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.