Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Tony Noon

Tony Noon reading

-Tony Noon

Lives in Mexborough , South Yorkshire. Poems have appeared in magazines , anthologies and in local and national newspapers. As well as AllPoetry , work can be found on sites such as The Blue Hour and The Camel Saloon.

The Interview 

1. When and why did you start writing poetry?

I can be fairly explicit about this . The year was 1974.

I know this , because I remember putting a label on the front of a hardback exercise book
and simply writing 1974 in stylised numbers on the front.

It was not a poetry book , as such , but a book of meanderings.

Hopefully humorous articles , comedy sketches, and early poems both funny and “ serious”.

It was clear at this stage that I considered myself to be an “all rounder” rather than
specifically a poet, although my earliest performed piece was part of our Sixth Form
Revue .

Entitled “ Flaming Beans” , and parodied from a famous TV advert of the time
it went as follows:

I’m wearing mummy’s apron
I’m wearing mummy’s shoes
I’m smoking mummy’s cigarettes
And drinking mummy’s booze
‘Cos I’ve locked her in a cupboard
And we all know what that means…
It means we’ll get some proper food
Instead of flaming beans !

I should add that appropriate to the customs and humour of the time … the performer was a
student teacher dressed as a St. Trinian’s sixth former .

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

Flaming Beans owed more to The Two Ronnies than any true bard ,of course.
My real inspiration to write “proper” poetry was Roger McGough , who I first saw on a tv magazine programme reciting a poem about a coin. Not sure if it was one of his own, but Roger’s unique voice and stylishness stuck in my young mind.
This would have been late sixties and up to this point Roger was mostly famous for singing “Lily the Pink” and “Thank U Very Much” with Scaffold.
Much later I remember Roger reciting “At Lunchtime” on the telly and I became a full on fan.
I learnt a lot about the Liverpool Poets after this.
I particularly liked to hear Roger reciting his work to a musical accompaniment. I think I tried to emulate the Liverpool style and sensibility in a lot of my early work.
Some worked better than others.

I also remember many reflective hours in the library at Wath upon Dearne, probably 1972-3, reading poetry by Thom Gunn and others when I should have been working on Economics essays.

3.How aware are and were you of the dominating presence of older poets, traditional
and contemporary?

Dominating presence seems to be a dilute notion to me these days.

There are very famous names I have grown up with who gave a shape to English literature , running from , say, Milton and Shakespeare, to Dylan Thomas and Larkin. Their works have been reprinted countless times and distributed widely , and their work will always be held in high regard.

The paradox today is that although it is, perhaps, easier for poets to get their work into print , it is harder for relative newcomers to attract and maintain people’s attention.

Poetry is just one more information flow which readers process alongside soundbites, photos and music from myriad sources.

If we consider the post of Poet Laureate, as an example , a large proportion of the public would have known who John Betjeman was , even if they weren’t familiar with his work . A smaller percentage knew much about Ted Hughes. By the time we get down to Simon Armitage , marvellous as he is , I have a feeling that the average person in the street now would say Simon Who ?

My own template of what I might call a positive influence , rather than a dominating one, would be the late Dannie Abse. I had the great privilege of meeting him briefly at an awards ceremony.

A giant of the poetry world , he seemed a very unassuming person who was happy to speak to people he didn’t know. What impressed me most of all was that his undoubted poetic achievements were won whilst also working full time as a physician in a chest clinic for over thirty years.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

I’ve never been a blank sheet of paper and a pen kind of writer.
For years my work was an assortment of bits of poems scribbled on the back of envelopes and bus tickets. My mind would become preoccupied with a few words , maybe overheard ,or a snippet I had seen in the newspaper.
Somewhere in my unconscious mind, these would link up with other words and I would have to write them down on the nearest available piece of paper so that I wouldn’t forget them.
These would then sit in a shoebox until I knew what to do with them.
Eventually , I got hold of an electric typewriter and put the pieces together to make my first batch of poems. I was rather proud of them , and kept them in the box for another age, until I felt confident enough to show them to the outside world.
Nowadays, this whole process has collapsed to a few manoeuvres.
The creative part of the process is largely the same. I let ideas and phrases swing about and collide until a sort of sensible pattern emerges in my brain.
This could be 10 o’clock in the morning or sometime after midnight.
Depending on how much sense the words make depends on what I do next.
If I think there may be more to add , I will type the words into Google Docs , so I can play with it later.
If the poem feels fully formed , I may type it straight into the AllPoetry site and publish it. The beauty of sites like this is that you can quickly get a feel for whether people are reading your work , and you can always edit the work if you feel afterwards that a different word might work better…
This is something you could never do in the pre digital age. Once you had published a poem , that was pretty much it.
I should add that although the creation phase may take days , weeks or years in some instances , the actual process of typing can be early morning or late at night as the need arises.

5. What subjects motivate you to write?

Many years ago a well known poet from Sheffield ,on meeting me at a literature
festival ,asked what kind of poetry I wrote.

After racking my brains for what seemed an endless couple of moments , I said
“ Free Verse” as I couldn’t think of a better answer.

She didn’t actually roll her eyes, but the way she said “ Well , obviously …” implied
the roll, and the way she half turned to the next nearest person helped to put the
youngster in his place.

All these years later , the question is no less complex.

As I mentioned earlier , I don’t sit down with a blank sheet of paper and an agenda to
fulfil…which is not the same as saying I have no agenda.

It’s just that the agenda only emerges in hindsight …

What happens is that words coalesce at their own pace in my mind ,eventually
forcing themselves onto paper, sometimes fully formed but often like a half
fashioned clay sculpture that has to be moulded and teased into shape.

It’s at this point that I begin to recognise what the poem wants to say and I
consciously add and take away words until I have something which feels like it can
stand alone.

At the time of writing , each poem is an individual piece of work , but with hindsight I
can see preoccupations which could be construed as themes.

I can see maybe a dozen or so poems which have been shaped by the odd
constraints of the pandemic lockdowns.

Viewed over a longer period , they fit just as well into a perception of the UK as a
society which had been drawing the curtains early for over a decade prior to Covid.

Other pools of concern have been the social and economic decay arising out of
industrial decline .

A lot of other poems seem to relate to time and quantum physics…

Sometimes I’ll knock out a comic poem like “ Robin Hood and The Job Centre”

This kind of disjointedness makes it hard for me to label myself … but it is very like life …

6. What is your work ethic?

In a literal ,rather than a literary, sense I inherited a very strong work ethic from my father.
He always stressed the importance of two things.

These were , the roof over your head and the food on your table
Everything else was secondary from his point of view.

Accordingly , apart from one brief spell around twenty years ago , I was fortunate enough to find full time paid work which enabled me to fulfil my familial obligations.

During all this time , my writing has co-existed in the spaces between activities .

At the beginning of every day , and at the end , and on thousands of bus journeys , I was a poet.

The words seemed to distil themselves from everyday experiences and interactions.

Ultimately the worker and the writer became symbiotic. This process continues today.

I am often working just by walking about.

7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence your work today?

Not so much , I think.
What has happened over the years is that , like surfing the net , I have added to my mental library of styles that I admire and picked up a few bits and pieces of advice about writing poetry which I have allowed to mingle and simmer over time.
My preference is ,and always has been, for short poems and creative use of space , so my mindset has moved over time, I think , to a more American style of poetry.

8. Whom of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?

I probably don’t read enough new poetry , although I am hugely supportive of emerging talent when I see or hear it.
If we tweak the dial a little to include people who have been around for a while but can still do it , I like Brian Bilston and John Hegley , and of course anything by Roger McGough is added to my metaphorical bedside pile without further recommendation.
The why is fairly obvious to anyone familiar with these three. They all have the ability to take everyday life and twist it to show us all that our lives are multifaceted and wonderful

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

To be fair, I wear two hats, both invisible, but interchangeable as required .
One says “ Danger, Poet at Work” and the other one says “ Smile … I’m a Cartoonist” …
I don’t generally divulge to folk that I write poetry. This enables me to hoover up everything I see or hear and decide whether I can make use of any of it.
That’s why the invisible hat says “ Danger”…
Another reason I leave it off the table is that, like comedians, people either ask if you can write them a poem , or read them a poem you have written.
If you do have something you prepared earlier , they listen quizically , then smile apologetically as they tell you they don’t get it.
Cartooning is slightly different. Lots of people are familiar with my cartoons , and if they don’t get it , they don’t tend to say so … I’ve had a few emojis , but I don’t understand most of them ; )
Both these strands have been outlets for my self-expression since I was a child , and both are vital parts of the whole , but overall, writing has been the medium which shines a light on my deepest concerns and motivations.

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

“The road is long , with many a winding turn , that leads us to who knows where…”
So the famous old song goes…
My road has certainly been long and winding . So long that parts of it fell into the sea years ago.
When I was first looking for outlets for my work , the starting point was the local library and the most up to date version available of the ArtIsts and Writers Yearbook.
After reading and ignoring the advice of the poetry specialist , who always said times were hard and the prospects for new poets were grim , I would make a list of interesting sounding magazines and their addresses.
These would be called things like Bare Wires or Beyond The Brink. The more odd sounding , the better.
I would then begin a round of writing to editors and attaching five or six copies of my typewritten poems.
Many of these magazines were no more than stapled collections of typed poems with a photocopied thin board cover , but to have a poem published felt great. There was a kind of cult feeling to being in these mags which outweighed the low quality of the reproduction.
The downside of this approach was that the timescale was unpredictable. The work that you had sweated to compose and jarred your fingers to type then sent off in a brown envelope was now like the Voyager spacecraft , slowly making its way through deep space.
After what seemed like an eternity , you might get another brown envelope back saying that a particular editor would like to publish one or more of your poems, and sometime after that a complimentary copy of the mag might land on your mat.
Sometimes poems were returned unopened , which was hugely disappointing , or they disappeared completely and you never got any response.
At this point , it was back to the library and start again , and again , and again…
The last part of the last sentence is the important point.
Although electronic media have made it easier today to identify outlets , submit work and receive quick feedback , the potential for quick disappointment has also grown.
The important quality for the aspiring writer , though, is exactly the same.
The ability to pick yourself up and start again will pay off eventually.

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

My site WAITING FOR THE ENCORE (tonynoon.blogspot.com) which I add to from time to time has lots of odds and sods including cartoons and articles.
The title ,Waiting For The Encore , refers to following poem


When Beethoven rolls me over
by some green pasture
and still water browns
with more tea, vicar,
you will find me last
in the pews at evensong.

Waiting for the encore
This was itself a reference to the habit a pal and I had when we were teenagers of shouting for encores for any act appearing at our local club.

It didn’t matter whether they were any good. The more encores we got , the longer we got to drink up after last orders.

Most of my latest work goes directly to TonyNoon642 – poet at allpoetry these days as I can easily see if people are viewing a particular poem and the culture of the site encourages an exchange of comments.
Tony Noon – Poet Tony Noon Poems (poemhunter.com) is also an ongoing project which contains some , but not all of the same poems as allpoetry.
Unique to this site is Poem for Synthesised Voice …which I wrote specifically because this site has a synthesised voice which reads a poet’s work aloud .
The poem is an attempt to capture the rhythm of the synthesised voice without it sounding odd…

I have also found it interesting to add a few poems to Places of Poetry . This attempts to show on a map where each poem was conceived.

Hope other readers may find it interesting too. Navigate the site by clicking on the three bars top right then put in Tony Noon in the enquiry box… The whole project was a tremendous piece of work and you can easily pass an hour by simply picking an area on the map and drilling down and down to see what emerges .

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