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Pleased to meet you (again)…Claire Walker

Claire is a wonderful Worcestershire poet. One of my favourite poetry memories is from a reading given by Claire – one line in particular took everyone’s breath away and there was an impromptu mini interval while hearts were nudged back into their ribcages. I was proud to read at the launch of Claire’s debut pamphlet ‘The Girl Who Grew Into a Crocodile’ (V Press). Her second pamphlet ‘Somewhere Between Rose and Black’ (also V Press) was shortlisted for Best Poetry Pamphlet in the 2018 Saboteur Awards.

What makes you write poetry despite the overwhelming majority of people’s crushing indifference towards it?

I increasingly ask myself the same question! When I first started writing, I don’t think I knew how indifferent most people were. By the time I realised, I had started to get to know lots of other people who were part of the poetry community, and I feel very lucky to have so many people in my life who are interested in poetry. Although it would be nice if poetry wasn’t such a relatively niche thing.

WH Auden wrote that ‘poetry makes nothing happen’ – how do you know that this isn’t true?

I know it’s not true because poetry makes me laugh, it makes me cry. It makes people get together and listen to each other, and find connections with one another. It forges friendships and strong bonds, and opportunities to collaborate. I also think that it can give people the courage to speak out at times when they may be feeling scared or alone. I think recent anthologies like #MeToo and Please Hear What I’m Not Saying have given strength and reassurance to many people.

Once when I sneezed, a piece of sweetcorn came out of my nose – can you tell me something interesting about you?

Well, that’s a hard one to beat. I have no sense of smell, and people seem to find that interesting when I tell them. My mum says I definitely had a sense of smell when I was a child, but I have no recollection of when or how I lost it. I don’t think it involved sweetcorn though.

If poetry was a metaphor, what metaphor would it be?

Poetry is a toolbox with a torch, hammer, nails, tape measure and spirit level inside.

What is your favourite room?

My study, because it’s where I write and read. It’s not been taken over by anyone else in the house – it’s calm, and it’s mine!

What is the worst poem you have ever written?

I don’t think I’ve got one particular worst poem, but there are many from when I first started writing that I’d be embarrassed to show to people!

Which poems or poets are currently inspiring you?

Cheryl Pearson, Ben Banyard, Anna Saunders and Kim Moore to name a few.

What is the most annoying moment you have ever experienced at a poetry event?

Oh it’s definitely got to be the times when someone turns up, reads their bit, then leaves almost straightaway without listening to others. If you expect people to listen to you, you should have the good grace to listen to others! Also, I’ve been to events where there is a lot of heckling from the audience – not to be rude to the performers, but ‘in jokes’ between regulars. I find that quite annoying too, as it can be alienating for newcomers.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about writing poetry?

Read as much as you can, as often as you can. Try to be strict about making time to write – it’s so easy to push it to the end of the to-do list because it doesn’t have to be done, but if you don’t set aside time to write then you definitely won’t! Also, ask people you trust to read through your work and offer feedback. It can be nerve-wracking to show someone what you’ve written, but it’s invaluable to get opinions and advice.

What is the point?

Is that a rhetorical question?

www.clairewalkerpoetry.com

@ClaireWpoetry

Pleased to meet you…Kerry Hammerton

To the southern hemisphere we go…Kerry Hammerton lives in South Africa and her third poetry collection ‘Secret Keeper’ was published by Modjaji Books earlier this year.

What makes you write poetry despite the overwhelming majority of people’s crushing indifference towards it?

This question is why I love poets – we are direct when others fail to be; we ask difficult questions when no-one will ask those questions. We observe, ponder and then write poetry. Whenever I am with a flock of poets I feel as if I have connected with my true tribe. I write poetry because it is who I am and if I didn’t I would be ignoring myself. I don’t write for other people to notice – although when they do it is wonderful.

WH Auden wrote that ‘poetry makes nothing happen’ – how do you know that this isn’t true?

My father died when I was in the middle of completing my MA in Creative Writing. I stopped writing for two months. I stopped reading poetry for even longer. When I finally came back to the page I wrote about his death, about the grieving process, about the breakdown I had a few months after his death. If I didn’t write poetry I would have stayed stuck in grief.

Once when I sneezed, a piece of sweetcorn came out of my nose – can you tell me something interesting about you?

I have one thumb longer and thinner than the other. The nail shape and width is so completely different they could be thumbs from two different people.

If poetry was a metaphor, what metaphor would it be?

This is a poem I wrote titled ‘Writing Poetry’:

‘I catch a glimpse of you
through the half-opened
bathroom door;
the strong swell
of your buttock,
the long hard line
of your thigh,
and for a moment
nothing else matters expect
that slice of light.
I breathe in steam,
cinnamon, lemon zest, earth
and unsteady,
stagger to my desk
and write you.’

What is your favourite room?

The room at the Musee de l’Organerie in Paris that houses Monet’s Water Lilies. I wish my bed was in the middle of that room.

What is the worst poem you have ever written?

The last one. The next one. Every poem. In particular every poem I wrote as a child and an adolescent.

Which poems or poets are currently inspiring you?

Pascale Petit’s collection Mama Amazonica. The book has a heavenly cover which I could stare at for hours, and each poem is so finely crafted with beautiful language. She stays true to her theme throughout the collection. I am also inspired by Inger Christensen’s work particularly in her collection ‘it’, she does interesting things with structure and language. And always the poets Antjie Krog (South African) and Kim Addonizio – both address women’s sexual and other experiences with honesty.

What is the most annoying moment you have ever experienced at a poetry event?

A weekly poetry event in Cape Town, South Africa (where I live) takes place in a room at a local restaurant. A few years ago I was the guest poet. Listeners came in late and interrupted which was annoying enough, but one of the restaurant staff came in and casually opened a cupboard and looked through a stack of tablecloths. She selected one and left. Five minutes later another staff member came in and rooted through the cupboard to look for tablecloths again. Both apologised but the room is so small I had to stop reading. I have read there subsequently and it has improved, although people still do come late. Why is that?

What advice would you give to someone thinking about writing poetry?

Do (or don’t do. There is no try.) to quote Yoda. If you are thinking about it and not already doing it are you a poet? Scribble. Think about words. Don’t write for money or accolade – write for yourself. And find a class if you haven’t done one already – they will help your skills; and you will find other poets you can hang out with and complain that there is no money in poetry, and no-one reads it anyway.

What is the point?

An isosceles triangle. A whale breaching. Dolphins playing in the waves. An iridescent sugar bird flitting above a Strelizia. The harsh call of a hadeda. Spring flowers. Winter rain. The smell of vanilla, or cinnamon. Discovering a new poet. Learning. Meeting friends for coffee/lunch/dinner. Watching a film alone. Talking about poetry or writing. Writing a new poem. Inspiring someone to write. Blueberries. Being crazy. Being sane. Getting a tattoo. A new notebook. A new pen. Living outside my own head. Taking photographs. Walking on the beach or on the mountain. Swimming. Going to yoga. Reading, always reading; and books. If you know any more let me know.

www.kerryhammerton.com

You can hear a recording of the aforementioned poem ‘Writing Poetry’ on Kerry’s SoundCloud page here.

Pleased to meet you…Isabelle Kenyon

Isabelle is editor of the small press Fly on the Wall Poetry and she has just launched an anthology called ‘Persona Non Grata’. All profits from the book will be donated to Shelter and Crisis Aid UK. Find out more here.

I’m well pleased that Isabelle is the first person to be interviewed for this blog. Despite having compiled a book that covers serious themes such as homelessness and loneliness, she assured me that she was happy to answer some daft questions…

What makes you write poetry despite the overwhelming majority of people’s crushing indifference towards it?

Well people seemed indifferent to Brexit, until it made an impact on their lives! I write political poetry or poetry which makes observations about the world, which you could label as ‘left’ and ‘feminist’ and ultimately, through my small press, Fly on the Wall Poetry, raises money for the very causes and injustices the books write about. I write poetry specifically because it sums up the human experience succinctly and leaves room for interpretation, meaning others identify with your writing.

WH Auden wrote that ‘poetry makes nothing happen’ – how do you know that this isn’t true?

The first anthology, Please Hear What I’m Not Saying, for Mind, has raised over £500 for mental health services. Readers have also said reading it made them feel less alone. Writing in general elicits feeling and emotion, which in a tech generation is important.

Once when I sneezed, a piece of sweetcorn came out of my nose – can you tell me something interesting about you?

Beautiful. Well I have danced salsa for the last three years, which is hopefully a better image!

If poetry was a metaphor, what metaphor would it be?

An iron fist in a velvet glove.

What is your favourite room?

A cosy bedroom.

What is the worst poem you have ever written?

None, I was a child prodigy.

Which poems or poets are currently inspiring you?

Kate Garrett with her goth selkies, real-life fairytale villains, and Anna Saunders (recently published with Indigo Dreams Publishing).

What is the most annoying moment you have ever experienced at a poetry event?

I had a guy tell me he didn’t like poetry. I told him he was in the wrong place, but he kept talking.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about writing poetry?

Why are you thinking and not writing or reading?

What is the point?

To be filthy, stinking rich, as all poets are. (In joy, at least.)

www.flyonthewallpoetry.co.uk

 

Shoegazing: amazing

I’ve been listening to ‘Don’t Delete The Kisses’ by Wolf Alice a lot. It’s been described as ‘shoegaze’. So, is shoegaze having another comeback? Is this now new-newgaze? Anyway, here’s my shoegaze top 10:

Ride – Vapour Trail
My Bloody Valentine – Soon
Sensational Logo – Best Before
Chapterhouse – Falling Down
Hirsute Protectors –Taken To A Movie
Slowdive – Crazy For You
Tiger Lightning – Percentages
School of Seven Bells – Connjur
Place – Tension
Clusterfluff – Abundant Love

Look at meeeeeeeeeeeeee!

I am now part of an Author’s Marketing Secret Supporting Society, which has been very kindly set up by Claire Trévien . I hope that my membership will enable me to understand the difference between endless boasting and effective marketing. It seems to me that some people share every minor triumph as if they had just written Kashmir. A neat sandwich is capable of attracting more than a hundred likes and Marco Tardelli-esque celebrations. Talking of which, have a look at him celebrating his goal in the 1982 World Cup final. It’s a wonderful few seconds that will be replayed forever. True immortality, the antithesis of that sandwich on facebook.

Let me know of any other euphoric displays of emotion in the immediate aftermath of success. Preferably there’ll be a YouTube clip involved, but it could be a written account of the pleasure you felt at writing a limerick at 2 in the morning. Or a description of a brilliant goal you scored at your local park or a table tennis shot on holiday.

You go laughing, yeah?

I went to a poetry gig in Birmingham a few days ago and it was great. Casey Bailey was hosting, apparently at short notice, though he made it look effortless, and his own poems were brilliant. More please, Casey! I loved Adrian Earle‘s hertz/hurts explanation for the title of his book, which will be out on Burning Eye Books next year. Mina Mekic was one of the headliners and I’m looking forward to hearing her read again. I felt slightly ashamed to be reading a poem about vegetable puns after she had read one about Srebrenica, but her Bosnian mother was in the audience and laughing, so all is well.

The Ramblers Ball – Evolve – Birmingham

 

Beer and Loathing

I went out a few nights ago. Did I really say ‘Do you know who I am?’ to someone not keen on my continued presence in their establishment? Sadly, I think I did, and sadly, I think I genuinely wanted to know the answer.

To think that people do this – reaching oblivion – most/all weekends? And I’d been in a poor mood anyway, worrying about our collective doom: the usual, although steady reminders that this summer has been the hottest on record have only made me more worried. I look outside and everyone else seems to be enjoying the sun. I mean this literally, but reading that sentence back, it captures what I feel when I’m truly depressed. Everyone else ticking along and me silently screaming at the sky.

So, once again, I started thinking about Michael Haneke, and specifically his film 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance. An old man goes to the bank to withdraw some money. The woman serving him is distracted and impatient. Halfway through the transaction she refers to the customer as ‘dad’. It’s a devastatingly simple way of showing the alienation of modern society that Haneke explores. At the start of the film, a boy climbs into what appears to be a small dark room. A sheet at the back of ‘the room’ is moved, revealing lines of traffic at night. Then the camera tracks the journey of the lorry into the city, flanked by the logos of McDonald’s and Coca-Cola. This was in 1994. The boy is a refugee. Nothing seems to have changed.

Lights! Camera! Conversation!

I hadn’t heard of ‘mumblecore’ until my friend, a retired Film Studies lecturer, used it to describe The Breakfast Club. Indeed, in such a film ‘you have a small, intimate cast of characters, low budget production, in a film that relies heavily on dialogue to tell the story without the use of gimmicky plot devices or a great deal of action.’ So basically, they’re recorded plays. Perhaps it would be better to use this admittedly dull term instead of the pejorative ‘mumblecore’, which is difficult to say without imagining a hipster blogger rolling their eyes. A film that I love, Me and You and Everyone We Know, is number 2 in a list of 20 great mumblecore films here. I think it’s in the wrong list: yes, there is a small cast and it was made on a relatively low budget, but things actually happen in it: it’s not just a series of long conversations. I presume that When Harry Met Sally, which I watched a couple of days ago, can’t be described as mumblecore because it cost a fortune to make, but there is a lot of dialogue and not much happens. Why didn’t I watch this film years ago?! Meg Ryan is amazing in it, and I’m not even talking about the famous café scene.

The whole boiling will be bricked in

From the sandwich board at the entrance to The Orchard Tea Garden in Grantchester:

‘His life was turbulent and troubled, and his personal force was extraordinary. He lived on milk and vegetables. God help us if he should ever eat a beefsteak…’

– Bertrand Russell on Ludwig Wittgenstein

‘Two weeks ago I was in Cambridge…It was…rather hectic; young men going for their triposes; flowering trees on the backs; canoes, fellows’ gardens; wading in a slightly unreal beauty… a sense, on my part, of extreme age, and tenderness and regret; and so on and so on…’

– Virginia Woolf on Cambridge, 1924

And my version:

‘His life was turbulent and troubled, and his personal force was ordinary. He lived on beer and microwaved potatoes. God help us if he should ever have eaten a beefsteak…’

– Me on me when I started at Cambridge

‘Two weeks ago I was in Cambridge…It was…rather hectic; hundreds of tourists staring at mobile phones; parched grass; forbidden barbecues; entrance fees for college gardens; wading in a slightly unreal melancholy…a sense, on my part, of extreme age, and tenderness and regret; and so on and so on…’

– Me on Cambridge two weeks ago

Eden Rock

My favourite poem, Eden Rock by Charles Causley, was chosen as the final poem for today’s edition of Poetry Please. Listen in from 24:51 here.  You can read the poem here.

 

This is for you, Neal. May you rest in peace.