Roddy Lumsden

August 11, 2012 § Leave a comment

Interview with Roddy Lumsden by Paul Aroniyo

Author Page – Scottish Poetry Library

1. How do you see you work as different from other contemporary poets?

It’s more affiliated with social folklore rather than sending out a political message. A focus on the concision of language: keeping it subtle yet saying so much in so little time. I’m more interested in the surface of the skin, rather than what’s underneath it. For example, I would rather write about a man and woman warring rather than what they are warring about.

My work has been strongly influenced by American poets, and has been well received in America.  They seem to really like my work. I guess because my poetry fills a gap.

2. What inspires your poetry the most, and why? Is there any aspect of your life that is particularly influential on what you write?

The relationships I’ve had in the past, whether with girlfriends, family or friends. For me, language comes first.

3. You’ve created your own forms of poetry – the sevenling and the hebdomad. Can you explain more about these forms? What inspired you to create a new form of poetry?

Well, I’m very interested in all types of poems, but sometimes they can get a bit tired. Something like the sonnet never gets tired. But the more common structures, such as the villanelle and the sestina, become a bit tired after a while. Most of the forms we use today were created in the 18th century; perhaps they had different thoughts.

There is no reason why I shouldn’t invent new forms. When writing I find myself looking for structure, and when finished I find it doesn’t fit a particular structure. Then I look it up and discover that I’ve invented a new form. I don’t actually intend to create a new form, it’s just that I write in a certain way. Sometimes I re-use forms and write around them.

The one that has taken off the most and is written across the world is the sevenling, which I invented in the late 90’s. It’s a short form that has quite a lot of rules to it; some are structural and some of the rules have to with the atmosphere of the poem.

4. How has poetry changed in the 21st Century?

I think the big change is a move away from something I call ‘purism,’ the idea that you don’t have to write poetry in one way that belongs to one camp. You can shift around in style. There is greater opportunity to meet new poets, in terms of how people connect and discover one another. There is so much choice! I would say the community is a lot tighter, as everyone is linked by the internet. You’re not just limited to your local surroundings, nor do you have to travel very far. It’s now international. Also, there has been a strong increase in the number of female poets.

5. What can you express in poetry that you can’t in any other literary form?

I think of it as a spoken art primarily. I think it’s the marriage of music and words: you can conceive a beauty of language. The methodology is more interesting. Every poem has a progression that tells a story. But I don’t feel the need to write a story. I do write narrative poems sometimes, but poems are also a reflection of self, a tale of emotion, self-perception, cod philosophy.

6. ‘Lumsden Hotel’ – Can you retrace your thought process when writing/ or editing this poem?

From what I remember I wrote it in late 1999, early 2000.  I was writing a list of poems that became a book called Roddy Lumsden is Dead, which were all very personal poems. The idea of the Lumsden Hotel came from a band I was listening to at the time, called The Doors, who had an album called Morrison Hotel. Then I found out there was actually a hotel called Lumsden Hotel in the town of Lumsden. So I then came to write about the hotel itself. So, in a way, it’s a real hotel, but it’s also a look inside the own bad side of your psyche and everything that is haunting you. It’s comic voyeurism. I really like that poem.

7. I read that your work is influenced by the work of T.S Eliot and Philip Larkin. What did you draw from their work that influenced your own?

That was back when I was a teenager. Larkin’s work was very self-reflective. People wrote a lot of negative things about his character, but I thought there was a great deal of hope in his poems.

8. What you say you could relate to him?

I wouldn’t say ‘relate to’. I could relate to that way of thinking, rather than what he was thinking: to that formal way of thinking of things. For example, the ways he thought about what would have happened in certain situations, what will happen in the future. That way of thinking is what I took from Larkin. Though in many ways, as working-class boy from Scotland, I couldn’t relate to Larkin.

With Eliot, it was his weirdness, charm and imagery. I think there was a lot randomness going on.

9. Compiling anthologies: what is involved in the process?

You try to do as much reading as is possible. Especially when putting together really large anthologies.  I find that hyper-reading helps, where I am instinctive but being objective too: looking for poems that are well put-together.

For Identity Parade, I picked up recent books to read.  To weigh them up, to decide whether this is someone I want to showcase in an anthology. I think I read 1,200 poems that were eligible, and then re-read 300 or 400 of them, which would make something like 2 or 3 books. I got the number down to 85, which still is too large.

Now I could have cut it down to the people I really liked. But I didn’t want to that. The book is called Identity Parade of New British & Irish poets not Identity Parade of British poets Roddy Lumsden likes. That’s not the way to sell an anthology. Who cares! My job is to be neutral.

10. What advice would you give to aspiring poets?

Do lots of reading, it helps expand the mind. I’ve nothing against the classics. But I would say find people you feel allied too.

11. What do you believe a poet should be able to do?

Give readers enjoyment through their writing. Make them think, leaving them with linger thoughts. Also, to fulfil their craft. And be prepared for the hard work involved, as it’s not an easy job. You have to persevere and try to make it work.

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