There are limits to what we can hold on to

We pick things, pull things,
up from under, roots, weeds,
things we dropped, things to distract,
flowers to fill the spaces since vacated.
We pick things, pull things.

We keep things, store things,
in boxes, under beds, in sheds,
under sheets; your stool of support
where you watched us, running; out, off, gone.
We keep things, store things

things we didn’t know, then
how much we’d miss, later,
things we can’t pull up, now
no matter how deep we dig.

For my Nana Frances who died 13 years years ago on March 30th but is still very much with us, and her stool too.

WE HAVE EATEN ALL WE COULD NOT ACCEPT – IMBOLC

Come Imbolc / we’ve left the gate on the latch / waiting

Come Imbolc / turn us over and all else / out
We’ve left out straw to ignite ashes into action
Into obliteration / cleanse this dust / this despair

Come Imbolc / empty us / our bellies lie open
Eager to be burped / belched / unburdened
We have eaten our own fears and grown fat

Come Imbolc / there’s an empty bed / for later / after
And the gate is off the latch / has long been off
while we waited and the door has long creaked of welcome

Winter stayed too long / we grew weak / under its weight
Under all this waiting / swallowed all we did not want to see

Come Imbolc, carve the fear from the tissue we’ve choked on
That festered in these bellies / come bring it out / unbirth it

Tomorrow we will light a candle / burn the memory
and the ash / the ash will turn to notes as we sing of your return.

Imbolc is the festival celebrating the beginning of Spring and I wrote this poem based on a Poetry Prompt from Catherine Ann Cullen, poet in Residence at Poetry Ireland via Twitter on St. Brigid’s Day which was the 1st February 2021

I read this poem on last weekend’s episode of Eat the Storms, the Poetry Podcast…

THE MINDS BEHIND THE MADNESS- THE HEDGEHOG POETRY PRESS- OZ HARDWICK

At Home with the Hoglets

Beginning with A Restricted View from Under the Hedge to Sticklebacks and on to The Cult of the Spiny Hog, along with a classic collection of inspirational writers, Mark Davidson and his poets are turning hoglets into must-have bookshelf desirables. Over a series of interviews with the poets and Mark himself, we’ll explore what it takes to put pen to page, poem into print and pamphlet onto that prized position on every reader’s bookshelf.

Today I am joined by Oz Hardwick, author of, among others, Wolf Planet, The Lithium Codex and Learning to have Lost, the first two of which were published by The Hedgehog Poetry Press. This fan of prose poetry and Hawkwind rock will also join me on the Poetry Podcast Eat the Storms this Saturday (20th Feb 2021) to share some of his work with us. For now, let’s dig into how that work arrives on the page.


Thank you so much for taking the time to share your rumination and routine with us today Oz. Let’s set off…

1 Why did you write this collection, what is it about and what would you like the reader to take away after they turn the last page and find that perfectly prized place for it on their bookshelf?

I wrote Wolf Planet because I had to – which on the one hand isn’t as pretentious as it sounds, but on the other, it probably is. I’m a compulsive writer and write every morning before shifting my headspace into work mode, so I produce a vast number of drafts, sketches and ideas, which I’ll then go back to and see what I can make of them. What happens is that I sometimes find certain preoccupations rising to the surface, and I start circling them like seagulls over a skip, swooping and picking at them. Then, I take the resulting unsightly mess and strip away all the bits I don’t need until a poetry sequence is revealed, all shiny and slightly awkward.
Really, since about 2018, with the 50th anniversary of Apollo 8 first orbiting the Moon – the first humans ever to be out of sight of the Earth! – I’ve been rediscovering my schoolboy enthusiasm for space, but in a metaphorical sense. Coupled with this, for who knows what reason, the Big Bad Wolf started cropping up in a number of guises. And then the magic – or at least fairly polished sleight of hand – took place.
So, it was a mix of quite possibly unhealthy obsession and utter frivolity and play.

2 My chillout time comes from cooking, endless hours lost in the kitchen along with a blaring radio of eclectic tunes and golden oldies, but I can only chill when the cupboards are well stocked with the basic ingredients. Firstly, what is your chillout routine, your escape from the pen and all the pondering and, secondly, what are the basic ingredients you need when it comes to settling down to write- what factors or futons make the best mix for your creations?

Quite simply, I don’t chill out. I’m always doing something. I guess that the act of creating is my equivalent of some sort of mindfulness meditation. I can lose myself in engaging with ‘art’ – in all its forms – to the extent that I forget to eat and, if left to my own devices, not leave the house for days. And I feel great doing that. That said, I do like varying what I do, so I like playing about with musical instruments and weird noises. I’ve no real talent, but great enthusiasm, so I occasionally play bass in a trio with a couple of proper musicians, just for fun, and I’m part of another trio called The Forgotten Works (a Richard Brautigan reference) with the poet Amina Alyal and the musician and sonic whizz Karl Baxter, which involves words, music, strange noises, lights, and improvisation around a structure. I’m really looking forward to doing that again. Oh, and I trained as a photographer and still do a bit of that. And music journalism for RnR magazine. And …
You’re probably getting the picture, and it will come as no surprise that I don’t particularly have rituals and formulae around writing – I just do it first thing in the morning, then pick it up whenever the opportunity arises.

3 Sticking with the cooking analogy for a moment, do you follow a specific recipe for writing or do you throw all the ingredients into the bowl and see what happens?

Initially, it really is just whatever’s in the fridge, even if it doesn’t sound like it’ll go together. But then there’s the process of blending and cooking which, though not following a recipe, have been learned from years and years of daily practice. Also, while I’m not concerned about the ingredients, I am, however, very fussy about the bowl, which has to be the right colour and ring in E-flat when I run my finger around the top. Which is to say, although my writing can have all the appearance of being rather shambolic, I am actually very disciplined indeed.

4 In these days of social media, you’re nothing if you’re not seen and in these unsettling, uncertain days of Covid, seeing, listening and buying has moved online and readings and live launches in libraries and lounges are a rare happening or else there is a limit to the amount of people in attendance. How are you dealing with having new collections coming out right now?

I’m not a fan of things online, purely because my brain doesn’t really process things very effectively in that way. However, I do like to stay in touch with the world as a not entirely passive observer, so every few weeks I’ll join in with something literary. When it came to Wolf Planet, I was quite fortunate, in that it was before everyone was completely Zoomed out, so it pulled a good audience. And I didn’t want it to be just another slightly pixelated face on a screen, so I had a sequence of background slides I’d taken, an atmospheric, spacey drone that my schoolfriend Age Lundstrom recorded based on my breathing, a couple of cheap pocket synthesisers, a musical box., a tambourine, tuned wine glasses, and God knows what else, and did a manic one-man-band multimedia performance of a selection, followed by a Q&A. Absolute nightmare to do because, essentially, I don’t have enough arms – and an extra brain may have been useful – but I got marks for effort and sold a few books. My day job these days, like a lot of people’s, involves hours of faces on screens and dodgy sound quality, so I think one needs to make an effort if one is hoping to get people to give up an hour or so of their evening.

5 What is your way of being seen? How are you coping with the fact that being a writer today also requires a certain amount of spotlight, certainly more than the days of Ms. Dickenson?

I accept pretty much any invitation I get, but I hate approaching anyone. I’m somewhat stereotypically British when it comes to self-promotion and, taking a very brief dip into brutal honesty, I have pretty much no self-confidence or self-belief, which makes me a rather poor advocate for myself out in the world. I’m also painfully shy and, although I’ve developed strategies for dealing with that, I didn’t really talk to people much until I was around 30 and I still feel awkward. As you say, though, it’s something that has to be done, and I’ve got so used to being out of my comfort zone that I probably couldn’t find my way back. In fact, it’s probably been redeveloped into luxury apartments and I wouldn’t be able to afford it these days, anyway.

6 Speaking of being seen and getting noticed, how important are acceptances from writing journals and how do you deal with the rejection which comes, no matter how much acclaim you have received? The reality we must learn is that not everyone is going to love our work, which can be heart breaking as we’re basically offering up our poetic babies to be loved, though no one loves a baby as much as the parent. So what keeps you going? Head up and move on or hide out and wait till the hurt passes? What encouragement do you have for others starting out?

I don’t take it personally. Every journal, website, competition, anthology – you name it – gets a phenomenal number of submissions. Yes, a proportion of them will be awful, but I know enough about the art and craft of poetry to know that everything I send anywhere is not terrible. In fact, it’s probably pretty good (I’ll allow myself that). And I’ve judged enough competitions and done enough editing to know that there are always damn good poems that will, after an enormous amount of deliberation, be left out of a selection because there is space, or there are prizes, for an inflexibly fixed number of poems. Added to this, while I think that any competent competition judge will be open to any sort of poem that is written to the highest standards, a great many journals will have certain parameters of form – maybe even subject – within which they work. A journal devoted to avant-garde poetry with an environmental theme isn’t going to publish your villanelle about steam engines, however intricate, surprising, and moving it may be.
So, the advice is: get to know the journals you’re submitting to, so as not to build in inevitability of rejection (or waste your time and anyone else’s); then, don’t be dispirited if, out of the superfluity of good work received wherever, don’t take it as a dismissal if your poems aren’t selected. The mitigating caveat, of course, is that you don’t send bad poems, and the way to be sure of this is to commit yourself to getting to know what good poetry is by reading a lot of contemporary poetry and practising your own writing with diligence, discipline, and a degree of recklessness.

7 If you had to pick one piece of your own writing that most represents you what would it be and why and would you like to share it or part of it here with us?

Making clear from the outset that that it may or may not represent me, but could perhaps be seen as the midpoint in the general cluster of my work over the past five years, I’d maybe go for this one from Learning to Have Lost (Canberra: IPSI/Recent Work, 2018):

Origami
As you fold the sheets, it reminds me of the Great Origami Craze of ’68-’69. Wherever you went, there were people folding squares into something-or-other: frogs that hopped when you tapped them with a pencil, lotuses that opened to reveal Shiva, delicately balanced and winking. Some days, the air was so thick with planes that you had to fold bell-like umbrellas to keep their sharp noses at bay. On rainy days, gutters would become armadas of frigates and galleons, each bristling with guns that pinged matchstalks off passing traffic. Origami was prime time entertainment, there were special live broadcasts at breakfast time from the world championships in Mexico City, and soaps would end on a seemingly impossible crease, leaving the nation anxiously awaiting the outcome the following evening. As surgeon won the Nobel Prize for the first successful origami heart, and when those gloved astronaut hands planted the first origami stars and stripes on the Moon, the whole world held its breath and watched. You, being those few years younger, don’t remember it, but the way you fold the pillowcases, sharp edge to sharp edge, could have stopped paper clocks.

I’ve put the whole thing here because the unified whole is very much part of my process. Prose poetry has been called ‘the poem without lines’ but of course it’s actually the poem with just one line, and I think about that musical movement from first syllable to last in exactly the same way that I would in a lineated poem. Russell Edson, the great American prose poet, called it the shape of thought, which I think’s just perfect. I think of it like Gandalf blowing his smoke rings, only made of words. And this poem, amongst other things, squeezes the past into the present, draws a bit on my nerdiness – there’s an early appearance of that 1968 Apollo mission – and it has a confident internal logic that draws the strange into the everyday. I think that, taken as a whole, these same observations could be made of the body of work that I’ve produced since about 2016.

8 Writing poetry, more so than any other writing form, is often the art of peeling back, removing the unnecessary, eliminating lines to uncover the hidden truth- how bare does it get for you? How difficult is it, at times, to tell your story within the lines and framework of a poem? How comfortable is it to be naked with so few words to cover over the possible discomfort or is it just a part of the process you get used to?

Poetry is the place I feel least uncomfortable. My only concern within poetry is with truth to the poem, and there’s no sense of responsibility to anything other than words and form. This makes it all sound like head-up-the-bum aesthetic piffle, but it’s not. To head off at a tangent – something I do pretty much all the time, which is great for poetry but less so for answering simple questions – the cultural and political values I hold as a moderately bright and mature adult have in very small part shaped by politicians and political discourse; they are much more the product of the more subtle media of the arts. Confronted with a political slogan, one agrees or one doesn’t, whereas with a work of art – even non-verbal, non-representational art – it will ask you questions, challenge you, and then make you ask questions of yourself (and go on doing so), if you let it. I’ve always been open to that and, though I make no claims for my ability to do likewise, it informs my approach to writing, or music, or whatever. So, to return to your question before I completely forget what it was, I’m constantly digging down to find the words that express the things that are deeper than the statements and revelations; and in doing that, whatever it is that I’m approaching – and there are some of The Big Questions in there – I’m sufficiently single-minded that I kind of almost forget that I’m even part of the process. Life’s big, art’s big, and I’m very, very small indeed. That keeps everything in perspective.

9 When it comes to titles, our pieces as I said, are like children- each needing special consideration and attention- how do you name your poems, short stories, collections or novels- is the name a starting point, a midway consideration or a summation of the theme afterwards? Sometimes I worry when I come up with a really great title it might overpower the poem itself- is there a balance between the two?

Titles always come afterwards for me, and they can take a long time. They can change, too. Every verse paragraph in Wolf Planet started out as an individual prose poem, with its own title and on its own page, but when that shaping started to take place in earnest, I decided that they spoke more directly to each other with these layers of formality removed. I’m currently working on a joint collection with Amina Alyal, and I know some of the titles will change – as will details of the poems – as they settle into a sequence and the conversation between them becomes more nuanced and layered.

10 For myself, writing started in childhood as a purely cathartic process, even if I was too young to fully understand this, it was a way of self-analysing and coming to an understanding of the world and my place within it. How did you find your way to writing and what was it about the process that kept you hooked?

I grew up in a fairly small house, with my sister, my parents, and my mum’s parents, and I was very close to my grandfather. He’d worked on farms for most of his life, from being a shepherd up in the Lake District to estate management, and although he’d not had much of an education, he had a passion for the Lake Poets and Robert Burns, and he wrote poetry himself. He was also a self-taught musician and would play old folk songs on the mouth organ and melodeon. I think I got the love of words and rhythms by a process of osmosis from him, and it just seemed a natural thing for me to be doing. Also, as I said, I was very awkward socially, and the world of books was very welcoming, so I also had a sense that I wanted to actively participate in that world of words. Although I enjoyed novels, though – particularly fantasy, and Mike Moorcock was an enormous influence on me – I never really wanted to write them myself, and was much more interested in the texture of language and resonant moments than narrative. And here I am 50 years or so later.

11 For the most things that fulfil me in life, the surrounding visuals are very important, and over the past few years the relationship between the photograph I take and poem I write becomes integral to the success of both- sometimes I never know which inspired the other more. What is your favourite accompaniment while creating a piece of writing?

I can write pretty much anywhere, but if I am given a choice, it will be accompanied by some very dense space rock – some really thick, layered Hawkwind. I love the band – and their approach to poetry and spoken word within those intense electronic soundscapes absolutely blew me away when I first heard it – and I find them excellent for creating a little self-contained pod of creative focus. On the other hand, a selection of Morris dance tunes is almost as good, but I couldn’t analyse why that’s the case.

12 The more I write, the more it becomes my oxygen, the more my hand shapes itself to the shape of my favourite pen or now my iPhone which has replaced the laptop as the most at-hand instrument to record my thoughts, and these days I have to catch them quick or they are lost forever. As a kid I wanted to be a famous fashion designer and lived in 4 different countries working for various fashion brands, though the writing was always there. Since then, cooking and photography have come more into the forefront. What were your childhood dreams, what were the jobs that followed to fulfil them or just fill time and what, other than writing, would you consider doing in order to express yourself?

I’m of that age where everyone wanted to be an astronaut and, as I suggested earlier, on a metaphorical level I think that’s what I do: I strap myself in an spin into the void, looking at all the weird stuff on this odd planet which is equal parts familiar and absolutely alien. It’s the same age that, a couple of years later, everyone wanted to be pop stars or rock musicians, and I wanted to be bassist in a space rock band and do a bit of the spoken word thing as well (I’ve never kidded myself that I could sing). While that didn’t really happen, there are a couple of records out there with me on them, and I’ve had the pleasure of faffing about on stage with all manner of talented musicians – including a few former members of Hawkwind, on occasions. What I actually did was train as a photographer, and I was pretty good, but don’t have the personality for it. I’ve had a lot of stuff on album covers, and in magazines and books, and so on, but never made a living out of it and have done some pretty dire jobs – I spent most of the 1980s spot welding cars on a production line! But writing’s always been a passion and, just before I hit 30, I took a degree in English and Art History and have managed to be engaged with literature and its interfaces with other artforms ever since.
Whether any of it’s published or not, I can’t imagine not writing. As for what else I’d do to express myself – I already do it. Having said that, if ever I had the time (and money), I’d like to go from messing about with a few little odds and ends to explore electronic sounds a bit more. I love the organic and unpredictable character of modular synths and the way that with them, too, you can really excavate down to that area beneath the constraints of language.

Thank you so much for taking the time to share your thoughts, insights and mental workings with us. It’s been a pleasure to dive inside your head from the comfort of our own armchairs. Before we depart, if you were to leave us with one line, one phrase, one lyric, a one-liner or a once-in-a-life-time admission, either yours or someone else’s, what would it be?

‘Sometimes life is merely a matter of coffee and whatever intimacy a cup of coffee affords’ – Richard Brautigan.

You can find Oz Hardwick and both his collections The Lithium Codex and Wolf Planet here…

THE MINDS BEHIND THE MADNESS- THE HEDGEHOG POETRY PRESS- DARREN J BEANEY

At Home with the Hoglets

Beginning with A Restricted View from Under the Hedge to Sticklebacks and on to The Cult of the Spiny Hog, along with a classic collection of inspirational writers, Mark Davidson and his poets are turning hoglets into must-have bookshelf desirables. Over a series of interviews I will ask the same 11 questions to a group of Hedgehog poets and Mark himself, and hopefully we’ll uncover what it takes to put pen to page, poem into print and pamphlet onto that prized position on every reader’s bookshelf.

Today I am joined by Darren J Beaney, the poet with a masters in Creative Writing from the University of Brighton and creator of Flight of the Dragonfly Spoken Word event, once in Brighton and now a sensation online. His debut pamphlet is entitled HoneyDew and consists of 21 love poems. By the way, Darren got to spent time as a writer in residence in a human anatomy lab- I am so incredibly jealous of this. Let’s begin, scalpel please!

1 Why did you write this collection, what is it about and what would you like the reader to take away after they turn the last page and find that perfectly prized place for it on their bookshelf?

The poems in Honey Dew were all written for assignments as part of my MA in Creative Writing which I started back in the autumn of 2018. The bulk of the poems were written for one module – Poetry: Theory & Craft. The first poem to be written was Surfin’ Girl and the last was Honey dew. What is it about? Love. 21 poems of love. I hope that the reader will take that love is special and it can take many forms. Although honey dew is about my love for Jo (my wife) it is important to remember that we can love anything or anyone and how we share and express love is different for us all. It doesn’t have to be love hearts and valentines. Whatever it is and however it is, love can and should be celebrated, it makes us tick!

2 My chillout time comes from cooking, endless hours lost in the kitchen along with a blaring radio of eclectic tunes and golden oldies, but I can only chill when the cupboards are well stocked with the basic ingredients. Firstly, what is your chillout routine, your escape from the pen and all the pondering and, secondly, what are the basic ingredients you need when it comes to settling down to write- what factors or futons make the best mix for your creations?

Listening to records. I spent a lot of my time listening to music, but my real chill out routine is to sit in a particular chair that is set up to catch the “sweet spot” from the speakers and pop on a record, sit back and listen… Sometimes I’ll add in a can of craft IPA, then I am in full chill out mode!
I don’t have really have a writing routine. I guess how I wrote has changed since COVID. Prior to COVID a lot of my writing was for my MA, so I would have an idea in mind, it also meant that for the first time my writing wasn’t only concentrated on poetry (I wrote a play, a screenplay and a short story). In addition, my work meant that I would spend about 8 to 10 weeks away from home each year, with at least 4 trips overseas. Being away meant that I was usually quite prolific with my writing and being away would often provide me with some inspiration – sights, sounds, bars, beer. Now things are obviously different. I have been working at home since the beginning of March 2020 and have finished my MA; I have a small home office set up and do most of my writing at my new desk. I would say that most of my poetry will come from a good prompt or a set theme – I really enjoy the Hedgehog Challenges, although I don’t always manage to produce anything from them.

3 Sticking with the cooking analogy for a moment, do you follow a specific recipe for writing or do you throw all the ingredients into the bowl and see what happens?

Sometimes, but I have found that it is increasing rare. I tend to just go for it and see what happens. Then of course there is the editing. My one staple these days is to eventually send my work to my fellow Dragonfly and critical friend Barbara, she is always keen to read and offer comment and advice. I will then have a think about the comments and suggestions and edit some more.

4 In these days of social media, you’re nothing if you’re not seen and in these unsettling, uncertain days of Covid, seeing, listening and buying has moved online and readings and live launches in libraries and lounges are a rare happening or else there is a limit to the amount of people in attendance. How are you dealing with having new collections coming out right now? What is your way of being seen? How are you coping with the fact that being a writer today also requires a certain amount of spotlight, certainly more than the days of Ms. Dickenson?

We have been doing Flight of the Dragonfly since the beginning of 2019 and as soon as I knew that Hedgehog was going to publish Honey dew, I started to look forward to having the opportunity to launch one of our nights. Obviously, that didn’t happen quite how I had hoped with the launch being via Zoom – but in a way I think I preferred this as it meant that whole different audience got to see and hear me launch. How am I seen? Well, I try to use social media as best I can (although I haven’t worked Instagram out) and try to blog. Under the spotlight? I can cope, although I am not sure it is a spotlight, more like n occasionally staying into the fading glow of a bare 50W bulb.

5 Speaking of being seen and getting noticed, how important are acceptances from writing journals and how do you deal with the rejection which comes, no matter how much acclaim you have received? The reality we must learn is that not everyone is going to love our work, which can be heart breaking as we’re basically offering up our poetic babies to be loved, though no one loves a baby as much as the parent. So what keeps you going? Head up and move on or hide out and wait till the hurt passes? What encouragement do you have for others starting out?

I know full well that how I write is an acquired taste, but that is fine. I write my own way and always will do. I don’t do couplets, sonnets or ‘twee poems about springtime or lonely clouds. Rejection is all part of the process and ultimately should result in poems improving as I will always have another go at editing a poem that hasn’t been successful. However, it can be frustrating when I think a poem really fits with a particular journal, but that is the poetry way of things. I have a small collection that I wrote for my MA that is all about human dissection (for one module we had to be a writer in residence, and I chose to spend my time in a human anatomy lab), I have submitted to a number of journals without success, but I will keep trying.

6 If you had to pick one piece of your own writing that most represents you what would it be and why and would you like to share it or part of it here with us?

This is tricky and I have had to think hard about this as there are a few poems that I could pick. In the end I have gone for First date merry-go-round. This poem is about the first afternoon/evening that Jo and I spent together. We had met the night before at a party and had spent the whole night getting to know each other. We eventually left the part at about 8.oo in the morning and started to walk each other home (the party was in Hove and we both lived in central Brighton). We walked along the prom and stopped for coffee and then a beer and then stopped on the beach and drank more beer and slowly fell in love. I like the way I have described each of us – I haven’t changed much!

First date merry-go-round

The past woke from a rotating slumber
and the world heard it ask to be forgotten.

He speaks a language heard at punk rock recitals, reserved for eccentrics
and absent academics. He sports an illiterate haircut, dressing
as if old clothes are the sum of a fresh imponderable equation.
She beams all halo, winking at him with a blinding devilish twinkle.
She glides, alluring, captivating – kicking arse in daring dancing boots.

The buzz took over ways of walking, tales of talking
sights for seeing, the tune of thinking.

The mares and stallions eventually gallop
into a mix of golden embers – part dozing sun,
a bit waking moon. The enticing shingle has cast its songs and poems.
Another match made, a very real adventure set to begin.

And he knows what comes next.
If he tells her, will she agree?

7 When it comes to titles, our pieces as I said, are like children- each needing special consideration and attention- how do you name your poems, short stories, collections or novels- is the name a starting point, a midway consideration or a summation of the theme afterwards? Sometimes I worry when I come up with a really great title it might overpower the poem itself- is there a balance between the two?

This always varies. Sometimes the title is a prompt that I have used. Sometimes the title comes from the theme of the poem. There are two poems in Honey dew that had title changes a week before the pamphlet went to print. I do find that I now put a bit more effort into titles and it is part of the process that I really enjoy. If I do ever come up with a really great title, then I just have to put a bit more effort into editing the poem.

8 For myself, writing started in childhood as a purely cathartic process, even if I was too young to fully understand this, it was a way of self-analysing and coming to an understanding of the world and my place within it. How did you find your way to writing and what was it about the process that kept you hooked?

I didn’t really bother at school and poetry was all old-fashioned tosh as far as I was concerned. However my attitude to poetry changed in 1994 (I was not having a good time with my metal health and with dependency issues) when I heard Simon Armitage on the radio reading Hitcher from his Book of Matches. The next day I bought the book and found a love of poetry. Almost immediately I started to write down my thoughts and feelings and soon found myself writing regularly. Writing means my head doesn’t overflow with thoughts, I still find the process cathartic, but most of, now, I find that writing gives me a lot of pleasure.

9 For the most things that fulfil me in life, the surrounding visuals are very important, and over the past few years the relationship between the photograph I take and poem I write becomes integral to the success of both- sometimes I never know which inspired the other more. What is your favourite accompaniment while creating a piece of writing?

I don’t think I have one. When I am away I like to write in a bar, accompanied by a beer and whoever and whatever is happening around me. In the summer I like to walk to the local beach and have the sounds, sights and smells of the coast (and the sun). At home, right now I don’t really need anything, it is just home (and work), I am comfortable and I am lucky that I can just get on with thinking and writing.

10 The more I write, the more it becomes my oxygen, the more my hand shapes itself to the shape of my favourite pen or now my iPhone which has replaced the laptop as the most at-hand instrument to record my thoughts, and these days I have to catch them quick or they are lost forever. As a kid I wanted to be a famous fashion designer and lived in 4 different countries working for various fashion brands, though the writing was always there. Since then, cooking and photography have come more into the forefront. What were your childhood dreams, what were the jobs that followed to fulfil them or just fill time and what, other than writing, would you consider doing in order to express yourself?

The first memory of any aspirations that I have was wanting to be an astronaut. As a teen I didn’t really have any thoughts on work, yet alone a career. When I left school, I worked in a video shop. I then had a number of shit jobs (the worst one was in a factory making Gripper Rods) and periods of time when I didn’t work. In 1999 I got fed up with going nowhere and decided to get an education – I’ve not looked back since and now really enjoy my career!
If I could do anything I would like to be in a band, run a record label and run a microbrewery.

Thank you so much for taking the time to share your thoughts, insights and mental workings with us. It’s been a pleasure to dive inside your head from the comfort of our own armchairs. Before we depart, if you were to leave us with one line, one phrase, one lyric, a one-liner or a once-in-a-life-time admission, either yours or someone else’s, what would it be?

Well, it will have to be two things!

My motto – Onwards and Upwards.

And a lyric by Crass that has rattled around in my head since I was 14 –

Be exactly who you want to be, do what you want to do.

I am he and she is she but you’re the only you.
No one else has got your eyes, can see the things you see.
It’s up to you to change your life and my life’s up to me.
The problems that you suffer from are the problems that you make
The shit we have to climb through is the shit we choose to take.
Nothing has effect if you don’t recognise the cause.
If the programmes not the one you want, get up, turn off the set.
It’s only you that can decide the life you’re gonna get.

You can buy Darren’s book here…

For The Hedgehog Poetry Press, follow the link below…

THE MINDS BEHIND THE MADNESS- THE HEDGEHOG POETRY PRESS- ELISABETH KELLY

At Home with the Hoglets

Beginning with A Restricted View from Under the Hedge to Sticklebacks and on to The Cult of the Spiny Hog, along with a classic collection of inspirational writers, Mark Davidson and his poets are turning hoglets into must-have bookshelf desirables. Over a series of interviews I will ask the same 11 questions to a group of Hedgehog poets and Mark himself, and hopefully we’ll uncover what it takes to put pen to page, poem into print and pamphlet onto that prized position on every reader’s bookshelf.

Today we have Elisabeth Kelly, a teacher based in Southern Scotland who once worked as a TESOL teacher in Prague. Her collection Carbon will be out in May 2021 from The Hedgehog Poetry Press. She was recently published by the same press along with two other poets; Kate Young and Mike Yates, in the anthology Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité?

Thanks for taking part Elisabeth, let’s jump right in…

1 Why did you write this collection, what is it about and what would you like the reader to take away after they turn the last page and find that perfectly prized place for it on their bookshelf?

Carbon will be my debut pamphlet. I started writing poetry in March 2020 as Scotland went into a nationwide Lockdown because of the Covid-19 pandemic, and like that time the pamphlet is a mixture of positive, negative and more neutral feelings. This is why I chose to set it out using the structure of a Carbon atom to show that life for me anyway (Carbon being a fundamental building block), is always a mixture of pluses, minus and moments that don’t fit either.

2 My chillout time comes from cooking, endless hours lost in the kitchen along with a blaring radio of eclectic tunes and golden oldies, but I can only chill when the cupboards are well stocked with the basic ingredients. Firstly, what is your chillout routine, your escape from the pen and all the pondering and, secondly, what are the basic ingredients you need when it comes to settling down to write- what factors or futons make the best mix for your creations?

I have a young family, work part-time as an Early Years Educator and home educate my eldest son, so poetry for me is my chill out time. I don’t ever really settle down to write, I write when and where I can. Often in my head on a walk with my son, or when cooking tea and then I will get it down on paper, and begin to edit. I do find last thing at night, in bed, when the house is calm, my children a sleep and I can breathe is often a good time for free writing ( if I am not totally shattered!).

3 Sticking with the cooking analogy for a moment, do you follow a specific recipe for writing or do you throw all the ingredients into the bowl and see what happens?

I am a bit of a “throw into the bowl” in life generally! As I am quite new to writing I am still trying out lots of ways of doing and being, but no nothing specific currently.

4 In these days of social media, you’re nothing if you’re not seen and in these unsettling, uncertain days of Covid, seeing, listening and buying has moved online and readings and live launches in libraries and lounges are a rare happening or else there is a limit to the amount of people in attendance. How are you dealing with having new collections coming out right now? What is your way of being seen? How are you coping with the fact that being a writer today also requires a certain amount of spotlight, certainly more than the days of Ms. Dickenson?

My collection is due in May, and I was rather hoping to do a mix of online and in person events, but only time will tell! Online events have actually been great for me. I live in rural Scotland and due to my caring reasonability cannot really travel very far for very long so online events have enabled me to connect with and explore experiences I would never have had a chance to before. The spotlight it tricker, or more precisely trying to build your own light on social media platforms etc. I sometimes find this hard, the idea that you have to put yourself out there, that that is maybe as important as your words. I am thinking a lot about my use of social media, the instant hits of “likes” and the effect on my mental wellbeing. Currently my way of coping is to limit, be specific and also focus on using it for good like the wonderful supportive poetry community I have “met”.

5 Speaking of being seen and getting noticed, how important are acceptances from writing journals and how do you deal with the rejection which comes, no matter how much acclaim you have received? The reality we must learn is that not everyone is going to love our work, which can be heart breaking as we’re basically offering up our poetic babies to be loved, though no one loves a baby as much as the parent. So what keeps you going? Head up and move on or hide out and wait till the hurt passes? What encouragement do you have for others starting out?

I found this hard at the start. Rejection and also waiting to hear back! I think the more acceptances I received the more confident I became and now I am more balanced about it all. I had a bit of a light bulb moment early on when I was “rejected” from a new online Lit Journal, but when I came to read their first edition I realised my poem didn’t fit at all! So, it wasn’t about the poem necessarily and I think this is true of a number of pieces. I also did a small stint on the other side. Helping edit one edition of a Lit Mag and again this showed to me how personal choices are and all the other factors at play that have nothing to do with your poetry. Having said all that I got two rejections yesterday and I did have to take a moment to come out a little bit of gloom!

I now prefer to call it redirection! I did used to be a bit knee jerk and if I got redirection, immediately submit somewhere else to make up for it, but found I couldn’t keep up that kind of energy levels! Now I submit to journals I really want to part of for whatever reason, and then I re-evaluate and move on.

6 If you had to pick one piece of your own writing that most represents you what would it be and why and would you like to share it or part of it here with us?

Oh now this is hard! Content was one of the first poems I wrote last March/April time that I felt confident to put out there. It was for the Borders Writers Forum who I had just become a member of, but is probably sums up a lot of my poetry, personal, and short!


CONTENT
by Elisabeth Kelly

There is a moment
of completion.

A folding in of the day.
Tucking the corners around my
billowing mind.

I see you all
enveloped, packaged.
Safe.

7 Writing poetry, more so than any other writing form, is often the art of pealing back, removing the unnecessary, eliminating lines to uncover the hidden truth- how bare does it get for you? How difficult is it, at times, to tell your story within the lines and framework of a poem? How comfortable is it to be naked with so few words to cover over the possible discomfort or is it just a part of the process you get used to?

Do you know I am a bit of a waffler, and so having to really think about every word has been brilliant for me. What I love about poems is how you can capture so much in so little and then the reader brings there won stuff and adds on more layers. I also love it because I don’t seem to have the strength to think long term narrative so working on a moment or a feeling works for me.

8 When it comes to titles, our pieces as I said, are like children- each needing special consideration and attention- how do you name your poems, short stories, collections or novels- is the name a starting point, a midway consideration or a summation of the theme afterwards? Sometimes I worry when I come up with a really great title it might overpower the poem itself- is there a balance between the two?

I am truly dreadful at titles, all advice appreciated!

9 For myself, writing started in childhood as a purely cathartic process, even if I was too young to fully understand this, it was a way of self-analysing and coming to an understanding of the world and my place within it. How did you find your way to writing and what was it about the process that kept you hooked?

It was all about story telling for me, stories for myself to act out in the fields when playing alone, imaginative play I suppose, and then stories to tell friends, and then pen hit paper and I wrote many angst ridden teenage poems. Then I went to University and it all stopped, I lost faith in my writing, lost my way a bit generally and got sucked into a life where writing played no part. Now, middle aged I am finding my way again.

10 For the most things that fulfil me in life, the surrounding visuals are very important, and over the past few years the relationship between the photograph I take and poem I write becomes integral to the success of both- sometimes I never know which inspired the other more. What is your favourite accompaniment while creating a piece of writing?

My husband is an amazing artist and sometimes he will inspire me with a doodle, otherwise it is just my mind. I tend to visualise the feeling or moment I am trying to create and the use words to describe it.

11 The more I write, the more it becomes my oxygen, the more my hand shapes itself to the shape of my favourite pen or now my iPhone which has replaced the laptop as the most at-hand instrument to record my thoughts, and these days I have to catch them quick or they are lost forever. As a kid I wanted to be a famous fashion designer and lived in 4 different countries working for various fashion brands, though the writing was always there. Since then, cooking and photography have come more into the forefront. What were your childhood dreams, what were the jobs that followed to fulfil them or just fill time and what, other than writing, would you consider doing in order to express yourself?

I wanted to be a writer, always. But I became a Bar Manager, then a Software Account Manager, Marketing Sales Account Manager, then a TESOL Teacher in Prague and now a Principal Early Years Teacher. Which I love. I get to help people instil a love of literature and creativity in young children. Oh and I became a Mum to two wonderful, all consuming children.

Thank you so much for taking the time to share your thoughts, insights and mental workings with us. It’s been a pleasure to dive inside your head from the comfort of our own armchairs. Before we depart, if you were to leave us with one line, one phrase, one lyric, a one-liner or a once-in-a-life-time admission, either yours or someone else’s, what would it be?

“and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings” from To Know the Dark by Wendall Berry

Elisabeth will be my guest on the Poetry Podcast Eat The Storms this weekend, the new episode drops Saturday 6th Feb at 5pm on Spotify, Anchor, Podbean. Apple and Google Podcast platforms.

You can find Elisabeth Kelly here at her WordPress blog where you can also purchase Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité?

For The Hedgehog Poetry Press, follow the link below…

All photographs by Elisabeth Kelly.

THE MINDS BEHIND THE MADNESS- THE HEDGEHOG POETRY PRESS- MARTIN MALONE

At Home with the Hoglets

Beginning with A Restricted View from Under the Hedge to Sticklebacks and on to The Cult of the Spiny Hog, along with a classic collection of inspirational writers, Mark Davidson and his poets are turning hoglets into must-have bookshelf desirables. Over a series of interviews I will ask the same 11 questions to a group of Hedgehog poets and Mark himself, and hopefully we’ll uncover what it takes to put pen to page, poem into print and pamphlet onto that prized position on every reader’s bookshelf.

Today, for the first interview of 2021 we are joined by Martin Malone, whose collection of poems Larksong Static: Selected Poems 2005- 2020 was published by The Hedgehog Poetry Press in 2020 and I was fortunate to hear Martin reading from his collection at a Hedgehog group Zoom launch recently and am very pleased to say Martin will also read his work on season 2 of the poetry podcast Eat the Storms.

Thank you very much for joining me Martin, let’s get started…

1 Why did you write this collection, what is it about and what would you like the reader to take away after they turn the last page and find that perfectly prized place for it on their bookshelf?

I suspect my answer to this one will be different to other interviewees in so much as Larksong Static is a ‘Selected’ sequence, taken from my first three collections and various pamphlets. Though, the fundamental question of why I might have written it is universally applicable, I guess. In and of itself, writing is such an odd pursuit, particularly now, in these almost post-literate times. And poetry somewhat blurs the distinction between audience & practice; since, more than any other literary artform, it tends to be read most by people who themselves write. So, understanding the vague madness or love that moves one to write verse is perhaps not so difficult for the poetry readership. What this collection – or any other – is ‘about’, in a specific sense, is also far less important than it might be with, say, a novel; since poetry is about leaving interstitial spaces of detail, context and meaning in each poem, for the reader to inhabit. In this additional sense, poetry is a facilitative and participatory artform, which is why one of its chief social powers is an innate ability to promote human empathy. What the reader wants to take away from my stuff is, then, entirely up to them. Though I suspect they might intuit a distinctive voice and, hopefully, my poetry stinks of its own fox because that is what I look for in other’s work.

2 My chillout time comes from cooking, endless hours lost in the kitchen along with a blaring radio of eclectic tunes and golden oldies, but I can only chill when the cupboards are well stocked with the basic ingredients. Firstly, what is your chillout routine, your escape from the pen and all the pondering and, secondly, what are the basic ingredients you need when it comes to settling down to write- what factors or futons make the best mix for your creations?

My chillout has no set routine, which is what allows me that quality of relaxation in the first place. Presently, this tends to be dominated by the existence of a rather wonderful 7-year-old son, Fíonn, who sings his life into being each day and demands the sort of attention that’s a pleasure to give. Besides that, us walking on the lovely beach in Gardenstown with our border-collie, is another source of great relaxation. Artistically, I’ve been a songwriter far longer than I’ve been a poet and it’s a discipline I’ve found myself revisiting in a big way this year. I suggested to my band from the mid-80s that we might record the album which eluded us back then before one of us croaks, so this is planned for 2021 (in so much as anything can be planned these days). I’ve been cracking on with writing and demoing the music to send out as WAV files to the rest of the band throughout this year. Innocents Abroad’s Late Spring should come out on nice heavy-duty vinyl, sometime in 2022. What’s good for me with this project is that I’m not responsible for the lyrics. I just wanted to shut up and play my guitar and rediscover my old sound engineering chops, which nowadays you can do on a laptop without needing to haunt the studios I once worked in. So, the plectrum is my escape from the pen. Should anyone be remotely interested in stuff I’ve done in the past, this playlist on Soundcloud is half-decent: https://soundcloud.com/user-666655071/sets

In terms of writing conditions, the poem or the deadline dictate to me far more than any ‘routine’ as such. I’m just not that kind of writer. Poetry’s great power comes from its own insistence upon coming into being, and this can arrive from anywhere at any time and doesn’t always have to result in a poem. Larkin had something interesting to say on this subject: about how, often, the best poems are lost but those that are written, nevertheless, satisfy the deep need for their own existence. I paraphrase.

3 Sticking with the cooking analogy for a moment, do you follow a specific recipe for writing or do you throw all the ingredients into the bowl and see what happens?

I don’t, Damien, no. Poems can announce themselves quite randomly, or sometimes they’re carried about in my head for months or even years. I’m quite willing to lose some in this way, just so long as the ones that do get written receive the attention they demand of me…and then the real discipline of redrafting, editing and knowing when to set aside.

4 In these days of social media, you’re nothing if you’re not seen and in these unsettling, uncertain days of Covid, seeing, listening and buying has moved online and readings and live launches in libraries and lounges are a rare happening or else there is a limit to the amount of people in attendance. How are you dealing with having new collections coming out right now? What is your way of being seen? How are you coping with the fact that being a writer today also requires a certain amount of spotlight, certainly more than the days of Ms. Dickenson?

We tend, these days, to panic somewhat and fail to credit poetry with its great ability to linger, often beyond the lifetime of its author. I think this is maybe because we’re conflating it with a ‘status’ conferring product as opposed to what it, more truly, is: marks in time, which, if done well transcend their historical moment of composition, if even only for family or those who knew us. Surely, this is a magical gift in such a superficial and soulless world. Actually, this has always been poetry’s gift, we’ve just lost sight of the fact and fail to make our peace with it in the face of performative pressures that confuse career path with artistic journey. After working in the music industry, I came gladly into the poetry world because I thought – wrongly as it turns out – that its tiny economies of scale would filter out the bullshit. As ever, Seamus Heaney has a quote to sum it up for me: when asked why there was so much bitching and back-biting in the poetry world, he said, “Ah, what you have to understand is that the stakes are so low.” For me, then, the best way of ‘being seen’ is to be a seeing being who produces work good enough to last beyond the fads of contemporary taste. Same applies with a lot of music: some of that 80s stuff sounds comical to my ears now, because it was so obsessed with the production techniques of the time that it lost itself in the mix. Poetry puts down deeper roots. Live with that and forget some bogus notion of a ‘career’. I’ve seen that world. It makes me laugh. And the reason I like Mark Davidson so much is that he totally gets this. He does his thing and produces beautiful books. We should do likewise. Of course, I’m prone to social media, like anyone else. It’s our not-so-secret shame. But you’ll find I am self-promotion lite. There’s a law of diminishing dignity which kicks in if you’re not careful. My books sell out in their own good time. My readers like my stuff well enough. That’ll do me. I am literally just getting over COVID as I write this and I can tell you, the last thing on my mind was whether my book was getting attention. Good books can take care of themselves.

5 Speaking of being seen and getting noticed, how important are acceptances from writing journals and how do you deal with the rejection which comes, no matter how much acclaim you have received? The reality we must learn is that not everyone is going to love our work, which can be heart breaking as we’re basically offering up our poetic babies to be loved, though no one loves a baby as much as the parent. So what keeps you going? Head up and move on or hide out and wait till the hurt passes? What encouragement do you have for others starting out?

You will have correctly intuited that I am a bit ‘old school’ in some respects, so my ass is of rhino hide. Though this state-of-affairs comes at the end of a long process. Nowadays, I tell my students that the sooner they learn to love their rejections the better it’ll be for them. They always teach you something, if only to confirm your suspicions of certain magazines or publishers’ wider agendas, which might not necessarily be to do with publishing the best poetry but something else. That is entirely their prerogative and there’s no use upsetting yourself over it. More often, it’s because your work is not quite good enough yet or doesn’t quite fit the drift of a specific issue, or just misses out because the editor had 20 poems competing for each slot and you came second behind the one that made it. Similarly, with competitions, it’s a lottery. My best collection, The Unreturning got returned by a ‘major’ poetry imprint from the big-name editor who had clearly not got where I was coming from and dismissed the book out of hand. HOWEVER, he had, at least, engaged with it on the terms the book demanded, so while he missed the point and went on to publish palpably inferior stuff that will nonetheless find an easier audience, it was the result of proper engagement. Them’s the breaks. The same book has just got a great review from Siobhan Campbell in Poetry Ireland because she, too, engaged with it on its own terms and was smart enough to see what it was about. As I say, good books can take care of themselves. Same with individual poems. Simon Armitage once told me that he papered his bedroom walls with all the rejections he got early in his writing. It happens to all of us. So, my advice is to get used to the disappointment and use it as a form of editing. I’ve been a magazine editor, so I know how impossible the task can be at times, though we always tried to publish the poems we felt deserved an outlet.

6 If you had to pick one piece of your own writing that most represents you what would it be and why and would you like to share it or part of it here with us?

Writers are always most in love with their latest work, so it’s impossible – and a bit reductive – to tie yourself down to one piece of work. And, as with the music I’ve made, I’ve always tried to make the next work different from what has gone before. Nevertheless, it would be disingenuous of me to ignore the fact that many poets achieve a quiet form of immortality via a single poem. I did my PhD in Great War poetry and this was particularly the case with many of those writers. So, today, for the sake of argument, let’s say that I pin my own sad little hopes on this excerpt from a longer poem sequence called Gardenstown, about where I now live:

Two hours back, you crept across
the sand to wait in darkness
on the rumour of otter and mink
alive in the dingle of Pishlinn Burn
or Den of Findon. Nothing came
but the dawn, nothing moved
but the shore’s slow reveal of kelp
and the raptor’s dark covenant
with the brae. Nothing brought
nothing but Crovie’s cute one-liner,
the skerry light’s cry for help
and the crescent gather of wave
off Pecking Craig: all give-and-take
and give, then taken-back-again.
No Eastering here but a coastline
of wave-cut and stonechat;
no inscape but a buckled mind’s
frailty for the April Lyrids’
random scatter of meaning
on the heaven-empty primrose.
Despite us all, spring comes
to the bay’s proscenium
in a spike of wild orchids
at the foot of Castle Hill;
with sea-campion and vetch;
with violet and stitchwort,
ragged-robin and celandine;
in the flitting of wren and pipit,
irruptions of gannet on water
and the musical comedy of eiders.
The tide slackens and stills
to the morning’s mood,
its lines flatten, its breathing
short. You walk out to the point
below the Head, inhale deeply
the coconut flowering of gorse
that has swept its wildfire
down the hillside…..

7 Writing poetry, more so than any other writing form, is often the art of pealing back, removing the unnecessary, eliminating lines to uncover the hidden truth- how bare does it get for you? How difficult is it, at times, to tell your story within the lines and framework of a poem? How comfortable is it to be naked with so few words to cover over the possible discomfort or is it just a part of the process you get used to?

I agree with you Damien: this is one of poetry’s unique charms. When I run workshops, I tell my students that poetry is very much like JENGA: what you’re aiming for with each poem, is the last viable and free-standing structure possible; whereby to add one word would be superfluous and to take out one more would bring the whole thing down. I’ve actually had groups play JENGA as an act of kinaesthetic learning about the editing/ re-drafting process. In terms of nakedness, I’d suggest that the ‘sex’ poem sequence at the beginning of my second collection Cur speaks to my ease with poetry’s occasional demand for absolute frankness.

8 When it comes to titles, our pieces as I said, are like children- each needing special consideration and attention- how do you name your poems, short stories, collections or novels- is the name a starting point, a midway consideration or a summation of the theme afterwards? Sometimes I worry when I come up with a really great title it might overpower the poem itself- is there a balance between the two?

I’d say you should always try to work your poem titles as hard as possible: to provide context which allows you to strip back the need within the poem; or take the poem off into another direction completely by way of dislocation, say; or as a hook line from within the poem itself. There are many aspects of this fine art. In terms of naming whole collections, similar terms apply. For my first collection, The Waiting Hillside, I stole a trick from the great American novelist John Irving and made the title the final phrase of the book, so that it seemed like the whole drift of it was towards its final moment. It was a way of conferring some sense of structure on a collection that might, otherwise, seem like a disparate group of poems. With Cur I simply wanted a very strong central image that reflected the visceral nature of some aspects of male sexuality celebrated at the heart of the book. I doubled down on this with the wonderful cover image I found from a female Australian artist. The Unreturning was a way of describing the Great War dead that I’d not come across until I was waiting to meet a friend for coffee one day beside the war memorial in Lutterworth, Leicestershire. I think if you do come up with a great title for something, the onus is upon you to make what follows live up to it. So, a good title might be a useful spur to get you to up your game.

9 For myself, writing started in childhood as a purely cathartic process, even if I was too young to fully understand this, it was a way of self-analysing and coming to an understanding of the world and my place within it. How did you find your way to writing and what was it about the process that kept you hooked?

I honestly don’t think I can better your description of it here, Damien. It was the same for me. Nurtured, perhaps, by a few significant friends or teachers. You’ll notice that Larksong Static is dedicated to the memory of two wonderful English teachers I had in my raggy-arsed comprehensive school in the 1970s and early ‘80s: Bob Lewis and Gerry Breen.

10 For the most things that fulfil me in life, the surrounding visuals are very important, and over the past few years the relationship between the photograph I take and poem I write becomes integral to the success of both- sometimes I never know which inspired the other more. What is your favourite accompaniment while creating a piece of writing?

Again, I find some resonance of my own with this. Oblique meditations on your own practice, via a secondary form, can work wonders for your poetry at times. While writing The Waiting Hillside, which is a time-torn collection of sorts, I too, did a lot of photography because I find it quite close to poetry’s deep-wired relationship with time and the moment, and the ephemerality of the moment that can yet be fixed in time through art. By the time I was writing Cur, my love of the visual arts – in particular, 20th century British and European artists – was parlayed into a sequence of ekphrastic responses to favourite art works; which was, in itself, an oblique love letter to my son’s mother who’s an art historian and curator. As a subject for new poetry, the Great War is its own literary and artistic chronotope encouraging integration across time, space and culture. So, The Unreturning always aspired towards that German notion of Gesamtkunstwerk, which was appropriate for the times it described, I guess. However, the book precluded any cover artwork, since it is impossible to use a World War One based image that doesn’t lead expectation in some way, and I wanted the poems to speak for themselves. Hence the title and the Payne’s Grey only. And now, as is evident from the very fine linocut that is the cover of Larksong Static, I’m doing a lot of collaborative work with the great printmaker of the Banffshire coast, Bryan Angus, whose work I admire and with whom I share a certain outlook and sensibility. Poetry ought to be able to stand on its own two feet on the page but, like everything else, the overall aesthetic package is important not only at a cosmetic level but as a genuine agent of change for the way you write. Visual art certainly helped get me beyond the potential bondage of that lyric ‘I’, for instance.

11 The more I write, the more it becomes my oxygen, the more my hand shapes itself to the shape of my favourite pen or now my iPhone which has replaced the laptop as the most at-hand instrument to record my thoughts, and these days I have to catch them quick or they are lost forever. As a kid I wanted to be a famous fashion designer and lived in 4 different countries working for various fashion brands, though the writing was always there. Since then, cooking and photography have come more into the forefront. What were your childhood dreams, what were the jobs that followed to fulfil them or just fill time and what, other than writing, would you consider doing in order to express yourself?

I think I may have already answered this in passing. But I recall my childhood dreams involved living in Ireland or northern Scotland, so that’s OK because I do. If I stick with those, I’d have also been a big number 9 for Everton and smashed a hat-trick against Liverpool, or, as per my only English vice, scored a Test century in a tight Ashes match. So much for childhood. As I got older, I fell into the classic traps of English culture and its odious class-system: I did Literature at university but, being the first kid from my working-class family to go to university felt I had no permission to actually ‘write culture’ myself. So, I parlayed my creativity into rock music, from where I could more easily access a wonderful array of empowered punk & post-punk role models. This lasted pretty much until an afternoon on Uffington Hill in 2004, when suddenly flying a kite with an 8 year-old appeared to be more rock n’roll than the latest album I was working on, and the complicated epiphanies of that moment no longer seemed capable of being reflected in the classic verse-chorus-verse-chorus-chorus structures of a pop song. I was 42 and needed to know better. However, after years of abeyance, the muscle memory takes me back to that world with ease and I’m happy to mix the two. That OK for you?

That’s perfect Martin, thank you so much for taking the time to share your thoughts with us. It’s been a pleasure to dive inside your head from the comfort of our own armchairs. Before we depart, if you were to leave us with one line, one phrase, one lyric, a one-liner or a once-in-a-life-time admission, either yours or someone else’s, what would it be?

Somewhere in the heaven
Of lost futures
The lives we might have lived
Have found their own fulfillment.

Derek Mahon (Leaves)

You can find Martin Malone here…

For The Hedgehog Poetry Press, follow the link below…

Between the Sea and the Stars, There are Bright Lights

For Rhona Greene, Ankh Spice and Matthew M C Smith

Darker days catch brighter lights,
Sitting by bay-windows enriched with hope
Falling

Into dreams.
I close my eyes and we ride bikes
Where the sea sways to the beat of the shore,

We are Sandycove and silly,
We slip south; the sand now snow, a soft shuffle
Over waves now carpets of magic, laughing

At the drunkenness of things.
There is more between here and there, stranger
And strength, light and dark, hope

And the hand you’ve held out.

Giddy on gay, we set down
Where the sea’s swept sand into calcite crystals;
Fire flames under water’s edge reflecting
Where we’ll dance and catch fire before,
We too, expire into the sparkle
Of a star.

Everything is a cycle; the sea, the sand,
These shores, this journey, these holds, our hands
Slipping in and out, our eyes that watch this dream turn;

In the end, it is a kiss goodbye
To ignite a new beginning.

From a dune, that holds the knowledge
The day has not yet come to share,
A goat raises his head and we, to him,
Bow.

This is his shore
And we, now welcome guests.

In the space between us, already lined
With a billion steps of all that flamed before,
Rests the weight of all it took
To get here and the hope
Of all we have yet to unearth.

We are strangers that have known each other
Longer than the fires that will burn
Through our own place, our shared space,
Our already written fate.

We supper on tangerines
And the soft swallow of pink rose petals
That were once something else
And drink incorrigibly

Of this bubbling friendship that dances
On our tongues before we take our leave
While not completely parting.

The sea is now the sky
On the ever-forwarding spiral into what will be,
Almost home, we throw kisses down
to the last land before the air sets us down again
to Earth,
An ancient land where a voice whispers words
Into a bough that will bend forever
With blossom.

Darker days
But there is light in the palms
Of hands, hooves, voices rising up from under cloud,
under land, under time, deep,

Lights that build bridges to lives

And in each life
A house with an open door and a fire,
Burning.

We set down, finally
Upon the shore, Sandycove’s caress,
And Joyce whispering of ghosts
Still tending to the tower;

What is written can never truly expire.

Our bikes await,
Round wheels ready for the rest
Of the journey, those cycles

As the waves return to tickle our toes
With a scent we now know
While the snow falls,
Slow and suddenly
So rich.