When I began to network with the poetry community in my local area, Ian was one of the first people I reached out to.
When did you start writing and what do you think attracted you to poetry?
Ian: I think poetry for me initially acted as an escape and memory. My Grandfather came over from Canada in 1937 and he became a fan of the Liverpool poets during the 60s, he saw in them something good about communication, and tried to install that into me. I didn’t write my serious first poem till I was about 14 and living in Bicester, it came on the back of listening to a lot of Progressive Rock, bits of Heavy Metal and a lot of 80s pop.
I really enjoyed the Liverpool music and the way it used a more direct language than I had been used to growing up in rural Oxfordshire, in my later teens such as Pete Wylie, The Christians and The Icicle Works as I approached the end of the 80s, the sound they made, the anger and energy that flowed through their lyrics, but also a love that I was feeling in other music. But it was perhaps listening to Marillion, to Fish, Genesis, Pink Floyd and Rush that first caught my ear. I remember hearing Marillion’s Misplaced Childhood for the first time and thinking, in youthful arrogance perhaps, that I could do that, not the music, I already had figured out that I could not play a note on anything, but the words, the playfulness and the force of the statement.
There was a lot of teenage angst, a lot of poetry about girls, thankfully most of them liked it, so they told me. But I never performed them, looking at some them now, wow they are awful, but there is a nugget in each of them.
I think the attraction came from there, the willingness to surrender to the application, the emotions, the word play, the settling of a debt in a sentence. I have always thanked my Grandfather for the love of poetry, I also think having listened to Progressive Rock at a very young age also had a hand in it.
Can you tell me about your journey into publication?
Long, extremally difficult, mainly by accident.
My first poem published was in a book called World In Crisis, (I am a couple of pages in front of the literary giant Quentin Crisp), that was a highlight for me. After that I continued writing but never publishing anything, never seeking to be published but dreaming of becoming a writer and poet throughout my 20s. Work got in the way, children came along, I was too exhausted to do anything creative, and when I did I found I was being ridiculed for it, poetry especially, there was always a hangover, people saying, (especially from school teachers) that it wasn’t really a form of expression that men should do.
The accident of publication started after I had major surgery on my spine in 2003. An old friend of mine, my next-door neighbour when I was a child, rang me up and asked how I was, that I hadn’t been seen for a few months. The surgery took a lot out of me, physically and mentally, my marriage was breaking down, I was in a lot of pain, harbouring a lot of anger at a system that had not believed me when I started feeling the pain in my spine at 17 and was quite happy to keep telling me it was my head.
He asked me if I wanted to go and see Fish at the Bilston Robin that night, just to have a good time. Andrew was the Arts Editor for the Birmingham Mail at the time, and as I sat at the computer after the show, I thought I could write a review for him, 180 words, I can do that. Wrote it, sent it across and he loved it, asked me to do more.
Whether you see that as accident or providence that is how it started. It has been a hell of long journey mind and it has taken a lot of mental bashing to get to the place I am now.
How do you think you’ve evolved as a writer over the years?
I put together a pamphlet of poetry in late 2003, 20 or so poems that I had written in the previous year, Searching For An Answer it was called, I think about 30 people in the world have it. I don’t think evolving, for me anyway is a quick process. Poetry always came first, the anarchy of it, refusing to tie myself down to form, now I know it was a sub-conscious decision, that I was trying to be like a hero of mine, Jack Kerouac. Stream of conscious writing. I have tried to follow that path to the place I am now. A wonderful Liverpool lecturer once said to me that the more you write, the more you write. Unless I am exhausted through pain, I try to write every day, even then sometimes the pain bleeds into the writing.
Are there any parallels you can draw with some of your favourite artists, and the work you are producing?
The trouble I guess with reading a lot of different genres, regardless of poetry or in prose you tend to be influenced by them all. I am a devotee of Jack Kerouac and of Dylan Thomas, of Amelia Lanyer, Ted Hughes, Simon Armitage, Allen Ginsberg, Carol Ann Duffy, Edgar Allen Poe and Roger McGough, however I have tried not to be in debt to these writers …but you cannot help succumbing. I am not sure about parallels with poetry, that I guess is up to other people to remark upon.
Can you describe your writing process? How important is the editing process, and is this a solo effort?
Observe, think, write it down and move on. I don’t believe in magic formulas; inspiration is everywhere you look. I have difficulty with editing, I rarely do it, in my prose writing I leave that to others, I think it comes down to the stream of conscious writing that I have always maintained. It was the same at University, for an essay I wrote what I thought and would leave it at that; and it seemed to work. I suffer from anxiety, the more I can keep that at bay the better it is.
It would appear that often you blur your voice, with that of the poet speaker, how intentional is this? Is it fair to describe some of your work as confessional?
I think it is dreadfully important to be the voice of your own downfall or the conductor of the revolution in your head. A poem to me is truth, even if it a lie, the imagination is the one area of humanity to which nothing else can touch, its capability to invent and conceive a word to describe love has to celebrated, and if you cannot do it in your own voice then what is the point. Even when writing from different perspectives, from the position of a man or woman, trans, CIS or anything, you must observe something of yourself in what you write.
Have you ever performed your poetry at a recitation or spoken word event? If so, how does this change the dynamic of the work?
I used to perform a lot. I got invited to a poetry seminar in Washington D.C. once, sat at the same table as the legendary actor Mickey Rooney which was a thrill. I have done a couple of my own nights and joined in with others. The problem I have had for the last couple of years is stamina and pain. I cannot perform sat down; the voice isn’t right. Bearing in mind that I have several discs missing in my spine and am on a lot of medication I cannot stand for too long either. My legs start to go. In some ways I find I cannot do it anymore. I would love to do more, to go and do what I what I wanted to do at 15, health though is a bug bear.
What makes for a good poem? Can you name your favourite writers and what draws you to them?
Truth, imagination, personality, a capacity to embrace being the fallen human being. Sometimes it is the rhythm that gets me, Roger McGough, my favourite Liverpool poet, makes me laugh, and he always remembers my name for some reason. Dylan Thomas will make me weep with his fragility and bluster, Simon Armitage’s resonance is wonderfully self-effacing but so gentle, Kerouac sought truth, Ginsberg sought it all.
Have you ever studied creative writing? Are there any plans to study creative writing or literature more broadly?
I haven’t, at least not since school, saying that I did a term at University. I wrote a 3,000-word short story based in part on my Great Uncle who was one of the first medics into Belsen during World War 2.
What are you working on at present? And what do you think is the major spur?
At the moment I am working on my third novel, a horror, I hope, a departure from my usual way of thinking, My second novel comes in June next year, a sequel to 2018’s The Death of Poetry. I have a notebook by the side of me of 14 or so ideas for books, short stories, a couple of plays and one really large poem in the vein of Ginsberg’s Kaddish. I have decided to spend more time writing these than going to gigs.
Would you say that you have ever suffered for your art?
A loaded question, lol. How can you write poetry if you haven’t had your heart broken? In some ways writing has been a cathartic feature, but it also takes you places that you would rather not go. I found that in The Death of Poetry, a book that came out my Nan dying. My Nan was my biggest supporter, and when we found out that the breast cancer had spread, we knew then she didn’t have long. My Dad told me to write the novel that I always said I was going to do; I think he was trying to take my mind of my Nan’s rapid deterioration. I wrote solidly for 24 days, almost completing it before she died. On the day she died there was terrible gale and I remember shouting outside of my front door, calling on whatever forces in the Universe had conspired to make her ill, to let her go. At that point I felt her go, it was a seamless horrible moment, but it gave me the strength to finish the book, I needed to finish it for her.
Are you involved in the poetry community? It appears to me as an active poet, that the chapbook and journal world is thriving right now, do you submit or would you consider submitting in this way?
Unfortunately, I am not, mainly because for the last 15 years or so I have been immersed in writing about the art in Liverpool and that has always taken up so much of my time.
How do you measure success?
By finding out that I am still breathing when I open my eyes.
How do you feel about describing yourself as a poet?
It feels kind of rebellious, I enjoy that. I find there is still some inverted snobbery in some people’s minds when it comes to poetry. I had a teacher once in my final year of school who sent me my report card for the year and on it she wrote that she liked reading my poetry, but I had to learn that I would not make a living out of it. I walked the two miles back to school, slammed it on her desk and told her that was not the point. It felt good to be angry at the suggestion.
Do you have any other ventures going aside from your creative writing?
Unfortunately I am kind of boring, I read, I listen to music, I watch the occasional hour of television and I watch plays at the theatre…I used to go and watch Man City play, have been a supporter since 1976, but these day the journey is too much and the cold hurts. Other than that, I have nothing but what is in front of me, and that takes up a lot of time.
What was the last album you listened to? What was the last gig you went to?
I listen to music every day, I find it a necessity, it is calming, it stirs the imagination. I try to review an album a day but sometimes I find the time gets away from me. I recently had the pleasure of listening to Amy Studt’s new album, The Happiest Girl In The Universe, very cool, and the American Blues man Mike Zito pay tribute to Chuck Berry, incredible versions. The last gig I went to was last night, Midge Ure at the Philharmonic Hall. It was shrouded in a bit of sadness though as I knew after that I had only about 5 live gigs that I will be attending, after over 1300 gig reviews over the years I have decided to step back from that particular part of my reviewing, it is taking too long to recover after a gig, and as I near 50 I don’t want to be being sick for days just because I have gone out.