Thursday, 8 September 2016

Simon Turner - Attenuated Mansard
Responses to 'Appendix 2: A Test for Poets' in Martin Stannard's poems for the young at heart (Leafe Press, 2016), £10.00*

1) Aaaarrgh!

2) Define ‘popstar’: if we’re talking a critically successful alt-rock musician with a moderately sized but loyal fanbase – a Bob Mould, say, or a J. Mascis – then I would say ‘popstar’ without a second’s thought.  But the real appeal of poetry is in the fact that no one – and I mean no one – is watching; no one cares what we do, which might sound pessimistic, but I see it as a great opportunity.  If you have the dreams and ambitions of an entire generation of teenagers resting upon your every move and utterance and thought, coupled to the financial needs of a megacorporation who are just as dependent (if not more so) on your continued success, you have no real artistic freedom.  I'll admit that poets exist in the gloomy crevices between cultural productions that actually have some kind of impact in the real world, but they are, unequivocally, our crevices to do with as we please.  Errrr…

3) Any time you have a few minutes or an hour spare, I’d say.

4) The ego?  No role at all: to my mind, the role of poetry is to allow language free play do as it will.  The moment your ego steps in, it brings a shedload of inhibitors along with it: cultural, psychological, sociohistorical.  They just get in the way.

5) No, but it not mattering doesn’t matter.  See answer to 2.

6) Yes and no: there are poets who seem to get a lot of attention at the expense of lesser known lights how are far more talented, sure, but to call it an Establishment, as though there were a secret club that a poet could become a member of if only s/he climbed the greasy pole with enough alacrity, doesn’t feel all that helpful.  It’s useful when you’re a young buck, as anger’s quite energising when you’re just starting out, but it becomes exhausting after a while.  Besides anything else, I think that the current technological dispensation’s been really good for unknown poets, letting them disseminate work through channels running parallel with the more accepted, established publication structures.  Having said all this, the notion of a Poetry Establishment is useful for one thing, and one thing only, which is this: whenever I read a review by Sean O’Brien of a new poet he doesn’t like, that’s a pretty surefire way of tipping me off about fresh-faced writers that I’m bound to enjoy. 

7) Yes.  No doubt.  Not always well, but it can be learned, like any skill.

8) Subjects are for absolutist monarchs; poetry should have its eye on other matters.

9) I do remember, as a matter of fact, though couldn’t recite it verbatim.  It was rather a bawdy piece in rhymed quatrains with a jaunty iambic pulse about a bee that stings a buxom dinner-lady on her ample bosom.  Edward Lear by way of Donald McGill, in short.

10) (d)

11) Reasonable?  Probably not, but it’s not something I lose sleep over.  The best thing to do it so make up the shortfall by writing the best poems you can hope for yourself.

12) The poetry on the internet is a kind of poetry; the internet itself is a kind of 12th century Gothic cathedral erected in code.       

13) (a)

14) What’s it to you, hmmm?

15) To an extent: speech always wants to be heard, whatever form it’s in.  The act of writing poetry, though, is radically anti-social, which is one of the reasons I’m drawn to it as an art-form.

16) I tend not to have language / poetry dreams, though I do dream impossible books rather regularly.  One time, though, I did dream up a revolutionary system of transcribing dolphin speech, but failed to make note of it upon waking.  Silly man: that could have been my fortune.

17) (d)

18) Originality’s for the birds. 

19) Sometimes, but it’s not a given.

20) Probably, I guess.

21) I dunno.

22) No: the whole move of poetry has surely been to incorporate wider and wider subjects, and every era will have its own leanings and bugbears.  This is what’s so fantastic about poetry, right, that there’s an almost unbridgeable gulf between the architecturally-minded religious epics of Dante and the clerihew, between Pope’s brittle classicism and Whitman’s freeform cowboy strut through the American century?  An unbridgeable gulf, that is, in any world other than poetry.  That demented variety is not a glitch in the system; it is the system.

23) (a)

24) Plymouth.

25) It probably depends on how many references to early Hitchcock happen to be in them. 

26) (d)

27) It depends on the poem, but I’m not ruling it out in the future.  Beware of hard and fast rules, particularly hard and fast rules that have the faux whiff of liberation about them.

28) Ah, the whole ‘perfection in the life, perfection in the work’ conundrum.  I think it is possible, yes, but you’re liable to get less work done, as  by default you’ll have to take other people’s needs into account.

29) Every day, every minute: each poem’s an attempt to start again, and that’s how it should be.  I remember reading Roy Fisher’s account of writing The Cut Pages, of how at the start it was merely a means of getting his writing off the ground again after a period of block.  Most people would see that as maybe a cautionary warning, but I read it as a manifesto of sorts.  What if everything you wrote was a means of getting up off the ground again?  What if you wrote every poem as though it were your first, and your last?  What then?  Aye, what then?

30) I wold say ‘see answer to 29’, but that would be a lie, not to mention inveterately lazy.  I believe that it’s possible to fall out of love with the habit of writing, certainly, but I don’t believe in any real sense in writer’s block.  You can’t get deserted by the Muse, in part because the Muse simply don’t exist, but chiefly because there are millions of ways of getting back on the horse, writing-wise.  That’s the tough bit, naturally, but once you’re high in the saddle, well, it’s a different story.

31) (d)

32) Myself, and a small circle of friends.  If anyone else happens to be listening in, that’s lovely, but it's by no means necessary.

33) Obviously not, but there’s a two way street whereby each bleeds into the other. 

34) Absolutely, but the trick is to stay young whatever decade you happen to be stuck in the middle of.

36) Naah.

37) I refer you to:

38) (c)

39) It's a better policy to treat your whole career as though it were a plateau, I’d say.

40) Since when have poets of any age done anything gracefully?  Gah…

41) One of them dresses like Wednesday Addams on a particularly gloomy Sunday, and spends their working life adding cosmetic touches to lifeless, inanimate objects in order to give the impression of vivification for the benefit of emotionally fragile onlookers; the other is an undertaker. 

42) Soylent Greenleaf Whittier?  Yeah, why not?

44) Not one iota. 

45) Too many, I would wager: they are an impediment, for all their virtues. 

46) Yes; last Tuesday.

47) I should freaking well hope so: my legacy will be written across the stars, goddammit!

48) Aaaarrgh!

49) Zzzzzzzz……..

*No, I'm printing the questions, partly because it will be fun for you millions of readers out there in Digital Poetry Land to guess what I'm responding to, but also because you really ought to buy the book, as it's a hoot, and Leafe are a small poetry press very much deserving of your moolah.  Off you go.

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