Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Tristan Moss

The cold war cover by Tristan Moss

-Tristan Moss

lives in York with his partner and two youngish children. Over the past 12 years, he has had many poems published in online and paper magazines, such as Magma, Ink Sweat & Tears, Obsessed with Pipework, Snakeskin, Dreich, Poems in the Waiting Room, London Grip & Shadowtrain. He has recently had a pamphlet published entitled The Cold War (Lapwing Publications).

It can be purchased here:

https://sites.google.com/a/lapwingpublications.com/lapwing-store/our-latest-titles

Or if Twitter users DM Tristan, @Tristanmossss they can purchase a copy directly from him.

The Interview

1. When and why did you start writing poetry?

About 20 years ago, I was in an Oxfam bookshop in Sheffield and picked up a book of early Chinese poetry (One Hundred and Seventy Chinese Poems translated by Arthur Waley). This book sparked my interest in poetry. The poems were written with simple, clear language and had images and ideas I could understand.

My initial interest in Chinese poetry led me to read Japanese poetry too, specifically haiku, senryu and tanka. After a while, I started to try and write some of these short forms. I also became interested in imagist poets, such as Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams, due to their link to Japanese and Chinese poetry. As my interest in poetry grew, I read more widely.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

I don’t think anyone introduced me to poetry. I have introduced both my kids to poetry though. And my daughter now loves reading and writing poems and recently had one published in Snakeskin. I was so proud of her.  

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

I’m not nor ever have been aware of the dominating presence of older poets.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

I don’t have one. I write when I have time and when I have ideas, which might mean when I’m walking to work, cooking tea for the kids, or after I’ve got them to bed.  

Once I have an idea or image that interests me, I become quite focused on finding the right words to describe/develop it. If I don’t have any specific ideas or images that I’m passionate about, I sometimes go through old ones that I failed to develop into successful poems, in the hope of seeing a new way of using one.  

5. What subjects motivate you to write?

The pamphlet that I recently published (The Cold War) was written because I wanting to describe events in my childhood and how the loss of my parents made me feel. However, subjects don’t usually motivate me to write. The ideas or images I have that relate to them do.

6. What is your work ethic?

I write whenever I feel moved to and have time. Writing is a privilege and a haven for me. If I’m worried about something, writing and getting lost in language and ideas can often help me escape this worry for a period.

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

I didn’t really read poetry when I was at school as I am dyslexic, and I didn’t have the reading skill to understand it. But in my 30s, I was influenced by early Chinese and Japanese poetry which still have an impact on my work today.

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

I admire so many. I love what Kay Ryan does – her brevity and the subtle ideas embedded in her poems. I also love Ian Seed’s prose-poems which are so fertile with ideas and pull you in with their excellent use of rhythm.

Four poetry books I return to are Miroslav Holub’s Poems Before & After, Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities (I realise that some wouldn’t call this a poetry book), T.S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, and One Hundred and Seventy Chinese Poems translated by Arthur Waley.

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

Writing gives me pleasure because I like using language to frame ideas and images so that they offer new ways of viewing a topic. What drives me is the possibility of being able to provide entry to a new viewpoint on a subject.  

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

I’d say try to write about the feelings, topics or ideas that hold meaning for you, and read! I’d also say, don’t be put off by people who tell you that you’re not a writer.

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

At present, I have a lot of short poems (about 70) that I believe in and want to group together into a couple of pamphlets or one collection. I’m currently trying to get them to coalesce around a single theme or make a cohesive sequence, but this has to be a natural fit, so we’ll see how this plays out and whether they become one collection or two pamphlets.

12. How did you decide on the order of the poems in the book?

The poems that lead up to ‘Background Information’ relate to my childhood. I wanted each of them to build on the poem that came before, and add new aspects to what it was like growing up within my family situation. I also wanted these initial poems to provide an emotional context for the following poems about losing my parents and the different ways I loved them. Putting the poems in this order just felt intuitively right to me. I’d like to think that this pamphlet can be seen as one long poem.

13. How influential are haikus for the small poems in your book?

Short Japanese forms have definitely influenced the shorter poems in this collection, but so has 20th century imagist poetry. 

14. What attracts you to imagist poetry?

I like its concision and use of simple, clear language and concrete images. 

15. How important is nature in your writing?

I grew up in a remote, old farmhouse in the Yorkshire Wolds that my parents rented for £7 a month. We moved there when I was 4 in 1973. For the first five years we lived there, my parents were on the dole and we grew our own veg and kept chickens, ducks, a few goats and a donkey. My brother and I were very much free-range kids: I loved exploring the surrounding woods, valleys, hills, streams, hedges, and trees, in all weathers.

These formative experiences have left me with vivid memories of the Wolds’ landscape and its flora and fauna, which I sometimes use as images in my poems to speak of other things. My poem The Old Ash, in my new pamphlet, is an example of this. It’s based on a tree I used to climb when a child until one night it was blown down.

Thinking about your question has made me realise that nature is a theme I write quite a lot about and enjoy exploring in my poetry. The following three short poems are examples of this.

The Dog Rose

threads its way
through the elder and the hawthorn
and blooms a single layer
of five pink petals: a simple,
untamed beauty, howling
from the hedgerow.

the edge

scattered
across the field
flakes of flint
that may
or may not have been
scrapers, blades,
arrow heads

it’s hard to see
where nature ends
and man begins

Lockdown

No one has weeded
or sprayed between the flagstones,
and a multitude of dandelions
have bloomed.

16. Once they have read “the cold war” what do you want the reader to leave with?

This is a difficult question. I wrote the poems in ‘The Cold War’ for myself. I felt the need to record events and my emotional responses to them. Putting the collection together was a working out of things as much as anything for me after both my parents had died. I hope that readers might be able to connect with some of these poems on a personal level and that some have emotional resonance. I like Ian Seed’s reading of my pamphlet very much: “together [these poems] form an elegy for his parents”. 

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