Dundurn Press. He moved back to the UK in the late 90s, working as an editor for an academic publisher in London before moving back to his hometown to work as a college teacher. He is the author of N.Y.C. Poems (Knives Forks & Spoons, 2011) and Where Were You When the Stars Went Out? (Like This Press, 2013), and his work is featured in the recent anthology THE DARK WOULD: an anthology of language art.
1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
The fact that someone wanted to publish it definitely gave my confidence a boost but I couldn’t really say it changed my life.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I started out as a teenager playing in bands and writing song lyrics, which developed into an interest in reading poetry and trying to write it. Then I spent a lot of my twenties writing autobiographical fiction (heavily influenced by Jack Kerouac and Thomas Wolfe) as well as more experimental Burroughs-influenced cut-up pieces, but gradually poetry became my main focus again.
3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
I write fairly quickly and revise slowly, the slowness being an essential part of the process – putting the poems away long enough to gain some distance from them and be able to look at them with a more detached and clinical eye. I work from notebooks – I tend to write down phrases which I then combine with other phrases to form nodes and clusters, which sometimes form poems in their own right or sometimes become part of larger structures. So my principal mode of composition is collage, though this is probably not apparent from the finished poems, as I like to make the constituent parts fit together smoothly, with no visible seams.
Sometimes poems come into existence close to their final form, but more often I go through multiple drafts before getting to something I’m satisfied with. Writing and revising are both parts of a process of discovering where the poem’s taking me and responding to that.
4 - Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
I’ve always thought of myself as someone who writes short pieces to be gathered into a book but the two collections I’ve published were both written works, as is a project I’m finishing up at the moment, so I seem to have got that wrong. More and more I find it helpful to think of working towards a book – not least because I’m terrible for having lots of poems on the go at once, none of them quite finished, and having a book as the goal helps me focus my energy and attention.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I enjoy giving readings but don’t really think of them as either part of or counter to the creative process. Reading poems out loud, sounding them in the air and thinking about the relations between the printed text and its spoken performance, is an essential part of the creative process, but it’s something that’s worked out in private rather than publicly. But maybe that’s because I don’t do public readings that often.
6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
I don’t think I’m trying to find answers so much as trying to find out what the questions are. Writing poetry, for me, is very much an exploratory process, a discovery of associations, connections, new semantic domains. When I was an undergraduate one of my teachers described poetry as an interrogation of language and that remark really struck me and has remained at the back of my mind ever since.
There are theoretical issues underpinning what I do but my work’s not really led by theoretical concerns. Over the last few years I’ve been trying to be more intuitive and less analytical in my writing practice. I began to feel I over-privileged the intellectual, not just in poetry, but in music, visual art, in my response to the world in general really, and have been trying to remedy this and develop a more balanced response.
7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
As for what the role of the writer should be, I’m wary of prescriptive formulations – I think it’s up to the individual writer to find and define their role for themselves. My own take on it is summed up quite well by this quote from Alan Moore: ‘I believe that magic is art, and that art, whether that be music, art, sculpture, or an other form, is literally magic. Art is, like magic, the science of manipulating symbols, words, or images, to achieve changes in consciousness .... Indeed, to cast a spell is simply to spell, to manipulate words, to change people’s consciousness ...’
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I haven’t actually worked with an outside editor, but I imagine it would depend very much on the editor and their approach.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
The most useful I’ve heard is this from Basil Bunting:
1. Compose aloud; poetry is a sound.
2. Vary rhythm enough to stir the emotion you want but not so as to lose impetus.
3. Use spoken words and syntax.
4. Fear adjectives; they bleed nouns. Hate the passive.
5. Jettison ornament gaily but keep shape
Put your poem away till you forget it, then:
6. Cut out every word you dare.
7. Do it again a week later, and again.
Never explain – your reader is as smart as you.
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to songwriting)? What do you see as the appeal?
I’m a musician but not a songwriter so I’m not really I’m qualified to answer this – I play the bass guitar so I make up bass lines to go with stuff and come up with riffs and parts of songs but I’ve never written a whole song.
11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
I get up around 7, make some tea, check my email, then start working – usually beginning by reviewing and revising recent material, making notes etc, then, as my brain gradually comes alive, writing and shaping new material. I don’t have a strict routine, but I do something every day, even if it’s just typing up fragments I’ve scrawled in a notebook or looking over what I’ve done the day before.
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I tend to have lots of things on the go at once, so if I get stuck on one thing I just try working on something else. If I can’t get anywhere with anything I find the best thing’s to go out – get on my bike, get the blood flowing through my body and the wind flowing through my beard. Then when I come back I’ll usually be in different headspace and able to get to work.
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
The smell of oil from the Manchester ship canal. I don’t smell it that often these days as they’ve cleaned the canal up but now and then I’ll catch it when I’m cycling by and I’ll get a pure Proustian flashback to my childhood. Back then it was filthy and stank of oil – you could smell it long before you saw it.
14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
I’ve been thinking about this recently and I find myself increasingly dissatisfied with the idea of books just coming from other books. I think it’s easier to talk about works purely in terms of the literary influences that have fed into them because there’s something tangible to work with – you have the books, you can compare and contrast texts etc Other shaping influences are much more intangible and difficult to identify and articulate, but still very much there, I think.
A lot of my personal aesthetic as a poet is very influenced by ideas about music – not only things to do with rhythm, timing and the sonic elements of the poem, but also the ways in which different materials can be taken from different sources and made to combine and interact in new contexts, offering different harmonies and counterpoints. John Zorn and Bill Laswell have been particularly important to me in this respect, in their practices more than by any theories or statements.
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
To start with the poets: Ronald Johnson, Robert Kelly, John Peck, Thomas Meyer, Charles Stein, Robert Duncan, Kenneth Irby, Robert Creeley, William Bronk, David Jones, Ezra Pound, Ken Smith, John Ashbery, Kenneth White, Chris Torrance – all people whose work I’ve gone back to many times over the years.
Others: Joseph Campbell, Georges Perec, Terence McKenna, Hakim Bey, Iain Sinclair, Julio Cortazar, Alan Moore, Jack Kerouac ... I could go on.
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Write a novel. Record a CD. Collaborate with a visual artist. Write an epic poem composed entirely of lines from other poems. Write a graphic novel. Visit Australia. Ride a Harley down the coast from Vancouver to Mexico.
17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
I’d love to be a graphic artist of some kind – drawing comic books, designing book and CD covers, though, to be honest, I’m still trying to work out what I want to do when I grow up.
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I think my desire to write came out of my love of reading, which is something I’ve been doing for as long as I can remember. One of the things I like about reading and writing is they’re both solitary activities – and as I spend a lot of time living inside my own head, that makes them perfect for me.
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Christopher Dewdney’s The Natural History, Barry Gifford’s Coyote Tantras and Don Domanski’s All Our Wonder Unavenged are all things I’ve read, loved and gone back to repeatedly in recent months. For prose, Robert Bringhurst’s collection of essays The Tree of Meaning: Language, Poetry, Ecology is a fantastic book that’s taught me lots and helped me think about and see things a little differently. Great films seem to have been a bit thin on the ground recently (either that or I’ve just been missing them). The last great one I saw was Julien Temple’s Dr Feelgood documentary Oil City Confidential.
20 - What are you currently working on?
I’m currently doing some final revisions to the manuscripts of a couple of new collections: From the Diaries of John Dee, a group of poems composed using phrases taken from the diaries of Elizabethan mathematician, astronomer, astrologer, occultist etc John Dee, and a gathering of poems called Songs from the Celestial Abattoir (the ‘celestial abattoir’ being this planet we live on).
12 or 20 (second series) questions;