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
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
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
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."
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
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
(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
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
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