Category: Author interviews

Ways in which a writer approaches poetry

Ways in which a writer approaches poetry

Ford Dagenham is one our authors published in I You He She It – a collection of short stories and poems developed out of the Grist project. As part of #OAWeek we asked him to discuss his writing processes and and how he keeps himself on track when writing poetry.

You can read the Grist collection online, open access here.

You can read more around the author on their blog.

The Poetry Process

(readings prose submitting etc are another story)

I write poetry waking up. Not weekends. Days off are ok.

After a day or two off I get the itch. Without being dramatic, who I am unravels.

I post the mornings poem on the blog then I pat myself on the back.

I keep notebooks for poetry and story ideas. I use Notes in my iphone. People assume I am another addict to the glass. I enjoy this misconception.

I look OUT and IN.

I wrote rules down. Its like a blueprint, a distilled list of elements.

I often ignore it.

If I write something that feels dead, it probably is. Its unlikely to merit a funeral.

I resuscitate dead work. Halve its word count. Then its bones show. Then I add flesh and hats.

The delete key is liberation. Often a way out of the swamp.

I repurpose bad work. A bad line ON PURPOSE is ok, even funny.

I delight in accidental rhymes.

Rhyming on purpose is a forced endeavour, lending an expectation that can destroy natural flow.

I find a neighbours minutiae a gift on dead-end mornings.

I stop and start something new. Freshness is spring air and old work can improve like ignored wine.

Distractions can be material. Also they are distractions and inevitable.

Better to not read others work at all, than read it with a mental red pen.

Beware the vacuum, tho it can be informative, like a mirror.

If I write just bare branches, then I add flowers and leaves.

Sometimes a poem is done before you are. Notice this.

I try to be universal and personal. Brand names, song lyrics, ad tags are reality.

I sometimes try for a new language, which sounds poncy.

I enjoy a good typo.

I use no punctuation. When I do use punctuation, its either like a day at the seaside or a horrible school trip.

Writing is a state born of continued trying.

Writing is HEALTHY. That tortured genius lark, I don’t buy it.

My blog says ‘a poem or pic a day until I die or don’t’. This gives me discipline and flexibility.

My blog is the one most important thing that keeps me writing.

I write for me and my dozen regular readers and occasional zines. This is enough.

Moving water is good for inspiration. Like fire. Constant motion. The bath counts and washing the dishes.

Rejection letters/emails are difficult for editors to write. Have empathy. I thank them for a good rejection. I been read. Good.

Rape yourself with kindness.

I dig deep. I skim light.

If I go stale, its often because the music has stopped.

Read poetry. Lots is just guff. Read anyway. Broadly. Dart and prod. Reading poetry on the toilet one morning (counts as running water) I wrote six poems none of which was shit.

I try to be aware of my thoughts. They are journeys.

Songs stuck in my head get new words for the melody.

If I borrow or steal, I credit it in the poem or in the title.

I try not to judge. If I judge I make it clear I’m judging. Then I judge myself.

Have an opinion. Don’t be blind to other opinions.

I have realised I am writing this in the voice of Alan Partridge.

Beware of voices in your head. Or be aware of voices in your head. They are not all for you.

I think in my gut. Head-space is chaotic, don’t spend all day there.

Rarely am I writing the worlds most important poem. But I try to.

There WAS a thousand excuses to not sit down and tap anything out.

There IS a thousand reasons TO sit down and tap something out.

I try not to write about writing. Sometimes I of course do.

I attempt authority. Probably it is fake. We are not all Moses. Its important to believe what you write. Or how will the reader? Don’t be Dan Brown.

I don’t worry about titles. I make it up at the last minute. They can be changed.

If you have a good line that won’t fit, there’s your title.

Use the first line as the title, then the reader hits the ground running.

No title is fine.

A number as a title hints at a secret order.

A title of a COLLECTION is more important. Be understated. The work will fly higher.

Imbibe what you need to. But its YOU that writes, not blended chemicals.

Today I am a sober poet. No one has ever done a harder thing.

I keep calm. Too angry is fine. I wrote one of my best poems when angry with the council housing office.

I read Ferlinghetti’s 2001 inaugural address.

Advertisements
Finding your voice as a poet

Finding your voice as a poet

Tony Watts is an author published in our Grist collection of poetry and prose: I You He She It. As part of #OAWeek we asked Tony to talk about his writing processes and how other writers have influenced the way he approaches his work.

I tend to describe my creative life as a state of permanent writer’s block occasionally interrupted by a poem.  I normally feel so uninspired that my total output of about six hundred poems is a constant source of amazement to me.  I’ve no idea how I did that: it feels as though they were written by someone else – someone much brighter than me.  On the other hand, I don’t just sit around waiting for inspiration (that way lies madness): I keep my oeuvre in a constant state of revision – that is to say, I keep going methodically through the lot looking for what can be improved or rejected.  And when I get to the end, I go back and start again (Sisyphus comes to mind).

As a young aspirational poet I puzzled about how or where I could “find my voice”.  I was led to believe that “finding your voice” was something important that you had to do before you could be a proper poet.  The trouble was that whatever I wrote tended to look like an exercise in the style of the poet I was currently reading.  “In that case, just stop reading”, you might say.  And how wrong you would be.  The solution is to do the opposite – to read as much and as widely as possible – and your “voice” will gradually emerge all on its own.  Billy Collins hit the nail on the head: “The source for a poet’s voice is external, not internal.  It lies within the poetry section of a library.  It is the voice of all those other poets who influence you and are ideally ‘recombined’ in a way that the reader can’t identify very quickly.”  He might have added that there is a catalytic factor involved in this alchemy – and that is the unique set of memories that constitutes your experience of life on earth.  A.E. Housman, Thomas Hardy, W.B. Yeats, Robert Graves, Ted Hughes, R.S. Thomas… these are just some of the favourite poets who, in my case, were fed into the top end of the funnel.  What comes oozing sluggishly out the bottom end is “my” voice.

When asked why he climbed Everest, George Mallory famously replied, “Because it’s there”.  If you asked me why I’m writing a poem, I might say, “Because it isn’t there”.  As a poem begins to take shape in your head, there comes a moment when you become simultaneously aware that there is a poem-shaped hole in the universe and that it has fallen to you to make good this serious deficiency by filling it.  Philip Larkin thought that the reason we write is that everything that’s been written so far is somehow inadequate.  He was right.  While it may seem the height of hubris to imagine you can fill a gap carelessly left vacant by every great writer of the past, the fact remains that the universe has changed – it now has you in it.  And that makes all the difference.

You can read the Grist collection online, open access here.

Author spotlight: exploring the relationships between composers and performers

Author spotlight: exploring the relationships between composers and performers

Music student John Aulich published an article about his research in Issue 2 of our student research journal Fields. We caught up with him for a chat about his work and his experiences getting published.

In the summer of 2015, I was invited to prepare a piece I had written in the third year of my undergraduate studies for inclusion in the second volume of FIELDS. ‘Power, agency, deference and difference: Examining the politics of composer–performer relationships in the wake of recent innovations’ explored the notational praxes of three radically divergent composers to try and uncover the ways in which they might limit or encourage interpretative agency on the part of performers. The paper was one among a number of tentative early steps on a wider research trajectory concerned with the immediate political ramifications of particular pieces of music. In other words, to ask how a piece establishes hierarchies between performers, composers, and audiences at the moment of performance. For me, the emergent political microcosm that a performance inhabits is as integral to what music is or could be as more obvious specifics, such as notes, chords and rhythms.

While further research has since led me to new positions not entirely congruent with the implications and conclusions of that particular paper, being invited to publish and continuously advised by experienced scholars throughout the process gave me the confidence to develop new lines of inquiry. It was an indication that I might be onto something; that somebody somewhere thought it a valuable contribution of potential interest to the wider academic world. Further, participating in Fields allowed me to join a community of colleagues in the same position, whose incredibly diverse research interests caused me to see much more fertile grounds for cross-pollination than I had thought possible, from sociology to biomedical science. To borrow an illustrative concept from the urban sociologist Richard Sennett, the boundaries between our specialisms became fluid sites for the exchange and transformation of ideas: bustling hedgerows as opposed to concrete walls. Such was the impact of this realization that its resonances carried through my master’s research and into the heart of my current interests as a practising composer.

Inspired by the broadening sphere of influence on my creative world, my master’s research sought to turn the gaze of political analysis to my own work. By casting out the critical theory that strongly informed the paper published in FIELDS, I was able to reimagine musical processes and concepts as analogous with aspects of the material world, using post-structuralist materialist philosophy as a theoretical basis. I reimagined the score, for example, as a biological cell-like space with its own agency: it could both absorb and react to a specific performer’s energies, and resist them. To borrow a Tim Ingold idea, rather than read the score, a performer would instead correspond with it. In Condensation (Strike Work) (recording), the music can only take form through an exploration of possible speeds by a specific performer. Like Manuel DeLanda’s Deleuzean metallurgist, a performer cannot impose the final form so much as tease it out.

Illustration 1: Condensation (Strike Work) (2015). The speed indicator line on the left hand side of each staff is indicates the pace of the music relative to the fastest and slowest speeds a particular performer could possibly achieve.

Where I had previously imagined freedom to be the degree to which a performer can exercise their interpretative will uninhibited, I now imagine it to be more akin to the potential for new possibilities to emerge from this kind of correspondence. For Πολυτροπος [Polytropos] (recording), a later piece which I developed with the bass clarinetist and improviser, James Wood, this notion of correspondence took a more qualitative form in what I called the ‘flow rate’ line. To quote from the performance notes, ‘When the line is at its thinnest, performers should dwell in the material, pay more attention to detail, and take as much time as is necessary to execute the particulars as given. When the line is at its thickest, performers should hack through the material, allow for a high degree of inexactitude, and move faster.’

Since completing my master’s degree, I’ve also explored the notion of correspondence with new technology. In an as-yet-untitled piece for fellow composer and violist Adam Sangster, the performer works with a computer algorithm that tends towards certain behaviours, but nonetheless reacts to his sounds in unpredictable ways. It has an agency of its own that he can try to subjugate, and he has an agency that it can also act to undermine by forcing him to switch between one of two staffs (see left).

In at least one respect since FIELDS, I’ve come full circle; a section of my FIELDS paper explored the implications of confusing cueing systems in some works by the composer Christian Wolf. For my first large-scale ensemble piece since participating, the composition of which is ongoing, I have developed a similarly confusion-inducing cueing system of my own. For now, the kinds of correspondence it might illicit among the players remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: I have no idea what I would be doing if it weren’t for FIELDS.

Read John’s article in Volume 2 of Fields

 

 

 

 

 

Author spotlight: solving power issues in engineering

Author spotlight: solving power issues in engineering

Engineering student Nick Horne has recently published an article about his research in our student research journal Fields. We caught up with him for a chat about his work and his experiences getting published.

How would you explain your research to someone new to the subject?

I would explain my research as a methodical approach to an engineering problem, starting with the objectives of the proposed solution in order to gain an understanding of what is required. It was important to understand the problems effecting power system quality, which the project aimed to address, as well as their causes and countermeasures, in order to understand the purpose of the system and produce a good technical report. My research covered the existing technology available, found the best suited to the application and evaluated the results against the highest benchmark I had access to.

As a first time author, how did you find the process of getting published?

I found the process of being published interesting and relatively straightforward. The editors of the journal were very helpful and constructive with their comments and suggestions which my work benefitted from. Ample time and support was given which made the process of writing my article enjoyable and ensured it was of the highest quality I could achieve. The whole experience has been rewarding and I’m proud that my work was selected for publishing in Fields.

How do you think this experience has helped you develop new skills?

The experience taught me how to better structure my sentences and make the journal flow better for the reader, better grammar and punctuation made the article easier to read. My journal was based on my final year project report which was a considerably larger body of work; this experience therefore provided experience in extracting key information and creating a more concise article. It also meant I was able to identify what information from my report would be suited to an academic style paper, adapting certain sections to explain terminology and provide context. Writing for a wider audience, with the aim to interest and educate the reader, was a challenge I enjoyed throughout the process.

Read Nick’s article in Volume 3 of Fields

Author spotlight: how did gender expectations affect medieval England?

Author spotlight: how did gender expectations affect medieval England?

History student Katie McAdam has recently published an article about her research in our student research journal Fields. We caught up with her for a chat about her work and her experiences getting published.

Give us a quick overview of your research area

My area of research has focused on societal gender norms surrounding masculinity and kingship in medieval England. By examining the downfall, death and conspiratorial narratives surrounding Edward II, my article analyses the way in which his failure to meet contemporary gender expectations ultimately doomed his reign, and were to shape the memory of his life and reign. The two areas of masculinity and kingship have been consistently linked throughout the historiography, with Edward often being remembered as a homosexual monarch, even as a gay icon, and his leadership failures are continuously linked with his perceived failings as the ideal medieval male. After Edward II’s death, a letter was written by a notable cleric, Manuel Fieschi, claiming the king was still alive and living out his days secretly as a devout hermit in Italy. My article then goes on to analyse the prevalent trope of secret survival which is associated with many famous deaths throughout history, such as Elvis Presley and Princess Diana and examines why this phenomenon of believing the dead are living on in secret occurs so frequently in history.

How did you find the process of publication? Did it help you to develop as a researcher?

The experience of becoming a first time author has been both exciting and eye-opening for me and has most certainly developed me academically in a number of different ways. I feel my ongoing studies have vastly improved due to the new level of scrutiny I can impose on my own writing and content after working with the Fields team so closely to re-draft and improve my work throughout the past year. Attention to detail was never a strength of mine, but this experience demanded a high level of this skill and so I can now apply this both academically and professionally to my other projects. Overall I also have a much greater appreciation for the level of work that goes into having work published, and as a result feel I hold myself to a much higher standard than before I got involved with the process, which is certainly paying off in other areas such as my grades and feedback.

I have really enjoyed the experience and the process, especially the dedicated workshop day where I could discuss research areas with other writers and learn from each other, and my involvement has definitely made me keen to strive to do similar things in the future.

Read Katie’s article in Volume 3 of Fields

Author spotlight: how do crystals protect our drinking water?

Author spotlight: how do crystals protect our drinking water?

Chemistry student Laura Lo has recently published an article about her research in our student research journal Fields. We caught up with her for a chat about her work and her experiences getting published.

If I was to explain my research to someone new to the subject, I would firstly ask them if they ever thought about the process of clean tap water. We wash, drink and cook with it, but this water has been recycled for 4.6 billion years. You would hope it’s clean! Now, my project is not just about water, it’s also about growing big shiny crystals. Now I know what you’re thinking, how do crystals have anything to do with water? Well, you see, water travels through pipes to reach our taps; however a time before lead poisoning was more understood, houses built before the 1970s used lead pipes that connected to the mains. At present most pipes have been replaced, although water companies will also use a water treatment called phosphate dosing which stops traces of lead leaching from any remaining lead pipes – there are still quite a few! This action results in the formation of a white precipitate which coats the inner pipe, therefore protecting the water. This white precipitate is the crystals! So in a nut shell my project was to develop a new method to grow pure large versions of these crystals in a controlled environment to enable future research in understanding their properties and how they act in the way they do to protect the water and inevitably, us.

I have to admit, the process for Fields was very quick in terms of getting published, before you know it 6 months have passed and you’re handed your final proof albeit lots of back and forth communication and changes that need to be made to your article. The whole experience was one of a kind, you spend your time writing a piece of work that was originally only meant as an essay or dissertation to be read by one or two people, but then it gets chosen to go forward to Fields, and your work suddenly gets critiqued and peer reviewed by experts who decide whether your paper is publishable. But it’s all worth it, seeing how far that piece of work has come, from final year dissertation with a few spelling mistakes here and there (I’m a scientist!) to published journal worthy; it’s a great motivational story to tell.

It’s a massive accomplishment for me, as it’s a rarity to get your paper published as an undergraduate and I am very grateful I have been given this opportunity to share my research and findings. I found this project fascinating and gratifying throughout, therefore I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Read Laura’s article in Volume 3 of Fields

Author spotlight: why is social entrepreneurship on the rise?

Author spotlight: why is social entrepreneurship on the rise?

Social Sciences student Gemma Humphris has recently published an article about her research in our student research journal Fields. We caught up with her for a chat about her work and her experiences getting published.

When I first discovered the term ‘social enterprise’ I had no idea what it was. I researched the term and discovered that a social enterprise is what it says on the tin, a business with a social purpose. Any profit made by the company would be reinvested into its social purposes. As a student wanting to start their own business I was fascinated by this idea and loved the fact that a business can be about more than just profiting the owners. So, when it came to writing my dissertation this seemed like a natural topic to research. Some of my friends didn’t understand the benefits of social enterprise, therefore I wanted to learn more about the people who set-up and run social enterprises and what makes them different to typical entrepreneurs. What I learnt was extremely interesting, making the process of writing the dissertation easier!

When I was asked if I was interested in publishing my dissertation I was surprised and honoured. I had to make plenty of changes to get it to a high enough quality and suitable for publishing. This included cutting down the words from 10,000 to 5,000 which seemed near impossible at the outset! It taught me to refine and perfect my writing, ensuring that I covered my points in as little words as possible.

Although going back to my dissertation multiple times was difficult, I learnt the art of perfection and persistence. Continuing to work on it and making sure that it was at a high standard, which I had not had to do with my other work. This gave me a fresh perspective on the effort that my lecturers and university researchers must put in, to get their work published. This understanding of how research is carried out and developed over time takes a lot longer than I would have ever guessed.

Read Gemma’s article in Volume 3 of Fields