Poet in residence

This term's poet in residence

Paul Farley

Hello everybody from me, Paul (Farley, the poet) By Paul Farley
28 Sep 2006 - 08:29 AM

Welcome to my residency! I wanted to try and make this whole thing as 'direct' as I possibly could, and encourage you all to ask me questions about poetry, poems, a poem or poet you admire, my poems... I'd like it if you were frank. I don't want to hide behind a big quote and ask you to discuss it. I've no idea how much poetry, contemporary or otherwise, you've been reading, but this is your chance to ask that question: don't waste it.

I'm re-reading Wilfred Owen at the moment because I'm presenting a programme about him for the BBC in November. It's led me to wonder about where we imagine poems get written. With Owen - in fact, with all the War Poets - I'd imagined, when I was younger, that he wrote in a shell hole or from a trench between raids... But it wasn't really like that. He drafted and worked on many of his most famous poems in a tiny attic room in Ripon, up in Yorkshire! I visited it recently: very strange to be stood under the skylight where 'The Send-Off' and 'Futility' were written. It seems as if he needed a place and a space in which to sit and reflect and write: don't we all? You know that Wordsworth line - 'emotion recollected in tranquility'? - well, it seemed to work that way for Owen. Does it work that way for you? Something to think about... But you can ask me about anything poetry-related, like I say. Looking forward to meeting you all in cyberspace. Speak to you then...

49 Comments at the moment

Will at 29 Sep 2006 - 09:54 AM

So... I hear your a poet...

Guy Hannah at 29 Sep 2006 - 09:55 AM

How old were you when you first realised you had a talent for writting poetry?

Dan at 29 Sep 2006 - 09:56 AM

What aspects of Wilfred Owen's poem influences your writing , if any ?

Malini at 29 Sep 2006 - 09:56 AM

I heard Jackie Kay last night and she was reading her poems about identity. What do you think about her poetry?

Alex at 29 Sep 2006 - 09:56 AM

Granted you are researching Wilfred Owen, so you may be a little biased, Who is your favourite war poet and why?

Will at 29 Sep 2006 - 09:58 AM

three questions, did you go to university, and if so did it greatly affect what you consider to be the quality of your poetry?, 2: is there any money to be made as a poet. 3: do you fancy writing us a couple of verse, just so we could see how spontaniously talented you are?

Patrick at 29 Sep 2006 - 09:59 AM

Do you think it could be considered honorable to die for your country or it's ideals, and if so, is there a difference between that and what was asked of Owen and his compatriots in WW1?

Julian at 29 Sep 2006 - 10:00 AM

what shoe size are you?

- at 29 Sep 2006 - 10:00 AM

I think everyone needs some time to reflect and organise their thoughts, if not the work would become distorted and you would lose your point of view through distraction.

Nabeela and Dulcie at 29 Sep 2006 - 10:01 AM

What is your favourite poem by Wilfred Owen, and why?

Carol-Ann Duffy at 29 Sep 2006 - 10:02 AM

Carol-Ann Duffy. Discuss

Helen Gray at 29 Sep 2006 - 10:02 AM

We are happy to be participating in this discussion Paul. I hope you and I can reflect on the process afterwards.

Guy Hannah at 29 Sep 2006 - 10:03 AM

How old were you when you first realised you had a talent for writting poetry?

Jasmin Lovestone and Jessica Levy at 29 Sep 2006 - 10:05 AM

We have been thinking recently about what makes a poem. What do you think are the key differences between a poem and a novel or a novella? Where, for example, do dramatic monologues stand?

guy hannah and co. at 29 Sep 2006 - 10:05 AM

i don't think 'emotion recollected' is precisely what Owen's attic represented. Perhaps it was more the recollection of memories that conjured the ghosts of his emotions. We just don't think you can fully rekindle the intensity or purity of emotion in such an altered environment.

Helen Gray at 29 Sep 2006 - 10:09 AM

We are happy to be participating in this discussion Paul. I hope you and I can reflect on the process afterwards.

Sarah at 29 Sep 2006 - 10:10 AM

How was your day?

Conrad Andrews at 29 Sep 2006 - 10:12 AM

When writing your poems do you write with a natural flow or do you get anal over every word to create a more precise and controlled style and feel to your poetry? Which style do you think is better? Something more spontaneous or something??

Will at 29 Sep 2006 - 10:14 AM

How did come to get recognised?

Annabelle Regal at 29 Sep 2006 - 10:15 AM

Do you look back and kick yourself, after your poem has been published, because you've found a better word

Alex at 29 Sep 2006 - 10:19 AM

You said in one of your poetry introductions that you were influenced by Jean-Luc Godard. Do any other styles/eras of cinema work their way into your poetry?

Conrad Andrews at 29 Sep 2006 - 10:20 AM

* something more precise but artificial?

Jak at 29 Sep 2006 - 10:21 AM

last year we were studying LARKIN and his diverse scipts of poems do you like his poety and what do you hold as his stongest talent in poetry? Yesterday we visited a poetry recital and i found it interesting to here poets talk of their writing and history especially 'Jackie Kay' and 'Simon Armitage'. The reading was on identity there was a collaboration of different current themes depicting identity, i try'd to create a picture in my mind through linking their background with the poem's as i feel identity is shown throgh family and norms and values. I was wondering what you felt about identity and use to display it in your poems.

malini at 29 Sep 2006 - 10:25 AM

how old are you

Straheinski and Leibenstein at 29 Sep 2006 - 10:25 AM

Do you write your poems slowly and with painstaking precision, or do you draft and re-draft your work? In addition, how would you say poetry has changed since the times in which Wilfred Owen wrote?

- at 29 Sep 2006 - 10:27 AM

the world's your oyster

Will at 29 Sep 2006 - 10:29 AM

Do you think there would be room in the industry for a brand new style of stand up comedy poets, and if so how do feel about starting trends?

Will at 29 Sep 2006 - 10:30 AM

are you always this quiet?

Paul at 29 Sep 2006 - 10:33 AM

Hi, I'll try and answer these in clusters. Thanks Alex, Annabelle and Conrad - good questions. Cinema - yes, I fail to see how cinema can't make it's way into the texture of poetry, given the century of movies we've just left, and how used we all must be to seeing the world in that way. You could say poetry has incorporated cinematic effects for a very long time - so Wordsworth, for instance, is often putting a frame around things, scenes, and 'cutting' from one idea or image to the next. A more recent, good, example is Seamus Heaney's excellent early poem 'Digging': you could say the poem moves from close-up, to flashback, to wide angle, back to close-up, etc. You could almost put the camera directions into the line and stanza breaks! The Godard thing was funny: I'd enjoyed a film of his, 'Band a Parte', in which the characters decide to hold a minute's silence, and Godard completely cuts the sound, it's very striking (and seems like a long minute) when you're sitting there in the dark. Around the same time, I saw a movie by Antonioni called 'The Eclipse' and the same kind of thing happens - a minute's silence in a stock exchange - and it was around this time I wrote my poem 'A Minute's Silence'. I'm not sugesting the poem is 'about' those films, but it IS strange the way you can find a way to incorporate the things you're seeing and hearing and remembering into a poem on the page. I'd say that's probably happened loads of times, and I haven't space here to account for them all - and anyway, it's a bit dangerous trying to rationalise and analyse too much after the poems are written (somebody else should or could of course). I love all kinds of films. Wishing I could go back - well, I don't suffer from 'revisionitis' so am happy to let them stand. In a way, you're going back and editing your younger self, so although there are lines, phrases, whole poems that I cringe about now, I feel as though they should be allowed to have a life of their own.

Straheinski an Leibenstein at 29 Sep 2006 - 10:35 AM

Do you feel you need a lot of chutzpah to perform your poems? Can you get away with not performing them live... would it harm your career chances or naches?

Paul at 29 Sep 2006 - 10:36 AM

Hi, Will, yes, there's room for all kinds of poetry. Bring it on, why not? I don't see why anyone should try and arbitrate or police poetry, and if something like a comedy stand up/poetry works in its context, then why shouldn't poetry be allowed to develop, mutate, move into different forms of performance and delivery?

Alex at 29 Sep 2006 - 10:38 AM

I think thats a really interesting point about the use of silence and how effective it can be. In the Kurosawa film Sanjuro, at the end of the film the two lead characters stand off against each other in a very western-esque way and the camera freezes statically framing them. It may not be a minute but the silence that fills the screen as these two massive characters stare each other down feels so long and so profound even as, essentially, nothing is happening. Then when the moment when the silence breaks does finally come, its all the more effective for it

Paul at 29 Sep 2006 - 10:43 AM

Hi,Straheinski and Leibenstein, two tough questions... To answer the first: some poems seem to take a very long time, and produce a lot of drafts, yes. I do like to put things away for a while and forget about them - in my new book there's a poem called 'The Lapse' which I started in 1994 - it used to be called 'Blink' and I remember taking it to Michael Donaghy's night class in London - and it's finally seeing the light. Other poems, I have to say, come very smartly, almost fully formed. There isn't a hard and fast rule for this - you have to learn to accept that a poem can emerge in ways that surprise, frustrate, perplex, etc. Poetry since Owen... I was just thinking about this, in terms of, had he lived, what would he have gone on to write. What we can see now if course is that, waiting just around the corner, in the 1920s, was Eliot and 'The Waste Land'. How woul;d Owen have reacted to this, to Modernism? I think myself he'd have got on well with it - he managed to absorb an incredible amount of literary influences in a short life. By the time he was 25 he'd drawn heavily on Keats, Shelly and Wordsworth, as well as the Victorians like Swinburne, then the Georgian poets like Monro, as well of course as his army contemporaries like Sassoon. Poetry happens through many influence, but one of the biggest must be what's gone before, what's happening around you: in other words, reading. That's still the way it happens, so in that sense nothing much has changed: people still read, absorb, reject, embrace, challenge...

Will at 29 Sep 2006 - 11:03 AM

Can you awnser my question about the industry and how you got to where you are now please?

Paul at 29 Sep 2006 - 11:08 AM

Hi Jak, Yes, I like Larkin's work, some poems more than others - I'm not a disciple - but I think he was a great writer, I really do. I think what you see with him is a sense of an identity perhaps under seige or digging in! Of things breaking apart around him. I think a sense of 'identity' emerges in all kinds of ways, and with Larkin we can't help but know also how problematic his relationships and views were through his letters, because looking back we often gain a picture in the round. Should you read the poems and the poems alone - or does it matter what a person was like, the opinions they held, the things they did in their lives? I think identity is incredibly interesting if you self-consciously play with it or use it in your work. Because we're a generation on the move, very fluid, all kinds of former borders are being crossed, and so important questions of sexuality, race, class and gender hang over us. I think poets have negotiated all of these things in the past - I don't think it's 'new' - but just that today, we're perhaps acutely aware of what a diverse place we live in, even at the microclimate level of a borough or a city. I should also say, you don't of course have to write as 'I', and even if you do, it doesn't have to be you - you can try on masks.

Paul at 29 Sep 2006 - 11:14 AM

Hi Will, thanks for your questions, sorry to keep you dangling. The 'industry'? This, I'm sorry to have to tell you, isn't rock and roll. It isn't even skiffle. I went to art school, wanted to paint and make experimental films, didn't take my writing very seriously, then in my 20s I found I was spending more and more time in front of an Amstrad, and less at the studio, so it just happened almost accidentally: I drifted in, tuned into it. There isn't much money in poetry, I'm sad to report. Nobody'd do it for the money. If I wanted money I'd have done something else. You can earn a living writing about it, teaching it, broadcasting, reviewing it... but not out of it alone. I'm not selling this to you, am I! I'll pass on the request - don't do requests - and anyway, I'm not spontaneously talented.

Paul at 29 Sep 2006 - 11:15 AM

Sarah, my day has just begun. It's shaping up OK.

Paul at 29 Sep 2006 - 11:19 AM

Hi guy hannah and co, that's a very astute observation and take on this. When I was in the room itself, I thought mostly about Plato's cave - the idea of shadows and figures of light flickering on a cave wall and suggesting the world outside by their mutability I suppose. I think he always needed to find a space in which to reflect, though the absolute heat of extreme emotions - grief, anger, pain, etc - must get metabolised quite quickly and dealt with, don't you imagine they can come back, in altered form, as words? I wonder.

Jean at 29 Sep 2006 - 11:24 AM

Hi - it's my job to look after these web pages, and I've been watching your conversations develop all morning - great fun, and this is just the start: I hope you'll keep in touch with Paul over this term - he's here till 1st December. There's a prize for the most interesting comment posted during the residency - the winner will receive a signed CD of Paul's Poetry Archive recording (1 hour in length). So thanks for all your contributions, and keep them coming...

Paul at 29 Sep 2006 - 11:25 AM

Hi Dan and Alex, yes, I am a little bit 'caught up' in Owen at the moment. I do also admire a poet of the Second World War called Keith Douglas...have you come across him? In many ways, he couldn't be more different from Owen, but the best of his poetry is superb, I think. Thinking about war poetry generally, I'd have to say they were a very mixed bunch. There are less well known poets like Rosenberg and Gurney and Jones who are well worth seeking out and having a look at. I've also been wondering about the idea of war poetry now... We're living through a time of war, and yet the idea of poetry in response to it WRITTEN BY ACTIVE PARTICIPANTS doesn't seem to fly, does it? Or perhaps we can't see them yet. The idea of war itself is so different now: there isn't a 'front', and if there is it's an atomised series of places where conflict suddenly occurs. The big difference between the Great War and now also is, the public might not need telling that war is brutal and ugly; they've perhaps absorbed what Owen's generation told us, over time, and protest comes more immediately and naturally.

Paul at 29 Sep 2006 - 11:30 AM

Hi Straheinski an Leibenstein, no, I like reading my poems (and other people's) to an audience. It closes a circle, and I think gesture and presence are important aspects of a poem. I don't find it stressful - but public speaking generally can be. I'm happy to read a poem to a hundred people at the Festval hall or somewhere, or go on the radio - but a best man's speech scares me witless (I've got to give one next year).

Paul at 29 Sep 2006 - 11:36 AM

Hi Dan, thanks for your question... I just think his poems, the best of them, like 'Futility', 'Spring Offensive', 'The Send-Off', 'Strange Meeting', are incerdibly limber and supple, they're very direct and accessible, but there are pools and depths of resonance and allusion to other poems (as I said earlier, he was a great 'absorber' of influences) so they become endlessly approachable: you can keep going back. The context - the Western Front mostly - is getting further and further away, but I still think it too resonates in these islands (so many people were killed from all over the country), partly of course because of the poets who wrote about it. You see all of his interests in landscape and place, botany and development, the body, his early reading, forged and fused together by the trauma of war; as in all the best poetry, there's a clash of different ideas and registers held together in a shape on the page, the optimum shape that works most effectively and makes the poem durable.

Paul at 29 Sep 2006 - 11:49 AM

Hi everybody, there's a few more questions here I'd like to get back to you about, so I'll post some more later, and please respond - if you want - to anything I've said. All the best for now...

Katy Murr at 19 Oct 2006 - 09:11 PM

'You can earn a living writing about it, teaching it, broadcasting, reviewing it... but not out of it alone.' Why do you think this is? Do you think that maybe instead of attending poetry classes, forums, or workshops, we should get out there and teach ourselves, submerge ourselves and find the delights ourself? Oh, and, seeing as you do teach it, what do you think are the most important things we can learn, discover, or happen upon about poetry? (Subjective question, I know...)

Paul Farley at 27 Oct 2006 - 04:40 PM

Hello Katy, Thanks for posting. I think this is just a statement of fact, given my own experiences and the anecdotal evidence of many others I know. 'You can't make a living out of just writing poems.' I don't know why. This has never bothered me too much. Somebody asked me about poetry and money, so I answered. I think - and I'm slightly paraphrasing William Burroughs here - many, many years ago I might have thought that writers sat around in smoking jackets in Mayfair, or with opium pipes in Singapore, and that sounded alright to me, but I've long since been disabused of such whimsy. The literary world is still somewhat novel to me, as I came to it a bit on the late side, and had many unrelated jobs in different, non-literary spheres of activity beforehand. I have not passed through any sausage factory, so I'm still surprised to be writing. I'm convinced I will soon be found out and told to get back to work, and so don't expect to make money from poems particularly. What I think is dead interesting though is the nature of reception and ownership of different kinds of cultural things: so, you can write a poem, then publish it, and everybody who reads it can remember it, bring it to mind, carry its shape about with them; with paintings, the single work is sold, owned by one owner, viewable only by a limited number, can have an inflated resale value; music is different again - you can't 'own' a tune once it enters the world, though copyright laws try to recover funds for its reproduction and use (as in literature). But to get back to your questions, there's a whole industry of poetry-related stuff going on, isnt there? Even though we're told hardly anybody buys poetry books, and even though it's not widely read, people really want to do it themselves, and I've nowt against that. As to WHY this is the case, I don't know. But I know it to be a fair reflection of our present state of affairs. I also don't know (I don't know much today, do I?) whether this means people should stop attending writing classes or workshops - don't know quite how that follows from our money discussion - but I can say that, though you cannot impart talent, no matter what anyone tells you, an apprenticeship in poetry isn't out of the question. Why not study with somebody engaged in making the kinds of things you want to make? You're bound to learn something if both parties are amenable, and, even if you reject this later, it still represents an educative process. The last component of your post is, er, a massive question. You'll have to let me pause and think about that one. For now, all bests.

Katy Murr at 5 Nov 2006 - 07:14 PM

Hi Paul, Just to let you know, I've read your comments (thank you for your reply) and am going to give a substantial/ decent reply soon. Having just re-read my last post, I fear I drank too much red wine with my dinner & really am incapable of anything remotely near to intelligent/ sensible comment, despite feeling totally in the mood to do some more editing on a few poems. So yes, you've given me something to think over, & I shall attempt to give a decent reply soon. I feel bad about this, especially after having just given one lengthly blah, but tipsy ramblings are never a good idea.

Moderator at 7 Nov 2006 - 01:11 PM

All your comments, questions and thoughts for Paul are very welcome, but could I please ask everyone to remember that this is not a message board! If you have private messages for one another, please find another way of exchanging them, so that we can keep this space free for conversation with the Poet in Residence. Thankyou for your co-operation.

Katy Murr at 7 Nov 2006 - 07:28 PM

(Moderator: sorry, I assume I partially provoked that message.) Hi Paul, Thanks for your response - and I look forward to your thoughts on the latter part of my first post! perhaps it's better that way, so you're not 'affected' by the literary world so much? I suppose that's what's so fantastic about poetry really, the way it can be carried with a person, rather than being 'owned' and kept in one wealthy person's house, unaccessed by the rest; or simply in a gallery, which is for some people equally inaccessable. And of course, we have libraries too, something artworks don't have. Like you say, people are involved in poetry, there are lots of poetry-related things going on, but people just aren't buying so much poetry in book form. Maybe I was too hung up on the idea of books selling though; the market changes, as does the audience, and so long as people are still interested in poetry, then surely there should be not a lot to complain about? (Living near to Manchester as I do, it's certainly a great place to be poetry-wise, and I can vouch that there's so much stuff going on which is to do with poetry.) On another tact, it's arguable that people aren't buying so many books because they envision poetry books as inaccessable/ old-fashioned/ stuffy...? Or maybe the way in which so little of the national public truly engages with poetry is something that makes it even more fabulous for those who do revel in it, because it's more of a discovery; unlike, say, the next 'big thing' on TV. I don't know, it's a tough question of what's important, and also about whether we should be bothered that despite more people wanting to *write* poetry, less people are buying it. Well, the link I saw between the two questions - although I probably didn't make it, so I shall clarify now - is that perhaps, rather than attending poetry classes by other people, and other such events (if we want to 'learn' poetry, this is), perhaps we would do better to actually buy the books and educate ourselves about it? I'm not saying this is what I think for certain; and I have previously attended writing 'workshops' etc, but I'm genuinely interested to know if other people who are into writing think that this may be a way to do it, and also give more money to poets through actual publishing. This could just be derived from my own experience of 'education' generally, so far, though. (Something which, given that I am under my own name on here, I won't elaborate anymore on.) No, I do agree, 'you are bound to learn something', but isn't this the same if you're teaching yourself? I just really feel there's something extra about self-teaching, and exploring without being given any direction. Katy

Megan at 10 Nov 2006 - 01:18 AM

ummmmm ok ive been told i have a nack for writing poems but i cant write on demand. I can olny write we i feel i ahve to get something out of my system is there anyway around this please help

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