Originally published in https://panoplyzine.com/snowdonia-alan-parry/
Originally published in https://www.blackboughpoetry.com/product-page/black-bough-first-issue-pdf
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.
Following an incredibly productive year – I got the chance to catch up with Paul once again. He was as open and inciteful as ever.
Paul, you have something of the troubadour about you if you don’t mind my saying so. Where are you at right now?
Well I’ll take that as a compliment! I guess the idea of the troubadour has always appealed, especially since many of my heroes and influences could be considered as such. People like Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Charles Bukowski, Lee Harwood, Joni Mitchell. Of course the meaning has changed over time. Troubadour nowadays has that free-spirited, hippyish, dedication-to-your-art connotation attached, which I admire.
Right now I’m at a crossroads in my life. I’ve been living between Spain and the U.K for most of this year, and pursuing a career change that will take me away from lecturing. I feel like I’ve achieved everything I can achieve in education now; the job has changed to the extent that a lot of the pleasure has been taken out of it. I still love working with people closely, and helping to inspire and encourage, so my next move will still involve that close contact with people, but not in a classroom.
As far as the writing is concerned, I’ve had a very promising year. I decided it was time to really target literary magazines with my work at the beginning of 2019, and so far I’ve had over fifty different publications take my work in seven months. I think it is really important to spend the time submitting so you can broaden your readership. It is also very rewarding and encouraging to see your work alongside other emerging voices in a wide range of diverse and edgy publications.
Since we last spoke, your third collection 35 has been published, do you want to discuss the concept and how it differs from your first two collections?
My third collection, 35, is conceptual in the sense that it features 35 poems, 35 images (mainly photographs taken around the world), and I was 35 years old when I released it. It just felt like a bit of a benchmark. It’s hard to explain. I liked the idea of doing something a little different. My first two collections were traditional in the sense that they were poems without a particular central theme. I think a poet has free reign to do whatever they want, which is the beauty of the form.
I have heard you say that your initial collection curse this blue raincoat was a response to the work of Leonard Cohen and that Testimony was something akin to saying what needed to be said, however honest and gnarled. What is the major spur for you now?
I don’t have any particular motivations in my poetry other than the need to write. It is a thrill for me to stare down at a blank sheet of paper, or a blank word document, and then realise hours later that I’ve crafted and created something out of nothing. I guess I’m really digging into the depths of my own psyche these days; I’ve had three published collections and hundreds of poems published in literary magazines, so I’m much more comfortable in my own skin as a poet now. The subject matter is rawer, darker, at times brutally honest. My work is not as safe anymore as it once was. I’ve had people write to me and tell me that my work has made them weep, or shocked them, or really unnerved them. They are the best reactions I think because it shows that your work is penetrating bone.
Would you say that you have ever suffered for your art?
This is really a double-edged question because art, in the most part, is born out of suffering of some sort. I’ve got a pretty good grip of myself at this stage in my life; I’m not overawed by much, and any depressive tendencies I may have had in my twenties are under control. Writing is an excellent form of therapy for me because it helps me get to grip with everything going on around me in a positive way. Everyone needs therapy of some sort in my opinion, whether you suffer from mental illness or not. Some ride a bike, others paint, other walk the dog or do yoga. I write poems. Have I suffered for that? Definitely. Would I change it? Definitely not.
How important is the editing process and is that a solo effort?
This is the one thing that I have really improved over the years. A good poet has to also be a good editor, because learning to slice away the excess to get down to the flesh is so important in terms of quality. I can write a poem now, then come back to it the next day and shave 50% of it off. Then I can come back the next day and do the same again until I’m left with the essential lines. It takes courage to be a good editor. I also have occasion where others are involved too. My great friend Kate Evans sometimes takes a critical look at my poems in progress. I’m also in the process of working with Matthew C Smith, the editor of Black Bough Poems, to shape my next collection. More than one set of eyes can be a brilliant reminder that your work can be better with sound advice.
I’m interested to know has there been a shift of focus for you – from full-length manuscript submission to journals far and wide? Is this an effort to reach a wide readership and keep your finger on the pulse?
I released three collections in the space of two years. That was the monster inside desperate to get out. Once that trilogy was out it became more important for me to think about a readership, and also explore the literary magazine / journal world. I also find it very exciting to submit my work all over the world. You find out so much about your work, but also your own temperament as a writer. Rejections are never easy to stomach, especially if you have had to wait six months for a reply without any sort of feedback, but acceptances are extremely uplifting. That email landing that says “congratulations, we would love to take your poem(s)…” is a feeling that I really enjoy. I’ve been accepted in some dream magazines so far this year: Ghost City Press, Barren Magazine, The Bees Are Dead, Burning House Press and Heron Clan to name but a few. If your name is cropping up in these types of journals then you are probably being noticed to some degree, which is not the be-all-and-end-all, but nice. Justification of your commitment to your art, I guess.
What excites you about the poetry scene right now?
The poetry scene is thriving right now. In the same way that vinyl records have made a comeback, it seems that poetry has been revived. If something has class, and authority, and the power to move it will never go away. There are some great poets emerging with distinct voices. I also like the indie scene that I keep up with on Twitter too. I think many are opting to avoid the traditional publication routes these days and do it for themselves. I have mixed feelings about this because it inevitably means some folk have free license to publish any old crap, but on the other side of the coin it has given some brilliant voices a chance to emerge who wouldn’t have had the time or inclination to pursue a publisher. Traditional publishing can be such a long, drawn out, weary process, with lots of wounding realisations and disappointments. The inner circle is still very much who you know I’m afraid.
There are some really exciting new magazines out there today. I really like Black Bough Poetry, which is causing a stir and heading towards its third issue. I also like American magazine, Cleaning Up Glitter. Selcouth Station is another magazine that I really rate, and Streetcake magazine too. I’m happy to have featured in all of them. A few magazines that have alluded me so far that I love are Okay Donkey, Butcher’s Dog and Nightingale & Sparrow. It would be a dream to feature in Ambit, or The New Yorker, or Under The Radar – all long established classic poetry journals.
How do you measure success now?
Success to me is happiness in what I’m doing. I’m extremely happy at the minute creating, submitting, editing, and slowly working towards my next collection. If I get positive responses to my work, which I regularly do (especially on Twitter, which has been a great tool for interacting with similar minds) then that is success in my eyes. Of course it would be great to find a reputable UK publisher to show interest in my work, but I’m not quite ready to pursue that with everything else going on.
How do you feel about describing yourself as a poet?
I don’t generally. It has obvious stigmas. I don’t advertise the fact that I write unless I’m in the company of people who may be interested or appreciate it. I’m certainly not ashamed of it – quite the opposite. I write poems and therefore I am a poet, but I don’t feel the need to broadcast it. More and more people tend to ask me about it these days, which is positive.
Can you open up on your route into publication?
I was lucky. That’s the truth of it. I was working at a University in a relatively unheard city in China, called Nanning, when Kate Evans, a distinguished American writer, turned up to lecture poetry. We became friends, spent afternoons together discussing our passions for writing and poetry, and she was enthralled with my stuff. She put me in touch with her editor who also liked my work and offered me the opportunity to submit a collection. That’s how curse this blue raincoat was born, and Kate Evans helped me to both edit and order it, and she also wrote the forward. I was in the right place at the right time.
How do you reflect on your decision to leave teaching?
It was time to leave. As I mentioned before, teaching has become a business where there is too much focus on unrealistic attainment instead of the individual. Teachers have become powerless scapegoats today, and quite frankly I got fed up with working eighty hour weeks, doing everything I possibly could to be the best teacher I could, and getting told that too much was never enough. It is no coincidence that ALL my former teaching colleagues are either in different careers or working abroad now. The government have a lot to do to battle this problem because the profession has lost some incredible people to teach, influence and encourage future generations.
You have spoken about your desire to release a novel – do you have an update for your ever-growing fan base who are eager for more work?
I’ve definitely got a novel in me, but it just hasn’t happened yet. At the moment I’m almost entirely focused on poetry, but I’d like to think I could write one before I’m 40. I’ve completed two, but they were both shit. I think I want to try and get a few more poetry collections out there first before I focus on sitting down to pen the novel. I’ve had some short stories and flash fiction pieces published lately in various magazines (most notably The Fiction Pool and Iceberg Tales), but the longer form is much more intimidating.
Can you tell us about your favourite novels – what is it about them that draws you back to them? What are you reading at the moment?
Wow, how long have you got! I’d have to try and narrow them down. I loved Journey To The End Of The Night by Louis Ferdinand Céline. It is such a dark but funny novel. I thought Women and Ham On Rye were two great novels by Charles Bukowski. He had a remarkable way of tapping into raw emotion. I think Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years Of Solitude is just about as poetic as prose can be. He was a special writer.
There are a few more contemporary novels that I’ve enjoyed very much: Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, and The God Of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. I love Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, and found myself engrossed in its 1500 pages for months. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote is mesmerising. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe is essential reading. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov is disturbingly gripping. I like the early novels of H.G Wells and Stephen King – both writers who bring back fond memories of my teen reading. Dickens is consistently brilliant, and the greatest creator of memorable characters. I’ll end there because I could go on forever. At the moment I am tackling Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, and thoroughly enjoying it.
Anybody who follows you will know that you’re an accomplished musician and lover of all sorts of different musical genres. But what was the last album you listened to and what was the last gig you got to?
I have been having a real Joni Mitchell phase of late. I think it is my appreciation of her poetic lyrics that draws me back to her again and again. Court & Spark is the album I really love, although her debut album, Song To A Seagull, is incredible too. It really says something that the likes of David Crosby, Graham Nash, and Stephen Stills regard her the greatest songwriter of all time, even ahead of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. Joni is very inspiring.
I watched the Beach Boys a few weeks back in Marbella, Spain, and loved every second of it. I’ve spent the last twenty years watching live music, and I can honestly saw it was one of my favourite gigs ever. What a body of work. Mike Love is the only original member left, but the musicianship was spectacular. It was in an amazing venue in the mountains too.
Are you concerned about the passage of time?
Of course. Especially when you see people that you know die, and the reality of mortality dawns on you. I guess I’m about half way through now if I’m lucky enough to live a normal lifespan, which feels crazy. I still feel like I’m eighteen. The passage of time is a major theme or point of consideration for most artists I think. We are all battling against the years and what we can achieve or fit in before we die. I love the fact that many of the old musicians like McCartney, Dylan, CSNY and The Stones are all still out there touring and making music, essentially defying age. They are all heading towards eighty, so times have changed; artists are continuing to be artists for longer, and evidently until death.
Is experience/authenticity important to you? Are you comfortable with the idea of travel writing when written from the perspective of the privileged white man – and if not, how do you combat this?
I think you have to take your privilege and use it for good. I know how fortunate I am to be where I’m from. I’ve been all over Asia, and into some of the poorest and most deprived places on earth. I had four years living in China, which is desperately poor in places. I’ve been to North Korea, Myanmar, Laos, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Vietnam and India. I’ve seen heart stopping poverty. I don’t think you can hide away from your privilege. You just have to be humble about it, and grateful. Whenever I write about these places, whether it be in my poetry or otherwise, I try to tell it how it is, but also attempt to be positive in some way. I’ve seen some really disturbing stuff, but it only opens your mind further to what is possible artistically. And, by the way, some of the greatest people I’ve ever met have been from these places where they have nothing. We can learn so much.
Are you overly concerned by the nuts and bolts of language/stylistics? Or do you have broader concerns about bigger themes?
I am definitely a fan of minimalism. I like the shorter poem, and even the micro-poem. I think they can both be as powerful as the longer form. Anyone that knows my work will also know that I favour the narrative form. I don’t hold back with language. If the poem needs expletives then it gets them. It totally depends on that specific poem and the feelings you are trying to convey.
As far as themes are concerned, I rarely tackle the major themes these days. I think if you want to write about Trump, or Brexit, or climate change, or human rights abuses, or #metoo, you’ve got to get it inch perfect or you can look preachy or insincere. Half of these things I mention I’m not qualified to comment on, so I generally don’t. It doesn’t mean I don’t care about such issues. With my writing, especially my poetry, I tend to write about my own experiences and emotions, as well as the things I observe in my daily existence. If you watch the news for too long with the intention of writing about it you’ll go crazy pretty quickly.
Essentially, what would you say makes a quality poem? Is it tied to the idea of accessibility?
The answer to that question is different for every reader. I personally don’t relate to anything too lofty or contrived. I like to read about things I understand, or can relate to. I like it when a writer is prepared to spill their guts. I like bravery. I’ve read some really raw poetry of late that has made me stop in my tracks. I think the perfect poem uses every single word as a sucker punch. A great poem has impact, and doesn’t waste words or lines that aren’t needed. To answer your question, for me, great poetry is accessible, yes; but not for everyone.
I will keep writing whilst I’m on a roll, continue submitting whilst I’m having success, and continue enjoying homing my craft. At some point towards the end of this year I may be getting involved in editing a start-up journal, which will be exciting. I have my fourth collection in the mix at the moment, with enough solid work for a fifth soon after. The future looks promising as long as I stay disciplined.
The Last Night of Our Lives (poem – originally published in Anti-Heroin Chic)
The Old Man (poem – originally published in Dodging the Rain)
Hemmingway (poem – orginally published in Crepe & Penn)
Originally published in https://www.peachvelvetmag.com/spring-19
In the lounge, positioned under the upright piano
is a regimented row of his shined leather boots,
and he keeps his old accordion in a box, snug
between the spindly legs of the telephone table
in the bay window. Arranged on the pelmet is
a collection of novelty pencil sharpeners bought
in National Trust gift shops and their empty
boxes live in the pantry under the stairs
alongside jars and jars of homemade marmalade.
On the inside of that cupboard door, over the years
he has recorded the heights of his grandchildren
with blue biro etchings. But his most treasured
items must be the letters and sketches he posted
home when he was evacuated to Bangor during the war,
and he keeps them safe in a locked suitcase with
an ARP helmet and a Mickey Mouse gas mask.