-Glenn A. Barker
a late developer in the treading and threading of formal and free verse, delves into the dislocated and saturated human dynamics of the way we live now, the age of anxiety. He also writes abstract expressionist wordscapes, rowdy cousin of the imagist style, and lighter sketches of contemporary life. He is yet to understand the world he writes about.
- When and why did you start writing poetry?
I first started writing at the beginning of 2021, in the grip of another pandemic lockdown. The relentlessness of it all on our inner and outer lives tipped me into writing what I was thinking and feeling. Mental health is a fine balance; mine was a lingering low mood from household isolation. I felt that writing it down, whatever it was, would help me to get it out of my head.
2. Who introduced you to poetry?
My wife’s brother-in-law has been writing poetry for decades, and I had started to type up his fragmented work into something more presentable. However, it was Ian McMillan who really got me started, through a Twitter Lockdown Sonnet series. At the end of the video he said, “Have a go at your own sonnet”. So I did, and started writing lockdown sonnets.
3. How aware are you and were you of the dominating presence of older poets traditional and contemporary?
I think that for many people outside the poetry community, traditional poetry and the older poets remains the cornerstone of what a poem should sound like, and the themes it should encompass. I think I felt that too, until I started reading them and found nothing to draw me in. It was itself a wasteland; all far to erudite for me to feel any emotional connection with it. Finding the poetry of Simon Armitage was the breath of fresh air I needed to know that it didn’t have to rhyme, and I didn’t need a degree in Greats to understand it (or write it).
4. What is your daily writing routine?
I have no daily routine as such;. I keep a notebook to hand, but the scribbling is erratic. The more I look for something to say, the more it illudes me, so I wait for the muse to strike a feeling in me. The blank page is my enemy.
5. What subjects motivate you to write?
More than anything, I’m drawn to matters and mysteries of the psyche, the dynamics of human relationships and the state of our mental jigsaw in this age of anxiety. However, I can’t write like this all the time. I have a side line in impressionist wordscapes and abstract impressionist poetry. I also cover less weighty, more flippant subjects.
6. What is your work ethic?
I am retired; I have the luxury of being able to write any time the mood calls. My work ethic is flaky and has no pattern. It seems to work well that way. More than anything, I worry that I will run out of anything to say. The abyss follows me every time I finish a poem. Is it like that for everyone?
7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence your work today?
I didn’t read much at all when young, and it is only in the last thirty or so years that I have caught up with classic childrens novels, the 19th Century novel, and the works of Jane Austen. I still lean towards non-fiction. Catching up on fiction has been a challenge. However, there are two teenage formative texts that are an underlying foundation in my wordsmithing: the fact-fiction of Carlos Castaneda and the lyrics of Yes. I am a child of the Prog Rock wordscape generation.
7.1 What was it in Yes’s lyrics and Simon Armitage’s poetry that appealed to you?
Regarding the lyrics of Yes, there is a transcendent quality (a wisdom of the ancients perhaps) combined with a complex imagery, of storytelling in metaphor. The lyrics go far beyond the ordinary way of telling, inhabiting a language and landscape that uses a complex fusion of phrases and meaning that are difficult to explain, but paradoxically build into a picture, and impressionism, that seems to feel right. Just don’t ask me to explain; it seems more like a case of inner knowing. The following verse from Close to the Edge is typical of the Yes lyrical architecture:
“My eyes convinced, eclipsed with the younger moon attained with love
It changed as almost strained amidst clear manna from above
I crucified my hate and held the word within my hand
There’s you, the time, the logic, or the reasons we don’t understand”
The poetry of Simon Armitage appeals in that he manages to escape the confines of the ‘older poet tradition’, from the influence of his birthplace, childhood, backyard moorscape and contemporary approach to verse. ‘Magnetic Fields: The Marsden Poems’ is the volume that enabled me to make some kind of connection with him regarding a sense of place and time. The collection is shot through with childhood and place, like this verse from Privet:
“Because I’d done wrong I was sent to hell,
down black steps to the airless tombs
of mothballed contraptions and broken tools.
Piled on a shelf every daffodil bulb
was an animal skull or shrunken head,
every drawer a seed-tray of mildew and rust.
In its alcove shrine a bottle of meths
stood corked and purple like a pickled saint.
I inched ahead, pushed the door of the furthest crypt
where starlight broke in through shuttered vents
and there were the shears, balanced on two nails,
hanging cruciform on the white-washed wall.”
His poetry is rooted in the landscape and the natural, but is also infused with a modern, somewhat dry, humour and the occasional expletive that makes his work all the more approachable. Maybe there’s also the hint of the wistful, a nostalgic muck and brass view of life in and around the moors.
8. Whom of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
I am not drawn to any particular contemporary writer or genre, preferring to take what the wind blows to wards me and piques my interest.
9. Why do you write, as opposed to doing anything else?
Sixty-plus years of life’s experiences have given me much to draw on. However, I am not a natural writer. Words are more a foe than a friend, so it has been a challenging journey and remains so; the words rarely flow as I would like them to. I think I have something to say and I think I have a voice that is me, and that probably keeps me going more than anything else, though I am not convinced yet.
10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
This feels almost impossible to answer; like asking what musical instrument I should play. It must come from you, and if you want to say anything, go ahead, write it down. But you do it because you want to and you feel that you need to. You do it for yourself first, and if anyone else likes it, that’s a bonus. Remembering that Van Gogh did sell paintings in his lifetime, though not many, he also traded them. In the same way, how you become a writer also invites you to trade, or share, what you have to say, become part of community, develop your craft and perhaps in time become a ‘published’ writer.
11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.
I have a reasonable body of work, good bad and indifferent. I keep everything I have written, so one task is to review poetry for publication and ‘improve’ it. I am revisiting the sonnets I wrote during my run-in with cancer. I am also testing the publication waters and getting used to more rejections than acceptances. Above all I am still looking for someone to read my work.