What got you writing in the first place?
I’m not sure anything in particular got me writing. I think it was something I was born with! That sounds really pretentious, but I don’t mean it to be. My mum was an avid reader and always used to read to me apparently when I was small so by the time I started school I could already read. I still ‘eat up’ books. When I was young I used to write a lot of short stories. Again my mum told me these things. I had two bouts of amnesia, one when I was 5 and another at the age of 10, so sadly I have no real memory of my boyhood years. At the age of 17 I became a journalist and spent the next 42 years writing news and sport so when I retired at 60 I decided to write for me and poetry was my main outlet, though I’d written no poetry apart from a few pieces when I was in my late teens. I took an OU short course in poetry writing, which was absolutely brilliant, and I suppose that was the trigger.
Who influences you?
That’s a very big question. I prefer to use the word impress rather than influence as that can indicate certain poets’ styles steer mine and I like to think I go my own way! There’s a huge range of poets I enjoy, I just love reading the stuff. I’d only be touching the tip of those who impress me but they include Derek Walcott, Simon Armitage, Ted Hughes, Charles Bukowski, Nick Laird, Helen Dunmore, August Kleinzahler, Thom Gunn, Hugo Williams, Michael Donaghy …. I really need to stop there! I also subscribe to about four poetry magazines and love discovering new work and poets. And don’t get me started on authors…..
I love the blog, how would you describe it?
Fun. I just love putting stuff out there and seeing what responses come back. It really started when I hooked into a sort of online poetry forum called dversepoets and I needed a blog to link into their tri-weekly workshop-type of events. The poets are from all over the world so I initially used it for putting up poems created through the workshops. I use it for other work as well now.
What other mediums do you use and why?
I think the internet has been brilliant for poetry. It opens up a whole world of talent out there you would never otherwise tap into or come across. To be honest the stuff that gets published or wins competitions is only a tiny fraction of the excellent poetry being produced. Since the blog I’ve branched out with a Facebook poetry page and Twitter – that one for micro-poetry which I love writing. I think 40 plus years writing newspaper headlines that capture the essence of a story have helped me, don’t you think?
Where do you get the ideas from?
As a journalist you always had to be inquisitive and tuned in to life and that’s where I find my poetry. Absolutely anything can trigger off ideas. I never actually go looking for them. For instance on a walk across Dartmoor recently I came across a sheep spine and came up with a poem on the spot. It’s actually turned out to be one of my favourites. I think having always been an imaginative person has helped me see poems in all sorts of places. The only ‘forced’ poetry comes mostly through the monthly workshops we do at Juncture 25 and I love those. Its brilliant being put on the spot and having to deliver something in about 40 minutes. You go places with your mind that you wouldn’t otherwise.
Free verse or form-which does it for you?
Free verse. In the OU course we obviously had to do form which was excellent discipline. I do struggle with things like villanelles and sonnets. I’m always left feeling that I’m forcing a poem in a direction I don’t want to take it. But that’s just me. I enjoy reading form poetry.
What's in the pipeline?
The main thing is a novel which gets launched on October 18. Called Ravenhart it is a crime fantasy. There’s a thing called National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). You basically just have to writ 50,000 words in four weeks and I had this idea bobbling about so though I’d give it a shot. That was two years ago and it seemed to come together quite well so I spent some time working on it afterwards and now here we are! It’s very exciting. What’s even more exciting is that a Belfast publishing company is showing interest in publishing a poetry collection. That would really be a big thing for me. Finally I have another little fun project on the go called Defacing Dickens. I bought several old Dickens novels from a charity shop and am making what I call art poems by linking particular words on a page. (I’ve sent you an illustration if that helps!)
If you were interviewing yourself-what question would you ask?
If you weren’t writing poetry what would you do: Read it! Poetry is such a wonderful form of literature that says so much in so few words and still leaves huge spaces for your mind to fill in.
If you were a book what book would you be and why?
Poucher’s The Welsh Peaks. It was my dad’s book - I have it now - and is a little old black and white guide to the mountains of north Wales where we both come from. He took me climbing with him from the age of 11. Snowdonia is a hugely evocative place for me; I can smell the rain, moss and granite whenever I think about the place. I suppose it’s a sort of spiritual home for me really (not in the religious sense) and there is a great sense of freedom you feel when climbing or walking the ridges. And in a way that captures the essence of poetry for me. The ability to break free and capture something different or special with words.
Life and death
bleached on this peaty moonscape.
Here it is elemental.
Moor and sun,
a harsh unforgiving beauty.
Knuckle on knuckle.
Each notch etched clear
in its whiteness.
Purity laid bare.
Simplicity of structure in
the chaos of wilderness.
This is where it all ends.
Bone and earth.
Thanks Paul. You can listen to Paul reading Sheep Spine here.