What are you currently working on and what inspired you to start writing it?
‘Pages of an Autumn Journal’ is a series of poems I wrote in late 2016, and I am now posting them at www.autumnjournal.eu. They’re going up one at a time, a year after they were written, and the last one will go up at the end of December – so take a look, and do come back.
The title ‘Pages of an Autumn Journal’ originally applied to a pair of poems I wrote at the start of October 2016 – as if they could be leaves torn from a larger diaristic work, such as Louis Macneice’s Autumn Journal, which reflected on personal and public events during the autumn of 1938. I then found myself persistently thinking about that title, and realised that I could collect a larger group of poems from that period together (that first pair now go untitled).
Macneice’s work is very engaged with political matters, yet from the perspective of an individual living within them, rather than as persuasion. I am not trying to directly equate 2016 and 1938 (a recent lecture by David Runciman details how this decade is not like that one), but last year there was certainly a feeling of not knowing what was going to happen next.
As a poet of British origin living in Brussels, this means living through the aftermath of terror attacks and the UK’s EU referendum; it means living in a town where people are trying, with and on behalf of a diverse continent, to come up with solutions for youth unemployment and the human consequences of geopolitical instability. Dealing with these ‘issues’ coexists with the experience of just getting on with life – and this quotidian aspect provides at least as much focus for the collection.
Who would be in your opinion the perfect audience for this?
Posting these poems one year later means that the pieces have had some time to breathe – yet they are still very recent. I hope that readers may be able to relate them to their own responses to some of the situations described, and also realise how things have changed in the time since. The poems are, together, a document from a particular time and viewpoint. Thus, while some readers might feel they have more in common with the narrative voice than others (for example if you live in Brussels, if you travel for work, or if you closely follow current affairs), they are intended for general consumption and not just people ‘like’ the narrator.
That said, I also hope the poems are of interest to people who can recognise aspects of themselves in the work – the number of people who proactively read poetry is tiny, so I hope people can come to the poems through interest in the content, as well as the form.
You have read some parts of it in BWC meetings. Did you find the feedback useful
Definitely. There is certainly a sense of validation when you get good feedback, but perhaps more important is to see people reacting to the poems in different ways.
Sometimes people ‘get’ what you first meant, but that isn’t the purpose of writing: a diversity of responses demonstrates the ways that a work can actually continue to exist. The feedback from the group helps me to develop my sense of what I am doing as a writer, and give me the confidence to put effort into disseminating this particular project.
If you could pick one celebrity to read out one of your poems, which poem/celebrity would it be?
I just want people to read them. I want you to read them – and why not start at the beginning. If I try and explain this impulse to myself, then I can use that idea of the poems as documentation or reportage – perhaps to serve the purpose of increased mutual understanding, integral to literature. But who really knows what it is that makes people write?