Monday, June 27, 2016

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Ben Parker

Ben Parker's debut pamphlet, The Escape Artists, was published by tall-lighthouse in 2012 and shortlisted for the 2013 Michael Marks Award. He spent a year as Poet-in-Residence at The Museum of Royal Worcester, which culminated in the publication of From the Porcelain a pamphlet of work produced. He is currently Poet-in-Residence at The Swan Theatre, Worcester and poetry editor of Critical Survey. His debut collection, Insomnia Postcards, is due from Eyewear Publishing on October 6th.

1 - How did your first chapbook change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
I don’t know if I would say it changed my life exactly, but it certainly opened up some new opportunities. I was able to read at some venues I might not have previously, and I was able to use it as a sort of proof-of-ability when becoming a writer in residence.

My hope is that my recent work is basically a better version of my previous work. I think at the moment that any changes are small ones. Every so often I will try and write in a way that is radically different, and I usually manage this for a few poems, but end up going back to something more recognizably like my old style, though perhaps having learnt something along the way.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I can pin-point it exactly. I was 21, and after overhearing a conversation about Sylvia Plath, specifically her reading style, I decided to check it out online. Up to that point I had zero interest in poetry, and pretty much thought it wasn’t for me. But hearing Plath reading, specifically her poem ‘Daddy’, switched something on in me. After that I read her Collected Poems and realized that poetry contained everything I wanted from writing, and I haven’t stopped reading it since.

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 think on the whole I write pretty quickly, and it is very rare that I work from notes. The poems of mine that I like best are the ones that arrive almost complete. There is always some editing to do, and this can go on for months after the poem was written, but I tend to feel the poems I’ve had to hammer in to shape have a forced quality.

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?

Poems can begin anywhere, and I often find it hard to pin down the exact catalyst for any given piece. I’m very much an author of short pieces, both in the sense that most of my poems don’t exceed one page, and in that I think of them as standing alone, rather than as part of a larger book. I try not to worry about how any given poem I’m writing will fit with other poems I’ve written.

That said, Insomnia Postcards, the book due out with Eyewear later this year, has as its backbone the eponymous title sequence. These 10-line poems are spread throughout the book, and hopefully hold together the disparate other pieces that make up the majority of the collection.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I think they do play a small part in the creative, specifically the editorial, process. When I give public readings I tend to practice quite a lot before hand, which forces me to go back to poems I had thought of as completed. Reading them out loud multiple times often reveals a line that doesn’t work, or something I’m not happy with, at which point I have to re-type the poem and start the process over again.

It has taken a few years, but I am becoming more relaxed about giving readings. I still tend to enjoy them more retrospectively, rather than in the moment.

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 that I do have any theoretical concerns really, I just try to write the poems that I myself would like to read.

I suppose the question a lot of my poems try to answer is “what if...?”

If I had to guess, I would say the current questions for most people are the same as the old questions, with “what does it mean to be human” being one of the favourites. I suspect we will never have an answer, and that’s why we can keep asking it.

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?
I think this depends on the writer. I don’t feel comfortable claiming that ‘writers’ in an abstract sense have any particular role. Some writers are trying to entertain, some to educate, some to incite change. I think there is space for all these roles, and many others.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I have found the process positive on the occasions when I have worked with outside editors, and I think I’m pretty open to suggestions. The poems have definitely benefited from having a critical eye cast over them.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
I don’t think you can do much better than Picasso’s “inspiration exists but it has to find you working”. Certainly for me, the inspiration for a lot of my poems seems to arrive the way a cartoon character might lay down tracks in front of a moving train.

10 - 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 try to write every morning, with a coffee, before doing anything else. This is the only planned writing time that I have, but if a particular impulse drives me then I will write afternoon/evening/whenever. I would say that 90% of my poems were written at my desk in the morning.

11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
Whoever I’m currently reading normally does the trick. My favourite poet is usually the one whose book I have open in front of me, if it wasn’t I would probably stop reading them, and at that point I think all my poems would be better if they sounded more like theirs.

12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
My mum cooks an excellent curry every Friday night, so I guess the fragrance of Indian spices is a smell I associate with home.

13 - 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?

Yes, definitely. I don’t feel that there is one particular area that influences me, but outside of poetry popular science is probably what I read more than anything else. There are certainly a few poems in Insomnia Postcards that use some aspect of science as jumping off point. Also tv and film are very important to me. David Lynch is someone whose style I admire, and has probably left its mark on more than one poem.

14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
I could list a dozen poets today, and it might be a different dozen tomorrow. However, outside of poetry William Burroughs is the author I return to most often. I read him first when I was 18 and I return to his work frequently.

15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
There are lots of great UK poetry festivals that I’d love to read it at, so hopefully once I’ve got another book or two under my belt I might start getting some calls.

16 - 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?
Well, poetry isn’t exactly my occupation anyway, I work in marketing for a publishing firm. But aside from poetry, my other main activity is climbing, mainly indoors because there isn’t much rock around Stratford-upon-Avon. I guess if I spent less time reading and writing poetry, my next choice would be spending that time climbing.

17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
It’s hard to say where the impulse to write came from, it just felt like something I’d like to do. I’d tried to do other things but I never stuck at them. I’ve never struggled to stick with poetry.

18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
I spent a lot of last year reading Christopher Middleton’s Collected Poems, whose work I think deserves far more recognition than it has. In film, Calvary and Ex Machina are the ones I have raved most about recently.

19 - What are you currently working on?
Putting the finishing touches to Insomnia Postcards, writing poems for the Swan Theatre residency and also producing some new work along the way.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

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