Friday, January 31, 2020

Kelly Grace Thomas, Boat Burned

Bay Area, California poet Kelly Grace Thomas’ full-length poetry debut is Boat Burned (Portland OR: YesYes Books, 2020) a collection of lyric, first-person poems that play off, from the offset, a quote by Sun Tzu (which is also included as epigraph): “When your army has crossed the border, you should burn your boats…” For Thomas, the borders of which she refers are that of the body, and female agency, as her poems examine her physical and emotional self against trauma, toxic cultural expectations and body dysphoria. The poems in Boat Burned move through family and first-person experiences of trauma, violence and loss, and family relationships to that of the body, writing direct or slant or even redacted. In a recent interview conducted by Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach, posted at [Pank], Thomas responds:

I come to the page to break the silence. Of course, there is always the hope that healing will occur but more than anything I think I need to talk about what’s hurting.  Poetry offers companionship and comfort that most other things do not, it takes you into a room of your own and holds your hand until what needs to pass passes. Or processes.

Most of my life, every experience I’ve had has an aftertaste of loneliness, even during the happiest times, surrounded by so many friends and family, there is still this feeling of isolation. The only way to fight it is through connection: to others, to myself, to nature. Poetry gifts me that, it builds a bridge.

Women’s bodies are a paradox of pleasure and punishment. Women are lusted after for their curves, breasts, even compassion; but when it comes to anything from menstruation to miscarriage there is this echoing silence, often cloaked shame. This past summer, I was granted a fellowship for the Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing, while there I was sitting with a group of women writers this topic came up. I asked them how they learned about their bodies.


Not one of them could point to someone who had tried to teach them how to know their body or more importantly how to love their body.

This past year my husband and I have been dealing with infertility issues. I have never experienced something so painful in my life. To try and process I looked into counseling and support groups, but there isn’t much out there. Yet another issue about a woman’s body that is seldom discussed.

Poetry works against the silence, to grant permission, offers companionship, and talk about all these hard and lonely things: my father leaving, my family’s bankruptcy and foreclosures, another negative pregnancy test. I make a deal with myself:  get the grief out, write the poem, put it into the world. Poetry helps me be brave. It is the easiest way for me to approach my darkness and my joy.

Thomas utilizes the lyric to write out the body in a clear language very different, say, than a writer such as Toronto poet Margaret Christakos’ work, which is far more physical and language-based. Thomas explores the body through exposition and narrative, writing out her physical distances and discoveries, such as the opening poem, “VESSELED,” begins:

Here’s how it happened:
I burned each boat
but first they flamed
me. I knew what I was:
a vessel he could float

Inside. He boarded me.
I burned. He hammered
my hips. Violence: a type of marriage.
Maybe I wanted to be owned.

I won’t tell you
about the anchor.
How it rusts
like a fist. He became
my gravity. If I am not boat
then what?

In another life, I stood
treetall. Growled at every axe.
It started when Noah
made an ark of me.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Writing is Hard : rob mclennan (interview re-post from 2016,

I wanted to re-post this interview I did back in 2016, originally conduced by the delightful and brilliant Toronto poet and editor Sachiko Murakami for her “Writing is Hard” project. The series was rare in that it openly worked to discuss difficulties that emerged for different writers as they worked their way through a life of literary production in Canada, and touched on numerous social, political and financial concerns so often overlooked, and under-discussed. Along with my interview, the site featured conversations with Nikki Reimer, Laura Broadbent, Anita Anand, Sarah Yi-Mei Tsiang, Vivek Shraya and Daniel Zomparelli. Unfortunately, for reasons unknown (to me, at least), the site has fallen off the internet, meaning the compiled interviews are no longer available. I enjoyed the series very much (it was such a great series!), and, quite selfishly, I suppose, I quite liked my interview as part of it, able to discuss certain things that I hadn’t before, or even since. [Although I should mention I havebeen interviewed many times over the years; see?]

I’m hoping some version of her site returns at some point, but in the meantime, I re-post 2016 my interview here (along with the corresponding selfie from my home office):

What’s the hardest thing about being a writer?
There are so many elements worth discussing: not necessarily as “difficulties,” but as things one must adapt to, with or against in order to be able to get to the work. As working artists, we are trouble-shooters, after all, even if for problems we first create: it is important to focus on solutions, as opposed to difficulties.

There is ego, certainly: that tricky balance of having enough to manage years’ worth of self-motivation before anything might actually be accomplished (the years of silence and apathy before a book might actually emerge in print) against getting a swelled head, which can often lead to interpersonal difficulties with other writers (and non-writers), and even bitterness down the road, when one doesn’t achieve the attentions or accolades one expects. I met a handful of older writers while in my twenties, seemingly on the far end of presuming they were working to achieve some kind of ‘status,’ that warned me away from wanting to walk down that same path. I’ve also worked very hard to avoid a variety of alpha-male ‘pissing matches,’ something that, thankfully, has occurred far less as I age. It gets very old very quickly, and wastes so much time and effort. The other side of the equation of “ego” is in having just enough to self-motivate (no-one cares if I stop, for example), a muscle I spent much of my twenties furiously developing. Having the farming background helped, knowing that my father didn’t wait for inspiration to milk the cows: he simply woke every morning and went to work. I forced myself into the daily routine, knowing it would be the only way I would accomplish anything at all. Who was it that said we fight laziness and lies in our search for the truth?

Neil Gaiman has discussed multiple times the benefits of a writing life, which I heartily agree with: we get to write whatever we want, however we want, and whenever we feel like it. It might seem overly simplistic, but it is basically true. The benefits (or drawbacks) of my Glengarry County “Protestant work ethic,” akin to what I’ve heard of Alice Munro as well, mean I work all the damned time. There was an article I once read that quoted Alice Munro’s daughter on Munro’s Ontario rural work-ethic: the response to something not working out was to do more work. My enthusiasms have to sustain me, because no-one else’s will (nor should they). jwcurry has repeated his main goal these days: “to remain interested.”

I’ve also been very conscious of not wishing to complain or vent about any of my frustrations that come with a choice to write full-time (publicly, I mean, whether on social media or anywhere else, as opposed to very close friends and/or spouse), whether working in so much solitude, frustrations around lack of money (or grants, or book sales) or the realization that books and writing emerge with very little attention (if at all). While I understand the purpose to such complaints, it always seems a bit precious (and one, I’ve realized since, very much steeped in elements of privilege, including my “white male-ness”: I have the option to write full-time). I remember John Metcalf writing moons ago in an essay his lack of patience for writer complaints about funding rejections: no-one is making you do this.

Sorry for the delay. I had a few projects I needed to get finished up and my conversations got stalled!

First of all, these conversations are founded on the idea that it's okay to complain and vent about frustrations that come with the choice to write. (Not necessarily full-time, as I and most of the people I'm talking to are not writing full-time). I do appreciate you acknowledging your privilege and I respect you for hesitating to chime in here, but this project needs breadth of experience, so I thought I would throw in one or two white, straight men for the diversity angle ;)

I want to hear more about your work ethic. I’ve had conversations with people about you in which we marvel about your energy, how much you are always doing. What kind of toll does that take on you? I certainly don’t have the energy to do as much as you do. I can barely work at a very low-stress day job for 7.25 hours two days a week without wanting to come home and put myself immediately to bed. When I get into a project I do get the energy to throw all of myself into it, but I eventually crash. But you seem to have been vibrating at a higher work-capacity than most humans for years. Do you ever just collapse into a puddle of rob and sleep for six days?

Puddle of sleep? Oh my, no. There isn’t time! “I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” and all that. Most evenings I feel as though I should be doing “something,” whether posting a few more “12 or 20 questions” interviews, or folding and stapling (once I’ve managed to get the toddler fed, bathed and asleep), but simply can’t, for the sake of energy. About a third of any given sequence of evenings, these days at least, I’m unable to move. So I don’t.

I think in my twenties and thirties it took much more of a toll than it does now. I really do think I have the benefit of a farm upbringing (which also included thirteen years of piano lessons) that drove home (unconsciously, of course) the work-ethic. The eleven-year battle of wills between my mother and I over my thirteen years of piano lessons most likely strengthened the idea (she would not let me quit, so I refused to practice). Early into my writing attempts, also, I read a quote by Margaret Atwood that said if you expect full-time out of writing, you must put full-time into it. I thought that made perfect sense. I mean, I never wanted side-employment (nor did I wish to teach, which is part of why I never bothered with post-secondary). Why give my best energy to what I care about less? Why work a dumb-job for eight hours, and then give only my “remaining” energy to that thing I claim to love best of all? It simply made no sense, so I refused it. And yet, there were the complaints I’d receive from certain other writers in the community that I couldn’t (or shouldn’t) “write all the time,” and that I required an outside employment, otherwise my writing would suffer. Those arguments were thrown at me for years by a small few; some who continue to argue such. It only angers me. Bring it up once (maybe); make your argument (and make a real argument, not just a complaint), and move on. I’m tired of hearing it. I write.

I’ve never held an office job: I worked in a restaurant as a bus-boy until I was twenty-one or twenty-two (training teenagers to do the same, who were then gifted my shifts). From twenty-one to twenty-four, I ran a home day-care with my daughter Kate and two other kids, so I could afford to stay home, and look after her while my then-partner worked (this would be my last tangible experience with “employment”). I was ten hours a day, five days a week with three toddlers, and writing three nights a week in a coffeeshop from 7pm to midnight. I pushed and pushed and pushed. There was no social life, but for the occasional public reading I’d attend and/or organized (sort of where I am now, I suppose).

Post-daycare, there were the years I had just enough to purchase a coffee, so I did, sitting my daily five hours in the Dunkin’ Donuts on Bank Street scribbling out poems and reviews (I sat there six days a week, five hours a day from May 1994 to June 2000). I ate little, and wrote lots. There was walking into the Ottawa Public Library to borrow a roll of masking tape to put my black high-tops back together, because the bottoms of my shoes were coming off. There was the year I made (according to my taxes) only $2,500 in total, which resulted in eviction, and subsequently living in a friend’s basement near the airport for a month or two. In hindsight, it sounds quite mad: the belligerent will-power, despite lacks of publishing, grants and other tangible attentions. I would spend the last of my money photocopying chapbooks, thus forcing myself to sell two copies a day for the sake of food, and maybe a pint at the pub, where I was attempting to work on fiction every evening, from 5pm until I simply couldn’t afford to continue sitting there. There was the occasional chapbook I could exchange for a pint with one of the owners of The Dominion Tavern, down in the Byward Market. For nearly twenty years, it was only through the semi-annual ottawa small press book fair that I would allow myself a small moment of stress-free humanity: post-fair, we would retire to the pub for food and drink, and I would order like a person without even thinking about money. Somehow, six months of furious work amid poverty for the sake of a single, stress-free meal I’d paid for myself felt an incredible luxury, and an incredible relief.

There were opportunities, certainly, I wasn’t able to present to my first child; although whenever money did appear I always provided them a bunch off the top. Our weekend and summer plans, also, were sacrosanct. We saw a new movie in theatres on opening weekend every week for about thirteen years (until my year in Alberta; by the time I’d returned, she was working part-time).

I doubt very much that I have marketable skills, having painted myself into a particular corner. I suppose, in certain ways, this pushes me, also.

There were the dark stretches, where I could barely afford to feed myself, and certainly couldn’t afford to socialize, forcing a particular kind of isolation upon myself for the choice of writing. I couldn’t simply go out for drinks with a friend, go to the movies, or go out to dinner. Those simply weren’t options.

Part of what did fuel during these stretches were my other activities: I co-ran The TREE Reading Series, for example, from June 1994 through to the end of 1998; I co-founded the ottawa small press book fair in 1994, which I’ve run twice a year since. I started what became The Factory Reading Series back in 1992. I started producing wee chapbooks as above/ground press during the summer of 1993. I wrote book reviews for The Ottawa X-Press from mid-1994 until the end of 1998, a weekly column that slowly became every two, three and then four weeks (that’s when I finally quit). Part of what kept me going at the paper was hearing from writers such as Martha Baillie that I was the only person to review her first novel (I found out later that I was the only one who reviewed her first novel positively; her publisher wasn’t forwarding the other reviews). I was the first and often only reviewer for dozens of books; how could I quit, even though they were so blatantly attempting to get rid of me? (I only achieved the column because no one else would do it for what little they were paying.) It made me very aware of the importance in what I was attempting to do, and how desperately hard it was to put books out into the world, all before I even managed to produce my own first collection (which I don’t think was reviewed at all). Honestly: if we don’t discuss what has already been published, why bother producing more?

I’m not entirely sure how I arrived. In my later teens, I met Henry Beissel and Gary Geddes, two poets and Concordia University profs who were local to where I grew up, both of whom allowed me some kind of external verification that writing was something worth pursuing. By my early to mid-twenties, in Ottawa, I was in contact with poets such as Michael Dennis, Joe Blades, Judith Fitzgerald, John Newlove, George Bowering and Ken Norris, all of whom were supportive in a variety of ways. This was worth doing. I mean, Milton Acorn sold his tools and picked up poetry and managed to make a go of it, so why couldn’t I?

In the later 1990s, I founded The Peter F. Yacht Club as a support group; I saw a number of people around me that felt a bit isolated in what they were doing, so thought the best way to counteract that was to get a bunch of us together, even if for nothing else than conversation. I mean, it’s a strange thing to write poems or little stories and send them to magazines, attempt writing grants and chapbook/book publication, and all of that, if you’re on the outside of it. Partners might not understand, friends might not understand, etcetera, so I got a small group of us together—Stephen Brockwell, jwcurry, Laurie Fuhr, Anita Dolman, Clare Latremouille, etcetera—for the sake of an informal social/writing group. To feel less isolated in these weird things that we do. When you feel on the outside, you simply start your own group, right? I would like to think it helped more than a couple of us.

There’s a certain pragmatism I think I’ve developed over the years (uncertain whether it was already there, and I expanded, or if I made a conscious or unconscious choice around such early on): I don’t see the purpose to dwelling upon what I’ve set aside or ‘lost’ for the sake of certain choices I’ve made around writing. That can only lead to dark places. I’d rather focus on what I’ve achieved: I mean, I’ve been able to do ridiculous things thanks to my writing life, whether watching one of the Royal Weddings in a hotel room in Kelowna, British Columbia with Bill Richardson (delightful, and rather surreal), visiting Molly’s Reach in Sechelt, able to train multiple times across the prairies, touring with Anne Stone and kath macLean, or the multiple reading tours I’ve done with Stephen Brockwell around Ireland, Canada and the United States; or watch the sun rise from a rooftop in Vancouver with Tom Snyders, Clare Latremouille and Gerry Gilbert after a full night of drinks and conversation. I’ve had remarkable, ridiculous fortune and adventures thanks to writing, and very deliberately use those experiences to help me ride through the more fallow periods. And really: you can’t choose left and then decide to focus on being angry for not choosing right.

I’ve also been incredibly fortunate to have a number of generous people around me, who have helped in real, tangible ways when I required such. It took a long time to be able to accept such assistance at all, and learn to deflect the natural impulse toward shame and embarrassment: I should be able to look after myself. Michael Dennis told me years ago that it was a choice I had to make: I either had to find my own money, or be okay with others offering money when I required. I couldn’t simply do neither and expect to keep going. I do a lot of work for others, so if someone wishes to assist me as well, I should let them. So there. I spent a lot of my twenties feeling ashamed for these bits of assistance. I don’t want your free money: I want to sell books.

I’ve had, and still do have, real stretches of what’s the fucking point? My most recent poetry collection didn’t receive a single review, and only six people showed up when I launched the prior (the publisher, who lives locally, didn’t even attend). I’ve probably had a combined sixty-plus book rejections over the past six years, and, despite having some dozen poetry, fiction and non-fiction book-length manuscripts out in the world (some for more than a few years), I haven’t a damned thing forthcoming. There are some publishers I used to deal with regularly that I can barely get to return an email. I sometimes worry that, as much as I’ve accomplished as an editor/curator, some of that has actually obscured much of my own literary output. I occasionally wonder: maybe I’m not a very good writer, but was taken on for some of the hustling I’ve been able to do. As much as it has fed me enormously as far as enthusiasm, energy and influence, I suspect I’m much more appreciated for some of the editorial/curatorial work than my own writing. And yet, I know that some of it is as good as anything else out there (I also know that my best work is still ahead of me). I think I’ve been fortunate, in certain ways, to have a good sense of the “long game.” My time will come. If literature has taught me nothing else, it has taught me to be patient. It’s an element of why I work so hard to support and encourage as many as I do; it honestly takes so little to assist most people in their writing, and the results can be breathtaking.

Honestly, I think fear prompts a percentage of what drives me, whether I want to admit it or not (fortunately, enthusiasm is still the strongest motivator). I started a new magazine after Rose was born, for example, the quarterly Touch the Donkey; it took a few months to realize that I was terrified of being forgotten once I was less in a position to be able to leave the house for a few years. What am I so afraid of? There is already apathy; there can’t be “more” apathy. It is literature, after all.

Fear: I’m the eldest of two, both of whom grew up with a mother who had extended illness. From 1967 onwards (the year they were married), she was gravely ill for forty-three years (she died in 2010). She lived through twenty-two years of kidney dialysis, and had a five percent chance of surviving either of the first two attempts at kidney transplants (circa 1981 and 1983; she nearly bled out during one; the experience pulled her back from attempting a third until 2000, which actually worked; she wanted to see her children grow up, she said). She had multiple hernias, including a few double and at least one triple. During her final decade, she had pneumonia quarterly: we didn’t take it seriously until she was in hospital for more than four or five weeks. There were the years of absolute anger and lashing out, most of which occurred throughout the 1980s and into the 90s. And by the time she finally went, the dementia was encroaching, which was its own series of issues that required constant attention and sorting.

I was born in 1970, and my sister, 1976 (we’re both adopted), and from 1974 onwards, she was more in hospital than home, with the worst of it being through the length and breadth of the 1980s; and when she was home, she required quiet, and a particular level of care. I was a caregiver from very early on, running household, laundry and interference, walking on eggshells around her many mood swings. Imagine: when I was around ten or so, she went into hospital on New Year’s Day, and we got her back in October. Those were very long stretches. My sister would be shuffled off to neighbour, grandmother, what have you, and my silent father would be out in the yard, doing farmwork. I learned rather early on to manage certain things on my own, and accept a particular kind of isolation (none of her health issues or updates were ever discussed in our household). In hindsight, I think the experience also prompted a kind of terror, that I had to do certain things now and not wait, not knowing how much time I might have, or be allowed, that directly relates to my writing life. I do as much work as possible, not knowing. How much time might I have? Stories of government workers who plan to wait until retirement to start enjoying a particular kind of experience fill me with horror, knowing full well that some simply don’t live long enough. Why not enjoy some of that now?

And: having given up a particular kind of stability for the sake of my writing, if I’m not regularly producing, then what was the point?

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Janet Sutherland

Janet Sutherland was born in Wiltshire and grew up on a dairy farm, she is the author of four poetry collections all from Shearsman Books: Home Farm (2019), Bone Monkey (2014), Hangman’s Acre (2009) and Burning the Heartwood (2006) and is working on her fifth about her great great grandfather’s travels to Serbia in the 1840’s. A pamphlet, Crossing Over (Nosuch Press) came out in 1983. Her poems are in many anthologies such as The Virago Book of Love Poetry and The New British Poetry 1968-88 (Paladin) and are published in magazines such as Poetry Ireland Review, New Statesman and The Spectator. Prose memoir has appeared in anthologies such as Queer in Brighton (New Writing South, 2014) and True Tales from the Old Hill (Frogmore Press, 2015). A critical essay on the poet Charles Reznikoff appeared as an afterword to two new editions of his work, Holocaust, in the UK (Five Leaves Publishing, 2009) and USA (Black Sparrow Press, 2007). She won the 2017 Kent and Sussex Poetry Prize and received a Hawthornden Fellowship for 2018.  She has an MA in American Poetry from the University of Essex. She lives in Lewes, East Sussex, UK.

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?

I don’t think any of my books have changed my life; work and family stuff flow round the edges and the writing fits in where it can, but the books allow me to express publicly what I want to express and I’m at my happiest when I’m writing. I’m incredibly grateful to Tony Frazer of Shearsman Books who has published all four of my poetry collections and who has supported my writing. My most recent work, Home Farm, is the most autobiographical as it’s about the dairy farm where I grew up. It includes poems about farm life, landscape, memory, forgetfulness and ways we might look at, look after the earth itself as a Home Farm. In contrast the previous book, Bone Monkey was a book length sequence about a trickster-like character, brutal and amoral who wanders the earth by turns perpetrator and poet, murderer and lover, gardener and carer. On the surface they are very different, but I think the essence of the books is similar. A recent reviewer, Peter Kenny, commented on how he sees the way my work compares from one book the another here:

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?

I fell in love with poetry and song lyrics at an early age. I went for a couple of years to a Roman Catholic primary school where we practiced handwriting by copying poems, sang and read the poems from Longfellow’s Hiawatha, sang hymns and carols and did lots of in class detailed work on poetry. I wrote my first poems age nine at that school and feel fortunate to have missed out on the primary education in the UK today which is focussed on grammar and getting things right (or wrong) to the point where joy and creativity has been sucked out of English lessons. Later I fell in love with the poets I studied during an English Degree at Cardiff and during a Masters degree in American Poetry at the University of Essex.

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 generally take about three years on a book but the initial stages of research and some of the poems may have emerged while I was writing a previous collection. The book I’m working on now, working title The Messenger House, I started around 2013 when I began to look at the original handwritten journals of my great great grandfather, type them up, make notes on them and travel to make my own journals of the same journey. At the same time I was working on Home Farm. Some individual pieces come quickly and some more slowly within the framework of a whole book. I edit extensively and research widely in all sorts of directions. I quite often include material from elsewhere and other documentation within poems. The poem will usually alter radically during the editing process, layers may be added, stripped away. I might look for the poem within another text or use visual prompts either from direct experience for from images. I belong to a couple of groups and will also sometimes share with individual poets during the editing process. I find that editing over days, weeks or months and repeatedly coming back to a piece after a break is useful.

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?

My first collection, Burning the Heartwood, was composed of mostly short pieces I’d written over a twenty-year period which included a ten-year writing gap. It included pieces I’d written in my twenties and pieces from my early forties. The subsequent books, Hangman’s Acre, Bone Monkey, and Home Farm have largely been written as book length projects where the concerns I’m mulling over stretch over the whole book. My current project, working title The Messenger House, will also be a book length project as it’s based around journals my great great grandfather wrote about his travels across Europe from London to Serbia in 1846 and 1847 accompanying a Queen’s Messenger called Mr Gutch.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?

I love doing readings and meeting the people who come along. I see readings as part of the process. The poems exist on the page but also in the voice. I like working out which poems suit being read aloud in public and in what order and how they sit next to each other. Readings seem to me to be similar to the creative work of putting a book together in the way the poems speak to each other and what their sequence should be.

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 suppose I could say I’m looking for clarity, looking at the record of what we humans do, in the tiny, small and larger scales. I think the current questions are about “truthfulness”.

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?

Writers can take time to look in detail at where we’re at, to dissect and examine and sometimes to produce a coroner’s report on the state of the world. I think the writer’s role should be to challenge. It seems to me that we are at the point of no return—and that if we fail to act there will be no larger culture for writers to have a role in. This is a collective responsibility – not just one for writers, it has to be said.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?

I think the process of working with an editor depends on which editor you have. Tony Frazer of Shearsman Books is very easy to work with. He is incredibly hard working, knowledgeable and straightforward. When we are working towards a new collection we’ll have an exchange of emails over details like the cover, blurbs, etc but the poems haven’t generally been re-edited although we’ll address layout issues, punctuation, typo’s etc. Editing is, however, essential and I always arrange a session with a trusted poet when the manuscript is nearly ready and will also have shared the manuscript with one or two poet friends beforehand and changes will have been made at this stage before I send it to Tony. I have heard of other poetry book editors who do a so called “bastard hard edit” but haven’t experienced this myself… 

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?

It would be to subdue the critical voice whilst writing the first draft.

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 don’t have a strict writing routine but I tend, though not exclusively, to write first drafts in the morning and edit later in the day. I like to edit over short sessions, leaving the work repeatedly over the session, walking away, making tea etc because even a short break of a few minutes allows one to see the work differently.

11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?

Walking and gardening both hold that place for me.  I have an allotment garden where I grow the vegetables we eat and going there to work helps me think through what I’m writing. There’s something about the physical act of gardening where your hands and part of your brain are engaged on something else that lets another part of your brain loose to think about the writing. Alternatively researching without a specific purpose is helpful too – digging around in abstruse areas, thinking about the language used, the ideas expressed – that’s also very freeing.

12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

Silage and manure – I grew up on a dairy farm! Also Honeysuckle – it grew outside my parent’s bedroom on the east side of the farmhouse and I now grow it too.

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?

I spend as much time as possible walking and looking. I live by the South Downs in the UK and can walk from my house into the South Downs National Park. I like taking photographs of nature too including close studies of flowers, leaves etc. I’m also influenced by scientific and political writing both current and historical.

14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?

It’s hard to bring this down to just a few writers but I love Anne Carson’s work, particularly Nox, Float and Autobiography of Red. I also love the work of Lee Harwood who was a friend – his final work, The Orchid Boat, is exquisite, also his Collected Poems (Shearsman Books). The work of Charles Reznikoff is also very important to me.    

15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?

I’d like to write at least a couple more books.

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?

I haven’t explored drawing/painting since I was at school but I’d like to try that. I’d rather not pick another occupation. I’ve worked in all sorts of places including factories and offices and now I just want to write!

17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?

Writing is so interesting. It’s a constant puzzle to find the way to express what you want to say using different forms, the lyric, found texts, narratives, the testimony of others. It’s a way to process experience but also to look outwards at what it’s like to be human.

18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?

I read The Poems of C P Cavafy in English (Shearsman Books) and poems of his in other translations.

I recently watched a documentary film called Outside the City, director Nick Hamer, 2019, which is about the life of a Cistercian Monastery in the UK. It’s a very powerful study of an enclosed order. I’m not religious but it was moving listening to monks who were approaching death having spent fifty to sixty years in that contemplative life.

19 - What are you currently working on?

I’m working on a new collection, working title The Messenger House, about my great great grandfather’s travels to Serbia in 1846 and 1847 with his friend Mr Gutch. It’s likely to be a hybrid collection using some of his journals, my own journals and poems, long with other historical materials. I’m at a fairly early stage and still working out how it will be.