Five Minute Interview with Peter Sansom

 

 

Welcome to ournext Five Minute Interview, this time with the legendary Peter Sansom.  Peter will be appearing alongside our special guest Stuart Maconie in a literary pub crawl, introducing audiences to a variety of new writing celebrating the British pub from the ‘One For the Road‘ anthology.  This event is on Sunday 9th September, 3pm-4pm.  Tickets are still available for this event from The Brewery Arts Centre for a mere £5.

Peter Sansom has published five collections of poetry, which include a Selected Poems with Carcanet and his most recent collection Careful What You Wish For. He is the director of The Poetry Business where he edits The North magazine and Smith/Doorstop books

Thanks to Hannah Hodgson, as always for this excellent interview and to Peter for taking part.

HH: Can you pinpoint a single thing that made you gravitate towards poetry as opposed to other mediums?

PS:Like most people ‘fit for nothing but literature’ I blame an inspirational English teacher.  The first poem in my Selected Poems is about mine, Mike Allen — not much older than us and completely on our side though completely different, being from the South and public school.  I’d like to write other things, best-selling novels for preference, but I don’t know enough and haven’t enough attention span.  Radio 4 broadcast a couple of plays by me and I’d love to do more, but somehow never seem to.  They were commissioned and while I was on with them it was like being a real writer. 

HH: For anyone who hasn’t come across the Poetry Business, how would you describe the work that you do?

PS: We’re a publishers and writer development agency, or the other way round maybe, and from being a single trader in 1986 the Business has become an organisation (ten people, all part-time), with me and Ann Sansom doing most of the teaching, mentoring and editing of books, pamphlets and The North magazine.  I’m fond of saying it’s better than being down the pit (which my mum worried I might) or being Peter Andre for a living (though actually he seems a nice man, Peter Andre).  The PB is an exciting place to be esp with our youngish team and the younger writers coming up now; though it is rather wonderful to read and to continue to be able to publish our older authors.  I like to think the monopoly that Faber (deservedly) had when I was growing up has given way a little and, though there’s more competition from other larger presses, specialist outfits such as ours are not as marginalised nowadays.  I’d like to think that.  But it’s human nature with books as in any other marketplace to trust the brand you know.

HH: If you had to pinpoint a person ( who may not be a writer themselves) who has influenced you, who would you choose?

PS: My favourite writer is the Sheffield poet Stanley Cook (1922-1991), who taught me at Huddersfield Poly, and whose poems spoke to me at once because of their honest, intelligent voice and their wit, and the way they look so closely at everything, especially the mostly working class world around him.   He was an influence in so many ways, and it was through him that I got a job at the Poly, which developed poetry workshops in a happy time of being young(ish) alongside Simon Armitage eg and Ian McMillan and with the Poetry Business just starting.  I wrote a poem about it (‘Sofa’) in my last book.  There was an article about Stanley Cook anyway in my first year on the library noticeboard photocopied from The Guardian, ‘Poet at the Poly’, when he won a competition (£2000, big money in the seventies).  Otherwise you’d never know he wrote poems.  He never mentioned it and his books were in the library but not many bookshops.  Later he was editor of Poetry Nottingham, which he published me in, and then Poetry Nottingham pamphlets with mine the first in the series.  I still can’t believe it, because he really knew what he was doing, and I certainly didn’t.  More amazing still was that he was an extremely private person and yet he let me read his long poem, ‘Woods Beyond a Cornfield’, in typescript when I was in my third year.   Douglas Dunn among others admired this poem (‘a masterpiece’) and the privilege of Cook letting me read it and some of his other poems before they were published has never left me.  The oddest thing is I do think he was well aware of my weaknesses (as a person and as a poet, posturing and that typical young man self-importance, some of which I hope I’ve grown out of, and shallowness) but he saw something else in me too, and that sustains me when I get knocked back or when (like almost everyone is) I am overlooked. I edited and published his Collected Poems after his death, and wish I’d thought to ask Simon A to ask Faber about doing it, because the PB didn’t have the clout to get him the readership he deserves.  His writing is so rooted in real life, and so clear-eyed and yet completely imaginative and at times otherworldly.  Stanley Cook also incidentally very much admired Ann Dancy, who later became the Bloodaxe poet Ann Sansom.  

HH: You obviously have a huge workload surrounding the Poetry Business – how do you make the time for your own writing? 

PS: I write sometimes in the mornings (if possible not starting PB work till after ten) and it feels great if I can get some headspace and the momentum of several days in a row.  And now and then I write alongside others when I’m running a group.  I don’t write as much as I might, because though I know it isn’t, it still feels like an indulgence.  Even when poet in residence somewhere I’m comfortable actually writing, because people think my real gift is for getting others to do it.  My editor Michael Schmidt at Carcanet (another important person for me) tried to dissuade me from the Poetry Business, because it would distract from writing just as Carcanet might have done him, were he not actually three people.  Actually I think running Carcanet and PN Review and being a Professor of Poetry has distracted others from seeing him as a poet. 

HH: Do you have any tips for any new or young writers?

PS: I like Hunter Davies’s dictum ‘Don’t get it right, get it written’ — which is obviously saying trust yourself, trust the process, don’t worry that you think you’re not good enough — but it is also saying get your head out of your poem’s backside and get on with the next one now.   Most poets know their own writing down to the last syllable and never look with anywhere near the same attention at anybody else’s. It’s natural esp for beginning writers to be in love with their own work, but the poets who succeed grow into being interested in poetry rather than their own writing per se.  The other essential thing is to get out there — networking, publishing.  It’s not enough to write well, you have to be noticed.  Ann and I at The North always say we’re very unlikely to publish you if you don’t send us your work.  Magazines are a sort of meeting place, a place to see and be seen.  And actually meeting other writers at festivals and such as The Arvon Foundation is a great resource — you grow as a writer for being with other writers and you support each other and make alliances and take over the poetry world.  I may be wrong but it seems a very hospitable place the poetry world, but it naturally has factions and hierarchies, a word that spellcheck tells me I don’t even know how to spell. The other thing to remember is to enjoy yourself.  The other other thing fogeys like me will tell you is to be yourself, but who knows how to do that, so maybe it’s just enough to enjoy yourself, and to bear in mind that most poems in the Oxford Book Of Now That’s What I Call Poetry were written by young poets, not the old fogeys they became, so think on.

HH: Thanks Peter! If you’d like to read some of Peter’s poetry, you can order some of his books over at the Carcanet website 

 

Five Minute Interview with David Constantine

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We are less than two weeks away from the start of the 2018 Kendal Poetry Festival and things are hotting up here at festival headquarters.  Pauline is travelling around Kendal so fast she has turned into a blur, distributing brochures,  putting up posters, checking in with the venues and doing a hundred and one last minute jobs.  I (Kim) am busy posting these blogs, liasing with the Festival Poets and rounding up the Young Poets  – always a job to keep me on my toes.

Our fourth Five Minute Interview of 2018 is with the http://www.bloodaxebooks.com/ecs/category/david-constantinewonderful David Constantine, who will be reading on the 9th September at 11am, along with Claudine Toutoungi.  You can get a ticket for David’s reading here.

David Constantine was born 1944 in Salford, Lancashire, and spent 30 years as a university teacher of German language and literature. He has published a dozen volumes of poetry.  His most recent collection is Elder (Bloodaxe, 2014); two novels, Davies (1985) and The Life-Writer (2015), and five collections of short stories. He is an editor and translator of Hölderlin, Goethe, Kleist and Brecht.

For his stories he won the BBC National and the Frank O’ Connor International Awards (2010, 2013). The film ‘45 Years’ was based on his story ‘In Another Country’. With Helen Constantine he edited Modern Poetry in Translation, 2003-12. His new and greatly enlarged Selected Poetry of Hölderlin will be published by Bloodaxe later this year.

You can order David’s books from the Bloodaxe website

Thanks to Hannah Hodgson, as always for this excellent interview and to David for taking part.

HH: On days that you know you have a lot of work to get done, so you have any treats / bribes to make yourself get your work done?

DC: I tell myself, You can plant the beans (or whatever else needs doing in the garden) when you have written what you have to write

HH: If you could narrow it down to one, what would you class as your favourite event that you have read at?

DC:  Over many years I have enjoyed many events.

HH: Can you recommend a book of poetry that you feel should have more ‘hype’ surrounding it?

DC: Sorry, no. I don’t think poets are helped by hype.

HH: If you could pick any poets as members of your poetry family, who would you choose?

DC: They are all on my shelves. But I’d be glad of a conversation with, say, Emily Dickinson or John Clare.

HH: Do you have any tips for any new or young writers?

DC: Read a lot of poetry, ancient and modern, from home and abroad. Translate a foreign poet if you can. Don’t ever write just to get published. Write when you must. Avoid the anecdotal (recounting your experiences. Robert Lowell: ‘A poem is an event, not the record of an event.’

HH: Thanks David! If you’d like to read some of David’s poetry, you can order Elder over at the Bloodaxe website

 

Five Minute Interview with Claudine Toutoungi

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Our third Five Minute Interview of 2018 is with the wonderful Claudine Toutongi, who will be reading on the 9th September at 11am, along with David Constantine.  You can get a ticket for Claudine’s reading here.

Claudine Toutoungi’s debut poetry collection Smoothie was published by Carcanet in 2017. Her poems have appeared in various publications including PN Review, Poetry (Chicago), The Financial Times, Magma, The Tangerine, Poems in Which, The North, The Literateur and the anthology New Poetries VI (Carcanet, 2015). here.  

 

HH: Off the top of your head, can you think of any poets who aren’t talked about as much as they should be?

CT: Alicia Ostriker and Adelia Prado.

HH: Have you ever been in a situation where you’ve had writers block? How did you get yourself out of that?

CT:  I don’t exactly get blocked but I often get stuck or slightly lost with where something’s going. If I can I leave it and let it percolate and try and have a good walk or clean or do something non-cerebral for a while. Otherwise I drink a lot of coffee and push through. Of late I’ve also found using a white board helps. Something about filling it up quite quickly in quite a messy, random way can free up things for me..

HH: Has anyone in particular been a huge help/ influence in your poetry life?

CT: I have two or three friends who are very good and patient at letting me send them new poems and whose comments/gut reactions are invaluable. For two or three years here in Cambridge I did a workshop with Emma Jones and Sean Borodale (consecutively) and that was very motivational. Cambridge is a town stuffed full of talented poets and I’m lucky to be in an ad hoc workshop group with some amazing writers and that keeps me on my toes.

HH: How do you keep yourself motivated to write? Do you block off specific times to sit and get writing, or do you just write as and when?

CT: I do bouts of automatic writing pretty regularly and keep notebooks about my person and also am a bit of a demon for leaving myself long-winded voice memos of ideas that I don’t always follow up on. I don’t find it hard to motivate myself to use words, as such, as I love them but when it comes to finding the form or the structure for the idea sometimes the next step won’t present itself as readily as I’d like. On those days I’ll dip into other writers (of all genres) I love to inspire me (currently these include Tara Bergin, Catherine Barnett and David Sedaris). If I have a commission I try to reign myself in and be more structured but I do find sitting for long periods tricky, so do a lot of pacing and saying it out loud once I’ve got something resembling a draft.

HH: Do you have any tips for any new or young writers?

CT: Be messy. Write on post-its, steal eavesdropped lines in bus queues and record weird voice memos with them or type yourself random emails on trains. If you can, get yourself a whiteboard and scrawl on it. I think it all helps!

HH: Thanks Claudine! If you’d like to read some of Claudine’s poetry, you can order Smoothie here.

You can find out more about Claudine over at her website here and you can read some of her work over at The Poetry Foundation 

Claudine was also kind enough to send us a poem to post below – hope you enjoy!

 

Whitehaven 
Claudine Toutoungi

A gull takes me to the edge of the town.
It is only grey here; great slates of it
and the roll and smash of sea into stone.

What must he have thought? No hint
of orange blossom, not a palm in sight
and all the light drained from the sky.

The northern tales as strange as tides,
like the Newtown Boggle disguised as a loaf
till a foolish lass took him home to toast.

And what of the olive trees, the spices
on the wind, the boulevard lovers?
No one can be a flâneur in the mist.

Against the railings, the ocean holds me.
Spray soaks my face. I breathe it in,
leaning towards my father’s country

Five Minute Interview with Liz Berry

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Welcome back to the return of Kendal Poetry Festival’s Five Minute With series.  Our Young Blogger-in-Residence Hannah Hodgson interviewed the fantastic Liz Berry, who will be reading on the 9th September at 4.30-6.30pm with David Harsent.  You can get a ticket for Liz’s reading here.

Liz Berry’s first full-length collection Black Country, published by Chatto in 2014 was described in The Guardian as a ‘sooty, soaring hymn to her native West Midlands’.  A winner of the Forward Prize for Best First Collection, she makes a welcome return to Cumbria, reading poems from her new pamphlet The Republic of Motherhood, available here.  

 

HH: Are there any particular themes that you find you gravitate towards in your writing?

LB: Transformations. At the moment my mind is much on motherhood (I have two little sons) and how those early years transform us. I also love writing about my region – the Black Country and Birmingham – and its extraordinary dialect

HH: What are you working on at the moment? What wider poetry projects are you working on e.g. judging competitions?

LB:  I’ve just published a pamphlet called ‘The Republic of Motherhood’ (Chatto), fifteen poems about becoming a mother and the wild hard days of that first year. It’s a beautiful looking little thing and the poems are very raw and close to my heart. The title poem has been shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best Single Poem which makes me happy as it was a hard poem to write but a poem that I hope will find others in their dark. tender hours. Other than that, I’m teaching workshops, judging competitions like the Winchester Poetry Prize and, as always, pottering away on poems.

HH: Can you remember writing your first poem?

LB: I wrote my first real poem when I was about seven or so. It was about the canting (beautiful West Mids word for chatty) women who lived in the street in the Black Country where I grew up. I still love writing about women and trying to capture their voices so I suppose not much has changed!

HH: What was the first poem you had published? And where?

LB: The first poem that was published that I was really proud of was “The Patron Saint of Schoolgirls” in Mslexia. It was commended by Carol Ann Duffy in their poetry competition. When I was growing up and starting to write, Carol Ann was such an important poet for me. I remember going to see her read at a branch library in Wolverhampton when I was about thirteen and suddenly feeling all sorts of things might be possible for me. So to have my poem chosen by her was a special thing

HH: Do you have any tips for any new or young writers?

WHS: Write what you feel you must write. Be patient and patient with yourself. Be fearless and kind..

HH: Thanks Liz! If you’d like to read some of Liz’s poetry, you can order Black Country and The Republic of Motherhood here

You can read some of Liz’s poetry over at The Poetry Foundation or if you’d like to hear Liz read some of her work, head over to The Poetry Archive

 

Five Minute Interview with Wayne Holloway-Smith

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Welcome back to the return of Kendal Poetry Festival’s Five Minute With series.  Our Young Blogger-in-Residence Hannah Hodgson interviewed the fantastic Wayne Holloway-Smith, who will be reading on the 8th September at 11am with Dean Parkin.  You can get a ticket for Wayne’s reading here.

Wayne Holloway-Smith’s pocket book Beloved, in case you’ve been wondering was published by Donut Press in 2011.  He also gained a PhD in English and Creative Writing from Brunel University in 2015.

He won the Geoffrey Dearmer2016 prize, and his first collection Alarum was published by Bloodaxe in 2017.  John Challis reviewed Alarum on behalf of the Poetry School, and said ‘Alarum is enviably good…Hilarious and witty, it’s also terrifically sad, but wears its tragedy so lightly at first it’s hard to notice.’

 

HH: If you hadn’t become a poet, what do you think your career would’ve been?

WHS: I think I would have been the lead singer of The Strokes, or an ice cream man. Ha. In honesty, I don’t know if I can think about things as disconnected as that. I mean, most people I grew up with are either plumbers, carpenters, or else they work on building sites. My dad, in addition to being an asshole, was a builder and painter/decorator. The type of person I am now and what I do are both contingent upon people I meet outside of my own familiar environment, at different moments in my life – these people expose me to new ways of thinking about what I am allowed to do with myself. I reckon poetry ended up being a thing I loved and wanted to do as almost-accidentally as anything else someone might love and end up doing with their time.

HH: What is the strangest poetry event (scenario you have been in?)

WHS:  The best event I recently went to was a thing run by Inua Ellams and Theresa Lola, called RAP Party.  You walk into this dark and absolutely packed room, where everyone is drinking and dancing to a DJ playing hip hop.  Then, every so often, the music cuts, a spotlight hits a part of the room, and there’s a poet reading something interesting.  The particular month I attended, the theme was a specific Kanye West album, so each poet read a piece of work in relation to a track on that album (many seemed to critique the rapper in some way due to his recent behaviour).  The whole thing was so fresh, celebratory and inclusive.  It feels like these types of events are one way forward in terms of rejuvenating poetry readings.  No self-reverence.  No pretensions.  Just pluralism and loads of fun. 

The weirdest thing that ever happened was that two very drunk women had a massive fight right in front of a stage while I was reading.  I don’t know why.  

HH: What is the best thing that has happened to you because of poetry?

WHS: 1) I get to write, read and talk about what I enjoy the most, and get money for it to help support my family. 2) My personal politics is constantly being challenged and shaped by what I read. 3) I’ve met so many brilliant, intelligent and funny people, a lot of whom are now my best friends.

HH: If you could become someone else for a day, which poet would you choose?

WHS: Anne Carson or Mary Ruefle

HH: Do you have any tips for any new or young writers?

WHS: There’s no one way of writing.
Things happen differently for different people.
No one has the monopoly of what is ‘good’.  So you don’t have to listen to people who think they do.

HH: Thanks Wayne! If you’d like to read some of Wayne’s poetry, you can order his collection from Bloodaxe here, or head over to the Poetry Foundation or the Poetry Society to read some of his poems.

Five Minutes With Malcolm from Iridium

This is our last ‘Five Minute Interview’ as we start to get too excited to do interviews, as the festival is only TWO DAYS AWAY!  Hannah went to speak to Malcolm, the owner of Iridium, one of Kendal Poetry Festival’s favourite local shops, where you’ll find a  find a range of famous names in the fields of pens, pencils, inks and stationery.  Malcolm’s stall at last year’s festival was extremely popular and we are really happy that he has agreed to come and sell some of his products at this year’s festival.  We hope you enjoy the interview, and thanks to Malcolm for taking time out to answer these questions.

HH:   What did you do in your pre- Iridium life?

M: In the real World, I was a Civil / Structural Engineer… working in the energy sector for the likes of BP, INEOS and Sellafield. Large multi-million pound projects… writing specifications and scoping out work to clean up nuclear waste in Cumbria. Also refurbishing huge tanks in Scotland for storing North Sea oil and gas. Very smelly and very messy.

Oh… and in the 1980’s I had a sandwich bar in London, when a BLT or spicy chicken on granary bread was new… and avocados an exotic fruit. Who would have thought…!

HH: How did you come to own Iridium?

M: Well… one fine day, I attended one Corporate meeting too many. Surrounded by men in suits… I sat gazing at my latest fountain pen. Italian, colourful, gold pointed nib, majestic. Turning it round and around in my hand… wondering why I was still working in Engineering when my dream job could be selling Fine Stationery in a shop in Kendal. ‘Ping’… that was it. I gave notice to quit the next day and within three months I opened the door to Iridium in the New Shambles. That was nearly four years ago… selling fountain pens in Kendal. How can that be…? I’m still smiling.

 

HH: What is your favourite product within Iridium?

M: Not just one, that’s impossible. I can’t resist Japanese stationery… LIFE notebooks so smooth and stylish… and iroshizuku (translates to coloured dew droplet) ink… the colours and bottles are to die for. Also Blackwing pencils for that quick sketch or scribble.

HH: What would you recommend as your most useful product for a poet?

M: Without doubt… a Leuchtturm1917 notebook with pen loop and Lamy fountain pen… maybe a Blackwing pencil. The new metallic range… copper, silver and gold covers are my current favourite. And turquoise ink. But no erasers… never rub out your mistakes. How else will you learn for the future…?

HH: What is the strangest thing that has ever happened within your shop?

M: OMG…! One hot afternoon last summer, I had the shop door wide open and a lady popped her head in… ‘I think a mouse just ran in to your shop’ she said… ‘it’s hiding behind the door’
‘OK… thanks’ I said.
I moved the door aside… to find the biggest RAT I’ve ever seen. Horror…! Another customer pushed the door back trapping the rat whilst I grabbed a broom and huge cardboard box. Between us, we forced a squealing rat in to the box… and rehoused it back to the riverbank. Urghhh…!

Note to self… this story may put people off visiting Iridium. Not the brightest piece of marketing…! Haha…

Five Minutes with Wayleave Press

Hannah Hodgson has been busy interviewing Mike Barlow, the editor and publisher of Wayleave Press.  Mike will be appearing at the festival to be interviewed by one of our Festival Directors, Kim Moore on Sunday 18th June at 10.30.  Mike and Kim will be talking about publishing and setting up a small press.  The discussion will be followed by short readings from three Wayleave Press poets, Rebecca Bilkau, Paul Mills and Ron Scowcroft.  You can book tickets for the event here.

HH: When and how did Wayleave Press begin?

MB: Wayleave Press started in 2012, with a self-published pamphlet collection by myself, ‘Nothing About to Happen’. I had a collection of poems I wanted to put together, but felt they were unlikely to get anywhere in a pamphlet competition (too imagistic, allusive and elusive). So I put them together and sent them out to friends and fellow poets. The poems were well received as was the quality of the production from the local printer, so I decided it would be feasible to do the same for other poets who wanted to have a pamphlet out there.

The first pamphlet I published for someone else was ‘Moon Garden’ by Ron Scowcroft in 2014. Since then I have published 17 pamphlets (including two of my own). These have been poets I know of or whose work I already knew, or had heard read or, on one occasion, had recommended to me by a third party.

Wayleave is primarily a pamphlet publisher. I do not have the funds or expertise for full books. Nor do I have the time or ambition. However, the exception was Elizabeth Burns’ posthumous collection ‘Lightkeepers’, which was done as a one-off.

HH: What is your role at Wayleave?

MB: I do everything, basically. Edit, layout, produce. From time to time I consult my partner about design matters (choice of endpapers for instance) and she’s very good at proof-reading, something you can’t do too much of.

The business emphasis is on poets themselves selling their own pamphlets, since that is the main and most effective way of getting pamphlets about. I run a website and do some basic marketing, but the poetry world is such that it’s poets themselves who are the best marketeers of their work.

I work in co-operation with the poet. Sometimes a collection can be complete in itself, edited and ordered so nothing else needs to be done. At other times I can be much more involved, selecting from a body of work, suggesting the order and editing individual poems. It all depends on what I’m presented with, what the poet requires of me and what the poems themselves suggest they need.

Although I’m open to preferences and suggestions for cover illustrations from the poets themselves, most covers have been from my own art works, something that poets seem to be happy with and which seems to have become a bit of a brand feature. The exception is two pamphlets from Elizaneth Burns which were illustrated by paintings by my partner, Jane Routh.

HH: What would you say has been the highlight of your poetry career?

MB: I suppose I’d have to say winning the National Poetry Competition in 2006. That certainly gave me a boost. But these things pass. Being shortlisted for the 2004 Jerwood Aldeburgh Prize with my first collection ‘Living on the Difference’ and having a pamphlet ‘Amicable Numbers’ selected as a Poetry Book Society Pamphlet Choice were pretty affirming.

However, there are lots of ways in which highlights pop up in the course of things. Sometimes (not always) you do a good reading and feel pleased, or you get a poem accepted by a particular good magazine. This sort of thing makes you feel your work is heard, appreciated and read.

And running Wayleave gives me many satisfying moments. I love getting involved in helping put a good collection of poems together well, and presenting them in a pleasing form. There’s a real buzz in picking up copies of a new pamphlet from the printers and getting them to the poet.

And then my partner Jane has just reminded me of a reading we heard at Stanza earlier this year, by Robert Crawford and Alice Oswald. The best reading I’ve ever heard and a wonderful combination of poets. We came away very excited, feeling an immense lift from it.

HH: What signifies a stand out poem to you?

MB: This is a difficult question to answer. For me it will depend on circumstances, where and how I come across the poem, my state of mind, how receptive I am to its particular music and ideas. I suppose the question comes from the competition culture of the poetry world, where a poem has to make an impact amongst hundreds of others.

I tend to respond more to bodies of work. For instance, I have a number of favourite poets whose work in general or particular collections stand out for me and who I return to frequently. Alice Oswald and Philip Gross are two examples.

But as for the particular question about stand-out qualities, I’d say I want a poem to have an air of self-confidence, a feeling that it’s arrived and says what it has to authentically. Imagery is important to me, and the flow of language, the music and rhythms of natural speech. What it says needs to be said in interesting and arresting ways with enough wordplay or play with form and allusion to make you want to read it again and continue to be able to mine it for enjoyment or meaning. There are many striking poems which are nonetheless ‘get-it-in-one’ poems which probably have a limited life in the reader’s mind. I favour poems with more dimension and depth offering a slower burn in their appreciation. Sorry, this sounds all very abstract.

HH: As a poet yourself what advice would you offer to young poets?

MB: I think I’d say read and listen continuously, write furiously but be ruthless in editing your work. Sometimes you can be very pleased with something you’ve written, but I’d say resist the temptation to consider it finished and send it out indiscriminately. The passing of time can do wonders for your critical faculties. And of course, we are all learning all the time; style and ‘voice’ is an evolving thing.

If, or when, you come across someone else’s writing that has, for you, that ‘wow’ factor, stick with it but don’t try and imitate, have confidence that your own ‘voice’ will take what it needs from the example of others.

 

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Five Minutes With Martin Kratz

 

Martin Kratz will be giving a whistle stop tour of some of our Festival Poets during his forty five minute session. He will be looking at the general themes that many of the poets explore in their work.   If you can only make a select few of our events this year,  it would be an excellent idea to book in to this talk. Or, if you haven’t heard any of a particular poets’ work and would like a preview, this is the event for you! The event is running on Friday 16th June, and would be ideal for those who are going to see Jack Mapanje from 3-4pm, as this event runs from 5-5.45pm, giving you the opportunity to grab something to eat before hand, then there will be time for a quick cup of tea or coffee before the launch begins at 6.30pm! You can book tickets here.  See you there!

 

 

HH: What is your personal background?

MK: I live in Manchester with my family. I am an Associate Lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University. I have a particular interest in poetry. Currently, I am working on a project on John Keats. While I’m in this part of the world I’ll be visiting some of the places he wrote about in his letters. He came here on a walking tour in 1818.

HH: What will you be doing at the festival this year?

MK: I am giving a whistle-stop tour of the Festival. I’ll be talking about the poets who are reading and looking at some of my favourite poems. I have also tried to identify any themes that link this year’s writers. Family seems to be a particularly strong subject this year.

HH: Why is poetry about the family important and why?

MK: I have been wondering about this connection. The Old English epic ‘Beowulf’ is a poem full of passages which list various family trees. That recollection sparked something in my mind about the link between the poetic line and ancestral lineages. Lines and lineages. Perhaps it has something to do with the way poetry might have functioned as a mnemonic device, helping to establish the provenance of certain powerful families …a kind of litany of power.

This is a pretty narrow version of family though, and a far cry from the way family is considered these days and in the poetry at this year’s festival. Here, the scope of family is very broad, and involves poems of redress, memory, speculation, and reimagining … Ultimately, the common denominator in poetry about family is love. Even when it’s lacking. And given that love is the driving concern of so much poetry, it’s perhaps not surprising to find the family given that much attention.

HH: In these times of uncertainty do you feel that poetry about the family makes people feel reassured? Is that why it is so popular? Or do you think there is another reason? 

MK: I don’t know. Poetry certainly can have that reassuring quality you’re talking about. In this year’s line-up, you have something of that, but mostly you have family presented as the often challenging, knotty thing it can be. There’s no reaching after easy nostalgia. Family doesn’t just happen. It would be nice if it did. But family actually takes work, and perhaps the poetry is part of that work. Also, in difficult times we are reminded of what’s important to us of course.

What I have been struck by in particular is the recurrence of the grandparent as a prominent figure. I suspect that in literature the grandparent is a figure that is often written about pretty generically and too simplistically. Grandparents can often be represented as uncomplicated and one-dimensional… this year’s poetry definitely challenges that idea.  

HH: What advice would you give to anyone looking to write poetry about the family?

MK: Read! There are so many different ways to conceive of the idea of family and to write about it, whether you’re writing about real families or imagined ones. In the end, you should write what you have to. Perhaps, write what you know. But read what you don’t.

Five Minutes with William Letford

 

 

Below is a quick five minute interview with William Letford. I met William about a year ago at a writing residential that Kim Moore was running. I first discovered his work through this, and have continued reading it ever since. I am very excited to see his reading on the Friday night of the festival alongside Hannah Lowe. You can buy tickets for this reading here

 William has won many poetry awards, including a Scottish Poetry award, and published two collections with Carcanet: Bevel in 2012 and Dirt in 2016.

 

HH: What are you reading at the moment?

 WL: At the moment I’m reading Dog Run Moon by Callan Wink, which is a collection of short stories, and I’m reading Train Dreams by Denis Johnson, which is a Novella.

HH: What is your writing process? Do you usually go straight for a pen or paper or to a computer?

 WL:I’m gunning straight for the computer at the moment, but there’s something cathartic about the swoop of ink. There’s punch and rhythm on a keyboard. In a quiet room there’s the hint of the ocean on a page.

 HH: How did you decide on ‘Dirt’ as the title to your latest collection?

 WL: While travelling I had a lot of time to sit and stare. Sterile environments like shopping centres were less appealing to me than old hotel rooms filled with decayed grandeur, peeling wallpaper, rusty pipes. Dust and dirt had texture. And beauty.

 HH: When did you first come across poetry?

 WL: I had a book by Lewis Carroll, and I remember reading the poem, Phantasmagoria. In fact, I remember memorising a few stanzas and rushing through to recite them to my parents.

 HHHave you got any tips for any budding writers?

 WL: Enjoy every step. One day you’ll wish you could go back and do it all again.

 

The January fashion confession

The hat

My aunt shops online using Glens
vodka and Irn Bru to channel the Christmas
spirit. Last year she downloaded some
knitting patterns, began a self prescribed
course of codeine, then went to work on gifts
for the family. I received the yellow and
red Mohawk hat with ear flaps and tassels
Something magic had happened in the knit
Somewhere in the opiate induced
alcohol and Irn Bru trance my aunt
had found the shamanic. A melted quality
More like a Mohawk flame than a hat.


The coat

is a twenty-year old hand me down Parka
my uncle wore in the nineties when
he thought he was Liam Gallagher. Some of
the swagger was left in it. I find the rolling
motion helps to lift and plant the feet.

 

The boots

are surplus Dutch army bought during the
Forest of Ae World Ceilidh to help combat
the difficult suck of the festival quagmire
I’ve discovered they’re just as suited
to an icy pavement on a tricky Tuesday.

The canter

is how you’ll find me, a yellow and red
flame above a nineties Parka and a pair of
Dutch army boots, sure of foot and swift
of thought with a swagger to match
cutting through the frost like a blow torch.

Five Minutes With Linda Gregerson

HH: In one of my final five minute interviews, I talked to Linda Gregerson, an American poet. She is widely published with six collections of poetry and two of criticism. She has also won numerous prizes for her work, including an award from the Poetry Society of America.

 She will be reading in our final event on Sunday at 2pm on Sunday alongside Ian Duig.

 I first came across Linda’s work when the list of poets was announced for the festival. Since then I have picked up her collections and enjoyed them hugely. I was very excited to ask Linda the set of questions below.

 

HH: How long do you tend to sit and write for on an average day?

 LG: That question never fails to fill me with anxiety!  I’m afraid I have no average days. When I’m either blessedly free or insanely panicked because of a writing deadline (I write criticism as well as poetry), I might write from early morning until mid-evening when I can no longer see straight.  On days when I have an unrelenting series of other commitments (classes to teach, meetings to attend, appointments with students or colleagues), I’m lucky to snatch ten minutes for writing.  I’m a great believer in those ten minutes, though: far better to stay in touch with a poem or an essay in progress by paying a brief daily visit to the unfinished page than to let the barrier of distance harden. 

HH: If you had to choose one poet who has influenced your writing who would they be and why?

LG: Ah, there are so many! Without overthinking it, though, let me name Wallace Stevens. The poems are unabashedly sensuous, both musically and imagistically, and they are marvelously playful. But they are also committed to strenuous philosophical inquiry.  I don’t share Stevens’ passion for abstract thought, but I deeply admire the capaciousness of his poetic project.

HH: What do you do if you get writers block?

LG: I try to launch something reckless, to outwit self-censorship by beginning a poem with pieces of “received language” – language not my own.  These might be phrases I overheard on the bus that morning, or a remembered bit of homiletic from my childhood, or an unusual regional turn of speech I encountered in conversation with a friend, or some outrageous piece of hypocrisy uttered by a politician on the morning news.  I leave the computer behind and write on actual paper with an actual pencil (ink would be far too much of a commitment) so that everything feels safely provisional.

HH: What is your earliest memory of writing?

LG: I have a horrible memory of writing a very dreadful poem when I was in primary school. It very nearly put me off poetry forever. 

HH: Do you have any tips for young writers?

LG: Read read read. Take an interest in the world. Be one of those who *notices*.

SALT – Linda Gregerson

Because she had been told, time and
>>>>>>>>>>again,
>>>>not to swing on the neighbors’ high hammock,

and because she had time and again gone
>>>>>>>>>>back, lured
>>>>by the older boys and their dangerous

propulsions, because a child in shock (we
>>>>>>>>>>didn’t know
>>>>this yet) can seem sullen or intran-

sigent, and because my father hated his life,
>>>>>>>>>>my sister
>>>>with her collarbone broken was spanked

and sent to bed for the night, to shiver
>>>>>>>>>>through the August
>>>>heat and cry her way through sleep.

And where, while she cried, was the life he
>>>>>>>>>>loved?
>>>>Gone before she was born, of course,

gone with the river-ice stored in sawdust,
>>>>>>>>>>gone with the horses,
>>>>gone with the dogs, gone with Arvid Anacker

up in the barn. 1918. My father was six.
>>>>>>>>>>His father thought Why
>>>>leave a boy to the women. Ole (like “holy”

without the h, a good Norwegian
>>>>>>>>>>name)–
>>>>Ole had papers to sign, you see,

having served as county JP for years–
>>>>>>>>>>.you
>>>>would have chosen him too, he was salt

of the earth–and Arvid’s people needed to cut
>>>>>>>>>>the body down.
>>>>So Ole took the boy along, my father

that is, and what he hadn’t allowed for was
>>>>>>>>>>how badly
>>>>Arvid had botched it,

even this last job, the man had no luck.
>>>>>>>>>>His neck
>>>>not having broken, you see, he’d thrashed

for a while, and the northeast wall of the barn–
>>>>>>>>>>the near wall–
>>>>was everywhere harrows and scythes.

It wasn’t–I hope you can understand–
>>>>>>>>>>the
>>>>blood or the blackening face,

as fearful as those were to a boy, that forty
>>>>>>>>>>years later
>>>>had drowned our days in whiskey and dis-

gust, it was just that the world had no
>>>>>>>>>>savor left
>>>>once life with the old man was

gone. It’s common as dirt, the story
>>>>>>>>>>of ex-
>>>>pulsion: once in the father’s fair

lost field, even the cycles of darkness cohered.
>>>>>>>>>>Arvid swinging
>>>>in the granular light, Ole as solid

as heartwood, and tall . . . how
>>>>>>>>>>could a girl
>>>>on her salt-soaked pillow

compete? The banished one in the story
>>>>>>>>>>measures
>>>>all that might save him by all

that’s been lost. My sister in the hammock
>>>>>>>>>>by Arvid
>>>>in the barn. I remember

that hammock, a gray and dirty canvas
>>>>>>>>>>thing,
>>>>I never could make much of it.

But Karen would swing toward the fragrant
>>>>>>>>>>branches, fleshed
>>>>with laughter, giddy with the earth’s

sweet pull. Some children are like that,
>>>>>>>>>>I have one
>>>>myself, no wonder we never leave them alone,

we who have no talent for pleasure
>>>>>>>>>nor use
>>>>for the body but after the fact.

From The Woman Who Died In Her Sleep (Houghton Mifflin, 1996)