My friend Andrew Forster asked me if I’d like to take part in ‘The Blogging Tour’ which involves answering a series of questions and then linking readers onwards to other writers. Andrew is the Literature Officer at the Wordsworth Trust at Dove Cottage in Grasmere. You can still read his contribution here.
So here we go…
1. What am I working on? I’m working on a large group of poems about two journeys taken by bicycle nearly 30 years ago now. The journeys slightly overlapped, and I made them with two different, and very dear, companions. In each case we travelled for about 3000 miles by bike, camping and living on just about the minimum. I started writing about these experiences, which were life-changing, obviously (and rather ruined me for work) while I was lucky enough to have a creative residency at Cove Park in Argyll last September. But I’ve also just contributed a poem to Oversteps poet Rebecca Bilkau‘s latest poetry project about the constellations, called ‘Heavenly Bodies’, and joined the excellent Border Poets group here in Shropshire, so I’ve been writing with them too. Lots on the go, in fact.
2. How does my work differ from others of this genre? I find this difficult to answer! I think each poet’s work differs because each of us writes out of where they’ve been, and what in daily life nudges each of us to the act of writing. I suppose it follows that the older you get, the more the variables. My background is rural, with family roots in both Scotland (Shetland) and northern England. But I’ve lived in several different places, and carry them with me. I’m drawn to weather, landscapes, the way we live among the traces of humanity’s past and our own memories. I’ve written about ruined farms and the ghosts of both sheep and herring. And a witch over Ludlow. I’m interested in how we narrate our lives, and in fact live within myths we both invent and inherit.
3. Why do I write what I do? I write when impelled to write. Poems often start in a place. A house, a hill, an island, a garden, a riverbank, a shop. My poems about the bicycle journeys sometimes draw on a memory – for example of just a few minutes standing in a 1980’s street in central France in hard frost, queuing for the boulangerie at eight in the morning, everyone’s breath rising. Sometimes it’s an object (I wrote a poem about a necklace made of horse’s teeth…). You never know. I’ve just finished a poem called ‘The Tattoo’d Man’. I started writing that because I picked up a stray piece of paper at StAnza last March, and those were the three words on it.
4. How does your writing process work? I read a lot of poetry. I’m always reading it, sometimes it’s new to me, often I go back, and learn more when I do. I go back to TS Eliot, John Clare, Christina Rossetti, John Burnside, Gillian Allnutt, Alice Oswald, Jen Hadfield, Philip Gross. But also so many more. The reading feeds the writing. When I write, I start longhand in a notebook that pleases me (another writer with a thing about stationery). I write in pencil, and not infrequently, I do this on the move, while walking. Messy but effective. Often I can hear the line endings going in at this stage, and I just put a / and bash on. Next I copy it onto the computer, which immediately starts moving the poem into place. Then I draft, and draft. If all’s going swimmingly, by six or seven drafts it’s there. But there are poems with drafts so numerous I have to start re-numbering again… This is not usually a good sign. But the start of writing a new poem is so exciting, so wonderful, that’s why you do it.
If you would like to follow The Blogging Tour, two good poet friends of mine will be responding on Monday 24th February, so do look them up.
Jeff Phelps was second prize winner of the Stand open poetry competition in 2000. His novels, Painter Man and Box of Tricks, are published by the award winning Tindal Street Press. http://www.jeffphelps.co.uk
Sarah Hymas lives by Morecambe Bay and online at http://sarahhymas.blogspot.co.uk/. Her collection Host is published by Waterloo Press. Her pamphlet Lune was featured in the Guardian 2013.