Sarah James

the possibilities of poetry…

December has always been a busy month. Since my marketing exam last Wednesday, I’ve mostly been catching up with friends and all the jobs put off until after e-day.

But I’ve also had some lovely snippets of writing news and post:

collage-2Poetry

Sea Souvenir published on Zoomorphic;
Whalebone published in the Zoomorphic anthology Driftfish;
Chukchi Sea In Summer published in Beautiful Dragons’ anthology Not A Drop: Just Oceans of Poetry;
At the Hotel de la Lune (sequence) published in Arachne Press anthology Shortest Day Longest Night;
The Trouble with Reindeer quirky xmas poem published on The Poetry Shed;

Fiction

Cut Short (flash) published in Arachne Press anthology Shortest Day Longest Night.

Photos:

Two photos ‘un-influential’ and ‘Under the Influence’ published in Avis.
avis-my-pix

begining-with-your-last-breath-coverIn my twenty-second interview for In the Booklight, I talk to Roy McFarlane about his poetry collection Beginning with your last breath (Nine Arches Press)…

‘Beginning with your last breath’ is a moving title for a collection containing some very beautiful and moving poems. How did the title and collection come about?

Thank you Sarah for your kind and complimentary words about the collection. Beginning with your last breath came into being during 2014. My mother had become ill again, she had been fighting cancer for the last 10 years in some shape or form and was resigned to giving up the fight, she was tired and decided to have no more operations. I became her career during this period of time and I was struggling with the inevitable, so I needed a safe haven which I found in my writing.

A friend gave me Rain by Don Paterson, he said read and write, write in the moment, in the hospital, in the waiting room, in A&E, wherever just write. He also introduced me to the idea of duende, a term developed by Federico Garcia Lorca. I guess he was helping me to come face-to-face with death and to be able to create something beautiful from it. The duende or “black sounds” as Lorca put it, is a spirit that inhabits your writing, the pain, the sorrow and translates into the reading and performance of it. I recognise that this duende is in my love poems, moments of loss, the journey of Bevan, coming to terms with my adoption, identity, injustice and racism, there was a theme resonating with hymn like beauty. My mother passed away in November, the title poem was the elegy created for the funeral service and then became the title poem for the collection.

There are many different beginnings, journeys and circles in life within these poems. The collection itself also circles/completes itself in its journey from opening to closing the poem. I wonder if you’d say something about these aspects of life and their role in ‘Beginning with your last breath’?

There’s certainly an emphasis on a circle of life, that there are no endings, they only feed into another beginning, like the seasons, winter is not an ending but it’s a preparation for the spring to come.

Every good collection by rule requires an arc but BWLB generated so many circles within circles, whether the short journey of life with my birth mother that ends with her last breath upon my cheek before she hands me over to my mother creating another beginning, journey and cycle.

Regarding the opening and closing poem, the idea of a revelation from my mother which echoed through the years and her encouragement to keep going on, echoed now that she’s passed away, is the magic of writing, it wasn’t planned it just appeared and manifest itself into being.

Reading the collection, I was struck by both the strong sense of place evoked in many of these poems – in particular, Wolverhampton and Birmingham. How important are these cities to you? And why?

Elaine Feinstein Cities was informative to many of my city poems. A sense of belonging, the way we hang memories on city landmarks or bury history in the landscape. Cities become living breathing entities that swallow you whole. Cities evolve, grow or disappear and become something new. Cities can become safe havens or they can be places of despair that we need to run from. From Liz Berry Black Country to Out of Bounds Anthology cities, towns, areas define who we are.

Wolverhampton has informed the person I have become, family and friends they’re all part of that map. Birmingham was the big city to explore when growing up, the metropolis, the place to get lost in its art and culture. Birmingham still has that fascination; to be a part of Birmingham is to be a part of what makes it great and at times not so great.

Photo by Jack Nelson

Photo by Jack Nelson

Linking in part to place – as well as to family, roots and belonging – it seems to me that there is a real political passion and sense of justice (or injustice) to be heard within the collection. What fuels these poems?

I think a turning point in my life was the death of Clinton McCurbin who died whilst being arrested for alleged shoplifting in Next in Wolverhampton. I was there that day, not sure what was going on, just hearing people saying they killed another black man, only to go home and hear it confirmed on the news. As a son of minister, living a middle class existence working for the Wolverhampton City Council, I was probably blinkered from these (other) lived experience; I was struck numb by the racism and needless loss of life.

I was also reading Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-1963 which transformed me through the 90’s and the noughties, I’ve been a Community Worker, Activist, Equalities Officer in all of these position and as fulfilling as they were, each role seemed reactive to everything from Stephen Lawrence to Black Lives Matter.

Now I have a wider appreciation for the injustice of a wider community and we need to do more than just react. I believe the poetry community can stir the water, cause a ripple or a wave which makes it impossible for a wider community to ignore. As griots we have to witness from the ground up our stories, our lives are often dictated from those who observe from above but can never fully walk in the shoes, sandals or the bare foot imprint left in the sand to fully appreciate our stories.

We need to be an inciter, a social critique responding to issues at the time of his/her performance.

Light, love and lust all feature in ‘Beginning with your last breath’ – in a wide range of contexts, yet all threading together wonderfully in the collection as a whole. It’s a broad question covering all three, as each individually has a very wide scope, but what part would you say these themes play in your work?

Light, love and lust are the heartbeat of this collection. In the darkness of injustice we have to shine a light of justice; in the pain of loss we have to find a healing through love. And lust has its own magical existence to burn or ignite something beautiful.

From John Coltrane Love Supreme to Marvin Gaye Sexual Healing; E.E Cummings to Pablo Neruda poems; Songs of Solomon to Carol Ann Duffy Rapture. I have delved and dived into the depths of any writing that would explore or shine a light on love and lust.

I grew up with a very tactile mother, full of love and always expressing her love. The love songs of Teddy Pendergrass, Luther Vandross and Anita Baker was my daily diet. I think the poetry world needs a Barry White of poetry (tongue firmly lodged in cheek), so I’m working on it.

Seriously light, love and lust are all interchangeable and are all important, so often misunderstood, so often written badly and so hard to express beyond the cliché norms.

The collection contains some striking epigraphs, quotations and dedications. Who or what would say are your main influences, role models and sources of inspiration (in poetry and/or life)?

I’d have to begin with my father as a minister preaching from the pulpit, I never appreciated how this un-educated gentleman, would get my mother to read and then learn the verses and recite passages of scripture. My mother taught me Psalms instead of nursery rhymes and the bible stories became my staple diet, including the Maccabees which was frowned upon because they weren’t canonised (or to radical).

Later Martin Luther King Jr found me, taught me the art of using words, to listen to those cadences, repetitions, metaphors and similies, permeating my creative imagination. Malcolm X was the other great influence, spellbinding and chrasmatic he articulated my anger.

Maya Angelou I know why the caged bird sings and every quote that has flown from her mouth. Gil Scott-Heron spoke of the pain, the oppressed, the underclass. Ralph Ellison Invisible Man, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Rumi, Marvin Gaye, Toni Morrison, E.E Cummings, Langston Hughes, William Blake, Jayne Cortez and Nikki Giovanni, just to name a few of my influences.

What haven’t I asked about that is important to you about this collection or your writing process more generally?

I don’t have no set writing process, I just write, whenever, wherever and whatever but the most important thing was, I had notepads, papers, notes written on the back of used envelopes, lines written around the headlines of newspapers. I took a few months off and I gathered all my notes, scribbles, and began writing. Twenty poems were sent to Nine Arches in the spring of 2015 and Jane Commane said yes, she wanted more. The shape had taken form in the twenty poems, I knew my mother passing away would take me back to the day I found out I was adopted but what would be sandwiched in between. I found old poems, new poems, half-written poems and discovered Identity and love; sensuality and spirituality running seamlessly through the heart of the collection; Keats speaks of the blood and imagination of poetry, which I’ve poured into this and I humbly hope there’s an intellect that bolsters the collection.

begining-with-your-last-breath-coverWhere can readers get hold of a copy of ‘Beginning with your last breath’?

Birmingham Waterstones and Foyles are well stocked but failing that just get on to the Nine Arches website and order from there.

Thank you, Roy, for these wonderful insights into your poems and influences in ‘Beginning with your last breath’.

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

Mother’s day, father’s day, black Friday, gratituesday…as there are days for just about everything these days, I’ve decided to call today ‘Small Snippets Sunday’.

It also happens to be the first Sunday in advent but this really is coincidence, as I’m still in denial that Christmas is going to happen this year.

Why small snippets and why in denial? Well, firstly, because after two big blogposts last week, this post is very much one of a few ‘news in brief’ items. Secondly, it’s because with my marketing exams looming on December 7, everything beyond then doesn’t currently exist (at least not in my mind/my world defined by that mind), and because all the other chores, deadlines and demands of family, work and life, are having to fit into very small one-at-a-time chunks around the main activity of gearing my brain into revision mode.

The thing about something like this is – as with illness, loss, the bigger or mores stressful things in life – is that it does put everything else into a different perspective, for better or worse. It also means that that’s about as much intellectual energy as I have left over at the moment to muse further on this train of thought…

On then, instead, to the snippets themselves:

Last week, I got to hear one of the actresses in role for a Coventry ringroad inspired poetry films that I’m working on with filmmaker Ben Cook for the Disappear Here project. It was amazing! I can’t wait for the actual finished poetryfilm now – though there is the small thing of the actual filming to take place before then!

I’ve had a flash – ‘Out of the Box’ – accepted for the next issue of Flash The International Short-Short Story Magazine.

1-loveThis week I also received my copy of The Mother’s Milk Books’ Writing Prize Anthology 2015. It was a real honour and delight to be the poetry judge for this competition, and great to see the winning and shortlisted entries in book form.

st-pauls-hostelI’m also pleased to share news that the creative group at St Paul’s Hostel, Worcester, where I ran a From Pain to Poetry workshop earlier this year are launching their anthology of poetry and photos at the start of next month.

Reaching your audience – questioning who, where and how

I’ve been thinking a lot about ‘how to reach your audience?’ after being a panelist on a discussion about this question at the National Creative Writing Graduates Fair in Manchester earlier this month.

To be or not to be online at x/y/z…is not the answer. Or perhaps it is. In truth, I don’t think there is any one or even several definitive answers, just lots of possibilities waiting to be explored – with each individual writer finding, or creating, their own way based partly on who they are.

The breadth of the actual topic ‘reaching your audience’ is nothing to the potential breadth of a writer’s audience. But in reality, as in other areas of life, we all have to work within the limits of our resources and time. In this blog post then, I’m going to concentrate on a few of the many possible aspects, just as writers in practice are likely to have to choose where, how and when to focus their audience-reaching efforts.

Some of my thoughts here were inspired by questions asked at the graduate fair, and by the excellent advice and examples offered by my fellow panelists Tom Ashton (from Kate Nash Literary Agency, Kate Feld (director of Openstories) and panel chairman Joe Stretch. But this post – along with any unappreciated advice herein! – is of my own devising.

One early consideration for a writer might be to look at how and what they write, in order to decide whether they’re going to start with the audience or the written words. By this, I mean, are you a writer who knows what they want to write but then need to find the audience for it? Or a writer who, having identified a target audience, can then write directly for those readers? Or perhaps you can combine a mixture of the two?

When I write, for example, it’s often in response to particular inspiration or creative spark. In these cases, once the poem or flash is written and properly edited, I will then try to find the ideal home (audience) for it, such as researching magazines and websites that might publish it. This may involve some editing or tweaking to perfect it for that market (audience) but I’m not writing directly for that audience.

Other times, I might respond to a submission theme or competition call out or a commission brief. In these cases, the audience (although not guaranteed) is implied. Another version of this is, for example, writing this blogpost. I am writing it specifically for other writers interested in this topic, for people who’ve already shown an interest in this through Comma Press and the National Creative Writing Graduates Fair. (Once written, I will therefore be linking it back to Comma Press and the fair in the hope of ensuring that it reaches as much of that audience as possible.)

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While publication through a press, magazine, website…hopefully helps to connect with an audience – the readers of these books and journals – there are lots of other possible options for linking more directly with an audience.

Twitter, Facebook, blogs, youtube, vimeo, instagram, flickr, linked in, soundcloud, personal websites…maybe you’ll recognise all of these, maybe you’ll know about something about a few of them but be perplexed by the rest. They’re all various kinds of social media networking and micro publishing sites but only just a very limited sample selection of those available in different areas of the world. (China for example has its own versions of many western sites that aren’t allowed in China.) The range of such sites is potentially overwhelming and this just the internet. There are also more traditional avenues to audiences such as bookshops, libraries, spoken word events, poetry/literary groups and literature festivals.

These all have certain things in common though. They all involved interaction or engagement with a potential audience ( as individuals or through online writing/reading literary sites or groups on Facebook or # tags on twitter identifying common interests or themes such as #poetry, #flash…). This might be summed up as networking. But it needn’t feel or come across that way if it’s an activity that’s focused around a genuine shared love/interest in writing/reading/creating and one that works reciprocally/brings mutual benefits.

So, given limited time, how do you choose which of these routes to explore?

Try, try and try again

Part of finding what works for you and your audience may be research to identify which of the possibilities are more likely to reach your target audience or the widest selection of your target audience. I’ve mentioned ‘target’ and ‘market’ a few times now – these terms may be starting to sound a bit more business or marketing orientated rather than writing for the love or art of it. If so, don’t let this language put you off. If you don’t have a background in web analytics or marketing research, it may actually simply be a case of personal trial and error, of spending a little time looking at website or blogs, going along to a few spoken word nights, reading what other people tweet etc.

As you start to meet and talk to people, word of mouth is likely to come in to play. People will be talking about other events, where they go as readers/audience members or writers trying to reach an audience. At some point then, the trial and error method will probably move from simply researching/watching/reading/listening to actually actively engaging or trying out some of these things as a way of reaching your own audiences.

Something I’ve found useful as part of this trial and error process is what in more formal/business/planning terms amounts to the first two parts of SWOT analysis – identifying your strengths and weaknesses. (The O and T are opportunities and threats, which are also worth being aware of, and actively looking out for the former.)

When I talk about strengths, I don’t just mean writing talents but also personality features and wider skills. I also mean the things that you enjoy. Then play to your strengths, and either try to convert your weaknesses to strengths or find a way around them. (After all, when it comes to getting creative in finding ways around things, as writers, we already have a head start!)

Readings & Performance

every-book-leaves-its-traces-crossFor example, these days, if you consider yourself a ‘page poet’ (I use the term loosely) and/or an introvert, the thought of connecting with your audience through a live reading may feel daunting.

Having decided to face the fear and try it anyway, you may find that you actually love it. In any case, there are a range of techniques that might make the experience easier, as well as other alternatives to live readings.

For example, I’ve found distancing techniques can sometimes be helpful – so that when I read the person up there performing or reading isn’t me, it’s a donned reading/performing poet persona. Another ‘trick’ might be to think very carefully about what type of setting you’re most comfortable reading in and only do those that work for you. Considerations here might include the ideal size of event (and audience) to the potentially very different atmosphere of reading at a highbrow literary festival compared to a local open mic or a small reading staged for friends and family rather than the general public. Smaller audience events may mean you’d need to do more of them to potentially reach the same size audience, but better a good reading that you enjoy than a larger reading at which you’re uncomfortable and therefore don’t engage with the audience. And choosing select events rather than reading at everything may help make your readings special and encourage people to attend as it may be a while before they get the chance to hear you again.

For some people, arriving early to allow time to chat to people before the evening starts might help turn that event from a reading in front of strangers to a reading for new friends. Many audiences, particularly perhaps at open mics, tend to appreciate and respond more after the warmth of laughter. If, like me, you rarely write humorous poems, there are other ways round this. The first is to have the few or only humorous poem with you as a back-up. The second is to build humour into the short introductions or spiel between sharing your actual poems.

If you’re still nervous, then, on top of these possibilities, there are other ways of playing to your strengths/bypassing your weaknesses. If you’re reluctant to read your work but don’t mind talking about it, are their opportunities for taking a more Q & A style event to local writers/readers group or interest groups, if you’re writing on a particular theme. Alternatively, instead of live performance, perhaps try some recorded audio, a podcast or video performance. This could even become a collaborative project with a filmmaker.

Or perhaps there’s an element to your work that would make it interesting to a local acting group or someone who likes performing or entertaining. When I originally sat down to turn my poetry collection The Magnetic Diaries into a solo poetry show, I envisaged it as a festival-slot-length reading with a narrative thread. Having turned it into a script, and submitted it to the Write On Festival at Hereford’s The Courtyard (awareness of an opportunity!), I eventually ended up with a director and actress willing to take it on as a full piece of poetry theatre (taking it on an ACE-funded tour and two-week run at Edinburgh Festival Fringe)! (Thank you Reaction Theatre Makers, director Tiffany Hosking and actress Vey Straker).

So, the internet…

a-sunlit-heartI’ve spent a lot of words so far on poetry and performance. But the same considerations of audience size, the atmosphere/environment that you’re most comfortable in and finding ways of adapting yourself to that environment or potentially that environment to you are also relevant when it comes to exploring the web and how different internet sites and options might work for you in reaching your audience. Likewise also with finding extra ways of catching your audience’s eye. I’ve already mentioned audio and video as options for engaging with an audience beyond the page. Combining images with words is another possibility that can work well on the web – whether the artwork is yours or something produced in collaboration with another artist.

The theory behind trying things for yourself and playing to your strengths is that a) these things can be very personal (and a two-way relationship between the individual writer and their audience members) so there is no black and white ‘this is the way to do it’; b) life is too short for doing too many things that you don’t really enjoy unless you absolutely have to. The second is that I know it can take me ages (and be very draining) to get round to doing things that I don’t want to do, whereas I have almost unlimited energy, motivation and focus for the things that I enjoy doing. This makes them much easier to sustain and fills them with a natural genuineness and enthusiasm.

Thinking even further out of the box

I love writing. I started as a journalist, moved into writing short fiction (2000-8000) words, then poetry, my poetry-play, The Magnetic Diaries, flash fiction and finally a novella, Kaleidoscope, due out early 2017. In audience terms, this might also be considered hedging my bets!

Like audio, video or combining words with pictures, trying a different genre can be rewarding as a writer, as well as potentially engaging further with your existing audience or finding new audiences for your work.

But if trying a different kind of writing doesn’t appeal, you know where you are with performance and the internet, then why not look at more unusual ways of bringing your work to people. Where does your audience go in their spare time? Can you reach them in routine places, even the most mundane from bus/train station to office to supermarket noticeboard?

Over the years my poems have featured on buses, poetry trails, phone apps, screen savers, poetry films, a café mural and in the Blackpool Illuminations. Of these, I can only truly claim the phone app as my own idea. The rest all came about either as opportunities discovered or opportunities offered to me through being part of online and real-life writing communities.

Other more unusual projects that I’ve heard of include poems in pub windows, guerilla posted on lamp-posts and trees, or turned into beer mats. Innovative and fun ways to reach audiences can also be found at festivals, such as poems written on demand for take-away or in portable sheds. Meanwhile, the Emergency Poet, Deb Alma, brings other people’s poetry to new audiences by making poetry prescriptions for passers-by stopping for a consultation in her 1970’s ambulance. What other interests drive you besides writing? And can you combine the two to create a striking and fun way to reach your audience?

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Go compare.sarah

See below, for some example of what does, and doesn’t work (!), on various different internet sites – as I have learned through trial and error!

Website (profile building; content on writing & actual writing): www.sarah-james.co.uk

Website blog (active; content on writing; being hosted on a personal website, it lacks the interaction possible on blogsite where you can follow other bloggers): https://www.sarah-james.co.uk/?page_id=7

WordPress blog (redundant; content on writing/life & interaction possible through following/commenting): https://sarahjameswrites.wordpress.com/

Linked In (profile-building): https://www.linkedin.com/in/sarah-james-2127521b

Twitter (public, content on writing/life; micro-writing/taster snippets/photo-poetry; interacting): https://twitter.com/Sarah_James ; twitter handle @Sarah_James

Facebook for Sarah James (mostly automatic posts forwarded from twitter, therefore currently limited interaction, posts public): https://www.facebook.com/sarahaleavesley

Facebook for Sarah Leavesley (content on writing/life, interacting, posts mostly restricted to viewing by friends only): https://www.facebook.com/sarah.leavesley

Facebook for 21stcenturypoetsmakeitnew (public, no longer active collaborative poetry project): https://www.facebook.com/21stcenturypoetsmakeitnew-172744752744607/

Tumblr (public, writing in picture form, currently not active here): http://sarahjamespoetry.tumblr.com/

Instagram (public, photos & photo-poetry; intermittent usage currently): https://www.instagram.com/s.a.leavesley/ (NB posting of photos done through mobile phone app not website.)

You Tube (poetryfilm, interaction is possible but currently mostly unused by me): https://www.youtube.com/user/SarahJamespoet

Vimeo (similar to You Tube but possibly considered more ‘arty’): https://vimeo.com/sarahjamespoet

Soundcloud (audiopoetry): https://soundcloud.com/lifeislikeacherrytree

This article was first published on Comma Press: part 1 and part 2.

Front cover Specs & ChangesIn my twenty-first interview for In the Booklight, I talk to Sam Smith about his poetry collection Speculations & Changes (Knives Forks And Spoons Press)…

“Not a soldier of Picasso
I know art is more a progress
                                              than a war”
(From ‘Not a Soldier’)

The first section of your collection is a series of ‘Speculations on Contemporary Art’ focusing on various aspects of modern artistic works and practice. Is there a sense in which this might be considered an ars poetica (art of poetry)? Or perhaps, even, an anti-ars poetica – given both the tone and the varied innovative use of form in this four-part series of poems?

Picasso believed that art should subvert. That once art becomes accepted it becomes the ‘new academicism.’ As has, if ironical proof were needed, Picasso. As further proof we only have to look at the present Turner shortlist – so tame, so of its type, that all it is capable of provoking is contempt. Poetry self-evidently is an art form, is not self-journalism, and it should provoke, not offer reassurance, is more than the self-therapy of “…we’ve all been there.” Poetry is not a club to be joined.

And not just poetry. Genuine new writing, if attempting to be seen as art, should disconcert, should upset, and should leave the reader changed in some way. If only with a slightly different perspective. If a poem is what we expect from a poem then that poem has failed. Michael Hamburger gave me a lot of help and encouragement when first I decided to take the writing of poetry seriously. One thing we could never agree on was my assertion that every poem should contain some dissonance, something to upset the reader’s preconceptions, make them pay attention.

I feel I’m stating the obvious here. But in any art craft is not enough. We have to move beyond accepted forms, to challenge the old, the accepted. It is how art progresses. The world is new every day and art has to change with it. The general public however is never comfortable with the new, prefers the familiar. Genuine art cannot therefore pander to the general public. In music, in the visual arts, in sculpture, and in poetry we have to defy expectations. We cannot please our teachers. We have to, as individuals, expect not to be popular.

Throughout ‘Speculations & Changes’, and particularly in the opening series of ‘Speculations…’, there is a fine and beautiful balance between sharpness, the beauty of some moments and at times perhaps an almost provocative playfulness/humour. Could you say a little about these aspects in your work and how you manage that fine line of balance?

I began this section highly critical of accepted art forms – as seen in galleries, in performance and on the page. Very few seemed to challenge preconceptions. Or if they seemed to be attempting to do so had made themselves impenetrable. So much of recent visual art is of an Art College type. So much of the ‘new’ poetry has been academised, fails to invite the uncommitted reader in and thereafter usurp their expectations. This type of poetry begins by erecting a barrier that says for the cognoscenci only, that says you must first have read this… Add a footnote, please the teacher.

Does art have a purpose? A singular purpose? That is what I was also trying to work out. And if it does, how has it failed? And if art has more than one purpose on which level has it failed/succeeded? So I played about with artistic tropes and if ‘…a fine balance was achieved’ it was mostly me enjoying myself.

As a fellow editor, Sarah, you must have received loads of submissions that begin by telling you that the submittee has just achieved an MA from some university or other. And the work, if competent (many of these courses like vanity presses exist solely to make money out of aspiring writers), is a slipping-by much-of-an-MA-muchness. In the next post comes a submission based on an untutored author’s obsession obsessively worked through that demands only to be read, puzzled over, and read again.

[Sarah: To respond, for readers’ information, on the MA front, I can’t honestly say whether we’ve had many cover letters to V. Press including MA details. Like you, we specifically don’t ask for biography details with submissions. Some writers send them anyway, but we don’t pay much attention. The poetry/flash fiction itself is what we’re interested in reading. I should probably add too that I do have a masters in creative writing myself; I’m a great believer though in learning what I can from wherever I can but that learning itself shouldn’t be rote, more an experiment in trying out what works, what can be borrowed then adapted, what should be ignored/left unused and following any new possibilities that come out of playing with existing frameworks, whether the result is subverted, converted, even obverted! 😉 Perhaps the important thing is not whether to masters (mistress!) or not, but what a writer feels that represents or means.]

“…Whole cities now are made of paper, are sustained
by paper. Watch a city explode. Paper, paper everywhere.
Writing about it is just a way of forgetting.”

(From ‘We Lived upon Milk and Were Enemies to War’)

While at one level ‘speculations’ focuses on observations on contemporary art and poetry, these poems seem to consider this not in isolation but very much as something that highlights our wider culture and society as a whole – the things we invest in, and the risks that go with that. How important is it to not just face up to reality instead of forgetting, but to look beyond the surface and separate the natural from the manufactured, the synthetic from the real, the art and the artifice – both in creative practice but also the way we live our lives? (And why?)

The kind of art that a society produces, or in the case of a totalitarian culture is allowed to produce, is indivisible from that society, its mores and traditions, and where its art wants it to go. Art as warning or aspiration. For instance in this poem what I had in mind was the IRA bomb in Manchester that blew out Michael Schmidt’s office, the rest of it scene-setting.

In every poem I try to – at least I think I try to – create a touchstone, something recognisable on which the reader can build their own interpretation. Can be something natural, beyond the period depicted, something currently everyday, and then I try to widen it out even unto the absurd, as with a koan. But often on starting to write I have no idea where the poem is going to end up, what final shape it will be. More get thrown away than kept. Editor Alec threw out more of the kept here – felt that they stated the obvious. He was right.

“Within a crooked system, however,
often the only honest action
can be to lie.”

(From ‘Too Much Indulged’)

“if any love is to be sustained, there are some truths which cannot
be said. (Such truths are mind tumours.) Love/sex, therefore, cannot be
communication. Even before that — the long looks into the other’s eyes, the
hand lingering on the arm, tingle fingers touching shoulder, the belief that
you are in the company of a kindred spirit — can be shattered with the first
words. Between human beings, where love nor sex is part of the transaction,
language is the sole means of unequivocal communication. And then it, for
example this, is imperfect.”

(From ‘Not Communication’)

Having mentioned reality and artifice, can we talk now about truth? I’ve quoted from two very different poems above (one dealing more with society and the other with the personal). In ‘Going by Inside a Car You Cannot Hear the Lark Singing’ also: “Truth | will come | as mockery”. So, does any truth exist and, if yes, where? And, if truth can’t be found in poems (or the world, when using words at least), what should we be looking for in poetry instead? (I notice that shamanism is mentioned in some poems and “For scholars to look solely for meaning | in poetry for instance | is to overlook its shamanistic qualities” from ‘Dialogue 48’.)

Truth? There’s a biggie. In the collaboration between writer and reader, each collaboration dependant on the reader’s own knowledge and imagination, simple truths can easily slip between the cracks. So does the poem attempt to create a sense of…? Something alluded to, not present on the page? I’ve already mentioned koans, how their absurdity can trigger contemplative states. What I’d count as a success is a reader looking up from the page and staring into their mental mid-distance. Possibly going back to read the page again.

I attempted this with my Rooms series. Where after a free verse description of a place or event I had a footnote called ‘Notes for reading’. These told how physically the verse should be read, and were often at odds, bore no relation, to the contents of the verse. The effect of those ‘Notes for reading’ was to send the reader back up the page to re-read the verse. And to try themselves to reconcile the pairing. The series proved popular with art students.

Truth? I dunno. What I do know is that I seem often to be surrounded by delusion, self-administered or propagated, and aware that enlightenment when it comes often proves traumatic.

Sam Smith“And again, in this our age
of silent despair (the crying-out-loud,
the gulping sobs, belong to
a moment, require an audience),
night’s boneheaded insects will come
rattling against the lit black glass.”

(From ‘Adeona’)

This quote makes me think again about the artificial in contemporary society but also about the role of the watcher and the watched. Could you tell me about the part these two play in your poetry?

Voyeur and victim? Performer and audience? The voyeur can project knowledge of being watched onto the victim. Audience projects judgements onto the performer. Victim can imagine an audience while being unaware of the actual voyeur. Victim can self-consciously play to imaginary audience. Where the natural?

One of the things that I noted with a gasp of appreciation is the variety and innovation in ‘Speculations…’ Perhaps in part that is in the nature of these series of poems – looking at contemporary poetry, text and art practice. But it also seems to go beyond that. How would you describe your approach to innovation and the experimental in your own work?

I began as a novelist. I didn’t want to write what had been written before, seemed the very contradiction of novel. And when I later came to write poetry I was appalled to discover an ‘experimental school’. That a poem could be defined as belonging to ‘the experimental’. Surely all new work, being new, had to be experimental? As with my novels any idea I had for a poem therefore also had to find its own form, own shape. Sometimes it could fall into an existing form, only to then go beyond the form, require something other… Often what has begun happily as a series can quickly run out of steam, go nowhere. Does it work? Is the one question I ask of every piece.

“Intelligence is nothing without compassion;”

(From ‘Dialogue 48’)

I’m taking the quote above out of context, as it comes from the ‘Speculations…’ and I want to apply it to the second section of the collection ‘Changes’. (I’ll justify this by saying that, for me, the second section of poetry very much demonstrates this in practice.) The poems in ‘Changes’ are full of wisdom, insight and “the sudden squirrel chase of an idea” but also many of them are very moving and emotionally charged – hovering above death, and vividly evoking love and loss in a range of situations, narratives and moments. I’m struck by how finely intellect and emotion are balanced in these poems and also the careful crafting of words and images to create poems that sparkle without losing their ‘squirrel chase’ sense of real immediacy. Are there any particular techniques or practices that you use for achieving this? And, more generally, what’s the typical (if there is such a thing!) writing process for you from inspiration to crafting and polishing the finished poem?

When I was a psychiatric nurse I became fascinated by how insight and intellect had so little to do with emotion and spirit. Likewise how little politics has to do with ethics. How ends become means and how do I fit the event, the moment into those considerations? Demonstrate them without becoming didactic? Every piece of writing, including this, a new exercise. An exercise where I continually ask of myself, ‘Is that true?’ Language itself has the tendency to mislead one. So, if not true, how does one make it true? How does one make it seem authentic? And that is where an image might get inserted, itself leading one elsewhere….

Transience is something that struck me as a theme threading through this collection – be that celebrating a particular everyday moment, facing the prospect of death or the nature of art and its endurance. I’m wondering if this is a very deliberate choice or more of a subconscious personal zeitgeist? (It is just one of many themes woven through the poems, but one that particularly struck me.)

When I left school in Devon I went to sea and encountered for the first time the very real poverty of places then like Sudan and India. I ferried refugees during the 64/5 war between India and Pakistan and came home age 21 to old classmates fresh from college full of knowledge and who knew nowt of the world as was. That estrangement, already begun before I went to sea but exaggerated by what I had done and seen in my travels, was pretty much what led me to writing, if only to attempt to explain to myself all that was happening around me and to tell it in ways that were not untruthful, tell it in my language not theirs.

“Then we will know that we are not,

never have been, closed vessels,
that we do need others;

but as with lichens, mosses, orchids,
trust will be a plant of slow growth.”

(From ‘We Can Be Led to Believe’)

How does the sense of simultaneously feeling alone/disconnected and yet needing/craving connection, of being individual yet part of something bigger influence your poetry? And are there elements of writing choice that you feel are particularly important for a poet building trust with their reader?

The touchstone, something familiar, should always be there. Even if its very mention arouses a prejudice. One can work with that. Turn the prejudice on its head maybe.

Of course though many people will not be the least interested in what I have written. Especially poetry that doesn’t look/sound like the doggerel they have come to expect poetry to be. So if one’s only ambition is to acquire readers then one will write doggerel with layers of sexual innuendo and if novels give the public the stories they expect inside their colour-branded covers.

But if one persists with what one genuinely believes is what one is trying to say then, if the work does get published, then one does reach – sometimes around the globe and beyond one’s own generation – to individuals here and there who are grateful for finding ‘a like mind’.

Following on from my previous two questions, could you say something more generally about themes that particularly interest you and where you found inspiration for the poems in ‘Speculations & Changes’?

I think you have already divined, Sarah, most of what drives me to write – estrangement, disconnection, delusion on the part of others, and – more particularly with art – seeming conspiracies of delusion, the Emperor’s new clothes. The daily frustration of being surrounded by what Norman Mailer termed ‘factoids’ – misapprehensions accepted as fact. How we are ruled by the moneyed and the ignorant, how one uses the other, and the many wilful blindnesses. While at the same time not wanting myself to be a bore.

“yes, word is spread
not by the answer given
but by the question asked”

(From ‘Word’)

What other question haven’t I asked about ‘Speculations & Changes’ that ‘Word’ might have you answer? (And what is that answer?!)

I’ve had enough trouble answering these without inventing further torture for myself. [Sarah: This torture hopefully in the realm of that dissonance in poetry that you refer to earlier.]

Front cover Specs & ChangesWhere can readers get a copy of ‘Speculations & Changes’?

http://www.knivesforksandspoonspress.co.uk/speculationsandc.html

Thank you, Sam, for these interesting and thought-provoking responses on ‘Speculations & Changes’.

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

Autumn bruises orchard leaves, trees loose their red tongues, the confrontation of warm and cold mists morning windows…

In the wake of the U.S. elections this week, also Remembrance Day. Is there a connection? And if so, how do we break bad connections? I don’t know but certainly the current state of society set in contrast with the natural world’s changing seasons has had me thinking a lot about a lot of things.

voices-cropped

On the small scale, this week also brought publication of Voices of 1919 – an anthology of war poetry, which includes six of my poems.

The anthology was the brainchild of Midlands poet Mike Alma and is unusual in featuring a fictional village of those left behind while many men were abroad fighting in World War 1. The poems were specifically written for the anthology and involved writing in various fictional character’s voices. It was a challenge but also very rewarding to step into these character’s places and have a small say in their fictional lives. The finished anthology neatly combines elements of poetry and prose narrative, concluding with a 20 years later section summing up what has happened to the villagers and other characters by the time World War 2 starts.

Among many readings planned for the book is Licensed to Rhyme at Bromsgrove Artrix on Monday (Nov 14). The event, which also features an open mic and headliner Emma Purshouse, is from 7.30pm-9.30pm. Doors open at 7pm. Admission is free for under 18s and £5 for everyone else.

Also launching this coming week at Manchester’s The Portico Library is the Beautiful Dragons themed (the world’s seas) anthology ‘Not A Drop: Just Oceans of Poetry’, which includes my poem ‘Chukchi Sea in Summer’. The launch is at 18.30 on Friday, November 18.

Other news includes a Blackpool-set poem ‘First Thing’ accepted for the Paper Swans Press anthology of poems featuring Great Britain. Also proofs of my poem ‘Mosaic’ for the next issue of Critical Survey and for the Mother’s Milk Books anthology from their annual writing prize (I was poetry judge for last year’s competition). This year’s competition is also now open – guidelines here.

Penultimately, I was delighted to hear from Jack Little at The Ofi Press Magazine that he has nominated my flash fiction ‘Phlegmatic’ for this year’s Best Small Fictions anthology. This flash can be read here.

fallen-soldier-suite

And, finally, circling back to poetry and November 11, I was delighted to spend Remembrance Day evening at Feckenham Church listening to the stunning music, singing and narrative of Suite for the Fallen Soldier.

The narrative poems and letters home for this amazing performance were written by Worcestershire poet and my stanza buddy Kathy Gee. Having been fortunate enough to see earlier drafts on paper/screen form, it was wonderful to hear them performed aloud within the context of the full music and choral pieces. A truly beautiful and moving piece of work.

declare-coverIn my twentieth interview for In the Booklight, I talk to Geraldine Clarkson about her poetry pamphlet Declare (Shearsman Books)…

‘Declare’ is a strong, bold word for a title and this is a distinctive and bold pamphlet. Could you tell us about how this grouping of poems came together and also about the choice of ‘Declare’ as the title poem?

Thank you! Some of these poems were very new at the time of compiling the chapbook, and it was exciting and satisfying to see them fly straight into print! About 6 of the poems had been collected together for my Primers submission (Primers was the Nine Arches Press and Poetry School initiative culminating in an anthology which I was lucky enough to be a part of last year), so there is a kernel of poems which formed in that way. Other poems go a lot further back: there’s the first prose poem I ever wrote—in response to being given a postcard of Salvador Dalí’s ‘Three Young Surrealist Women Holding in their Arms the Skins of an Orchestra’, as a writing prompt, by the wonderful poet Carrie Etter! Others won prizes in competitions last year – the Poetry London, Ambit, and Ver Poets competitions—and the Ware Sonnet competition the previous year. And others had been published in various journals over the past few years. So, in short, they came from different phases and places in my writing life, but when they were collected together, with the help of poet friends, I could see that there were clear and overlapping themes. For various reasons, I didn’t start my writing life until relatively recently, and there were other life events which caused me to delay seeking publication even then, and so the title Declare felt like a good title with which to break my silence! The title poem ‘Declare’ seems to me to be about ‘beginnings’, and it seemed appropriate in that sense, also.

Reading ‘Declare’, I’m struck by many wonderful characteristics, perhaps first and foremost by how alive it is with sound (and language), both playfully, with delight and with more serious linguistic intention. How does sound work for you in terms of tackling new inspiration and in the redrafting stages?

Oh, I think the sound always comes first! I sometimes wake with the first line of a poem in my head, and the sounds are there, in the main, as part of the initial composition. Some refining might go on during redrafting but the sound/ music, feels like it is part of such meaning as there is, rather than simply supporting or emphasising it. As well as the surface texture, however, I’m interested in the root-weight and etymology of the language; how sometimes there’s harmony, and sometimes times tension, between the two layers.

The pamphlet is also rich with allusion and strong female characters. Could you say something both about how important these two elements are to you, and also more generally about where you find inspiration?

I love the fact that the female characters seem strong. I grew up in quite a male environment – lots of brothers! – but also with plenty of dominant women characters around, relatives and friends, and between the two I think I often found it hard to hear my own voice. Maybe I’m reclaiming that now via poetry. Inspiration comes often from dreams, maybe things which have been suppressed… You’ve drawn my attention to allusions, but again perhaps it’s unconscious… I’d started writing the poems about Dorothy Wordsworth, and Alice Liddell (‘Before the Match’ and ‘UNDERLAND’, respectively), before I realised who I was writing about, so they were quite instinctive in that sense, imaginative re-creations. The poem ‘Declare’, itself, was written as a response to a commission to write a ‘Christmas poem’, which for me conjured up Christmas-card images, and those classical religious paintings, incorporating the famous ‘golden section’ of aesthetics. The archangel Gabriel’s Annunciation to Mary, and the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist, are the first two ‘joyful mysteries’ of the Catholic rosary, both richly represented in art. The subsequent poem was my attempt to find my own angle on, and way into, those two stories.

Another feature that I very much enjoyed is the sense in some of the poems of being simultaneously in the present day but also at some point in the historic past. There is almost an other-worldness close to legend feel to, for example, ‘Leaving Glawdom by night –’. Are time and history a conscious focus or interest for you when you write? (And how and why/why not?)

Not consciously, but maybe there’s that sense in which the past informs the present, for all of us, and as I come to terms with segments of my life which I don’t think I fully experienced at the time, I think that past, present, and future can almost coincide, in a kind of enduring present… I think possibly that what I write comes out differently for having been suppressed, there’s more of a pressure to it, perhaps—and, when it does emerge, it’s maybe colliding with a different world from the one in which the material was laid down – in the manner of geological layers, perhaps!

Quasi-myths and legends are perhaps a good way to access and process experiences which seem ‘too much’ to face head-on.

Photo by Patrick Tanner

Photo by Patrick Tanner


Following directly on from my previous question, your biography mentions years spent in monastic life. Could you give us a taste of what that was like and how it influences your poetry and writing process now?

It was a very simple life. Part of the time was spent in Peru, living in community alongside local people in a shanty town, where basic realities like water and food (and snakes and scorpions!) were a daily preoccupation. There was a certain amount of discipline and deprivation and, for instance, I wasn’t allowed access to literature or to write creatively for a number of years (at one low point I remember writing in the dark at night and destroying what I’d written in the morning – the act of writing seemed to fulfil a psychological need, the process seeming more important than the product – and maybe that is still the case, to some extent). It was in other ways a very ‘real’ existence, with little scope for distraction, there was a rhythm of work, manual and intellectual, and prayer. As with all institutionalised lifestyles, it was prone to its own particular pitfalls and perversions, and I found it hard to overcome the sense of ‘unfreedom’ which the various disciplines evoked in me, personally. Such ascetic disciplines are intended ultimately to free you up, but if you get snagged on the scaffolding then it doesn’t ‘work’! I still appreciate the potential beauties and value of that way of life. Since I started writing, I have derived such satisfaction from being able to explore and express creativity in a more untrammelled way, that publication seems subordinate to that. It is a total privilege and joy to have appreciative readers. At the same time I’d hope never to abandon that sense of creative play amidst the more public and business-like side of writing.

What question haven’t I asked about the pamphlet that it would like to declare now?

Maybe: What is the connection between the cover image and the collection?

I wanted something which might link in with the ‘annunciation’ of the title poem, and my publisher came up with this detail from ‘The Annunciation’ by the wonderful Early Netherlandish artist, Jan van Eyck, whose work I didn’t know very well at the time, but have been discovering since. His work is atmospheric and textural, intricate in light and shade… I felt that this particular detail suited the collection perfectly, as it homes in on the encounter at the heart of the painting. I always think of the idea of encounter as being at the heart of the Catholic notion of sacrament, and ‘encounter leading to relationship’ seems for me to be the most meaningful aspect of life and faith.

declare-coverWhere can people get hold of ‘Declare’?

Well, I’ll be doing a number of readings at festivals and bookshops in the coming months (details/ contact via Twitter @GBClarkson) and would love to meet anyone who manages to come along to any of those, and it’s also in stock at the London Review Bookshop and—perhaps easiest!—it’s available online from the Shearsman Books website.

Thanks for your very engaging questions, Sarah, I really appreciated them! (Though I do also think that the poems know best!:))

Thank you, Geraldine, for these fascinating insights into some of the background to ‘Declare’ and your writing processes.

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

1-manc

Before I started my masters at The Manchester Writing School at MMU, I’d only ever been to Manchester once, as a child on a weekend at UMIST (University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology).

In the past six years though, Manchester has probably been the city I’ve spent the most time in, apart from Birmingham.

And when a place enters a person’s bones and spirit it isn’t about the geography or cityscape alone but the people and experiences that made it so alive and memorable.

For me, with Manchester, that has been my tutors and coursemates on the masters, the North West Poets group, the atmosphere of visiting Manchester’s Christmas market, the city’s big wheel, my graduation ceremony, a special one-off 10-course meal at The French restaurant…and many other small things that combine to make a big deal.

Why am I saying this? Well, the past few weeks has brought a flurry of Manchester related news for me, including returning to Manchester this coming Friday for the 2016 National Creative Writing Graduate Fair.

I’m delighted to have been asked by Comma Press to take part on one of the panels during the day organised in partnership with The Manchester Writing School at MMU.

Also this week, I was pleased to learn that I’ve poems set to be featured on the forthcoming new Marketing Manchester website and two photos in the latest issue of Avis Magazine, produced by masters students at the writing school.

Manchester definitely has a big place in my creative landscape!

Photographic Atmosphere

I’ve already mentioned atmosphere as one of the things that can create strong links for me with a place. This leads me into some other photographic news: 7 photos on a theme of ‘atmosphere’ in the latest issue of Bunbury Magazine.

The mainly ecological and politics-inspired photos – entitled ‘Fragmented/blood blossoms’, ‘atmosphere of silent oppression’, ‘warm heart of a leaf’, ‘Seasonal Atmospheric Disorder’ (x2)‘Lazy Afternoon’ and ‘dew anticipation’- can be enjoyed here.

New Lampshades & Glass Rivers Review

COVER HIGH RES JPEG“Leavesley’s snapshots have a piercing quality: the writing is clever without showing that it knows it…

“Underlying the the beat of pain is the flow of potentiality, the possibility of creation even in brokenness, and the joy of beauty in bleak, wrecked things. The stars dance, life dances and while the river runs we have diamonds. This dance saves this little collection from bleakness: there is damaged hope here, but also defiant life. The language is deceptively simple, no parlour tricks. Leavesley likes to punctuate with alliteration but it isn’t hard-pressed or unnecessary. The poems are daintily built, with a fine eye to structure which belies the strength of the result. There are occasional sound games, a particularly delightful ‘sole ah’ reflecting both sound and light. A palindromic protagonist underlines the idea of a break in the flow, the unexpected, and time presses without ever being mentioned by name…

“This is a suggestive collection. The poet, often with a word or the turn of a line, creates situations and events which arrive full-blown and technicoloured in the mind. I admire the the control with which this is achieved. Words which appear easy have been deftly chosen, small details implying vistas of experience. You will finish your reading knowing things and not realising how or why you know them, until you walk line by line through the verse…” Rachel Sterling, Sabotage Reviews, October 2016, full review here.

Last night at London’s The Vaults was the final performance of the Reaction Theatre Makers’ 2016 tour of The Magnetic Diaries, starring Vey Straker.

It has been an exciting and also exhausting year for me, and one which reminds me more than ever of how much thanks I owe to family, friends and those who have believed in my work at various steps of the way. Words can’t really do justice to how much this has all meant. (Yes, I know, and I’d call myself a writer!) I am grateful to them all, and also to all the amazing people I have met doing workshops as part of this tour, as well as the wonderful writer friends who joined me for my final workshop at birmingham mac on Saturday.

The photo-poems below are a small thanks to all the people who have been part of this, to all my lovely friends, to all the lovely people in the world, and especially for anyone having a hard time right now.

a-sunlit-heart

in-outsretched-hands

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’?

http://www.eyewearpublishing.com/products/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.

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