Writing about your own work is a bit like climbing the garden fence and taking a look at your own plot from a neighbour’s. When I do that I see some fairly haphazard planting. I envy and admire poets who are able to develop and focus on a particular project, but I’ve never been able to sustain that for more than a couple of poems. I tend to write in response to the immediate: emotions, impressions, memories, reading, ideas – or even the pressing urge to simply write.
Other than a vague feeling for its tone and drift, I seldom have any idea where a poem is going. But when I look back from over my neighbour’s fence I notice certain recurring themes: there’s the everyday world shadowed by a parallel slightly off-kilter alternative; the mutability of time, place and memory; a preference for questions rather than answers and a distrust of received wisdom.
For me the actual process of writing is about discovery, finding out about and making sense of an idea or event, like mapping experience so I can look back and find where I’ve been. I suppose I’m listening out for the unconscious or intuitively contrary world running parallel to the conscious, as if between the two is a new, ambiguous and more honest reality.
And I frequently write in the first person. Much of the time this is not an autobiographical ‘I’, but more a device for inhabiting the subject and getting closer to the poem’s possibilities.
In terms of form I usually work in discrete stanzas and conventional syntax, though often play around within these constraints. What I’m after is a sense of achieved independence in a poem. I can leave it alone for weeks, months, even years sometimes and then revisit. If it reads like a poem someone else has written, authentically itself on the page, that’s what I’m after.
The poems published here are a selection written over the last three or four years. ‘Ridge Walking with Maddy’ is a projection into a future I won’t see, while ‘Plums’ is an augmented memory which slips about a bit, as memories do.
I’ve lived in rural North Lancashire for many years and ‘Ghost bird’ reflects the consequent pre-occupations.
‘The Leper’s Door’ was written during a collaborative project with artists in St Oswald’s Church, Grasmere. I often feel great trepidation at embarking on prescribed tasks, but the pathos of this subject just picked me up and carried me off.
‘They came down from the north’ was started around the time of the Scottish Independence referendum. I was thinking of the Scots who over the centuries had moved down and settled. This isn’t a poem about the Scots, of course, but integration and borders.
‘Working for My Father’ is more of a conventional memory but it’s taken nearly sixty years to make some kind of sense of it.