Today, I'm talking with Ian Parks, a most likeable chap, who I met when he took over from me as Royal Literary Fellow at De Montfort University.
Sue Price: The impulse to write something, for me, is always connected to a story. There's
always a 'What would happen if - ?' The story might extend itself to include beautiful descriptions, musings on the meaning of life, and so on - but it always begins with a story, and the story
is always the backbone.
So poetry mystifies me a bit. Most of the poetry I like - that makes my hair stand up - doesn't tell a story at all. (Though I'm very fond of The Scholar Gypsy, by Mathew Arnold, which does.) I can't understand where you start with a poem. Can you tell me? Where does the first impulse come from?
Ian Parks: The poem begins as a feeling and not an idea. For me at any rate.
Sue Price: I sort of know what you mean. That is, I’m familiar with a finished work having meanings that I, as the writer, never knew were there. When I wrote ‘Ghost Drum’ I was only conscious of ‘making up’ the kind of scary fairy-story I’d always liked myself, with a wintry Russian setting, and witches, shape-shifting bears and ghosts. When I finished it and read it, I saw all kinds of meanings in it – the imprisoned hero, in his dome room at the top of a tower, locked inside for life – was that a metaphor for the way we’re each imprisoned in our own skulls? And the magic in the story was the magic of creativity – of words and music.
Ian: That's it, yes... I was leading a poetry writing workshop the other day and we were taking a close look at Thomas Kinsella's worksheets for his poem, Mirror in February. It's obvious that he put a lot of hard work into developing that poem, trying to follow its lead rather than imposing his own ideas onto it.
So: lots going on at all sorts of levels. Returning to your initial question, Sue... My feeling is that poems come out of nowhere -- or appear to do -- and that it takes effort and, sometimes, experience to haul them up into the light of day.
Ian has kindly said that I can reproduce one of his poems here.
It’s thirty years since I undid the lock
to spend a rented summer under glass –
a space no bigger than my bedroom now,
the skylight slanting, sunlight through the planks.
Blue meant a day for swimming in the sea;
grey for reading till the weather cleared.
One room where everything I needed was to hand:
bare floorboards, faded rug, sand in my hair
and in my jeans. It was a year of rioting,
of running battles through the city streets,
of looted shop-fronts, shattered glass,
cars overturned and burning in the road.
The rumour of it didn’t reach me there.
I spread my sheets, slept on the floor,
hung a rusted oil-lamp from the beam,
convinced the answer could be found
in solitude and in the distant sound
of waves as they came rippling to the shore.
The place was a ramshackle wreck
held up by a lick of yellow paint.
At night a big ship loomed against the sky
and from its bright and polished deck
someone I imagined lit a foreign cigarette
and smoked it slowly, leaning on the rail.
Just once I saw a torchlight flashing back.
But mostly it was dunes, resilient grass,
the dog-eared books I read then threw away –
the narratives I didn’t want to share.
The days grew shorter. Cold set in.
The beach huts emptied. I grew bored.
Rain drove in every morning from the sea.
I packed my rucksack, caught a train,
sped inland through a landscape changed
to find the world not waiting anymore;
back to the city with its new façade
and the headlines I’d ignored.
Here's a link where you can find out more about Ian's poetry.
And here you can find his book, Shell Island, on Amazon.