We sat down with Geoffrey Dearmer Prize-winner Wayne Holloway-Smith ahead of his new Pamphlet / Portfolio three-term course, designed to help guide your work to publication.
Hi Wayne. You’re running a course for us called Pamphlet / Portfolio. Could you tell us a little bit about that?
I’m particularly interested at the moment in the conversation that happens between poems in an individual’s body of work. And how this might take place. Whether the poems, for example, listen and respond to each other, showing a level of social decorum and courtesy; whether one dominates the exchange – and why this might be; whether the poems kind of speak over or interrupt each other – each competing, as if there’s a sense of urgency to get to the bottom of something important. All of these thing can work, and have, in very surprising ways. I’m less interested in collections which seem to have gathered a bunch of pieces made over the past, say, five years, and shoved them between its covers – like a bunch of people locked into the same room, but talking to themselves.
I want this course to cater to students’ individual aims, which means I’ll be listening a lot to what they each have to say. I also want to provide encouragement and opportunity to consider a wider context with respect to their work. Both in terms of its own agenda – if it has one, and where it might situate itself in what’s happening in the contemporary field right now. To do this, we’ll be exploring some very recent and brilliant poets.
Your debut collection Alarum is recently out with Bloodaxe Books. How did you find the experience of putting together the book?
It was incredibly fun – in a sort of twisting a loose tooth kind of way, with respect to what I’ve said above. I had a provisional manuscript accepted by Bloodaxe, but then suddenly I found I’d begun writing into a set of quite explicit concerns, and this seemed much more energising. Neil Astley was very patient and generous with me. And his generosity allowed the space to experiment. Poems were being newly written, and one, at times, intuited the next. I began understanding that although I couldn’t deal with one aspect or concern in the poem that I was currently making, I could address it in the next. After reading and re-reading the whole collection, and speaking a lot to my friends and girlfriend, the order fell into place.
You’ve recently completed your PhD on representations of working class masculinity. How has that informed your work, or the way you think about writing? The final ‘Hi’ poem even plays with the idea that through research and writing poems you have (or the speaker has) “effectively murder[ed] your own working class self”…
Well, discursive formations of class were a big part of my study. This helped me to begin to understand a bit about where I’ve come from, and how I might be read by the mechanisms of mainstream social narrative. I’m interested in socio-symbolic systems, how these apportion higher or lower value to certain people, places, practices etc, and whose interests these systems serve. The fact that you seem to be immediately transported into the middle-class if you have something noteworthy like a PhD raises some questions.
You did a fantastic interview with the Lunar Poetry Podcast where you mention the way ideas will pile up in your head, like stuck Scalextric cars, and “then, all of a sudden, when that first car gets back on track…all forty stream out quite quickly.” What about right now: are you in a pile-up, or have the cars got free?
I think, for me, this seems to be pretty consistently the way things happen. In both the writing of individual poems and working on larger projects. Some of this has to do with what else is going on in my life at a specific point. If I’m very busy or have something else I urgently have to think about, say. Other times I exhaust the mode I’m using. Then I stop and have to wait. Then when something clicks into (probably a slightly new, unexpected) place things start racing.
The friendly push and crucial support you need to hone that pile of poems into a larger work and take your next steps in poetry – book now for Wayne’s Pamphlet / Portfolio Course