REST-front cover-for webIn my latest interview for In the Booklight, I talk to Martin Johns about his poetry pamphlet Resting Place from Palewell Press…

Who or what would you say is the strongest influence in/on your life and writing? Where and how can this be found in ‘Resting Place’?

Perhaps the strongest influence on my life has probably been my Welsh non-conformist upbringing. In my writing, I have been influenced by too many to mention. As a young person I was enthralled by the poetry of Dylan Thomas and later by Seamus Heaney. I could also highlight the work of Elizabeth Bishop. Of those writing today, Alice Oswald always dazzles me with poetry that’s both beautiful and profound.

When were the poems in ‘Resting Place’ written – do they come from a concentrated burst of inspiration or years of redrafting, editing, refocusing?

‘Resting Place’ contains a few poems written fairly recently, however most were written quite some time ago. I do tend to write in bursts of activity but I’m definitely in the category of those who endlessly redraft and edit. After writing, often using paper and pencil, I turn to the computer and start to redraft in earnest. I always leave poems to settle for a period of days, weeks or even much longer before reviewing, editing again and finally setting about polishing. There can be lines that just come into my head and remain in the finished poem but in the main, my poems are carved out over time. I’ve been fortunate to have had several mentors who have helped me to take a fresh look at my poems. Once a poem has been published in a magazine, I rarely wish to redraft.

How did the pamphlet title and the structure in four sections come about? How easy or hard was it deciding which poems to include, and where?

Choosing a title wasn’t easy but it’s an important part of a collection or pamphlet. Together with my publisher Camilla Reeve, I considered several possible titles before deciding on ‘Resting Place’. Often a collection’s title is taken from the title of a poem, as in the case of my pamphlet. However, other ideas were explored including using a line from a poem; ‘silver in the shadows’, for example, from the poem ‘At Porthcawl’ was considered. ‘The panorama is a moonscape / tugged by a sea that leaves / silver in the shadows…

Martin JohnsThe four sections came about at the suggestion of my publisher. This was mainly I think to accommodate poems I really wanted to include but were outside the publisher’s wish to focus on poems about the natural world. I had a serious health issue some years ago, the response to which resulted in a series of poems including ‘Assassin’ – ‘There were no warnings. From an unseen / shadow came a stab, the assassin’s / stab that left the dagger’s hilt a weight / pressed to my surrendered chest… Men perhaps tend to be more reluctant to write poetry about illness, however I was keen to share my poems on the subject of my life-threatening experience. The sections of the pamphlet, New World, Old World, Mortality, and Another Country, provide a structure to differing themes. There were poems that almost selected themselves whilst others proved harder to choose from the competing claims of past work.

Travel and foreign places – foreign for me at least – feature across the pamphlet. What’s your favourite location in the pamphlet and why?

Travel does always inspire me to write. Forced to choose a place from this pamphlet it would be New Zealand, despite only one poem in the pamphlet being related to that country. New Zealand is spectacular, having widely differing landscapes; rugged coastlines, palm edged sandy beaches, glaciers, rounded forest clad mountains, and fertile countryside.

Would you say most of your poems come primarily from the heart or the mind, or a mixture of the two?

To follow on from your previous question, place is important to me, but places are only a starting point. My poetry often uses the personal but is not necessarily personal, if that makes sense. For me, poetry is essentially about experiences, but my poems come both from gut emotions within and the mind, attempting to analyse and make sense of our world.

What haven’t I asked about the pamphlet that would you absolutely insist that I should question? And what is the answer?

People have asked me how easy or difficult it was to find a publisher. The answer is finding a publisher willing to take on a collection or pamphlet isn’t at all easy. In fact it’s very difficult to get a book published and I suspect the older a writer gets, the harder it becomes to find a publisher. Getting poems published in poetry magazines with a good reputation and building a track record is important. Although this too is far from easy.

REST-front cover-for webWhere can people get hold of a copy of ‘Resting Place’?

The easiest way to get a copy of ‘Resting Place’ is direct from the publisher Palewell Press: The pamphlet can also be obtained online from Waterstones, Amazon etc.

Thank you, Martin, for these insights into ‘Resting Place’, and some of the inspiration behind it.

To read more In the Booklight interviews with authors, please click on this link.

Meanwhile, I was delighted when Martin asked me a few months ago to write an endorsement for Resting Place, which you can find below:

“A powerful journey into many settings, Resting Place captures the evocative sounds and motion of cities and coastlines, in familiar and foreign locations, through precise imagery and vivid metaphors. But the pamphlet also maps inner landscapes, from an insect-splattered road movie (‘Persistence of memory’) to the convergence of past and present in ‘A longing for snow’: ‘Snow the conservator bringing us back | like dreams of childhood, the white bees | have come again to hug the trees.’ Historical backdrops, compositional inspiration, imaginative flights of the honeybee…the wide-ranging four sections – New World, Old World, Mortality and Another Country – pulse like chambers of the heart. Alongside beauty, sharp edges are exposed: the world’s darker elements and the human body’s personal, moving, fragilities. Ultimately though, each poem is a resting place: the words on the page and the space around them allow each image, rhythm and emotion to sink in, then resonate, as if ‘punctuated by the brilliant | echo of stars.’”