Robert Edge is a Poet, photographer and creative writer currently working on a novel entitled ‘The fairly good Samaritan’. He is also embarking on a voyage of self-discovery as he writes his memoirs. (working title) ‘Inside the bottle’ His poetry is generally sardonic as it pokes fun at, amongst other things; the poetry fraternity. He has two as yet unpublished collections of his work: Tour Guide, an ekphrastic, intentionally ignorant view of art galleries and museums and, Breakfast at Wetherspoons, which plays with his dyslexia, using it to excuse whatever he can pass off as literature.
You have a fairly unique poetic voice Rob – is this related to your dyslexia?
Definitely. I very much play on the fact that I’m dyslexic. It gives me an excuse to misunderstand when actually I really do understand. I can be a little disingenuous but for comic effect, it works. I think the bottom line is, that I’m really, really childish. I like to make a joke of whatever it is in front of me and see how far I can push it. That’s essentially where the poetic voice comes from. When I first started at uni, on the creative writing component of my English degree, I hadn’t even considered that I’d be writing poetry. Yet, I really hit the ground running with it. That was more to do with my personal life at the time, I’d been through some difficult times and this was my way of expressing it. By the end of my first year, I really started to create a voice.
I think poetry can at times be quite a sombre affair, and can take itself a little too seriously.
Very much so. I think the more poetry events you attend, the more you, not get tiresome of it, but, after the first three or four poems about suicide and depression, it all becomes weighty and crushing. I have been to numerous events that have gotten maudlin and you get to a point where you’re not really listening anymore. You clap when everybody else claps but you’re not really engaging with it. But I think, if you’re making people laugh, then they are engaged. I know of a few poets that are really great at engaging audiences in this way. But there are far too many poets, I find, that are very maudlin and that is not my type of poetry, if I am honest. I don’t think I’m a poet’s poet. I know what I like, and I know what I don’t like, and that goes beyond poetry. My voice then, is sort of anti-poetic, if there is such a thing.
That’s all very interesting Rob. Especially when I consider that you’ve been an active member in the local scene. Can you tell me more about your actual role and how that came about?
Yeah, so this happened as I was studying towards my degree, during my second year and bled into my MRes Creative Writing. To be completely clear, I decided to put on a poetry event in Ormskirk and so I approached a tiny, proper drinker’s pub and was able to put on an event called The Broken Mic, with the idea being due to the intimacy of the venue, there was no need for an actual mic. I had started doing some poetry events and met some other poets and invited them along to headline our nights. I got to know George Melling, and had him come in as a headliner. He’s a lovely old chap who didn’t start writing poetry until very recently. This was the first time he’d been a headliner, and he went on to headline at the Everyman in Liverpool. We had another lady, Joy French, who you may know from the Nationwide adverts. These people all have a voice. Not necessarily a voice that I am in tune with, but the whole point of the event was that it ought to be inclusive. It was a non-judgemental, broad church. I think that when you are studying creative writing, you can become a little embarrassed by your own work, especially if it is rhyme heavy, to the extent that your own voice is taught out of you. Eventually the event moved from that little pub, when the football season got going. Fortunately, Cathy Butterworth who manages the theatre at Edge Hill, gave us a space. ‘I’ then becomes ‘we’, as another student, Jess Tillings, a very talented poet in her own right, got on board with me and we rebranded as Reverb. There was then more visual art involved.
Am I correct in thinking that there was a publication that accompanied the Reverb events?
Yes, this was open to everybody to submit and was not limited to poetry as we also included some photography. I had become the convener of the event and Jess was doing lots of work in the background. We also had a chap named Bill Bullock, who is a graphic designer by trade and a poet too. He helped us put together the publication. Bill has done a lot of work with other poets, and was heavily involved in the Merseybeat poetry event at the Everyman the uni put on, to which Roger McGough turned up during my set, which was quite disconcerting.
The shift away from my early initial idea was fine, and while I loved being the compere, and introducing some amazing poets, like Tom Jenks and Gerry Potter, the whole thing had become a joint venture and was no longer my thing and so I bowed out. However, I’m proud of the crowds we drew and the work we put on.
You have mentioned your research degree there, can you give us some detail? You have stated that you only really became interested in writing poetry when studying your undergrad, so was it the being involved in this local scene that sort of opened up to you the possibility of a career as a writer, or was this more for personal development?
Well, my MRes was not focussed on poetry. I had always wanted to be a novelist or a writer. If I dial back to the nineties, I wrote a play entitled The Fairly Good Samaritan which was about suicide and suicide notes. This was secondary to a play I wrote entitled Art? which had a Faustian theme and was about a very poor artist who becomes massively successful and doesn’t understand the world he’s thrust into. This is linked to my need to make a joke of everything. It was tinged with ignorance and was a reflection on modern art and what people think art is. You will always have people suggesting that ‘You can’t call that art!’ and being a bit sniffy. So, originally, I had wanted to get into acting, then writing, then directing. The problem I have is that I am probably a little bit fragile and I struggled taking criticism at that time. Also, I did not know that I was dyslexic at that point. So, going to university allowed me to build up some resilience and get back into the habit of writing again. Now the MRes, is not a poetry piece, it was a novel but the poetics I had learned were still useful in the writing process. This is a project that is still ongoing. Although I have my MRes now. You know I’m level seven. But the experience of study was very different to the Undergraduate degree. I liked my tutor, he’s a very affable guy. Very supportive. However, I’m not sure that he really got my voice and I was beginning to question my own work, because I had respect for him as an individual. I think to some degree, that the creativeness was taught out of my writing.
So, what happened to that novel?
There’s about twenty-five thousand words written. It’s probably about a quarter of a novel. The opening five chapters or so and I have the plot and structure worked out. I continue to have epiphanies and new ideas and I have notebooks everywhere. It’s so annoying because, I really want to write it, but this Covid thing has given me a flatness and it has stopped me from doing what I really want to do. I need to find the time when it’s right to pick up the pen again. When lockdown originally happened, I began writing voraciously. Although, this was not the novel, I started writing a memoir and I found it so entertaining and cathartic to write, but I just hit a wall. Just recently, I started writing again. I’m a member of a writing group, who I have not really been engaging with, but we’ve had a few Zoom calls and I have read a couple of chapters out which have been well received. I know that they need work, and need to be expanded upon. But I have written about my own mental health and how it affects me and it’s essentially a shout out to say, ‘It’s ok to feel this way! Don’t judge yourself!’ I feel that right now, if I am inspired to write, I will go back to my memoir rather than my novel.
With this in mind, when was the last time you really wrote poetry? And what was it that inspired you to submit to The Broken Spine Artist Collective’s second issue?
I think that it was after I was invited to read at the launch night of the first issue. During my undergrad I had written enough poetry for two collections. I have real favourites, but they are not all poet’s poems. I have one piece which is about my mum, which is more of an everyman’s poem. I have written a love poem, which you’d be forgiven for not realising was a love poem at all. That is about a particular individual who I’ve never felt comfortable telling how I feel. But that’s what I love about poetry. Everything is hidden behind a veil of metaphor and simile. You use the language to create a barrier sometimes, other times to open things up but, I need to feel inspired when I’m writing poetry. I tried to write something last week. A political piece about the relationship between Cummings and Johnson, leading into Trump. Scathing and comic pieces, and although they remain unfinished, I will go back to them when inspiration strikes. I need to feel like I’m a part of something. Now, I think that perhaps because the MRes can be quite lonely. When you are studying your undergrad or a master’s degree, you are bouncing ideas off one another and I feel that I miss that smörgåsbord of inspiration.
Now, as well as being a writer, you’re also a photographer. Can you see correlations between the two outlets?
I don’t think that there is a stylistic link between my writing and photography. I think it’s just that I need to be creative. I grew up in a family where that was never really encouraged. Life was just about working and earning enough to live. I have just listened to two audiobooks, by Louis Theroux and Adam Buxton, and also Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman and one by Isy Suttie. Now, the thing is, that I am practically the same age as both Theroux and Buxton, and so I get all of their pop culture references but, they are both from very privileged backgrounds. And obviously Suttie and Moran, highlight the gender divide. But, the impact of class on the men’s success is quite clear. Now, I have digressed here, but I knew that I needed to have an outlet, which is perhaps encouraged more in more privileged settings. When I was in English classes at school, I wanted to be drawing, and that may be linked to my dyslexia. But when I did write, I wanted to be able to use flowery language, but did not really have the vocabulary to do so. I loved the sound of words and would use them out of context. I was given my first camera at eight years old and used to take photos in the school yard of the kids messing about and I have enjoyed photography ever since, working in photo retailing and then becoming a photographer. I feel like that if I didn’t have an artistic bent, then I’d be a bit of a hollow shell. We all need something don’t we? I mean, you can say that you’re a poet, but you’re a father, or husband first. As much as we would like to think that our creativity defines who we are, they are actually our outlet and we can live without them but the world would be a much duller place. We have never needed art more than we do now. I was supposed to go and see a couple of exhibitions in London in April, one was a Titian exhibition. The second was Artemisia Gentileschi, who was a female painter, which was incredibly rare. And she has an amazing backstory which is to be seen in all her work. She was raped as a child by a student of her father’s. She took this case to court at that time, and actually won. You can see this strength of character in her work, this suffering.
We seem to have come full circle, to a natural end. But before we finish, I would like to know what it is you will be doing next. Are you intending to focus on your poetry, the novel, or your memoirs?
I’d love to do all of them. But most likely I will go back to writing my memoir. I have found it to be the most cathartic and gives me an excuse to be nostalgic and look back to before all this madness. I’m writing it as if somebody wants to read it, although I’m not sure that I’m interesting enough. It had the working title, How Not to Have Sex. It’s now called Inside the Bottle, the idea being that we cannot see how people view us. A marketing guru I knew used to say you can’t read the label when you’re inside the bottle. I think that it’s a really interesting concept and that we are all, to some degree, blind to who we are. We are who people perceive we are. We are all the centre of our own universe.