Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Not a Poet at Present

When I applied to go on the creative writing M.A. at UEA I was interviewed by Andrew Motion. I was applying to write long fiction, but I mentioned that I'd recently had a few poems published, and how much I'd enjoyed Les Murray's Subhuman Redneck Blues. "Yes," he agreed, "but you're being considered here for the fiction course." I agreed. "I'm not sure what I want to write, but I think its long form fiction."

Perhaps this was why I didn't get on the course. Who knows? I was interviewed by the novelist Richard Francis having read a short story of mine, and was on the Manchester M.A. in novel writing instead. One of the draws of the course was that the other tutor was poet-critic-editor Michael Schmidt. "I enjoyed the Sophie Hannah book you just published,"I told Michael, "I bought a copy for a friend." I'm not sure we talked about poetry anymore than that. I was there to write a novel after all. (Both Schmidt and Motion have of course written fiction - the rules are different once you're already published it seems.)

In the early 2000s i co-founded a poetry magazine "Lamport Court" - to which my own contributions (chosen by my co-editors) were a story and a long stream of consciousness extract from a "poem" that would eventually appear in my "poetry" book "Extracts from Levona." (I had to explain - and still have to explain that "Levona" wasn't a girls name, but in fact "a novel" backwards.)

When my collection "Playing Solitaire for Money" was published by Salt in 2010, I decided, reluctantly perhaps, that I should concentrate on poetry, after all, I'd had hardly any fiction published for years. It was important than some poems in that book were recent ones - as otherwise what sort of poet was I? One that didn't write poetry!

A few years ago Parameter magazine - a poetry magazine I'd long admired - published something of mine - but it wasn't a poem or a story, instead a cartoon strip called "Treeville" which was partially (but not entirely) about poets, but contained no poetry. 

Last year I wrote a poem about a washed up writer who could no longer write, but sat at the bar and was always referred to as a poet. The poem didn't quite work and a few months later I realised why - that it was really a short story, which I duly wrote.

Earlier this year I decided to put together the best of the poems I'd written since the Salt book, even though I knew Salt was no longer publishing single poem collections. The group of poets I'd met over the last few years were always putting together interesting projects as well which I'd sometimes contribute to. One of which, "Verse Kraken" the online magazine of hybrid art, I quickly submitted a piece to - it got accepted and only then did I realise, as it consisted of two pictures, with two soundfiles, that it was not even slightly a poem.

So now I've been trying to write some more fiction, having had stories accepted for two or three places recently, and yet I still write the odd poem. There are a dozen or so out there at the moment looking for homes in magazines. Whereas even last year I did quite a few readings, I've only done one  recently, at the St. Ann's book fair. When I read earlier in the year at Paradox I chose to read - at the last minute - a short story, not a poem (even though that's how I was announced!

Well, I've always written poetry, but I'm not a poet at present, though I even managed to write one last week in Amsterdam (and not a word of fiction.) Without a book out, or any readings due, what else can I say? But then again, (see above), I never have been, have I?

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