‘My writing process’: a baroque stop on a blog tour

Okay, this is the first time in a long time that I’ve done something like this. But Anna Robinson invited me, and who was I to say no? It’s a Writing Process Blog Tour. Only this time, it’s not the blogger doing the touring, it’s the questions. If you go toAnna’s site, you can click backwards through all the sites of the ‘taggers’. (While you’re there, have a look at Anna’s book, The Finders of London. She makes really interesting use of London dialects and old slang, in poems about the parts that normally get forgotten. And her second collection is due out in July.) The backwards tour is fascinating – as much for the range of different kinds of writers as anything else – and everyone is answering the same four questions.

What am I working on?

Well. I’m mentally preparing a book of my essays that’s going to be published next year by Penned in the Margins. At a meeting in the summer (note to self: oh shit, it’s nearly summer) I’ll have to sketch out my intentions, and then I’ll have a year to turn these intentions into a manuscript. I’ve written so many essays over the past decade or more about various aspects of poetry; the idea is to find a thread in there and pull it. I have enough ideas – and indeed essays written  to start them off – to take the book in any of several different directions. Creativity is a process of subtraction, so it’s going to be about getting to work in one quadrant and letting the rest wait.

I’ve just written a delightful essay – well, I think it’s delightful – for the book Mount London, which comes out THIS WEEK with Penned in the Margins. It’s about Stamford Hill and Stoke Newington and the past and present and it’s the only one in the book (I’m told) with real ghosts in it.

Reviews and blog posts always go on. I have book reviews forthcoming in Magma and Poetry London, and another in hand for Poetry Wales. I do count these as proper writing, because reviews are challenge one’s powers of perception and distillation.

Plus I write a column for MsLexia magazine on aspects of the digital life for writers: how blogging, tweeting and so on can improve one’s writing and/or ‘career’. That’s more like day job stuff, but it is writing. That’s quarterly.

Also, poems, a series of them maybe, trying to meet a couple of deadlines for magazines and pamphlets… I’ve got a few poems also forthcoming, in the Rialto, PN Review, and Ambit; but they are mostly from different series. Everything’s crossover. I’ve got London history, layers of it; I’ve got old age and death in the form of my dad and of my aunt with Alzheimers; I’ve got some experiments with form and with diction and tone running through both of those. There are found poems and collage poems, and crooner clerihews…

I’m also, as I always have been and always will be, thinking about a novel. Different novels at different times.

But I hope my next thing will be a poetry pamphlet of whichever sort.

How Does My Work Differ From Others in its Genre?

Oooh! Does it? I think my work as an essayist differs from much of what you see in that I’m very poetry-focused but at the same time I’m very story-focused. It’s been honed by my years as a blogger; my style is anti-academic – colloquial and light – but, I hope, at least a little deep with it. I make jokes. Once, years ago, I did a hilarious thing on the blog where I’d found a photo of Beatrix Potter and one of Gertrude Stein that looked virtually identical, and I did a very amusing little ‘Could they perhaps be related’ thing with it. Well, I nearly killed myself laughing. But no comments, responses, laurel wreaths, guffaws or wry smiles ensued. I complained about this to a friend and he suggested that, as my little wheeze was a bit on the ‘erudite’ side, perhaps people thought they should be serious, or they didn’t even get it, and thus (either way) they didn’t feel relaxed enough to laugh at it.

I don’t think there’s a level of the brow where humour stops, like a waterline.

So maybe, if I differ from other people, that’s how… but what do I know, you tell me.

Why Do I Write What I Do?

I write what I need to figure out.  I write poems from sound, from words and phrases, and also from what I don’t know or can’t quite get at. 

I’ve always been story-oriented, and I’ve always loved essays. I love an anecdote, and am naturally drawn to people who can tell a good one. One of my favourite genres (it’s a genre I’ve identified myself) is what I call dinner-party poetry (James Merrill and Andrew Sclater the two exponents that spring to mind).

I think I might be too word-oriented to make an easy novelist, and slightly less interested in plot than you need to be – it’s incident that I like. Life is chaotic and ridiculous…

How Does my Writing Process Work?

It goes: ignore ignore ignore ignore, then FURIOUS WRITING.  Deadline is all. Crucible, forcing-out, pressure. I like coffee shops.

One thing that doesn’t seem to be very typical is that I write with the two sides of my brain working: the furious lava-flow and cool editor heads work together.  I’m a little bit synaesthesiac and a little bit ambidextrous, and I kind of write by colour and sound. In revision – which of course starts the moment you look back over your first ideas, and sometimes lasts a year or more even for a twenty-line poem – I can still summon the lava flow. If I can’t, the poem is either finished, or dead, or dormant.

My inner editor is my best friend. We have a laugh…

The first rule of my writing process, though, is that I don’t talk much about my writing process.  

Moving forward, I am tagging three more writers to carry on the tour:

  • Adam Horovitz, on his occasional blog, and on the occasion of the publication of his memoir of growing up in the Slad Valley, A Thousand Laurie Lees
  •  John McCullough, who will be doing his post as a guest post here on Baroque, and
  • Andrew B Jackson, who will also be doing his as a guest post here on Baroque.

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