Parker In the Booklight (2) (1)In my nineteenth interview for In the Booklight, I talk to Ben Parker about his poetry collection The Amazing Lost Man (Eyewear)…

How did the ‘Insomnia Postcard’ poems that appear throughout the collection come about and did that shape the contents or the contents group together gradually to reveal this title?

With this sequence, I cannot remember whether the title ‘Insomnia Postcards’ came about before or after I started writing the 15, 10-line poems, but originally it referred only to that sequence. However, as I started putting poems together for a potential book I realised that the sequence would work well broken up between longer pieces. The title seemed to sum-up pretty well what I hoped I was doing with all the poems, not just the sequence that originally had this title, so for a while the book went under the working title Insomnia Postcards. However, following a discussion with Todd Swift, it was agreed that a phrase from the poem ‘Sideshow’ was more appealing, and the book became The Amazing Lost Man. [It is an equally intriguing and beguiling collection title! – Sarah]

Given the sequence’s title, ‘Insomnia Postcards’, I have to ask how many sleepless nights were involved in the writing of these poems and if the early hours or some other time of day is most productive for you creatively?

Perhaps rather fraudulently most of the book was written in the morning, rather than at night while unable to sleep. That said, I do suffer from periodic insomnia, and I certainly drew on the odd way the mind works when deprived of sleep while writing some of the poems, particularly the 10-line postcard sequence.

The second person features a lot in ‘The Amazing Lost Man’. Could you say a bit about these different ‘you’s and the appeal of working in the second person?

Its appeal for me mainly lies in the ambiguity it introduces. The second person can function as the reader, the subject of the poem, and even as a surrogate first person. Sometimes it allows me to draw the reader into the poem, by making them complicit in the action. Other times it allows me to re-cast personal experience in more general terms by moving away from the first person.

The collection is full of fabulous lines that I might sum up as alternatively wisdoms, insights or startling metaphors, phrases and images that just suddenly make me gasp. Are these things that you find revealed by a poem through the process of writing, or do you start with these and then find the rest of the poem shaping itself around them?

Thank you for this very complimentary question! I wouldn’t be so presumptuous as to make any guesses as to what lines you are referring to, but I can certainly make a general answer. Your phrase ‘revealed by a poem through the process of writing’ feels much closer to my experience of producing this book than that of starting with a line and building a poem around it. Sometimes I will start with an idea for a poem, usually inspired by something I have read, and I will try to produce a poem that does justice to its catalyst. However, I would say that the majority of the poems grew organically from the point at which I sat down to write, usually with no idea what I would produce.

The collection is full of places, very specific and beautifully evoked yet very few of them named. How does place work with and for you, and your characters, in the poems?

One thing that appeals to me in poetry is the ability in a very short space to create new realities. I think that the use of place often functions as a sort of shorthand for larger narratives beyond the confines of the individual poem, hopefully suggesting to the reader that the world of the poem does not start and end with its limited size on the page.

Parker In the Booklight (1) (1)Do you travel a lot and what are the most inspiring places that you have visited?

Not as much as I would like to! I suppose the imagined landscapes in the book allow me to travel vicariously through the characters that inhabit them. I don’t think I can pinpoint any particular place that has inspired me more than any other, I think anywhere you go, beautiful or otherwise, all adds to the mental landscape you draw upon when you write.

Could you say something about the beguiling elements of humour and the surreal in some of your poems, such as if that comes naturally and how the inspiration strikes?

I certainly hope that some of the poems are amusing, so I’m glad you mentioned humour. I suppose it does come naturally, though I don’t mean by that to claim that I’m naturally funny, simply that there was never a point where I consciously added humour to any of the poems, or set out to write a comic poem. That said, I think the type of poetry I am drawn to both as a reader and a writer, which as you point out often has elements of the surreal, lends itself quite readily to humour.

What question haven’t I asked that was important to you when writing this collection? And what is the answer?

I’m always interested to read about writer’s influences, mainly so that if I like their work I know where to look for something similar, so if this was someone else’s interview I would have hoped you’d asked that question. I try to read a broad range of poets, but some names that have been important to me over the past few years are John Ash, Gillian Clarke, Christopher Middleton and CD Wright. All of them great poets in different ways. Beyond poetry, in art I’m a fan of Francis Bacon and in film David Lynch. I’m not sure how much the individual styles of any of the names mentioned above have rubbed off on me, but I do return to all of their works frequently.

Parker In the Booklight (2) (1)Where can people ‘find’ a copy of ‘The Amazing Lost Man’?

Thank you, Ben, for these intriguing and detailed insights into ‘The Amazing Lost Man’.

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