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…

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