Tell us about your poems.
I’m going to make myself really unlikeable straight away by beginning with quoting Ernest Hemingway. He once said “my aim is to write down what I see and what I feel in the best and simplest way” and that just about sums it up for me too. I’ll confess that sometimes when I read contemporary poetry I haven’t got the faintest idea what the poet’s actually talking about, and that’s influenced me to try and make what I write as accessible as possible, so that even people that don’t like poetry might glance at one of my poems and think “actually, that one’s alright”.
How long have you been writing?
I co-wrote a story about a silly sausage when I was four, if that counts.
Do you have any publications to your name? What’s the next stage for your work?
There’s Read This!, and that’s about all so far. The next stage is yet to reveal itself, but if I happen to ever write a line or come up with an image that makes someone think “yes! That is exactly what that’s like”, then that’d be a big box ticked in the creative checklist of my imagination.
Yes, I just answered a straightforward question with a weird metaphor. You’d never guess I wrote poems, would you…
What do you think is your biggest poetic achievement to date?
Through Read This! I had a poem featured in a newspaper in Edinburgh. Other than that, it’s probably the feeling you get when you read something in a workshop and everybody else there agrees about liking a particular bit of it – it’s always nice to hear that you got at least one part as right as it could be.
What’s the best thing about writing poetry? And the worst?
The best thing is that it sorts out my head – whether I’m writing about a situation or a thought or a feeling, once it’s down on the paper (or the screen) then … I don’t know, I just feel like it’s been sorted, and it doesn’t need to confuse, frustrate or concern me anymore. Worst thing is probably when I have a brilliant idea that I just can’t turn into anything half-decent. I know that it should be this amazing, wonderful thing, but what I have in my head just won’t translate itself into real words. Argh.
Got any suggestions for young, upcoming poets?
I’m a young, upcoming poet myself, but I’d probably just reiterate my first answer and say write as accessibly as you can – if what you’ve written can resonate with someone who doesn’t usually read poetry, while retaining appeal (even if it’s just an image or two, or an interesting structure) to someone who does, then you might be on to something…
My other tip is something I picked up from Sean O’Brien. It is, essentially, this - when you have written a poem and typed it up and printed it off, no matter whether you think it still needs a bit of work or think it’s all done, do this - leave it for a few weeks, then come back to it and write it out again by hand. Little things that you would never otherwise have noticed come leaping to your attention. Scribble the changes then write it out by hand again. Make any further changes that have become apparent, then write/type it up properly again. You’ll have a much more finished-feeling poem.
I was sceptical of this approach myself, to be honest, but I tried it out recently and it bloody well works! I am now using it for every poem. Sometimes it’s just an odd word or comma that’ll be changed, but sometimes that’s all a poem needs. Sometimes huge changes occur, and again it’s what the poem needs.
Hey, it worked for Andrew Motion - he does this for all his poems, and he became Laureate…
Who/what influences your poetry?
Well, in terms of what, it’s really just the everyday – stuff you might see, think about for a couple of seconds, then move on from. In that couple of seconds, I’ll probably scribble down a little note before I forget, and then later on I look back at it and see if it can become a poem. I explain it a bit better in my bio. For who, the best (well-known) poet who comes to mind is Matthew Sweeney, but if I’m honest, prose writers actually influence me more – mostly for their use of language. I find Cormac McCarthy’s style of writing incredibly powerful and poetic (if you haven’t read The Road, please, please, read it), and I also find myself influence by the likes of CS Lewis and Terry Pratchett, who both seem to have the knack of explaining something through metaphor using very straightforward, everyday language, but getting the essence of that thing absolutely, perfectly, that’s-exactly-how-that-is spot-on. Which brings us all the way back to the Hemingway quote. If I can try my best to live up to that aim, I’ll hopefully be on the right track.
In the distant centre of my mind
I see it approaching
like headlights on the other
side of the road.
everything we got away from
for a few days
is rushing back,
waiting to wrap us up
like a worn-out towel.
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