Writing Process Blog Tour

Many thanks to Richard Skinner for inviting me to answer these questions.

What am I working on?

I’m slowly putting together what I’m thinking of as a mini historical collection. I say “putting together”: really I’m mainly writing down two-word sentences and thinking “I should write a poem about that”. I have an obsession with eccentricity, all the better if it’s historical, and I keep lighting on various eccentrics from the past as potential poem-fodder. Dr Johnson, castrati, hermits, tiger-hunters – they’re all there, kicking about, not yet becoming poems.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I’m not sure about genre, but I suppose my writing might seem different because my poems might come across as impersonal, often featuring long-gone figures or situations – though I don’t see them as emotionless. Either way, I wouldn’t say I’m a particularly personal, or confessional, poet.

Why do I write what I do?

When I first got acquainted with contemporary poetry, I loved poems that were at once accessible (this generally boiled down to being syntactically straightforward) while at the same time having a secret mechanism at work behind the words, making them in some measure slightly unsettling. My tastes haven’t changed much, and I aim for that in my own poems; though quite often what I write is different from what I seek out in others’ writing. At the moment two of the poems haunting me are John Stammers’ “Mr Punch in Soho” and this great poem by Janet Remmington: neither is very like mine, both feature sticks, and with both of them I find snippets coming back to me. They’re both very musical poems, and I’m envious of how right some of their phrases sound. As Wallace Stevens said, poems should “resist the intelligence, almost successfully” – I think these poems flit round the edges of cognitive comfort.

How does my writing process work?

I sometimes think of poetry as a sort of parlour game – a push and pull between poet and reader. So a lot of the time I’m trying to satisfy my own sense of what a good poem is, and whether it works for me as a reader, too. I always run my poems past my great friend Rebecca, who is a brilliant poet and a very meticulous editor: generally if I feel that I wouldn’t want her to see a poem, it’s not ready, or it’s never going to be a real poem.

I think it’s quite difficult knowing you’re writing for a poetry audience, which I think is quite unique for its high proportion of writers who are also readers. It can sometimes be a bit prohibiting, knowing how much expert scrutiny will be applied to your writing. But I think that’s also the challenge.