea of what I wanted to be, although I worked seriously at writing from the age of twelve, writing journalism (concealing both my age and gender). The possibility of poetry was unavailable from an early age. It did not feature in my life or in those I knew. It was remote to me, and yet the way I saw the world, especially the natural world, revealed itself as poetry – it was not written by people but by the forces of the universe and evolution. Science seemed to me the same as poetry in that it expanded both my mind and my imagination.
2. When did you know what it was you wanted to be?, was there a particular piece of poetry that inspired you ?
That never really happened. But – at the age of fifteen, in Mrs Jowett’s English class at Montgomery High School in Blackpool, Lancashire, moments after she read aloud Ted Hughes’ poem ‘Wind’. It was the first poem I had ever heard (or read) – excluding nursery rhymes and songs. At the time I thought that songs were poetry, and I still believe that, but Hughes’ poem drove itself deeper into a place where language met cosmic darkness; the collision made and shaped something wilder and more mysterious than any song I had heard.
3. When did you start calling yourself a poet?
I did not. In the same way that believe that everything is poetry I also believe that every thing is a poet, in that every thing makes and shapes just as much as it is made or shaped. Just as all writing is, at its best, creative writing; so scientists, at their best, are poets.
4. To what extent does publishability affect what you write?
It does not. I write when it is ‘demanded of me’ – or that is how it feels – but not when it is demanded of me by a publisher or magazine. I am happy to publish poems but I also ‘publish’ in ways that are unusual, not only in books and magazines, but also as conceptual art works.
5. Is there a particular process you regularly use when writing poetry?
The process has changed with time and circumstances. My current process involves a great deal of walking. On ‘writing days’ I commit myself utterly to writing.
6. Does it irritate you when someone misinterprets your work?
I used to care a great deal about what people thought about myself and my work, but that time has passed. The writer with whom one is in competition is always oneself. If I misinterpreted myself or my work I would be greatly irritated. But if that happened then that would be a sign I was already beyond help.
7. What can you express in poetry that you can’t in another literary or art form?
I have been a poet since I first heard, as a child, poetry spoken aloud. I have been a lot of other things along the way, but the constant of my life has been poetry. Poetry has always stood by me so I will always stand by poetry.
I believe that everything is poetry.
What cannot be expressed through poetry cannot be expressed through life at all.
I write and work in other art forms. I try to take poetry into them.
8. Many of your poems can be described as pastoral or ecological , why do you favour this theme? And have you always done so?
I am a trained natural scientist. But I think they underlying reason would be that I had a very violent and poor childhood. The natural world was welcoming and it was free I spent a great deal of time roaming and exploring the countryside within an 80-mile radius of where I grew up, cycling and walking almost every day, and living off the land during these many solo expeditions. I taught myself a lot – and learned a good deal of field-craft. I am always amazed that people do not know “stuff” like this; even the species names of trees, flowers and animals are unknown to so many people.
9. ‘Fresh Water ’ from Enchantment contains one of my most favourite lines of poetry: “where leaf-worlds welled from all the wood’s wands.” Does such a line come to mind instantly, or does it take a lot of redrafting and re-selecting of words?
Thank you! That line presented itself quickly. As I get more experienced I do not need to ‘work’ at poems as arduously as I once needed to. This is not because my standards have slipped in any way but because I have acquired the habit of art the more you work at a craft, the more experienced you become, and instinct and knack become innate.
10. In ‘Abandoned Christmas Tree Plantation’ you use the varying height, age and characteristics of the tress as a metaphor for different school years. What led you to visit the site?
It was a commission! I was asked by a public arts company to come up with sculptures in woods in Bolton Abbey.
11. Of the many awards you have achieved, which are you the most proud of?
This will sound strange but I do not think about them. I am very glad they have come along but the best judge of anyone’s work should be yourself. I always know the distance I need to travel and I know when I am falling short of my own ambition for what a poem can do or be. So: I am never satisfied. I do not sit back and allow myself to feel pride. I do not think I have felt pride in anything I have done – but I do feel pride in people I have helped, such as my students and graduates.
Sometimes, you might write something that creates a temporary sense of satisfaction in craft. But that sense quickly vanishes and is replaced by a disquiet, and even doubt and turmoil. Any achievement means that new challenges lie ahead. Every strong poem opens the possibility that you can make a better poem. Awards always come along two or three years after the event of a book or poem, and by this point you are always on to the next challenge. That said, when I was a very young poet, winning an Eric Gregory Award, then The Poetry Business Pamphlet Competition (alongside Mimi Khalvati, a poet whose work I deeply admire) – both these prizes were very encouraging. And I lived on the money from the Gregory Award for over two years.