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…

THE MINDS BEHIND THE MADNESS- THE HEDGEHOG POETRY PRESS- ROBIN MCNAMARA

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 are joined by Waterford based poet Robin McNamara. We may have to come back for another interview with him to find out about his favourite film and colour but, in the meantime, we get to hear all about his debut poetry collection Under A Mind’s Staircase which will be published in February 2021 by The Hedgehog Poetry Press.

Thank you so much for taking part in this series Robin, let’s fire away…

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?

Firstly before I answer that, I decided to get back into writing again in 2017 after many years in the wilderness for various reasons. It was my intention to get a collection published for the last few years and thankfully I achieved that aim in October of this year when Mark Davidson of Hedgehog Poetry Press approached me about sending a manuscript and immediately offered me a publishing deal. Because of the pandemic lockdown there was so much poetry coming out of me it was unstoppable, like there was an old soul inside of me telling me to write. I wrote the collection because I had stories to tell and things to say and I wanted to share my words with others. My collection is an eccentric mix, a kaleidoscope of words bursting with vibrancy but then you turn the page and a poem covers you in darkness. Be very careful because you don’t know what emotions you’re going to feel page by page. I don’t wish to define my collection into a particular category of emotions or topics. I let the readers determine what type of poetry creeps out from under the book. The poem that stays with you; makes you think a bit more. Poems that make you think and stop and muse about the way poetry reaches out to the subconscious thoughts that we ignore everyday in our busy lives married to technology. 

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?

When I’m not writing I’m watching sports on tv or constantly on my iPhone, during lockdown when I was writing my first collection I played the Xbox into the early hours, it was a great escape from everything and a reward to myself when I had done my daily discipline of writing a poem or two everyday. I never really do escape from my writing nor do I really want to. I’m constantly writing notes or poems into my iPhone or on a writing pad. I’m constantly getting ideas at 2am so obviously my creative time is midnight onwards I’ve written some of my more unique pieces then, which have been published. Basic ingredients for writing are darkness and demons and the twilight hour while the devil surfs the channels on the sofa beside me as I write my thoughts down into poetry. Leave your daytime head on the table forget about normal life, enter the twilight of the night writer’s imagination.

 “I never met a man who was content with all he did or all he achieved or rested soundly at night with his millions or with only pennies. He was always hungry for something.” 

Poets are like this, we can never write enough to be completely satisfied. We constantly write more no matter how many times we get published. This is what keeps me going the constant desire to write.

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 throw everything into the bowl of my mind, all my rage, frustrations, thoughts, fears and see what the results are and what the pen brings. Different days being different recipes, you might be in the mood for a dark poem one day and a philosophical one the next. I don’t  really understand my mind at best of times so I just accept what my creative brain throws out onto the page/iPhone etc. Sometimes the most basic ingredient can result in the most powerful poem. Sometimes a poem is best left to marinate over a week or a month with edits, rewrites and so on until it’s fully matured for publication. It can be like a fine wine too, the longer you leave it the better it tastes afterwards. Good poetry can’t be rushed.

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. Dickinson?

I would rather stick pins in my eyes than do a poetry reading and the same goes for zoom and such things. I get it, I really do, the attraction and the necessity of all this meeting and greeting and having an online presence with zoom meetings etc. I’m quite happy with how I’m doing via Twitter on having a presence in regards to highlighting my writing and I’ll have no problem in marketing and promoting my new collection in whatever capacity, but when it comes to a generalised meeting online for poetry festivals etc count me out! I’m quite content to be left alone to do my writing but yeah, prompting my book I’ve absolutely no issues doing so. I feel like I’m contradicting myself here so I hope it makes sense. I’m a bit of a social introvert but that’s how I’ve managed to discipline myself with writing every day. I definitely will do a pre-recorded recital of my poetry for your podcast, Eat the Storms, I’m up for supporting fellow poets in all their creative endeavours. I don’t mind a bit of the spotlight on me at a low wattage, it’s great to get recognised for your achievements and I’ll be in the local papers in January with an interview so I’ll be more well known then. It all helps to showcase my collection and people know me for my poetry and will buy the forthcoming book(s).

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’ll give you my experience of acceptances and rejections from this year. I only began to get more serious with my poetry from January of this year and during the summer I submitted poems to established places like Poetry Ireland Review which was a little bit ridiculous to be honest as I’m not that good yet. I did submit to some new literary sites and I considered the poems to be quite strong but when they were rejected I was quite annoyed especially when I received three rejections in three days. I began to question myself as a poet. This only made me more determined to get my poems accepted in literary sites and I ended up having about 45 poems accepted in October and November alone. So it proved to me my work was good enough especially when Mark Davidson of Hedgehog Poetry Press offered to publish my debut collection, it was validation that I was good enough. All poets have their underlying insecurity, “Am I actually good enough do people actually like my poetry?”

Always believe in yourself and look back at the rejections and see how those particular poems can be strengthened. I actually found a home for about five poems that were previously rejected so it’s all about the personal taste of the editors, learn not to take it too personally. I think the more established you become the easier it is to be accepted but it takes hard work and sheer determination, acceptances don’t just land on your lap, you’ve got to work for it. Let rejections inspire you to become a better poet!

If you’re starting out focus of writing poems then, when you have a small selection to choose from, go and submit as long as you follow the theme or guidelines given by literary sites you have as much chance as anyone. Submit to small poetry sites they’re always looking for new poets and unpublished poetry.

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?

To reiterate the answer give to question number one I’ll let the readers who buy the collection make up their minds about this. I can’t pick out one single poem as I’m still evolving as a writer so a current fave would be out of date by the time this interview goes live. I think all the poems represent a different part of my journey as a poet, a human being with the strengths and weaknesses I have, that we all have are encompassed within this first collection. I want the reader to explore themselves and make their own minds up which poems are relevant to how they feel or the mood they sense from a poem within the collection. I’ll get up off the shrink’s chair now (laughs).

7 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?

I don’t give it much thought to be honest, I try not to over analyse the process and then self-doubt myself in the process. In 2018 I was barely writing anything I had other creative distractions like writing for a sports blog. In 2019 I was slowly evolving as a poet and getting more work published but didn’t really have the writing discipline nor did I really study other poets styles for guidance, I guess I was still trying to convince myself I was good enough to take it more seriously than I was at the time. 2020 changed everything, I’d decided to do a writer’s course here in Waterford which opened my eyes a bit more as I met guest writers speaking at the course who spoke about their creative techniques and I totally got it, I understood their language and it was a revelation for me that I could be original and be the maker of my own destiny in writing. The pandemic lockdown of March to May was when it all clicked and I ‘became’ a poet, this was when I discovered how or what it was like to be a poet full time and I developed that hardcore discipline that’s helped strengthen my writing technique, style and quality of my poetry. It resulted in getting 70/80 poems published towards the end of August and throughout Autumn. That’s when Hedgehog Poetry Press started to notice me and offered me the publishing deal.  .

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 think the title of the poem if it’s interesting will draw the reader into reading the poem. I’ve tried to be clever with titles for poems, even experimenting with Latin, French and Italian titles to be a bit more sophisticated but I’ve learned not to place too much emphasis on this. I did write out a list of titles for the collection and used various working titles and eventually settled on Under A Mind’s Staircase. It’s unusual, unique and catches (hopefully) the buyer’s attention. I consider the book title to be quite important as you only have a fraction of a second to catch their attention. Having said that, I guess the title of the poems within the book take on a more meaningful significance as you want to draw the readers into reading a poem they think they may like or even relate to. That’s my goal as a poet to bring the readers inside to see what the actual poem behind the title is all about. Sometimes I work on a poem untitled until I finish it and only afterwards do I name the poems. I don’t think a title can actually overpower a poem if it’s good enough. 

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?

Writing poetry is quite therapeutic and it’s a great feeling of release, accomplishment and a buzz when a piece is completed. At the very beginning of my writing in 1997 or thereabouts it was love poems for ex-girlfriends so you can imagine they weren’t very good! I spent my childhood drawing and reading anything I could get my hands on, I certainly didn’t appreciate nor understand poetry as a kid, I was more into playing football and athletics. But I was a ferocious reader of comics, encyclopaedias, history books, biographies and later in life biographies of poets and writers like James Joyce, Robert Frost and Dylan Thomas. All this helped me to gain knowledge of the world around me. I eventually was drawn back to poetry in late 2017, I previously did not believe I could write anything like poetry which I’d considered to be a higher form of art for those who were quite intellectually developed and had a superior knowledge of the English language. I slowly but surely began to have more faith in myself when I discovered that nobody can tell you what you can and can’t do and what your limitations are. The sports writing gave me the belief that I was a good enough writer and so I naturally veered towards taking it more seriously with the publication of my first poem, God’s Waiting Room in 2018. There’s so much scope and really no rules in style or techniques that you can or can’t use in writing a poem, you just have to make sure it’s not crap! The experimental side of poetry and the unlimited amount of things you can draw inspiration from is what keeps me hooked. I’ve finally found the medium I’ve been searching for to release my creativity and I’ve never looked back since. The writing community is quite supportive for indie writers and although we strive to be published by established literary publications it’s not really that important but it’s nice if they recognise that your work is good. 

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?

I like to use fancy words or words I’ve learnt in a poem but not for the sake of sounding clever. If they don’t work within the context of a poem then I remove them. I’m always looking for the origin of a word and I have a list of words to use for inspiration to start a poem. That’s not really answering the question though is it? Sometimes I listen to music on my iTunes as it helps the creative flow of writing and can inspire. Very much like my poetry, I have quite an eccentric mix of music that I listen to, classical music, pop, hip hop, soul. My playlist also consists of the latest music from established artists and some more obscure and relatively unknown artists. Music, like poetry if it’s good, people will listen/read regardless of who it’s from. The connection to something creative is the most important thing and music definitely helps the creative juices flow. 

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’ll answer them back to front. For expressing myself other than writing I’ll give you an answer from a blog interview I did with Joe Cushnan for ‘A Dozen Questions’. Prior to lockdown last March, I was writing a script for a musical based on a famous football team. I had a cast picked out, musical director,  a musical score and a cast, with a well-known comedian in a lead role. Of course it didn’t leave base camp when the pandemic arrived. Doing a play or musical was never something I ever envisioned myself doing. Yes I know there’s writing involved but the whole theatre aspect of it being behind the scenes, getting a cast together creating something from nothing really appeals to me. Creating a story via music and acting for an audience would be a pretty cool thing to do. I’d love to do something with film or a tv documentary that would be really interesting, although I don’t think I’d have the patience! Childhood dreams consisted of being a professional footballer, long before money was the main motivation for a lot of young players. Then I wanted to be a soldier or was it the other way round? As I come from a fishing village I fished on my father’s boat during summertime then I worked in the local hotels during the summer holidays. I went to college to study Graphic Design then Advertising in Dublin and had a stint as a junior graphic designer in a studio in Dublin but it wasn’t really me. I ran away to Copenhagen where I worked at the Hard Rock Cafe in 1999, returned home 2004 got a job at Cartamundi (maker of Monopoly games) been there ever since. It’s my paying the bills job, my writing is my true vocation and represents who I actually am. It would be great to be involved in some kind of job that involves creativity like the theatre instead. 

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?

Damien why were the questions so hard??! Could you not have asked me what my favourite colour or film was??! I’m kidding. When I was in the depths of writing during the dark and quite months of lockdown when the world was still,  I felt that there was a presence with an old soul within me helping me to write my collection. I’m pretty sure it was my ancestor, an Irish speaking poet, Donnchadh Rua Mac Con Mara. An Irish priest who was a bit of a scoundrel getting thrown out of the priesthood for womanizing and drinking. He lived from 1715-1810. His name in English was Red Donough McNamara. Now I bet you weren’t expecting that answer. My collection was ghost-written!! 

Robin McNamara is on Twitter as @thewindingroad1 https://twitter.com/thewindingroad1 and his collection Under A Mind’s Staircase will be published by The Hedgehog poetry Press in February 2021.

THE MINDS BEHIND THE MADNESS- THE HEDGEHOG POETRY PRESS- VIC PICKUP

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 are joined by Vic Pickup who one day might have a poetry cafe that shuts when ideas rush in. So pull up a chair in the kitchen, grab a scone and let’s get started.

Thanks for taking the time to chat to me Vic, here we go…

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?

This sequence was a happy accident, really. It was only after seeing the competition, ‘A time to think’, advertised by Hedgehog Press that I assembled the poems I’d written during lockdown and realised there was a theme emerging on its own. The sequence describes a kind of journey – although covering seemingly disparate subjects, I think the poems hold hands nicely and are sympathetic to each other’s feelings!  I hope Lost & Found is accessible enough for readers to relate to personally, and  feel ultimately strengthened and uplifted as the pamphlet concludes. 

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 three children so a bit of quiet to contemplate life is always welcome! I love walking, I am also an avid baker. I have a terrible sweet tooth so those two combined aren’t ideal! Sitting with a good book or film and my cat Freddie (after the great Mr Mercury) is a lovely thing indeed. When I do get the chance to write, I don’t need much – a window of time, a nice big tankard of coffee, and a laptop – I find I can type quicker than I can write and often it’s a challenge to keep up with my head! 

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 find the more I think about a poem, the more I ‘lose’ it. Come to think of it, overthinking has always been my downfall in life! If I have an idea, I have about thirty seconds to splurge the bulk of it on a receipt or back of my hand with a biro or it’s gone. The ones which come into being this way are usually stronger than the ones I write to order. My favourite new trick is to write down an impromptu poem on a text message and then accidentally send it to the plumber or dentist. 

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. Dickinson?

I’m mostly communicating with others in the poetic world via social media at the moment. In large, I find the poetry community on Twitter so supportive. I think I am a bit addicted for that reason. I’m also on Facebook and Instagram, though not quite ‘down with the kids’ enough to be on TikTok like you, Damien! At first, I loved being able to access so many events online but I do find the concentration levels required for Zoom quite tiring and it can be really hard to wind down after an event. I miss seeing people. REAL performances and connections. I am so grateful for the technology that has kept us all going but I hate relying upon it and the stress it can bring about when it doesn’t cooperate. I would have loved a proper launch for Lost & Found, to do library and bookshop visits to make this all seem real and, of course, help with sales, but hey ho – I’m just glad it IS real and with a bit of creativity it’s still possible to get books out there. As for spotlight, I don’t feel particularly visible – I’m just really enjoying connecting with other poets so anything which raises my profile a bit in order to open up new opportunities and meet others who love what I love is just wonderful!

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?

That phrase ‘expect the worst, hope for the best’ applies to me with submissions. I always expect not to get anywhere, so I’m usually cheered if I even get a jolly rejection! That said, there are some that for an unknown reason you can’t help feeling positive about – and when you get your hopes dashed the only thing for it is to send your ‘baby’ out somewhere else. That’s the wonderful thing about poetry, you can have many in circulation at once to balance out the woe! I have written an erotic novel in the past, and submitted it to Mills & Boon. It was a blow to get rejected because once it’s back, that’s it for a while – at least, if you’ve written a whole novel in keeping with that particular publisher’s wants. However, in this case they sent me some really bang-on feedback, so I had something to work with which was really helpful. So I guess my message to poets starting out is to temper the dejection by finding something else to be hopeful for – and fast! And if you get some constructive criticism, don’t be cross, USE it to either make changes that feel right or to help cement your intentions.

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 a tough one! Much of my writing is about my family, and I wanted to choose something light, accessible, but sincere. This was published by Atrium recently, and I think it ticks the aforementioned boxes:

Conversation with a Cavewoman
No, we don’t get many sabre-toothed tigers,
food stores are reasonable at our local Tesco Extra,
my partner has no need for a spear or knife –
he uses a thing called a Mac to sustain his brood,
and firelighters, individually wrapped.

I have not lost any children to the cold or hunger –
nobody wants to take them in the night or kill them.
My milk didn’t dry up in a drought;
when our son had a cough we drove to the A&E in town
and didn’t have to wait long.

But I lie awake at night,
dread what I cannot stop.
My inability to forage, find fresh water or control my fears –
that my children will live like me, talk like me
be frightened of this world.
I worry I don’t show love as other people do,
that they will need pills or to pay someone
just to talk.

On days when the cloud-base is low, and the list
of what’s needed unravels, as I so frequently do –
I want to swaddle their peach skins
in animal fur, smother them with my scent –
have enough fuel to keep the fire strong
and the glow in their faces, knowing
I can take on the world.

7 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?

A friend once told me that they admired my bravery in writing candidly about my life, and I must admit, I hadn’t really considered it before – I’ve started to now though! There are a few poems I have actively destroyed in the past because I wasn’t comfortable with writing about other people’s lives, or my own, in hindsight. In a way, poems are confessional, they make the unspoken a reality and communicate what’s really personal – which is essential for it to have an impact, I think. But everyone has limits, triggers, boundaries, and it’s important to find out where yours are as a writer. I have written a bit about mental health, breakdowns, old age – these are subjects that affect people, so actually, it’s important to talk about them and not worry about it if you are being genuine. I think – hope – readers will appreciate that.

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?

Sometimes it’s the first thing that triggers the poem. Sometimes it comes afterwards, then occasionally that’s the thing that a writing workshop will suggest needs changing. Increasingly I use the first line of the poem as a title. I like titles to be simple, and intriguing. Often a bit mad!

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?

The feeling from writing something which I think works gives me such an adrenaline rush. I liken it to the feeling after going for a really long run (if I remember rightly!). I like the focus writing gives me which is beyond my train of thought. Things pour out via the pen that I didn’t know were there so in that sense the process is extremely cathartic. Any kind of creativity gives a level of productivity which I find so rewarding. Being at home with three children is wonderful but some days you can feel like even basic household maintenance is a struggle. To write a poem gives an enormous sense of self-fulfilment which has been especially important to me over this past decade. To have somebody else enjoy the work is just an unbelievably huge shiny cherry on top. 

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?

It’s an obvious one, really – but I need a window. A view gives me perspective, and the natural light is a very good thing for the head. I’m a big believer that being outside as much as possible is important for wellbeing, but when that’s not possible being inside looking out is a close second. 

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?

Writing has always been the thing I loved. I was a freelance writer and editor before I became a Mum, before that I studied English and then Creative Writing at University, so I would always like to earn my bread from the written word, and to do so creatively would be a dream. Failing that, as a child I quite fancied working in a shoe shop. Or perhaps a bakery, decorating cakes (if I could manage not to eat everything). I’ve toyed with the idea of opening my own little poet’s cafe one day, but I’m not sure how visitors would feel at me turfing them all out in the middle of their lattes because I had a good idea I needed to get down…

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?

The thing I say to my children a lot is ‘nothing worth having comes easy.’ It sounds negative but actually I think it’s important above all to be a trier in life- the willingness to graft and persist is highly valued above natural gifts I think. Also, it’s good for them to realise even the best things take effort and time.

You can find Vic’s book here…

THE MINDS BEHIND THE MADNESS- THE HEDGEHOG POETRY PRESS- BRIAN MCMANUS

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 are joined by a happily married man who writes in the attic and so insures that perfect marital bliss. Today’s guest is Brian McManus and his new collection is called Liar Liar.

Thank you for joining us Brian, 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 wrote this collection of poems to hold to account the ineptitude of Boris Johnston and his Conservative government around their inability to formulate a coherent response to the greatest public health challenge of our times, and to give a voice to some of the many ordinary people who have paid the price of that ineptitude, sometimes with their lives. There remains an egregious sense of injustice in the country around the copious mistakes made by politicians and I wanted to articulate that through the medium of my poetry.

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 don’t really feel that I need an escape from the pen, writing poetry for me in a sense gives my life the sense of legitimacy I need, and in terms of our collective wellbeing I consider my poetry my most important contribution to that wellbeing. I have an incredibly supportive wife who has placed my own personal wellbeing and my happiness above her own all our married life, and we have been blessed with two wonderful and very gifted children and three very special grandchildren. My thoughts are that it would be greedy to ask for any more out of life.

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 answered this question for someone else only recently. I’ll start with the germ of an idea about what I want to write about, play around with that idea for a bit until the general shape of what I want to say begins to emerge.

Then, over the coming days and sometimes weeks, I’ll edit and re-edit often to the point where the original idea looks markedly different. I’ll leave it for a while at that point and let the subconscious work on it, then drift back to it once again, where in a perverse sense the poem sometimes takes on a bit of a life of its own. I then have to guide it back into the structure I want. I like my work to be accessible to the reader but I’m not one to give up the poems secrets or explain any dark places. Uncovering that little bit of mystery is the job of the reader, as is the ultimate interpretation of the poem.

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. Dickinson?

Yes, the shape of our new normal has certainly redefined such matters. I don’t have a big social media presence but I have fairly recently become one of the twitterati, and I do find that I’m able to present and express myself, I hope, in quite a meaningful way on Twitter. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet some very interesting people online and build up some important friendships and contacts. There is a very active and supportive poetry community on Twitter. Say hello to me @brianmcmanus999.

I am also a member of the Cult of the Spiny Hog which is the hugely innovative 100 member poetry club run by Mr Mark Davidson, the founder and editor of the Hedgehog Poetry Press, my publisher. Mark, apart from being a real gentleman, puts a huge amount of effort into finding and publishing new and emerging poets and works very hard at being in the vanguard of innovation in the poetry world. This flows down to all the poets, or Hoglets as we are known, and we all support each other when it comes to marketing, promotion and Zoom launches. The process of being an active poet only begins with publication, it certainly doesn’t end there.

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 tend to write thematically, and I find that such writing is better represented when supported by the other work within the theme, and so a dedicated chapbook, pamphlet or full collection is the route I choose rather than individual pieces being offered to magazines and journals where, for me, I find they sometimes struggle in isolation.

That is not always the case, and there are some quite outstanding poetry publications out in the world right now, so perhaps I need to adjust my methodology to take account of that. Rejection is part and parcel of any kind of writing and if that is based on someone else’s interpretation of the work then that is as legitimate as the poet or the writer’s interpretation.

If you are easily discouraged by rejection as a new or emerging writer my simple advice is to consider and reconsider the reasons for the rejection and learn from it. Also do your research and target your work at the journal, magazine or other poetry press publication which is most likely to accept it. Colin Bancroft’s Poets’ Directory is a good place to start and there are others.

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?

The following poem did represent me, albeit historically now, at a difficult time in my writing life, where I was on the point of throwing in the towel but got myself out of a hole with the help and guidance of an old friend of mine, the very special poet and equally special person, the grand old man of poetry, Mr Maurice Rutherford. Maurice is 98 years young now and doesn’t keep the best of health, but his indomitable spirit defies belief. This is my poem in recognition of that difficult time and in recognition of the part Maurice played in getting me back on the poetic rails:

Words With Maurice
For Maurice Rutherford, my friend and
mentor, the grand old man of poetry

I sat with Maurice late one cloudy night,
with tangled thoughts ping-ponging through
my head. Picked out his little volume, thought
I might agree some form of settlement. Instead,
I found that Maurice showed me through a door,
the rusty key turned stiffly in the lock.
A place I’d lived and died in years before,
while standing in my slippers in the dock.
This esoteric form of mission creep,
my boots back on, I’m marching against sleep.

But where to now? No map, no Google Earth,
no tortured muse to lead me by the hand.
No colour-coded nightmares, just a dearth
of light. Refracted? Maybe. Grains of sand
slow-trickled through the barren months and
years, and counted off collective times of trial.
Your list records the triumphs of my peers
My list? A sombre scratch against the dial.
No better place to go to, not just yet.
These lines attest the nature of my debt.

So now I stalk the thing that’s stalking me,
and try to get myself back in the game.
I need to write the words which need to be,
I’ve had my fleeting quarter-hour of fame.
The clouds are gone, the sky is inky-black,
but clearer for it. All at once I sense
my smallness and my greatness. Looking
back, a qualified but welcome recompense.
Now time grows short, there’s plenty work to do.
The bag-man’s got his marching boots on too.

Seems like a long time ago now, but keep well and
stay safe Maurice.

7 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?

Yeah, it does seem simple to say so, but it is just part of the process. Eventually you don’t even notice it. The poetic autopilot steps in and takes over. The autopilot in terms of Mindfulness isn’t always a great thing, but it does help get you out of a spot at times in the poetic sense.

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?

Well in terms of the last part of the last question there, I’d think the actual work needs to respect and represent the title. I’ll have perhaps a title in mind when I start off, but much like the changes I might make in the work itself I might well change the title part way through the poem to better represent what I’ve written. For me, commercial considerations don’t come into mind in terms of poetry, although many moons ago when I was writing crime fiction I was very careful to ensure that if nothing else the title didn’t at least confuse the reader.

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 more than 30 years ago now that I started to write poetry with some conviction. I had dabbled with little bits of writing before then but nothing serious, and it took a major negative life event to eventually lead me down the path of poetry. It was ultimately a cathartic process for me also, and it was a very difficult and challenging process.

I had been a Serious Crime Squad Detective Officer at the time and I was called down to Lockerbie on the evening of the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over the town in December 1988 with the loss of 270 lives. I was asked to take a spare shirt with me as I might have to stay overnight. In the event I played a central role for nearly four years in the international criminal enquiry which followed the bombing. My experiences were subsequently documented in the book of poetry, prose and photographs I had published a few years later, Blue Daze, Black Knights – The Story of Lockerbie.

The process didn’t keep me hooked, just the opposite. I stepped away from poetry after that for some considerable time, and it was only the intervention of Maurice Rutherford and his work which brought me back into the poetic fold.

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?

Peace and quiet and no interruptions to be honest, nothing more complicated than that. I have a little study at the top of our house and I board myself up in there, replete with snacks. I can be in there for many hours at a time. It makes for a very happy marital relationship 😊

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?

At school, I wanted to be a journalist and went to a jobs fair in my teens to see if I could progress that, but the lack of support from my tutors and the lack of interest from prospective employers knocked that on the head in short order. I ended up working in the NHS, where I was fortunate enough to meet Jean, my good lady wife.

I have an interest in Modern Art, particularly Abstract Expressionism. I did consider converting the garage or building a little studio behind the garage and starting to paint again. I had painted in oils for a few years earlier than that but this would have been acrylics. The idea would have been that the paintings would marry-up to the poems, but I never got there, deciding that I couldn’t justify it as I had a responsibility to invest what time I had left in writing, rather than becoming distracted.

I do consider that involvement in the arts, in whatever fashion that might be, helps to legitimize one’s life, and I take my responsibility to poetry very seriously nowadays.

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?

Remember that we are all artists, and that every authentically lived, happy, useful and balanced life is in itself an evolving work of art. If life is a dance, then emotion is the music of the dance. Be yourself, and make that self worth being, and never forget that the joy is in the journey.

Thank you 😊

You can find Brian’s book here…

THE MINDS BEHIND THE MADNESS- THE HEDGEHOG POETRY PRESS- BRENDON BOOTH-JONES

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 are joined by the New Zealand-born, Irish South African poet Brendon Booth-Jones who currently lives in Amsterdam, just to keep things less complicated. His debut collection is entitled Vertigo To Go…

Thanks for dropping down from that step-ladder Brendon, while you are here…

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?

When I first moved to Amsterdam, I briefly lived with a guy who, on the day I moved in, told me that he was writing a book. Wow, that’s so cool, I thought, a fellow writer! At that time I was working on individual poems, some of which had been published here and there, but I thought an actual book of poems was just a hazy distant dream. But after observing this so-called book-writer’s habits (Xbox games and fast food, nightclubs, party drugs and no writing whatsoever), I decided that if he could get away with telling people he was writing a book, and since I was actually writing every day, I might as well just call my jangled heap of half-finished poems a manuscript and start seeing it as a book-in-progress.

Over the coming months, as I adjusted to a new life in a new country, I naturally met a lot of new people, and when asked why I had moved to Amsterdam, I found myself saying that I was writing a book. At first, I didn’t really believe myself. But after about six months I realised that there was a real thread developing in my poems, recurring motifs and characters. And from that point on I worked towards the book’s completion on both conscious and unconscious levels. By unconscious I think I mean that I had internalised the moods, symbols and trajectories of the project, and that almost any poem I sat down to write seemed to lean (or sometimes leap) towards the narrative of Vertigo to Go. So I guess, in answer to your question, I wrote this book because I tricked myself into believing I was ready to write a book!

What it’s about is harder to pin down. I’m tempted to say it’s about itself, but when I put it like that I think I sound kind of snivellingly opaque or esoteric. I think what I’m trying to say is that Vertigo to Go is an attempt to capture a sliver of the giddy swirling entanglement of joy, pleasure, anxiety, fear, pain, terror and dis/connection of being alive in the 21st century. And yet, in trying to capture some trace element of experience, at the same time resisting the desire to reduce the language of aliveness to comfy binaries or neatly delineated platitudes. So I think what I mean when I say the book means itself is that to dissect it into a neat summary of topics is to miss the point the book is trying to make: that a poem is a space where the elements of language mesh and comingle in a way that tries (and mostly fails) to represent the webbed chaotic interconnectedness of the material world and all living beings within it. And immediately reading what I’ve just written in the above sentences, it’s clear to me that my book does not achieve that lofty goal! But the process of writing and editing the poems was thrilling and instructive and healing, and I felt compelled to do it. If the poems resonate or bring pleasure to anyone else then I have achieved way more than I ever imagined I would!

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?

Reading is my favourite pastime in the world. But it’s been hard to read this year. There is so much uncertainty and distraction being blasted into us from our phones and laptops, from the media, and the world at large. I’m really trying to spend less time on my phone and to rekindle my love of books. I saw a tweet the other day that said something like: ‘books are thinly sliced trees blackened with mysterious symbols that make you hallucinate vividly’. I think that’s a beautiful way of seeing it. And I think in this age of deep, deliberate, sinister distraction, reading books becomes both a shield of protection and an act of resistance to the insidious forces of Big Tech.

I too enjoy cooking and music. For exercise, I swim two or three times a week and walk or cycle every day.

In terms of my writing habits, I think I’m just the same as so many other artists: inspiration strikes you in a seemingly haphazard, unexpected way, and you better scribble down the fragments as they come, because they’re so transient. Then I go through certain moods where I feel like all these inchoate glimmers of song and image are just desperate to be weaved together and set free into the world. That’s when I collate them, edit them, rewrite and tweak them. I do a lot of rewriting. Though it must be said that some poems arrive in my head almost fully formed, and then it’s a case of just letting yourself be a conduit, making sure you channel the music and transcribe it as faithfully as possible.

3 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. Dickinson?

I think you’re totally right about the way the role or duty of a writer has been warped by technology. And of course the pandemic has hastened the transition to an almost exclusively screen-based life for our careers, art platforms and education. My agent, Sam Catsburg, had booked a truly exquisite venue for my book launch—a 17th century church in the centre of Amsterdam. Sam managed to get an outrageously good (and almost affordable deal), too. But we decided to cancel it. It just didn’t feel right to be putting my friends at risk for the sake of hearing me read a few poems. Once I had decided to call it off, I actually felt relief more than disappointment.

I have Twitter and Facebook pages that I use to promote my own work as well the work of magazines, presses and other artists in the online community. For that purpose, Twitter especially is good. But it’s also dangerously addictive and when I’m not strict with my usage I feel it’s very detrimental to my mental health. I just don’t think our brains have evolved to handle this incessant chatter, this cacophony of voices.

4 When it comes to titles, our pieces 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 a serial re-namer. About 30% of the poems in Vertigo to Go were first published in journals and magazines and I think I changed all the titles of the poems, sometimes more than once. I don’t have a particular approach or philosophy when it comes to naming poems. I do know that, for me, 99% of the time the poem comes first and the title afterwards.

As a reader, I enjoy books or poems that use allusions in their titles. I love a sneaky nod to, say, Shakespeare or Sappho. I think all works of art are in some way utterances responding to the utterances that came before them, which in turn were responding to those that came before them, in a long chain, or maybe now that we live in a beautifully post-canon age, a dense web, of cultural interconnections and crossovers and arguments and celebrations and revolts and obsessions. I love picking up on the traces of influence in other people’s work, and I think titles are a good signifier of allusion.

I don’t normally think too deeply about the titles of my own individual poems (perhaps I should start doing it more), but in terms of the title of my book, I chose Vertigo to Go because vertigo is one of the central, recurring metaphors that runs through the story, and ‘to go’ also has several layers of association that are relevant to the book. It’s fun to think about the multi-layered aspects of language and I’ll leave it up to the readers to interpret the title for themselves.

5 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 can totally see that deep formative connection you have to poetry in your writing, Damien. The way you intertwine music, rhythm, metaphor and tonal variance into your poems seems so natural, almost innate. There is a vibrant sensuality to your work that is very accessible, yet is also beautifully idiosyncratic.

I also started writing pretty young—around eight or nine, and kept a diary until I was about fourteen. And I inhaled books. And then when I hit puberty I just stopped completely. I walked away from any desire for intellectual stimulation. I stopped reading and I was so embarrassed by my diaries that I cast them aside in a fury of self-reproach. I wanted to be accepted, to be a part of the in-crowd, to quell the loneliness. And being bookish was not the kind of trait that would keep me safe in a dominant culture that commanded boys to be (or at least appear to be) tough and confident and sporty and popular. It took me ten years to face the truth that I wasn’t tough or macho, and that I didn’t want to be.

I started reading again at 25. Voraciously. And as soon as I started reading, I started writing. I had felt a bit aimless and lost for a few years, sometimes spinning out to the edge of my orbit and feeling like I was about to spiral out of reach or hope. But once I found my way back to literature I realised I had finally (re)discovered a part of myself that I’d spent so long repressing.

6 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 love photography! And I love reading about photography. I recently read Geoff Dyer’s collected essays and he writes wondrously and at length about photography and photographers. Music also inspires me. And reading good books. And taking long walks in all seasons. And interacting with people.

7 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?

From the age of eight till about eighteen, I wanted to be a professional surfer more than anything in the world. I was completely obsessed with surfing and thought about it all day every day. I spent so long doing it that even though I haven’t surfed in quite a few years, I still think about it every single day. Somehow it has stayed in my blood and probably will remain there till I die.

Around eighteen I swallowed the bitter pill that I would never be good enough to make it to the elite level of competitive surfing. So instead I went to university and studied economics, which seems like a strange choice now, because I’m the furthest thing from an economist. But I don’t really see intellectual and personal development as being some linear progression from A to Z. I prefer to think of my development as a confluence of influences and experiences that are meshed together into an ever unfolding metamorphosis of becoming, emerging, flowing, dissolving, rebirthing.

After my economics degree I drifted around, spent a few years in Australia, almost got sucked into the full-blown corporate ladder-climbing world, fled that scene, worked odd jobs to pay for my travels, became a white-water rafting instructor in Malaysia, an English teacher in Vietnam, worked on a chateau in France etc. etc., and one year of drifting turned into five. Along the way I started writing and reading in earnest, and from then on I found a sense of direction that has guided my choices ever since. But I felt like to discover my desire to write at 25 was starting late, and I never dreamed I’d have my first book accepted for publication by the age of 30.

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?

Infinity overflows the thought that thinks it. Just read that a couple days ago. I think it’s from Emanuel Levinas. It makes me think of the way in which all matter, all being, all thinking, is in a constant state of flux and interconnection, overflowing and through-flowing.

Thank you so much for inviting me to have this conversation with you, Damien. Congratulations on all your recent success. I’m so excited to follow your journey as you move from strength to strength!

Brendon Booth-Jones is a New Zealand-born Irish South African poet who lives in Amsterdam. Brendon’s debut poetry collection, Vertigo to Go, was published by The Hedgehog Poetry Press in October 2020. His work has appeared in Anti-Heroin Chic, Amaryllis, As It Ought To Be, The Bosphorus Review, The Blue Nib, Fly on the Wall, Ghost City Review, The Night Heron Barks, Scarlet Leaf Review, Zigzag and elsewhere. Find him on Facebook @brendonboothjoneswriter and Twitter @BrendonBoothJo1 or via his website…

THE MINDS BEHIND THE MADNESS- THE HEDGEHOG POETRY PRESS- ANNE MCMASTER

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 are joined by Anne McMaster who runs This Northern Voice and whose collection ‘Walking off the Land’ comes out later this year from The Hedgehog Poetry Press. We are sharing here the runners-up photographs to the book cover but not the actual cover, that reveal is coming soon so readers need to watch out…

Thanks for taking the time to join us Anne, here we go…

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 this collection as a way of capturing the memories and history of the land and the old farm where I live. I worked here as a farmer when my dad was injured in an accident; for some years before I went to university, I was rearing animals, driving tractors and keeping the farm going as a working concern. It was only when I returned to Northern Ireland from living in California for a number of years, however, that I began to take a really close look at the organic shape of the farm – its history, the people who worked here generations before me and, of course, the wonderful natural world that shapes everything we do! I’m also deeply grateful to the Arts Council of Northern Ireland for a SIAP (Support for the Individual Artist) Award which allowed me to travel Northern Ireland and talk to farmers about their experiences on small farms. That proved an invaluable addition to my own experiences too.

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 chill out routine is very simple – I have an old bench outside under a sycamore tree where bird feeders hang! I relax out there with a big mug of coffee and usually a cat or three. During the summer, I’m well sheltered from any sunshine we may get, but even in the winter (when the sycamore’s branches are bare) I’m wrapped up and outside with my cuppa. There’s a real peacefulness at being outside and so close to nature – and you get to notice all the small things. Indoors, my writing space is a little study that gathers afternoon light greedily to itself; I have a small desk (just big enough for my laptop and some books) and the rest of the room is packed with bookcases and thousands of books. It’s a joy to be in there and write.

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 hate to cite technology, but I use my iPhone a great deal for making notes and holding ideas. I don’t own a TV, so I listen to a lot of radio (plays, podcasts, interviews) and I’m always getting inspiration from what I hear. Doing this, I’ve ended up with titles for poems and often opening lines. I begin with those rough notes each week, transfer the ideas to a notebook (this is the handwriting part I really enjoy) and develop it along the way. The next step is to type everything up and see how the poems shape up. I like this organic process and feel it gives me a great deal of freedom to develop my work.

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. Dickinson?

Oh, you’re so right! Yes, Covid has made a huge change to the way we now communicate and promote our work. I have a personal FB page which seems to have gathered quite a number of followers who have become very interested in my work. I’m incredibly grateful to them for their interest and their constant support. I spend some time on Twitter (probably not enough) and have been really delighted to become involved with #TopTweetTuesday which has not only given me a forum in which to share my work but has also introduced me to the loveliest selection of writers – your good self being one of them! I’ve also been really lucky to’ve been asked to read at a number of international poetry forums – and I now do that on a regular basis. It’s quite strange to be sitting in my wee study in the rural north and talking with friends across the USA and Canada! Social media is a difficult beast. You’ve tamed it wonderfully and made it work so well for you, but I’d probably describe myself as an occasional interloper!

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 took a huge step back late last year and part of this year and, apart from submitting to two anthologies, didn’t send any work out at all. I simply wrote. Out of that came the best piece of advice I’ll ever have to pass on to other writers. Find your own voice. There are wonderful poets out there, but there’s no one quite like YOU. When you are alone with that page and your own ideas, you’re forced to dig deep. And when you stick with it, you begin to find that you’re more in touch with your own subject matter and your voice than you ever were. From that awareness comes a confidence that just can’t be beaten. And you need it, definitely, when rejections come in. I used to be really gutted when rejections dropped into my mailbox, but now I trust what I’m writing, so I choose carefully who I’m going to send that part of myself to. Writing journals are wonderful – more often than not they’re populated by the nicest, hardest-working folk who believe in poets and their words. I’m excited to see new journals continuing to appear – even in these straitened times – and I can’t wait to send work out to them! When I get rejections, I take a deep breath, grab another coffee and get stuck in again to sending out more work.

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?

D’you know, this has been one of the single most difficult things to answer! I thought long and hard about this and decided to include a wee couplet that I wrote some years ago. I don’t know why I was hit with this tiny bit of inspiration, but I’m glad I was! When I wrote this, I was just beginning my freelance career and, newly working from home, was coming to understand that I now had a wonderful front-row view of nature. This wee poem takes no more than ten seconds to read, but I hope it captures the sense of seasonal change that the later months bring.

Relay
October races towards November, still like a child at play.
November reaches slowly down and takes its toy away.

7 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?

Oh, this is a fabulous question! A couple of years ago I was part of a wonderful project called XBorders: Transition and got to work with the fab Maria McManus and Patsy Horton from Blackstaff Press. They taught me so much about stripping back my work and cutting it right to the bone. They gave me a completely new perspective on the lines I shaped and the words I used – and I’ll be forever grateful to them. I also write from what I call a ‘failed visual artist’ point of view! (I know you’ll be referencing photographic images in a later question!) I love visual art, but I don’t possess an artist’s ability to transfer what I see to a sketch book or canvas. What I do, however, is to try and capture the images I perceive through my words. That is a discipline in itself and has tightened a lot of my writing.

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?

You couldn’t have asked me a better question! It’s title, titles, always titles for me. I look on them as the coat hanger that I’m going to arrange a particular swathe of fabric on. If the coat hanger isn’t there, the fabric falls. I know this doesn’t work for everyone – and you make a really excellent point about the possibility of a really good title overwhelming the poem itself – but I find a strong title allows me to focus on what comes next and gives me the impetus to carry the poem through. Ironically, choosing a title for my collection – Walking Off the Land – was probably the most difficult title I’ve had to pin down. Once I remembered the phrase however (it’s a country funeral tradition and a phrase I’ve known all my life) I knew it was the one.

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 know it’s a cliché, but I’ve written since I was old enough to hold a pencil. I’ve always been a compulsive reader, so it seemed natural to write stories and poetry in primary school. I then fell in love with theatre at university and ended up lecturing in Performing Arts for 20+ years while working as a theatre director and playwright. I think that, as writers, we have to be interested in other people as well as in ourselves and playwriting gave me a massive opportunity to do just that. I adapted novels for the stage, devised and toured my own original works while writing pieces for film and radio. I love stories and I’m fascinated by what people tell you about themselves when they share a story. All the while, however, I was writing poems for myself. Poems that never saw the light of day. It wasn’t until 2016 (when I left my lecturing world behind and decided to write full-time) that I began to enter poetry competitions and give readings. That was it. I was hooked. I’m not like Dorothy Parker who said, ‘I hate writing, I love having written.’ I enjoy the process. When I wrote plays, I found myself visualising the various elements of an algebraic equation coming together. I feel the same way about poetry now. That idea of shaping a piece of work around my thoughts keeps me writing!

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?

When I write plays, I immerse myself completely in the music of the era or the situation. Film noir music. Bluegrass for a theatre of the absurd western (don’t ask!). Acres of classical music. Hits from the 70s! I was incredibly fortunate to work with a composer when I was writing a play for voices which captured the experiences of young Irishmen at the Battle of Messines. That was an extraordinary experience. We talked together while I explained the overview of my script, he went away and wrote the most incredibly haunting music and then I fleshed out the words by writing alongside his music – so the phrases spoken echoed the music playing at exactly the same time. Sheer creative synergy. Poems, however, I write in complete silence. I use a lot of my own photographs for ekphrastic purposes, however. Sometimes a shot of the farm will jog my memory; often I’ll try to capture a photograph that expresses an ambience I know I’ll want to draw upon later.

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 couldn’t not write. Like you, it’s my oxygen. I have endless notebooks, ideas on my iPhone and files packed full of ideas and inspiration. I was always fascinated by writing and by words and my work has always been linked to that fascination. At university, I fell in love with theatre and started my first theatre company aged 22. That turned into a life-long love affair with theatre – writing for the stage, designing interactive theatre projects for schools and companies and also directing productions. I was truly surprised to tot up a few years ago that I’d worked on over 80 productions and have the scripts of over 30 original plays (and stage adaptations of novels) here with me at home. I’m still doing theatre projects and designing projects but poetry and photography have become complete obsessions for me and one feeds into the other.

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?

If I could stretch that one line a wee bit, it would be a quotation from Ralph Waldo Emerson. I found this by accident while flicking through a collection of his essays in a second hand bookshop in San Diego and it absolutely floored me. It’s still important to me – and always will be.

‘Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string. Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind.”

Thank you so much!

You can find Anne on Twitter as @Rosehill_girl and keep on eye on The Hedgehog Poetry Press for details of her collection release…

THE MINDS BEHIND THE MADNESS- THE HEDGEHOG POETRY PRESS- ZOË SÎOBHAN HOWARTH-LOWE

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 a poet with two pamphlets and the mother of two children whose latest collection with The Hedgehog Poetry Press is called I Have Grown Two Hearts.

Thanks for joining us here Zoë Sîobhan, let’s get going…

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?

This Collection is about Motherhood in all the forms and variations that I have either a personal experience of or the experience of a family member to draw from. It also features various aspects of pregnancy, the struggles and complications as well as the happier experiences.

I explore what it is like to be a mum in different moments including exhaustion, wonder and difficulties, from tantrums to the tender moments. I end with a couple of reflective poems exploring how parenthood flips your own parent/ child relationships as you finally get to experience the other side of that dynamic.

As always, I hope a reader will take away just one line or one poem that resonates with them. The ultimate dream is that one of my poems becomes a favourite of someone out there.

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?

With two children chillout time is very rare! I do have a few escapes from the pen though. I love being crafty and making things. I also enjoy painting war game miniatures. I love reading, especially poetry and children’s literature. I really enjoy Rick Riordan’s various Demigod series and my ultimate favourite book is Host by Stephanie Meyer.

My main escape is being a Beaver Leader. I adore planning things for my Beavers to do, we have been doing our best to keep going virtually during lockdown but I do miss my blue ninja’s. I am hoping the other side of the pandemic isn’t too far away and I get to see them again before they are all scout age!

My writing ingredients are time and peace. Both have been in short supply during lockdown as my routine was to use the time while my two chaos makers are at school to write. Now school is back open I’m trying to make the most of having the time & peace back again.

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 have a specific recipe for writing. I love to experiment and try new things. I like to use paper and pencil but will honestly use whatever tools are nearby when words float into my mind. My favourite poems are the sort that arrive out of nowhere and demand to be written down, but the most satisfying are the ones that take months of edits to get just right.

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. Dickinson?

I launched this collection on zoom with a prickle of other Hoglets which was lovely. Luckily I have been doing Zoom sessions with my Beavers so I am used to using Zoom as a tool. Eventbrite was a new one for me. This movement to online has made me take the plunge and buy myself a website domain as although I’ve had a free website for years now it wasn’t searchable. I’ve had to get comfortable quickly with being on webcam so I’ve started to film some of my poems and get them out there in a new way. I now have my own YouTube channel and am looking into other online platforms too.

I certainly got into writing all those years ago thinking I could hide behind my notebook and never need to be seen, I never realised just how important performance would be. I was lucky enough to have done quite a few headline slots before lockdown and can’t wait to be able to do those again in future. I do love how zoom allows me to travel to places I couldn’t usually and have loved sharing poems with people across the world.

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?

When it comes to submitting work I use the philosophy ‘aim for 100 rejections’. Since I first decided to aim for the 100 I found it made me submit far more which improved my acceptance rates as I found giving myself permission to fail also allowed my more space to succeed. I also split myself up when it comes to the different aspects of being a poet. Poet me does the creative side and Admin me handles submissions and self-promotion. I find it useful to deal with submissions, rejections and acceptances in professional mode as it never feels personal that way. The revolving door policy also helps as then rejections just mean that I have poems coming back in that can be edited as required and booted straight back out.

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 poem is one of my favourites. If I were a poem I think this one would be it…


When NASA Finishes Mining

There used to be craters on the moon, now the moon is a crater. Carved out, mined of all its juices, it remains derelict. Too light to continue to orbit: it just hangs, skeletal and listless. Unable to wax or wane, its cycle broken.
Tidal-confusion grips the ocean below. Trapped, neither flowing in nor out, unable to turn yet trying to. Turning itself one way, then the next, like an uncomfortable sleeper, too hot inside its own shape.
I sit, bare-footed, on night-dewed grass, sniffing out the hot-salt of the ocean that cannot rest, the orange-rind moon above. I too am neither one thing, nor another. I whisper to the blades of grass, tap on the earth, and wait for the flowers that will never come.

7 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?

My two pamphlets are full of some of my rawest and most naked poems. They are some that when I wrote them I never thought I’d be brave enough to share. That’s where Admin me comes in handy I guess. My professional head said Nonsense to the not being brave enough, these are some of your best work, and so out they went. I have simply had to get used to it.

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?

Titles. This was the bane of everyone’s lives in my University classes. Sometimes the title is organic, it comes as easily as the words do. Other times it is an enigma. There is something satisfying about the working title ‘Poem’ that keeps me going until the correct title turns up.

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 have written for as long as I can remember. It has always been as much a part of me as breathing. I find that being unable to write, for whatever reason makes me incredibly unhappy and I don’t feel like me. I find it a real struggle to not write so I don’t think that stopping is an option.

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?

I have experimented with many types of accompaniment while writing. Art, music, a great view, peoples conversations in the background etc. While all of these have been interesting to experiment with my favourite ‘accompaniment ‘to writing is movement. I find that moving is the best way to get a poem into being and many of my favourites were first written during a walk or on a train ride.

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’ve always dreamed of being a writer. I went straight from school to a creative writing degree followed by a Masters degree in Poetry. My jobs have always been complimentary to my writing, I have been an Admin assistant at my university and also college librarian. I am currently a full-time mum and a Beaver Leader. I enjoy going into school to lead poetry and printing press workshops and really loved my recent experience of reading for an anthology which has made me consider poetry editing as a future career choice.

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?

I think for a bit of fun I’ll leave you with the very first poem I ever wrote at about age 4:

Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
and an apple is covered in snow.

You can find Zoe and her book here…

www.zshowarthlowe.com