Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Phil Vernon

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews

I am honoured and privileged that the following writers local, national and international have agreed to be interviewed by me. I gave the writers two options: an emailed list of questions or a more fluid interview via messenger.

The usual ground is covered about motivation, daily routines and work ethic, but some surprises too. Some of these poets you may know, others may be new to you. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I do.

philvernon_frontcover

 

Phil Vernon

lives in Kent in the UK, where he returned in 2004 after two decades in various parts of Africa. He works as an advisor on peacebuilding and international development. He mainly writes formal poetry, finding the interaction with pre-established patterns of rhythm and rhyme can lead in surprising directions. His poems have been published in numerous magazines, journals and websites, and been shortlisted in, and even won a couple of competitions. A micro-collection, This Quieter Shore, was recently published by Hedgehog Poetry Press https://www.hedgehogpress.co.uk/product/stickleback-v-phil-vernon-this-quieter-shore-limited-print-edition/

Some of his poetry can be found on his website www.philvernon.net/category/poetry.

The Interview

  1. What inspired you to write poetry?

I have written poetry during three phases of my life. At school, and for a year or two thereafter, I wrote a few poems, but I can’t recall why, and they weren’t much good. In my late twenties I lived in a remote village in Sudan and wrote poems as a way to compress and express my sense of awe at the landscapes and the sheer difference. And then I took up writing poems again six years ago, partly as a way to occupy long international flights and my (then) daily commute, and got hooked.

  1. Who introduced you to poetry?

Hard to recall. But I do remember my father persuading me and by brother to learn Blake’s Tyger Tyger, burning bright,/ In the forests of the night by heart.

  1. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?

I think I’ve always been aware of both older and modern poetry.

  1. What is your daily writing routine?

I read some poetry most days, but may go for a week or two without really working on a poem. I keep a notebook where I scribble odd ideas as they occur. Sometimes they never get used; sometimes I use them in a poem the same day or soon after; other times I might pick them up again a year or more later, and start to work a poem around them. Once that happens I work fitfully on the poem until it seems to be finished – perhaps 3-4 times per day. And then later on, revise it again; and again. And probably again.

Because I usually write formal verse, it can take a long time to get the form and content to fit.

  1. What motivates you to write?

The pleasure of the craft. Interest in the insights which emerge. The desire to say something interesting and/or inspiring in an aesthetically successful way. Pride when it comes together.

  1. What is your work ethic?

Driven by the work, rather than driving the work.

  1. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?

I used to like Dylan Thomas then, and probably unconsciously tried to imitate his musicality. Nowadays I find his style outweighs the content. TS Eliot was a favourite and probably influences me unconsciously still.

When I was a little older, I remember being knocked sideways by Larkin’s Aubade when it came out. He is still a favourite and perhaps my most important influence. I am impressed by the virtuosity, and moved by the emotions of Arundel Tombs and The Whitsun Weddings, for example.

  1. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?

Don Paterson consistently, for his ear, his insights, his technique and knowledge.

  1. Why do you write, as opposed to doing anything else?

Probably because I am still trying to make sense of things, and poetry is a way to explore that.

  1. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”

Read a lot. Then write. Keep doing both.

  1. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.

Two main threads to my poetry currently. First, I’ve been writing a series of poems loosely woven around the garden, gardening and landscape more broadly, as metaphors for a variety of things including relationships, dealing with change, and examining the concept of progress. For example:

Mysterious garden

That loosestrife overwhelms the rose

in June, which branches bow when wet,

a secret silence when it snows,

how birds change key before sunset,

 

that leaves now green were apple red,

where wrens build nests behind the fern,

which clematis wear velvet threads

and which wear silk: all this we’ve learned.

 

And yet, it’s only as we turn

the soil, and sow and thin and hoe,

and tie the taller stems to stays,

 

and coax the unforeseen, and prune

to let light in, we start to know

what this year’s garden wants to say.

 

Second, I’m interested in how individuals – some well-known, many not – interacted with the circumstances they found themselves in at their particular moment in history: how they were shaped by their environment, and shaped it in return. For example:

Catherine writes home from the Via Appia  

After the Romans subdued the insurrection led by Spartacus,

they crucified more than 6000 slaves along 130 miles

of the Via Appia. – Nineteenth century guide book.

 

‘A cold, dry wind blows hollow through the hearts

of travellers from Capua to Rome;

a cross set every thirty paces marks

their haunted progress northward and reminds

them uniformly, order outweighs stone.

 

Uncountable, the undrawn souls consigned

to void, unnamed in epitaph or song…

Conflict is human history’s constant bride;

her dowry underwrites a wedding feast

for which both invitation list and night are long.

 

With fewer wars today, by learning peace

we darkly learn ourselves: is it enough

we see the cruelty in war decrease

and yet sustain it, plainly hidden among

the dancing shadows of our winter hearth?

 

All hurt is felt and meted out by one

and every violence is intimate:

upon each cross a soldier nails a man.

Each night I shrink and tighten, and await

the terror of your voice, your breath, your hand.’

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