POETRY: BUILDING COMMUNITY
we had the opportunity to ask carl a couple of questions about his newest work "changing places" before he comes to vitruvian wellness on december 14th (you can get your ticket here.)
if you are looking for an evening of laughter, tears, creativity, connection and inspiration then this is the event for you. for so many of us, poetry conjures up an image of the unattainable but, for us, carl's poetry is all about the relatable; the highs and lows of life and the experiences that, upon reflection, make life beautiful in its tragedy and in its majesty.
in the section about the author it says that you used to write a lot as a teenager then stopped after leaving school? at our wellness centre, one of the things we see is how grief can cause blockages, energetically, physically, creatively or otherwise. you spoke in your poem "Coming to Grief" about the grief you felt at the loss of a home and also later in the about the author section it mentioned your return to writing after encounters with other writers in oxfordshire.
can you speak about the importance for you to have time away from writing? was it something you let happen naturally? were you able to lean into it? was it something you felt the need to fight off?
my time away from writing arose from a combination of factors. i’ve always assumed that the primary reason was that, by the time I was 22, i’d spent 6 years studying, and responding critically to, some of europe’s most important writers. this was both exciting, and discouraging. it left me feeling that there were plenty of people with more to say, and better ways of saying it, than me. i also had a full-time career in business and a young family, and these were the focal points of my time and energy.
In that 25-year period I often thought about, and experienced, the world as a writer. i mean my emotional response was important, and i took a certain pleasure in trying to form forensic, and ear-catching, descriptions of that response. one of the benefits of that protracted period of non-writing (by which I mean not making marks on paper in response to what i noticed) has been a large cache of material waiting to be examined and made into poems. i also appreciate the chance to see events through the perspective i had when they happened, as well as with the experience and, perhaps useful, detachment of age.
And then there were some experiences of loss that i didn’t process at the time, and have only been able to write about because i have learnt, through therapy and reflection, to approach them without fear.
was it something that bothered you?
yes, in that I was occasionally scribbling a few lines, and often wondering how I was going to get to a place where i would have the time and space to devote to writing.
how important was finding a community of other writers to starting your journey back into writing? was the support something you felt you needed? or had missed?
i had a couple of chance encounters with writers – one an old college acquaintance, the other a friend of a friend - which made me realise that the only thing stopping me from being a writer was the fact that i wasn’t writing. so i went to a few workshops, and on some longer retreats, and applied myself to the activity of making marks on paper. a lot of people encouraged me and showed me how to make the emerging poems tighter and clearer. a community of practice is so important to me. open mic evenings have helped me see and hear and feel how my poems land with others. being in writing groups with people who care about each other’s writing is a source of support, encouragement, and essential critical reading.
in the current wake of the lockdown etc, what advice can you give to people who find themselves changed? having spent their lives doing something only to find now that they can’t or don’t want to or have no inclination to do it now? like your journey from writing to not writing to writing again? (i can’t help but see parallels between what you went through and what so many people are going through currently)
i’m not one for handing out advice. what I’ve learnt is that if you have the creative urge, it probably won’t leave you alone. if you attend to it, it will bring you exhilaration and frustration. it probably won’t put food on the table, and it will take you on a few adventures.
have you always written poetry?
i don’t remember a time when i wasn’t fascinated by the elastic possibilities of language. i have always loved playing, and working, with words.
do you recall the first poem you ever wrote?
i thought it would have been a love poem for a girlfriend when I was about 15. but your question made me delve into my teenage notebooks, which i have kept. and there were lots of forgotten - and forgettable – pieces in there. if nothing else it showed me how unreliable memory is! so the simple answer is ‘no’.
what is the most important aspect for you of sharing your poetry with others?
frank o’hara talks about the point at which a poem stops being a thing between two pages and becomes a thing between two people. Once the poems are out there in the world i have no control over them, or over the readers’ reaction to them. when someone lets me know that one of my poems has meant something to them, when a poem – even for a moment - finds a home for itself in someone else’s world, that delights me as much as the process of creating and editing the poem itself. live readings are particularly special occasions for me because the response to the poems is immediate and unfiltered, so I quickly discover whether I’ve actually got anything to say.
your poems build immediate connection, do you think there is something about the connection found in a poem between author and reader that facilitates healing? for the author? for the reader? for both or not at all? if so, how do you think this healing works? is it something you are aware of as an author as you write?
i think it’s fine to use poems – our own and others’ - to heal ourselves. writing is a part of healing for many people. i do not presume that my poems have the power to heal anyone else. that old college acquaintance i mentioned is alan buckley – a fine poet and very experienced psychotherapist. he’s now a good friend, and he gave me the invaluable advice that there must always be room for the reader in a poem. i wouldn’t offer my poems to readers or listeners in the hope of being healed myself, because I’m not sure that would leave room for them.