book cover - leanne bridgewaterIn my fifth interview for In the Booklight, I talk to Leanne Bridgewater about her poetry collection Confessions of a Cyclist from Knives Forks And Spoons Press…

‘Confessions of a Cyclist’ has to be one of the most intriguing poetry collection titles that I’ve heard in a while. Are you a cyclist? And can you tell me a bit about how the title came about?

Thank you. The title first started out as The Bicycle Diaries, inspired by Manic Street Preachers’ ‘The Motorcycle Diaries’ but I realised I don’t really like Manic Street Preachers,so that got scrapped. I’ve always enjoyed the book title “Confessions of a GP” – with working in libraries, I constantly see this book – maybe it follows me – doubt it. I really liked the idea of “Confessions of” as it introduces the fact there’s a diary element to it but it mostly opens up the idea of something, which I think sums up interesting poetry, called Autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR), which is

“a previously unstudied sensory phenomenon, in which individuals experience a tingling, static-like sensation across the scalp, back of the neck and at times further areas in response to specific triggering audio and visual stimuli. This sensation is widely reported to be accompanied by feelings of relaxation and well-being. The current study identifies several common triggers used to achieve ASMR, including whispering, personal attention, crisp sounds and slow movements.”

Barrat, Emma and Davis, Nick (2015). ‘Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR):a flow-like mental state’. PeerJ, 3, e851.

Having Confessions of a Cyclist as the title really introduces the text well. It’s personal, a little bit intrusive but delicate too.Yes, I am a cyclist. I am a big lover of situationalism and trying to capture poetry from anything. I had been cycling to and fro work, one side of the city to the other, then back again, everyday, 5 days a week. I confirmed with myself that cycling is great because you’re helping the world (no car fumes) and you are also helping yourself (physical exercise). I was greedy and wanted more out of it though. I thought, there must be something else to make these travels more fulfilling and exciting. Cycling, in my opinion, is one of the most liberating things you can do. Being in the moment, cycling, and overhearing people’s conversation is temporal, fresh, random and spontaneous.

I love the book’s cover and your artwork included within. How would you describe the interaction of words and images in this collection?

Cheers. The artwork was created before the writing, for a project called ‘Landscapes’, which is, poetically drawing on the landscape, resulting in lots of linear drawings of industrial bits, like cranes; train tracks; telephone poles. The landscapes are drawings of areas in Coventry. Coventry is good for industrial bits of rust and roadworks, with its ring-road looping round the city and the amount of potholes cyclists have to swerve. In total, I probably have about 100 linear drawings. So, the images came first. But I never intended to write poetry to fit around these images. They were separate projects. When writing the book it naturally became an epic poem, a flow of word. I saw the opportunity of putting the images to good use by using them to change the scene and break up the epic. Sometimes in a text, it’s hard to place natural break away from the word – the importance of space – especially when the dialogue is dynamic and flows page after page. An image is a clear STOP, Break, Rest – a visual full-stop saying “hey, stop reading, just pause and grasp”. I vote for more visual in poetry!.. and space!

For me, the poems seem to blend many elements, including a haikuesque concision, modern, urban and sometimes surreal imagery/juxtaposition, and fantastic sound-play and word-play. How do you mix all these things together? Do you have a particular creative process or is it more an instinctive/natural reaction to the world we live in?

Definitely a reaction to the world we live in. It’s natural for us to associate and connect things like lego. I was talking to someone about elephants yesterday, and two hours after, elephants popped into my head. We are what we see; feel; witness; read.

The collection started by seeing a man on my way from work, cycling on the London Road, a main road that leads you back to Coventry centre. This man was walking away from the centre – opposite way to me. I would see him every Friday on my way back on this route, around 7.15pm. He was bearded, old and looked like a lover of nature. I questioned to myself where he would be going or coming from – what is this weekly occasion he attends? It was exciting to keep it “the unknown” – I contemplated asking him, but after a while, we ended up just giving each other a slight nod, and then a hello until it hit me – these occurrences are poetic and I am going to capture them. I then investigated that in certain seasons he would disappear. So you can see in the collection that there is a focus on season-change. The book plays on seasons and light – the natural changes in the climate. The people and occurrences control and/or orchestrate the text.Language play is a must!

Language play keeps something dynamic, naturally unconventionality rhythmical, unforced, leading to an experiment in sounds. It is a healthy way to keep writing dynamic, fun and in return, becomes somewhat surreal, not just to the reader but even the writer. It means itself and doesn’t need an analysed explanation. It can be interpreted in more deeper ways – mathematical; artistic; spacial; phonetically. I enjoy experimenting with our surroundings, making one feel closer to the environment. I’ve tried to approach that in the book. With cycling too, there is a play on pace/speeds – part of the book (e.g. the Nicky Mor-Gan-Gun part) was conducted through the rhythm I was pedalling at. There’s always a metronome somewhere – a tempo you can talk to. Pedalling brings a constant metronome.

Which do you find most inspirational out of, for example, people, places, politics, emotions…? And why?

photo - leanne bridgewaterAll of them. People, I suppose, make a place. They live on land; they eat; consume products. People that live with the thought of others (including other animals) in mind, are the people that are inspiring. There is a big wildlife hospital in Gloucester called The Vale, and the amount of wildlife they mend amazes me. I find those people amazing! Weird people inspire me. We’re all weird in ways, but the odd quirks we all have are the things that are lovable.

Recently, I was at a launch of Alan Van Wijgerden’s poetry film called Blood and Ink. It’s a documentary on Coventry’s poetry scene. I need to quote my good friend Adam Steiner who said “The personal is the political and the political is the personal”. This is too true not to quote. I believe this. We become our interests, our politics and we choose to live in a certain place, and these things contribute to how we feel. I find wild land inspiring; free; liberating. I also like cupboards big enough you can hide away in. Add a small lamp and viola, nest! A writer’s in-house shed! Miranda July is an inspiring artist. Change is inspiring – women’s rights and the right of animals – gay rights – I watched a film called Wadjda, a ten-year old Saudi girl living in a conservative world. She meets sexist views on how females are not supposed to cycle, so her mum doesn’t allow her to have a bike. But in the end of the film, and after Wadjda working in anyway possible to try and buy the bike, her mum finally gets her one as she realises what she wants, not as a female or male, but as her daughter. Pushing boundaries leads to fairer places.

There are many lines that I love and could ask more about. But for now, can I just ask you to say a little more about “My earlobes are marshmallows”?

That line relates back to the ASMR, which we spoke about in the first question. It’s about the way that when we open up our ears to everything that is going on around us, sometimes we try to filter the noises because they can be too overbearing/overpowering. Hearing too much, too loud – your ears become sensitive. The ears are soft like a marshmallow – ready to be eaten by the noises that surround them.

I’ve seen you perform and also enjoyed your video poem for ‘Confessions of a Cyclist’ (shared below). What part or influence does performance play in your poetry on the page?

I like experimenting with forms and enjoy creating visual poetry – bonding/merging visuals and text. I like making the text stand out in a way that suits its context. The context becomes the text’s layout.

The thing about the page’s performance is that the page comes to a standstill as soon as it is printed (like a still image, captured) and, as a writer, you can’t change it, unless you want to make pen markings in every book you’ve just had printed. The words on that printed page aren’t going to move or be fluid – they’re printed in ink in the place you arranged them – they’re not going anywhere. And that’s fine, because the context of the text is still animate. Reading from the page keeps it new and mobile. It’s up to the reader’s interpretation. A page can perform text in may ways – diagonal, shape, cut up, blacking out or crossing out of words. There are many ways to play with text on paper. The language and sound play is the main performance in Confessions of a Cyclist, that’s why I mostly kept a more formal layout, although centring the text and making sure there wasn’t too much text on one page. Words need room to breathe. That’s why in some parts you will just see one word, expanded, taking over an entire page – because that one word has the same impact as, say, a page with 30 words on.

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

I think all areas have been questioned! Bikes; poetry; places; faces. I suppose the people I’ve written about in the book would question whether I had right to listen in on their conversations and then steal parts to make the text. I don’t think they would even remember their “contributions” if they read through the book – well, apart from the bearded man on the London Road! Warning public: a poet’s ears are like CCTV: they’re tuned in and listening to you. Sadly, the book contains no juicy local gossip but there is an odd rabbit dilemma, a happy story about an elderly woman urinating up a tree and some mention of something like Star Wars…

book cover - leanne bridgewaterWhere can people get hold of a copy of ‘Confessions of a Cyclist’?

Here, from Knives Forks and Spoons website: or if I am ever reading, around the Midlands or non Midland UK, I always have a few copies on me.

Thank you, Leanne, for sharing the origins and workings of ‘Confessions of a Cyclist’ with us In the Booklight.