In a small departure from the usual way this ‘Writing Process’ blog tour works, I asked not just writers with blogs to take part, but writers whose work excited me and that I really wanted to read about. My blog tour post is here, and in it you can see a link to Anna Robinson, who tagged me. Well, one of the people I tagged was Adam Horovitz, and another, who has no blog, was AB Jackson. (I also tagged John McCullough and let us hope that he sends in his guest post with the answers!)
AB Jackson’s first collection, Fire Stations, won the Forward Prize for best first collection in 2003. His second, which was really a pamphlet but done up in spectacular large format by Donut Press, was Apocrypha, in 2011, a Poetry Book Society Pamphlet Choice (summer 2011). He writes amazingly mysterious, internal poems, often about animals, often using archaic language and other interesting registers. He likes humour and realises how deep it is. The picture above was taken during his brief Nordic phase, early in 2014. Ladies and gentlemen, with out further ado, I give you –
AB JAckson! The Questions.
What am I working on?
I have just finished writing a twenty-six poem A-Z series to accompany an exhibition of drawings by the Sheffield-based artist Paul Evans. For the past couple of years Paul has been drawing ‘bones from a bestiary’, skeletal remains of chimerical figures such as the Cyclops, the Selkie, the Ouroboros, etc., and in March this year he asked if I’d be interested in writing a poem to accompany each one – not to explain what the creature was, or summarize the narrative behind the legend, but to add an extra suggestive layer for the exhibition visitors to respond to. As a result, the poems are more aphoristic than descriptive, and quite playful. Each one is four lines long in my ‘signature’ rhyme scheme (*cough*) of ABAB.
The exhibition (titled ‘The Paper Museum’) will be at the Graves Gallery in Sheffield from 10th July to 16th August, and Paul’s drawings can be seen on his blog.
How Does My Work Differ From Others in its Genre?
I suppose my two publications, Fire Stations (Anvil Press, 2003) and Apocrypha (Donut Press, 2011), are notable for what may be described as their religious imagery, although the subject matter is never about religious faith: the imagery is there to suggest particular psychological or emotional states, or, as in Apocrypha, to engage in a form of iconoclastic or carnivalesque excess – sometimes to make a satirical point, more often for the pure fun of it, the re-imagining. Reading Northrop Frye’s Fearful Symmetry at the age of 19 had a significant impact on me, and my final year dissertation for my English Literature degree was on William Blake.
Why Do I Write What I Do?
Originally it was bound up with the process of self-definition, over a long period of time in which I wasn’t particularly happy with myself. Now that I am, I continue to write because it allows me to express something a good deal more positive about the things which interest me, and there are just enough people who enjoy the results to make it feel worthwhile. I really enjoy the research aspect of writing as well, that experience of learning new things and being surprised. I’m particularly in awe of the American poet Sarah Lindsay, whose work is full of scientific or archaeological detail but imaginatively transformed into something unforgettable and moving.
How Does my Writing Process Work?
Unlike many poets, poetry never originates in my head. By which I mean I never have spontaneous ‘poetic thoughts’ as I go about my daily life; no similes or metaphors or phrases or lines will occur to me. My head is a poetry-free zone. What happens is that I will have a notion to write about something, usually something specific like an event or a thing, and then I will sit down with a notebook or notepad in a public place, a pub or a café, and then slowly begin to write from whatever feels like the decent beginning onwards. It’s only in handwriting that the writing brain is engaged.
I think this must be related to the fact that I grew up as an artist, not a writer – from the age of two until about sixteen I would draw every day. Having a pencil or pen in my hand defined who I was and what I wanted to do. I wasn’t a great reader of books, beyond Roald Dahl; my interest was purely in comics. So this mark-making is what I equate with the creative process, and I think it would be fair to say that I draw poems as much as write them. I need to see what I’m doing on the page: that’s what generates the focus and defines the task.
Can I just say here. When I asked ABJ on the phone to do this thing, and told him the questions, his immediate response was that his answer to the final question would be just one word.
‘Oh yes? What word would that be?’
The taggees ABJ has chosen will also be posting their responses as guest posts here on Baroque, and then there will be an end of the guest posts. Excited as I am to think of featuring both of them. They are: the inimitable MATTHEW CALEY, and the equally inimitable ALEXANDER HUTCHISON! Thanks very much all.