15th Nov 2018
Hello, thanks for the coffee and for inviting me to participate.
I write poems, teach creative writing at University of Nottingham and occasionally other places, and organise readings and performances. I play in a band called Food People with Greg Thomas and Matthew Hamblin.
I wouldn’t have said that my ‘creative’ writing was poetry until 2009. That year was a turning point for me because I met a group of like-minded people while I was doing my PhD (in Edinburgh) and we formed a poetry workshop where we shared work, gave feedback, and ate dinner together.
Previous to this I wrote short stories and was intimidated by what I perceived was poetry’s gravitas. The generosity of this group gave me the license to call my writing poetry, a form that I recognised was endlessly flexible and a home for all kinds of diverse and often unclassifiable writings.
My working process for my poetry (and in fact all my work!) is very slow. I accumulate phrases or noticings in several notebooks without much intention for their destination. Sometimes a line or a group of words catches my attention and I start to move them around and gather other texts around these. Occasionally I am steered by a theme or idea that I read in a book or given to me through a particular prompt. I’m a great fan of writing with objects. A rock, a kitchen sponge can be a catalyst for writing, but also you can place the rock or sponge on your notebook or on your hand and see how it changes the writing approach. The rock or sponge can be replaced with a piece of music or a fan blowing on your face.
Apart from poetry I’m writing a few things at the moment: a book chapter about the collaboration between the embroiderer Pamela Campion and the poet Ian Hamilton Finlay, an essay for radio, reviews of poetry pamphlets, and some texts for a film. Food People are working on a new album.
I used to think that my early encounters with poetry went something like this: reading poems in books and magazines, maybe trying to write poems in the style of my favourite poems, eventually reading those poems out loud at poetry readings. But I realised that my origin story of the poem wasn’t true, because I had encountered poems when I was younger, through lullabies and in children’s books always accompanied by images. The feeling I get from reading someone’s great poem is not dissimilar to the feeling of listening to a great wordless song. The provenance of poetry is everywhere - I think poetry is more of an adjective than a noun. I like this quote by (concrete poet) Mary Ellen Solt: ‘Emotions and ideas are not the physical materials of poetry. If the artist were not a poet he might be moved by the same emotions and ideas to make a painting (if he were a painter), a piece of sculpture (if he were a sculptor), a musical composition (if he were a composer).’
All this to say that it excited me to know that the generating principle behind a poem, and the eventual form and outlet of the poem, could be drawn from beyond the conventions of literature. This is definitely not a new idea, but I think there is still an enduring idea that poetry is one thing distinct from other art forms. One writing exercise I enjoy is borrowed from drawing, where you sit on top of a hill and write in response to what you see without taking your eye off the view (i.e. not looking down on the page). In performance, too, the possibilities for a poem are endless, spoken with sounds or images, alone or with others, or your voice manipulated through effects or silent with the text conveyed in another way.
FRONT HORSE is a performance night and magazine that I run with Matthew Hamblin. It started out as a house gig in London when we lived in Bow. For the first two we had performances by Holly Pester, Nat Raha, Sean Bonney, Sarah Kelly, Samantha Walton; video and art work by Adam Butcher, Lene Shepherd, Rob Heppell, and Nicky Teegan. Since we moved to Nottingham we’ve been hosting the performance nights in various community venues and started a magazine of the same name. I really enjoy the informal atmosphere of these nights and having poetry alongside music and art means we get a diverse crowd. There’s a website: fronthorse.woodpress.com
I’m excited by the cookery writer Marcella Hazan. Her tomato sauce is amazing and only has 4 ingredients: tomatoes, butter, an onion, and salt. Also she explains that vegetable dishes are called contorno in Italian menus and the literal translation for this is ‘contour’. The idea of vegetables giving shape and definition to a meal is quite nice. I’m generally excited, mentally and physically, by good writing about food - M.F.K. Fisher, Iris Murdoch, Mary McCarthy. My partner Matthew recently showed me a passage about eating figs by Walter Benjamin which is really terrific.
Denise Riley’s writing is part of my staple diet. She has been published since the 1970s but her work is continually sharp, beautiful, and complex.
Books of poetry I recommend - there are so many, but for now Vicky Sparrow’s Writing to Selves (Zarf Editions); Alice Tarbuck’s GRID (Sad Press); Colin Herd’s Click and Collect (Boiler House Press). I’m also looking forward very much to the forthcoming publication of Callie Gardner’s naturally it is not (The 87 Press).