Deflated Ego 4: Martin Stannard

Sis Sus, sis Divus: Sum Caltha, et non tibi spiro!

Talking with Martin Stannard recently whilst shaving I queried his assertion that he didn't always know quite what he was about and then put the follow-up question which is how then does he judge what is ok and not ok when he writes it and from amidst the steam (someone else was in the shower and using up all the hot water) he pointed to a motto scrawled on the bathroom wall in what appeared to be lipstick that said "You are more interesting than you think."

I was then going to ask himself if we thought his work was misunderstood and underrated, but at that moment the someone else who was in the shower came out of the shower and we were both of us distracted for the rest of the day and even into the next.

Next day we began to discuss if it was of any significance that the titles of three of his books (The Gracing of Days, Difficulties and Exultations
, and now Faith, out from Shadowtrain just a few weeks ago) have suggested a sense of, if not religion or spirituality, then at least a liking for spiritual or religious-sounding words. But we didn't get very far with that one, either. Lunch intervened.

We did, though, manage later to put together a track-by-track listing of "Faith", with some author comments thrown in for good measure. Here goes:

: Each line begins with the word "Hello". Is this a list poem? "It's a list poem insofar as it lists what could and sometimes was or did happen on particular mornings when I had to wake up, get up, and go to work. It's very simple."

Jim the Doorman (a short play):
"I've written about a hundred short play collaborations with my friend, the American poet Mark Halliday. Mark says they're works of genius but he's biased; they're just very very good. But I did this one all on my own, without help. I though it'd be cool to have a short play just here where a poem should be. It's very simple."

Faith in Poetry:
Is this where the title for the book came from? "I don't know. But this is a long poem, and a lot of it is very personal, directed at someone in particular.  She wasn't listening, I think. Half way through I lost my train of thought and so drew a few little pictures, and then decided to leave them there and incorporate them into the poem. Why not?"

17 Letters:
I heard that these were originally commissioned by Stride for an anthology of poems responding to visual images, and that you had to write 17 poems each of 17 lines, and with seven words in each line. Is that right? "Yes. It's why the grammar is fucked in a lot of the lines, because I just cut out words to fit the rules. It ended up looking quite clever, or so I've been told. And the anthology never materialised, by the way."

To a Skylark:
The title is Shelley, of course, but there is not much skylark in this poem. How come? "I don't know anything about skylarks."

Love's Secret:
This poem's title is from Blake, I think. And I recognise an allusion to the Blake original, a quotation even, late in the poem. But this poem is about getting a girl. I don't see the connection between Blake and girl-hunting. "Neither do I. Perhaps because there isn't any. But this is what is known in the trade as an advice poem. As to whether or not it's good advice, well, that's not the point."

Actually, this sequence of poems is not called "Coral" in the book, but they were published in a "slim volume" under that title a few years ago. And they tell something of a story, of course, which leads me to the question of whether or not "Faith" itself should be read as something of a continuous narrative. It is, after all, held together by a kind of narrative link that runs throughout the book, something in the manner of a brief commentary between certain sections of poems. "I need a cup of tea."

(Well, here's the thing. You know, these poems were written over a period of maybe four or five years, and during those four or five years all kinds of stuff happened in my life, most of which I want to remember or forget. But when it came to putting what might be a book together, I was at a loss. I originally planned a collection of just long poems, but when I showed the manuscript to my friend Nigel, he said the long poems needed some shorter poems in amongst them to give the reader a break. I think he was right. Also, I think I thought that I always want a book to work as a book, to actually cohere, and not just be a bunch of poems, which is what they were at that point. So anyway, he suggested some shorter poems he liked, and also suggested a running order, and I played around with a running order too, and then out of the mythical blue a couple of ideas came to me. One was to do that Welcome and short play stuff at the beginning; the other was the sort of commentary thing, and it was then I realised that these poems did kind of join together in a vague way, and suggest a possible narrative of sorts. There was a certain fortuitousness about it, but I like fortuitousness, and was happy with it. So that's what happened. I think they work together as a loose narrative but it's not a big deal, and of course the poems were written at different times over four or five years and are not in the least in any chronological order. It does sometimes occur to me that this could also be interpreted to mean that I write pretty much about the same things over and over again, but I don't care.)

A Hummingbird Humming:
I assume some of these poems were written in England, and some in China, am I right? "Yes. I wrote this in China." How has living in China affected your writing? "I'm not sure. I try not to let being in a place affect me. People affect me, not places."

A Relation of Years:
This appears to be a very autobiographical poem, and at times it's very deeply personal and moving, but it also seems always to be resisting autobiography and emotion. This is what you often do, isn't it? You keep all that at arm's length. "If you say so."

Poem (I'm at home this evening):
Tell me about this poem. I'm interested in its movement, its treatment of time, its introspection…… "It's what happened when I decided to write a poem over the course of several consecutive evenings, and have an imaginary duck as a main character. I like the duck."

The Opinions Expressed In This Poem Are Not Necessarily Those Of Either The Writer Or The Reader:
"Don't ask me about this poem. I don't remember writing it. But those are often the best kind. I really like it."

My New Hat
: "Don't ask me about this one either. I sense fatigue kicking in. It's an easy little poem that mentions a hat I bought when I was with a Chinese girl in her village a couple of years ago and it was cold and we were going to go on a motorcycle and I didn't want my head to freeze."

Appendix 1: Autobiography:
Well, I can see this poem is a spoof autobiography filled with the names of British female popular singers from the 50s and 60s, but is it anything other than that? Is it just a bit of fun? "What's the objection to a bit of fun? But actually, some of what is in there is true. My nan did know Marianne Faithfull's mum. And some of the events in there actually happened, albeit not with those particular people. But this is poetry, you know. It's imaginative. It's supposed to be imaginative, isn't it? And not boring."

Appendix 2: My Favourite Pop Groups Not In Any Special Order:
"I know what you're going to ask me. Did I make all these names up? Actually, when I started out writing this  I planned for it to be called My 500 Favourite Pop Groups Not In Any Special Order but then I realised that 500 was a hell of a lot so I abandoned the idea and just stopped when I got tired."

Appendix 3: They Were Great Those Shows:
These appendices are all music based. This poem is about attending gigs, although I assume that again the bands or singers or whatever are made up. Is music important to you? "That's a stupid question."
Having got through the track listing, Martin Stannard went into the kitchen and made some fresh green tea and we drank it. When he talks about his poems it's as if  he thinks they're almost too important to talk about or too impossible to talk about without bursting into laughter because it's all too absurd. Other times it's as if he doesn't altogether believe he actually wrote these things. In the end, I think he doesn't really care what anybody else thinks. Somehow or other the poems are there, and they are the best he can be. They don't leave the house until they're the best he can be.

"Whether you are a pig or a god, I am Caltha, and do not breathe for you."

         © Martin Stannard, 2009