You write both prose and poetry. What came first? Does one form tend to follow another?
For myself, prose came first and has always been the style of writing I was most interested in. It has only been this year that I’ve really pursued poetry due to studying it as part of my degree.
I think that to be a great poet one must be an avid reader of prose, as it is prose that follows the linear narrative that best encapsulates the human experience. But more and more I find poetry to be supreme as an art form. Good poetry, to quote Riffaterre, should be like an American-style donut, with the subject missing like the hole. If I am able to make you feel things and know things without directly spelling them out, then how much richer is the poem-reading experience? To make the reader come to a seemingly original thought is an incredible accomplishment, and that is why poetry is never straight-forward. By use of metaphor and indirection, the poet is able to communicate through the more elemental tools of feelings and instincts. So on that basis, I think I would say that while most writers feel more comfortable with prose, I actually see poetry as the foundational style at which to write.
The idea of alternative narratives/pathways features prominently in your poetry, for example in ‘This is a Poem’ published on The Corner and ‘Binary Stars’ forthcoming in Vol. 6. What is it about the form(s) of poetry that inspires you to experiment in such a way?
Yes! It’s strange, but I’ve enjoyed trying more experimental forms of poetry recently. I call this form ‘exponential poetry’ and I love the challenge of having several different images or stories start and end in the same place, weaving in and out of each other. This is another strength of poetry as opposed to prose: it is so flexible. Because poetry is really more of an art form than a method of simple communication a lot more emphasis can be put on form and how that form shapes the reader’s understanding of the whole piece. For example, in ‘Binary Stars’ I think the idea of a complicated person who has many stories that define her comes through in the way the sentences separate and flow back into each other. So, the form adds to the overall point of the poem. It was a challenge to read it aloud at the Volume 6 launch, but it was fun to give it a go.
I hear you have a novel-in-progress. Dare I ask what it’s about?
Please ask away! It’s going to be quite a long process I think. I’m trying to bring back the genre of the great epic, the kind of stories that take on a mythic quality in the way that they encompass so much of the human experience. My novel takes place in an alternative 1960, where WW1 was really the war to end all wars and there has been a kind of utopian peace ever since, making the world as perfect as it realistically could be. The protagonist is an elderly widower who wins a contest run by the League of Nations which requires him to travel to every country in the world. In order to win, he has to write the best travelogue of his adventures. But a lot of the story is about him applying what he learns about adventure and travel to his own life, as he’s got a lot of baggage from relationships and certain choices he’s made. Also he starts discovering that this perfect world his generation built is starting to unravel. So there’s lots going on!
I think that one of the main points of the book is that we can still keep learning about how we want to live and the kind of people we want to be, even as we get older. I actually think that’s part of why I wanted to write this book, to prove that made up stories can still be about teaching us things. So this book will hopefully cover everything from the sensory to the spiritual and hopefully someone will want to publish it!