Why are some writers (like you) so drawn to work with other art forms?
What I enjoy about working with people in other art forms – and I have worked with visual artists, painters, sculptors, I’ve worked with dancers and singers and makers of puppets, all kinds – what I like is that I know the world they see out of their eyes isn’t quite like the one I see here. We aren’t in any competition with each other, that’s a lovely feeling. We can each be good at being what we are and enjoy each other, whole-heartedly. I’ve also got an instinct that, by being different from each other, we’ve created a kind of creative space between me and him or me and her, in which the thing we’re looking at can actually be itself and isn’t that what we want most of all?
How do you find something interesting to write about?
I feel slightly oppressed by the thought of needing to find something interesting to write about. If anything my instinct says exactly the opposite. Why not find the least interesting thing, just that stone, that twig, that.. whatever, that needs a good creative eye on it to find out what might be there; something that doesn’t yet speak for itself which is why maybe it needs me. I did write one book, based on photographs, of the least interesting thing we could find, which was the concrete footings of electricity pylons. Now, just think how unsexy an object that is; how absolutely functional. It’s just a lump of concrete doing a job, bearing a heavy load in a place. And, once we looked at it, me and the artist, the first thing we realised was that every one was unique, every one had its own beauty. It became a kind of meditation and also, what we saw in it, once you looked was, well anything in the world. So, if you want a way of working, I would say: Don’t go and search the internet for interesting things, find something that no one else has ever found interesting, yet, and just give it time and attention and care and it might give you back everything you need.
Are you nervous when you write about a real person?
I will always stop and think if I’m either writing about an actual person or even about anything which impinges in a big way on their life. And, of course, unless we are hermits, we will always be writing about things which affect other people. Do I ever not write anything because it’s personal? I think there are three things you ask:
- If I write about them, or not. Well, I’m a writer so I probably do. It’s what I do.
- Do I share it with them? That’s the first step of a responsibility. I’m always interested to find out if they, in a sense, recognise themselves in it.
- Does it end up in print? And that’s the big one. And one needs to be sure that it isn’t just about them or me or us but it is about an issue or questions that open out and in some way include everybody.
How did you come to write your first poem, and when?
I suppose I wrote my first poem without even knowing I was doing it. Or actually, to be honest, without even knowing that the person who was doing it was me. This is me aged thirteen and I was writing a story. It was a rather dull spy story and one of the agents in it was also a poet and I thought, he needs a bit of business there. Shall I just write one of his poems? You know, it needn’t be very good, he is a spy after all. So, I started writing it and, you know, I never went back and finished that story, I just went on writing the poetry. I do keep everything that I wrote at the age of thirteen, fourteen and fifteen. Not because I ever want to see it in print – and I’m putting that on record now – but, if ever I feel smug, I look back and think that’s me, you know, in the eyes of eternity, in the eyes of God, that is as much me as I am now. It all counts.
Why do you like writing poems in sequences or sets?
I’ve never set out in the past to be writing things in sets or sequences, it just kind of grew that way. It’s partly out of the way I work in notebooks and sketchbooks. It’s how thoughts first exist in a cloud and then gradually fall into orbits like asteroids around the sun. But it’s more than that. This is not work that’s unfinished. It’s work that says; each of these is one facet, it’s one angle and I know that it isn’t all there is. In a sense, it’s always circling around its object and thinking that, the more angles there are, the more we let that object be itself.
Does it make a difference, the shape of a poem on the page?
I’m finding more and more that what words look like on the page becomes more and more of an image of the shape I feel there is in the thought and the shape I would hope it might make out loud when spoken. So it’s like giving a visual image of the shape in the breath. It’s a bit like musical scoring, in a way. I assume that anyone who reads poetry well will also be, as it were, reading it out loud inside their head. Best of all, if they actually read it out loud. I don’t mean that the only real form of it is out loud. I love the fact the words exist on the page because it means that everyone can go back and read it various ways. But this just hints at how it flows, of how it moves, where it’s got its dynamics, its pauses and the fact that you can see, at a glance, what its whole shape is, places you in it, in a way that helps you read it better. That’s what I hope, at least.
Would you read a poem, so I can hear how it works?
This one calls itself: ‘On Poetic Form: A Short Essay’ and it is exactly what it says on the packet and incidentally, it’s a sonnet.
The forms stands in the corner of the room
like a man made of glass. All he can be
is how the light bends through him; he’s the way
reflections and refractions play, the zero sum
of its deflections and distractions. Come
on in, I say, as if there was a he
to speak to, or an I to speak, or words to say
or any other place to come in from
except time. How many rooms have held, might hold
him, he them – had their décor rearranged
in his impartial gaze? He makes me feel old
and young (not in a good way) and yet.. Chance
it, he says, silently, and everything is changed.
He never moves and yet we start to dance.