Maria Lewandowska interviews poet Mark Waldron, author of The Brand New Dark (2008), The Itchy Sea (2011), and Meanwhile, Trees (2016), who will be teaching the Advanced Poetry Course at Poetry School next term.
Maria Lewandowska: What are your plans for the workshop, and what do you want to focus on with your students?
Mark Waldron: Well, I’ve got a series of small plans as much as one big one. The small plans are themes: poetry and how it relates to an individual’s other creative endeavours, popular poets who are unfashionable in the poetry world, the line between poetry and art — artists who use poetry, etc. Within those plans are even smaller plans – particular poems I want to share and discuss. An impossible number of those I’m afraid… Overall, I’m assuming that people do courses like this for the same reasons I did them for so many years: to be in a community of people striving to make something out of this peculiar art-form, to discover poems and poets I didn’t know, and, most importantly, for me anyway, to have the opportunity to test my work out on other poets. I want to create a space where all of that can happen effectively for other people. I’m also dreaming up ideas for exercises that might stimulate writing.
How is writing poetry different from teaching it?
Mark: Preparation is the big difference I suppose; to write you just have to dive in, to teach you have to prepare. Also, teaching is about listening to voices other than the voice that echoes round the inside your own skull. For me writing is a neurotic activity. I don’t think teaching is – though I should add that I’m not sure about the word ‘teaching’ at all when it comes to any creative activity. Provoking and encouraging might be better words (as well as making suggestions).
Can you tell us a little bit about your creative process and routines? What does your day normally look like?
Mark: I have different kinds of typical day. At the moment a typical day involves reading hundreds of poems for the National Poetry Competition interspersed with answering your questions. Not much time to write at the moment but there’s always time to make notes of ideas and phrases I might use later.
What usually inspires your work? Does it always come naturally and spontaneously, or are there things that you have to do or places that you have to travel to for your creative process to begin?
Mark: I used to find crowded tube trains on the way home from work were a productive location, but I’m actually not sure any one place is better than any other.
Your next collection – Sweet, like Rinky-Dink – comes out next year. How do the poems come together when you’re working on a collection? Is there any particular pattern that you follow?
Mark: There isn’t a pattern at all. I just let them pop out and when I’ve amassed enough of them, I try to arrange them into an order they all feel happy with, like guests at a wedding.
Your poetry abounds in very distinctive and sometimes opposing tones: from the extremely serious and powerful ‘Please God, wait for me’ in ‘The Very Slow Train’, to humorous lines on bees in ‘Emap in Australian Review’ – is that reminiscent of the way you think or speak, or is it rather that you intentionally create those contrasts?
Mark: I prefer not to consciously do anything when writing poems but I suppose I do sometimes realise I’ve unconsciously employed a device of some sort. I hate it when that happens!
How much of Meanwhile, Trees is an attempt of preserving memories that you’ve collected?
Mark: I don’t think it’s concerned with preserving memories. I’m not very interested in the past, or only to the extent that you can make stories out of it.
Do you write with readers in mind?
Mark: I don’t write with readers in mind but I do rewrite with them in mind.
What are you currently reading?
Mark: The three most recent collections I’ve read are Chris McCabe’s The Triumph of Cancer, Wayne Holloway-Smith’s I Can’t Wait for the Wending, and Sophie Robinson’s Rabbit. Three absolutely great books in my opinion.
Is there anything that you could offer young or starting writers as a piece of advice?
Mark: I usually say my advice is don’t listen to advice. But having said that, it’s probably a good thing to attend a workshop. Even if you disagree with everyone’s opinion, you’ll find yourself in a community of poets. That’s a good place to find yourself.
Develop your writing through discussion and feedback during the Advanced Poetry Course with Mark Waldron. Entry to this course is by application only. If you would like to join, please send a submission of three poems to firstname.lastname@example.org.