Friday, 23 September 2011

Sean Bonney - The Commons

To mark the release of Sean Bonney's The Commons (Openned, 2011), Miso thought it would link to this excellent interview with SB himself. Highlights include the response given to the question of perceived 'difficulties' in poetry:

To answer your question, I don’t think of poetry, ‘difficult’ or otherwise, as elitist at all. Poetry is a very marginal artform, it’s true, and for all sorts of reasons – a lot of people don’t like it, and I’m certainly not one of those people who goes on about increasing its readership, and so on. But elitism – I’m not sure whether it’s something that’s restricted to the anglophone world, but in Britain at least there’s historically an anti-intellectualism that calls anything that’s complex, or a little difficult to understand on first hearing, elitism. In the Blair era, ‘elitism’ basically became a synonym for ‘criticising the government’. It’s so obviously repressive, that way of thinking, and ultimately very right wing. I read an article in a performance poetry magazine a few years back, where somebody or other was going on about how the simplistic crap they were writing was stuff that the ‘working class could understand’. That’s the same logic as The Sun newspaper, all the consumerist media really – clever, educated people talking down to people – they think proles are thick, basically, and they want to keep it that way. It’s stupid – especially when you think about how so many of the really important avant-garde artists Britain has produced, Tom Raworth and Derek Bailey, for example, have been from the working class.

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Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Mark Burnhope speaks to Andy Spragg

Mark Burnhope was born in 1982, and currently lives and writes in Bournemouth, Dorset. He studied at London School of Theology before completing an MA in Creative Writing at Brunel University. His poems and reviews have appeared in print and online publications including Magma, Nth Position, Horizon Review, Stride and The Best British Poetry 2011. His debut pamphlet, The Snowboy, is available from Salt Publishing.

When did you start writing? Was it poetry in particular? 

I remember being about fourteen, discovering Wordsworth and Blake, and writing little Romantic poems which I once put together with illustrations in a handmade book, because Blake did, sort of. I have a vague memory of reading ‘Daffodils’, noticing that Wordsworth described this field of daffodils as a ‘host’. I wrote a poem about a field of angels, thinking I was cleverly working with that idea. I wasn’t. I was actually undoing, sucking the life out of, a brilliant metaphor. I laugh about that now. But I started writing poems seriously during GCSE English. I wrote a poem for an assignment. My teacher, Mr. Matthews, had a contagious passion and excitement for poetry, and his enjoyment of Dylan Thomas, William Blake, Sylvia Plath and others rubbed off on me. That assignment was to write a Gothic Horror story. I told my teacher that I didn’t feel very confident in fiction, and asked if I could write a horrific poem instead. I also didn’t want to do horror, but the crucifixion was kind of bad, wasn’t it, so can I write about that? He let me off, and then gave me an A. I didn’t need much encouragement to get serious. That reluctance with fiction though has never really gone away, and although I’ve attempted a novel, it’s been stashed away in a drawer, two thirds finished, for years now. So yes, I’ve had a voracious, almost exclusive appetite for poetry all these years.

Which particular writers would you say have been an influence?

Lots, I read all over the place. I’m not a massive reader of prose, but C.S. Lewis, for his children’s stuff as well as for his satire, like The Screwtape Letters. Bunyan: I’m interested in allegory and symbol, probably over and above metaphor. Indra Sinha, D.B.C Pierre, Ali Smith. In terms of poetry, the Metaphysicals, particularly John Donne and Andrew Marvell. The metaphysicals have fallen in and out of favour in contemporary poetry for obvious reasons; we live in a society where, gladly, no belief is given more airtime than another. Readers can be put off by the mere mention of religious belief, and for good reason; but it can be to their detriment if they miss the linguistic leaps these writers were taking. I’ve tried to absorb and utilise elements from Wallace Stevens, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Yeats, Hopkins, R.S. Thomas. These writers created a religious tradition which is multi-faceted, innovative, and far from embarrassing. I’m interested in the pastoral, nature/landscape, Romantic traditions: from Blake, John Clare, Robert Frost, to Norman MacCaig, Seamus Heany, Dylan Thomas and Ted Hughes. Lastly, I’m interested in satirical, anti-poetic treatment of difficult social and political subject-matter. Zibniew Herbert has been a big one there. Current poets like Andrew Philip, Tony Williams, Michael Symmons Roberts, Andy Brown, John Burnside, Sian Hughes, Angela Topping, A.B. Jackson, Tim Atkins, Ira Lightman, Bobby Parker and Steven Nelson have added something or other to my thinking about the part I might play. Oh, and Luke Kennard, who reminds me with linguistic skill and a good sprig of anarchy, never to take things too seriously, even when they are serious. Seriously; life is too short to read too many poems which don’t make you laugh.