YOU: So what’s your poetry book about then?
ME: Yeah, life.
YOU: Your life?
ME: Not exactly.
YOU: Whose life then?
ME: No one’s life. Just life.
YOU: That’s a big topic.
ME: Yes, it is.
YOU: You couldn’t narrow it down a bit for me?
ME: It’s a collection of poems starting with childhood and ending in old age. In seven parts.
YOU: Like a ‘Seven Ages of Man’ kind of thing:
[F]irst puking and mewling,
Then very pissed off with your schooling,
Then fucks and then fights,
Then judging chaps' rights,
Then sitting in slippers, then drooling.
ME: Kind of. I’ve never written anything about infancy and so I couldn’t include that. Nor are there any poems about employment but you’ve got the right idea.
YOU: But it’s not your life?
ME: No. Well, some of it is. Some of the things happened to me or to people I know. Some of it was stuff I read about or saw on TV. The rest I just fabricated.
YOU: So it’s semi-autobiographical.
ME: Nowhere near it.
YOU: What then? An eighth? A sixteenth? Maybe a thirty-second. Just stop me when I get close.
ME: Well on one level it’s all me because every thought has been through my head. I’ve just not experienced everything in the book the way it happens.
YOU: Give me an example.
ME: The guy in the book has sex in the afternoon by a paraffin heater.
YOU: And you’ve never had sex in the afternoon?
ME: Yes, I have but never like in the poem. What I’ve done is extract elements from my life — things I’ve done, seen or have heard about — and reassembled them into something else. He also has sex in the back of car which I’ve somehow missed out on but I’ve seen enough examples on TV to get the idea. By arranging the poems in a certain order they appear to tell a story but it’s not my story. At the back of the book there’s an appendix which shows the actual order the poems were written and when. Some of them go back thirty years, some are only a few weeks old.
YOU: So what you’re saying is that you’re lying to us?
ME: I’m a writer. It’s what we do. That said I’m being quite up front about it. That’s why I chose the title This Is Not About What You Think because context affects how we interpret things.
YOU: So is this a novel in verse then?
ME: No. I simply wanted a way to present a collection of poems in a way that made them feel like they belonged together. When I first decided that I was finally going to bring out a collection I always thought the title would be Reader, Please Supply Meaning with perhaps the subtitle New and Collected Poems 1979 — 2010 which would have worked here.
YOU: Why Reader Please Supply Meaning?
ME: Because that’s what every reader does whether they like it or not. A reader completes a circuit, they fill in what the author hasn’t been able to include. I’ve said this before and will no doubt say it again but a poem is like an iceberg, only the tip appears on the page, the rest is buried within the poet. That’s why every poem I’ve ever written has made perfect sense to me, and I expect every other poet feels the same, because I have all the missing bits inside me. The real test of a poem is what other people make out of it when you add it to their reader’s contribution. It will be different in every case.
YOU: Can you illustrate?
ME: There’s a poem in the collection called ‘Making Do’ — it’s a poem about my mother — ostensibly it’s about baking, not a thing my mother did a lot of although her short crust pastry was to die for. I let a guy at work read it – this was a man of about fifty – and he burst into tears afterwards. Why? Because he’d had a very rough childhood. His father was a bully and his mother arms became a place of refuge for him. Did he overreact to the poem? No one else that I know of has cried after reading it as far as I’m aware but when combined with his personal experiences of his own mother the poem became an extremely powerful piece of writing. I have no doubt that others will fail to connect with it in the slightest.
YOU: So what happens to the guy throughout the book?
ME: Like I said the book is in seven sections:
Part I: childhood
Part II: first love
Part III: marriage and the loss of a child
Part IV: an affair and the breakdown of the marriage
Part V: living alone
Part VI: the death of parents
Part VII: old age
YOU: So the key moment in the book is the loss of the child?
YOU: Why that?
ME: It wasn’t planned. I simply took my poems and started arranging them in some kind of order. Like I said the book is not an autobiography but it does contain poems that reflect what was going on in my life. I have been married more than once but it wasn’t the loss of a child that caused my first marriage to breakdown. Actually the marriage produced my daughter to whom I dedicate this collection. The stillbirth that I talk about in the book happened to a friend of mine. She sent me an e-mail to explain why I hadn’t heard from her in a while and that was the reason. That day, or maybe the next, I sat down and wrote the poem. Why I chose to make it the central poem in the collection is because that’s exactly the kind of thing that could bring a marriage to its knees. The poem found its place quite naturally in the collection.
YOU: Do you have a favourite poem in the book?
ME: I have many favourites for many different reasons but I think the one that gets to me the most is the poem I chose to end the collection on, ‘The Poetry of Regrets’, because the only thing that stays with the man is his ability to write poetry but, as it happens with many writers, the older they get the less they find they have left unsaid. I don’t write nearly as many poems these days because I’ve tackled the big issues in my life, the things that obsessed me, and made some kind of peace with them. But I can still see me, in twenty years time, sitting, Krapp-like, trying to scribble a few final words.
YOU: That’s sad.
ME: In a way. Many writers talk about their works as their children. Well, you never turn family away and that’s what the man in the book says:
Poems turn up out of the blue these days
and usually when things are going badly.
Once they were with us, day in and day out
we lived with them
but never really appreciated them.
I guess that's what growing up's all about,
with too many regrets and fewer answers.
Only wish I'd said more when I had the
words to say it.
but you don't turn family away. Not ever.
YOU: So where can people get a hold of this book?
ME: The best, the fastest and the cheapest way is direct from the FV Books site. It will also be on Amazon.co.uk if you can’t use PayPal for some reason. I’ve kept the price down as low as possible. I think books these days are too dear. The price has increased far faster than inflation. Books I was paying 35p or 45p in the 1970s cost in the region of £7.99 of £8.99 now. That’s an annual increase of just over 9%. I’m interested in being read and covering my costs. This Is Not About What You Think will retail in the UK at £5.99 including postage. Plus those who buy early will receive a free copy of Bonfire. Rates for the rest of the world will reflect the additional costs of postage but will still be excellent value for money.
ME: Yes. FV Books originally published two literary journals, Gator Springs Gazette and Bonfire both of which had their origins online. When my wife fell ill she was forced to cut back her work and both magazines folded which was a great shame. We still have a small stock of Bonfires left and we’d like to see them go to good homes.
YOU: Do you have any excerpts online?
ME: Yes. I’ve just revamped my website — it was getting a bit tired-looking — and you can read the whole of Part I of the collection here. One last thing, I have a number of review copies set aside. If you would like one then drop me an e-mail with your address and I’ll pop one in the post.
YOU: Are you doing a virtual blog tour?
ME: Not as such. They’re all fine and well but in a matter of a month everything’s over. Besides I hate pressing people to do things by a certain date. In the past I’ve been asked to take part in blog tours before I’ve even seen the product, If people genuinely like what I’ve done then they’ll want to tell people about it. And that’s how it should be.