Statement on Poetry

I was raised in a small hamlet in the Shropshire countryside. Maybe it was the triumph of electronic media, the doomy news stories of impending nuclear war in the eighties, or all those odd invasion fantasies proliferating on television, but the natural world was never enough for me. A friend and I once conceived of an ideal community, a way of updating our humdrum neighbourhood. We took the project quite seriously, designing maps and drawing up plans for a future beyond automobiles and conventional modes of transport. What we were building, I think, was a perfect city, trying trick our way back inside the republic with our utopian dreams. Later, I moved to London, a collection of villages and hamlets that has fused at the edges, blurring like pin mould, and I found my home among the relative distinctions of Highbury, Finsbury Park, Acton, Brixton, Streatham, or East Ham. 

Back when I had definite ambition, I gave up poetry for a time, and turned to fiction, writing a novel which ended up being based in the landscape of my birth. During a testing period of my life, my fiction began to fray at the edges. I turned to poetry again to make something out of those years, not so much to confess (I don’t have much to confess) but to record. All poems are necessarily in dialogue with those that have been, or are being, written around them, but I don’t regard myself as having a lineage or canon; my influences have always been scattergun and lacking in political nous. Essentially, I’m a scene poet, and I’ve learned this approach from poets like Edward Dorn, Lee Harwood, Michael Hofmann, Karen Solie, Fran Lock, C.P. Cavafy, Dennis Nurkse, and Wang Wei. If I’m honest, though, I’m not entirely comfortable with the term of ‘poet’ either, and probably the only thing I’ve ever learned from Auden is to prefer to call myself a writer.

I’ve been lucky enough to spend the last few years travelling abroad, and the method of the tourist—making notes, attuning myself to a certain scene or space before moving on—has become increasingly attractive. Whenever I think of myself as a poet at all, beyond the other roles I have as a partner, father, son, colleague, painter, tutor, writer, it’s to picture someone at the edges of a city, recording the exchanges and memories: someone perpetually longing for a place, beyond the place he seem to be occupying, whether for the people who inhabit those places, or out of some barely-understood wanderlust. 

Note: this piece first appeared in Poetry Birmingham Literary Journal issue 3, published earlier this year.

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