Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Peter Clive

-Peter Clive

lives on the southside of Glasgow, Scotland with his wife and their three children. He is a scientist who has worked in the renewable energy sector for nearly two decades. As well as poetry, he enjoys composing music for the piano and spending time in the Isle of Lewis and St Andrews with family. His first poetry collection, “the end of the age of fire,” about climate change, was published to coincide with COP26 and is currently available. “stowaway” is his second collection.

Links to collections

stowaway: https://www.lulu.com/en/us/shop/peter-clive/stowaway/paperback/product-qm8qjd.html 

the end of the age of fire: https://www.lulu.com/en/us/shop/peter-clive/the-end-of-the-age-of-fire/paperback/product-vnr4kd.html

The Interview

1. When and why did you start writing poetry?

I started writing when I was a teenager, however I was aware of my limited experience at the time and chose to focus more on music as a creative outlet. I play and compose for the piano and have played keyboards and bass in various bands. I’d say my piano composition was what I was most invested in until I returned to poetry in my late 30s and early 40s. I’d have to admit that there was a practical reason at first: it is easier to write poetry when you have a young family than it is to write music, as you are generally not disturbing anyone or keeping them awake. However, I quickly came to appreciate writing poetry as a means for introspection and personal growth.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

I’ve always been aware of poetry since I can remember. My gran wrote poetry in large hardbound foolscap notebooks, which was often humorous observations on individuals or life in general, and she would entertain my sisters and I with it as children. She was a great animal lover and so animals and birds often provided subjects for her writing. There were more serious poems that she wrote during periods of insomnia and depression which we discovered later. She had a very keen sense of social justice and so some poems expressed a strong sense of righteous indignation.

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

There was always a certain sense of reverence in my family about Robert Burns and Omar Khayyam when I was growing up. I can still recite sections of the Ruba’iyat from memory from hearing my father launch into it when I was a child. Coleridge and Shelley were present too: I recall my mother reading me the Rime of the Ancient Mariner when I was 4 or 5, and my father very dramatically reciting Ozymandias. There was also Palgrave’s Golden Treasury. In addition, we were exposed as children to British imperial poetry to stir our patriotic zeal, the likes of The Charge of the Light Brigade and Casabianca and so on, in a way that seems utterly alien and incomprehensible now, thankfully. At the same time the poets of the Scottish Renaissance, the mid-20th century literary revival, were read. My father was particularly fond of William Soutar, whereas I probably gravitated more towards Norman MacCaig. A lyric sense was probably derived from folk song. My mother sang professionally with her sisters, and Scottish and Irish folk music was a constant presence.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

I find there isn’t a routine. I have periods during which I seem to be quite productive, producing more than one poem a day, and other fallow periods where I just don’t seem to have a conducive mindset or the necessary energy. At the same time, I do think it is often important to let things develop slowly at the back of your mind over a long period of time, especially the longer poems. These can take shape over a matter of weeks as a result of long periods of reflection on the subject on trains and buses, or while walking to work. There is a gestational process for some subjects. Other poems emerge almost fully formed immediately and are ready after a day’s revision and polishing.

5. What subjects motivate you to write?

I have noticed certain themes I return to. I produced a collection called “the end of the age of fire” that was concerned with climate change. But beyond that what it was concerned with was taking a very longitudinal view of the human situation, looking at our presence in the broadest possible context, the sum total of our impact as a species over the entire duration of its presence on Earth, and what that means, what it tells us about ourselves.

This is consistent with other pre-occupations I have, such as the metaphysical reflections about the universe and our place in it which I will cover in the forthcoming collection “Moonsong”. Poetry allows us to discuss the world from a place where ethics and aesthetics, physics and metaphysics, are all one and the same thing, deriving from a perspective, a viewpoint, that one has when one stands apart from quotidian urgencies into that other time and space created by poetry. I think that unity, and trying to find a voice for it, to express the inexpressible experience of it, is a powerful motivation for me. All creative endeavour should aim to achieve the impossible. A poet is concerned with finding the miraculous in the meaningless. This is the fundamental act of creation we seek to emulate.

6. What is your work ethic?

I cannot claim to have much of a work ethic. I wish I did. I find myself either responding to ideas on an impulsive basis or poring over the material I have produced as a result late at night.

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

I am not sure I can really attribute an influence to the writers I admire. An appreciation, but not necessarily and influence, as that would suggest it is within my power to absorb and express that influence. The achievements of the poets I admire seem impossible to me. For example, I recall discovering Paul Celan for the first time when I was young. I was completely blown away. It’s difficult to describe the effect. At the same time there is no way I could or would ever attempt to emulate anything about his work. I would not insult the impossible by suggesting it could be repeated. Similarly, I remember when I first read Rabindranath Tagore’s Gitanjali, which just seemed utterly miraculous. At the same time, I don’t think you could find two things more different than the work of Celan and Tagore.

I like to think the main influence on my poetry is still music, which has been my main creative outlet for most of my life. I think of poems, especially longer pieces, in symphonic terms, composed from ideas rather than melodies and harmonies, to engage the reader and progress them through states of mind. This inevitably places some distance between me and a reader who is looking for something else, the spoken word staples of emotional honesty and relatable content. I see myself as more of a page poet rather than a stage poet. I’m trying to achieve a different kind of impact.

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

This is such a difficult question, as there are so many! Off the top of my head I would say David Ross Linklater, Jane Lovell, Mary Ford Neal, Morag Anderson, all people who made me think “wow, this is the real deal” when I first encountered their work, Louise Glück (I remember picking up Averno for the first time and simply being unable to put it down, it was so compelling), Andrea Gibson (I recall reading her for the first time in a bar in Boulder, Colorado, being moved to tears by The Madness Vase, and getting thrown out for ruining people’s enjoyment of the ice hockey game). I admire directness and concision, I admire work that penetrates to the essence of something and reveals it deftly.

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

It certainly is a compulsion. On the one hand there is the feeling that some things need to be said, but that raises the question of why I should be the one to say them, and whether I contaminate them with my ego by doing so. Therefore, there is also a sense in which writing is a search for beauty that exists independently of the self. I have said previously that beauty is the experience of seeing what the world is like when you’re not in it, the attenuated terror and relief, the cliff edge from which one surveys the breath-taking landscape, the duality of annihilation and transformation. There is a destructive as well as a creative urge, which is inevitable when we as humans attempt to emulate the divine. There is a sense of picking at a scab, of exposing something festering to the light of day. Therefore, many of my poems are quite angry and indignant, but when we consider the evils we have brought into the world and continue to tolerate, I think that is reasonable.

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

I would say “write”. Begin. Writing is a personal journey, and to become a writer, all one needs to do is take the first step, and to remain a writer, all you have to do is to continue. You don’t even know what needs within yourself you are satisfying when you start. You will develop a deeper awareness of this as you go. Don’t try to answer any questions, don’t prematurely place any burden of expectation on yourself, just start. The rest comes later.

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

I’ve got a bit of a pipeline of poetry collections in various stages of preparation. Each collection has a degree of thematic coherence, tries to address a particular set of issues or experiences, and has been assembled from work I have accumulated over the years. I think the next two collections I will produce will be “Moonsong,” which reflects on more esoteric, mystical, metaphysical questions, and “Crossing the Minch,” which is more rooted in time and place, being concerned mainly with poetry associated with the Isle of Lewis, where my mother is from, and where I have spent my summers since childhood. I think these may even come out at the same time, sort of like a double album. After than I am considering a collection of poems that include mythological and contemporary themes in which the main protagonist is female, called “19 women”. I also have some reflections on love called “love remains” in preparation, and some more personal poems I might gather into a collection called “feral”.

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