Thursday, 20 February 2014

A poetry blog tour

The excellent Roy Marshall invited me to take part in this tour of poetry blogs. How does it work? Well, I answer four standard questions about my own work, then link to the blogs of three more poets, who will answer the same questions over the next few weeks.

Now, you'll notice that there are just two links posted so far - to Gill McEvoy and Tim Love. That's because most of the poets I know had already been approached. If you'd like to take part, then, drop me a line, and I'll add your link. Anyway, here goes...

What am I working on?
I've been working with a photographer, Phil Harris, on a project looking at landscape and particularly the landscape of John Clare's poetry, although it's started to take us down some quite different routes, too. It's been a really exciting and challenging way of working - neither of us wants to end up effectively illustrating each other's work, so we've just been figuring stuff out as we go along.

I've also got a long-standing sequence that I've been working on, and that I'm thinking of polishing up and sending out to pamphlet publishers some time this year.

Alongside both of those I've been writing some very occasional occasional poems, but it's pretty slow going (for reasons that will become clear later in this post).

Finally, I'm planning a prose project - if it gets approved, it would certainly feed into my poetry, I think, so I'm looking forward to working on it.

How does my work differ from others in the genre?
Hmmm. Difficult, and probably not really for me to say. I'm always slightly conscious that, not having done an English or Creative Writing degree, my reading of poetry has been a bit haphazard (although voracious), so maybe that shows up in my own work, but I'm not sure. I do tend to write a lot of nature poems, too, and for the most part I tend to dislike enlisting birds or animals or whatever for obvious symbolic or metaphorical effect, but having said that my latest book, The Elephant Tests, contains several very obviously symbolic elephants (I know next to nothing about the actual animals).

Why do I write what I write?
Well, I suppose I'd say because I have to, although that can end up sounding a bit pretentious. I do get physically uneasy when I have something I want to write but work or whatever else is getting in the way.

As regards subject matter it does tend, for the most part, to be rooted in the subject areas I know most about, although I'd also say that by doing so I find out more about them. I'm interested in the potential of all the arts to change attitudes about environmental issues (this is something that New Networks for Nature has pioneered), so that has been increasingly important in driving my work, I think, but it is very much about the poetry first and foremost - I don't like the idea of browbeating readers at all.

How does your writing process work?
It's changed quite a bit over the years, and continues to change. I make notes for poems all the time, and although I like a Moleskine as much as the next person, I scribble on any scrap of paper to hand. More and more I also make notes on my phone or iPad. More and more, too, I remind myself to write something, anything, including blog posts, diary entries, etc., rather than waiting around for inspiration. I mine a lot of my other writing for poetry 'prompts' and ideas.

Having done that, I usually write the first full draft by hand, then later put it on my PC. I've been trying to take far longer over revising poems, giving myself a set period to let them 'mature', so I'll then go back to a piece a few times over several months. I generally have quite a few poems on the go at once, so I don't worry too much if one gets abandoned for a lengthy period - last week, I went back to a piece that had sat untouched for four years, and reworked and 'finished' it within 10 minutes. I think the time away just made its flaws so obvious, as well as the potential solutions.

In physical terms, while I make notes all the time, I tend to do all the hard work in the evenings and at night. I'm not sure why, but I struggle to write poetry much before 6pm. I can't listen to music while I write, and I stay away from Twitter and Facebook, but I sometimes quite like having something undemanding on the TV or radio, such as cricket or snooker, that I can dip in and out of.

The blogging tour continues...
For more answers to these questions, see:
Gill McEvoy,
Tim Love,

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