Ahead of our Summer School at the end of July, we asked the participating tutors to take part in an interview chain. Each tutor asks three questions, and in turn is asked three questions by another tutor. None of the tutors had any idea who they were interviewing, or who was interviewing them.
Jane: What is one of your favourite poems to read right now?
Richard: Hare Soup by Dorothy Molloy is a book which I return to again and again — and the title poem always shocks me and helps me to realise just how far, and with what subtlety and grace, you can carry your reader into strange territory. The poem is basically about an eccentric lunch party in France but in seven short stanzas, Molloy is able to deal effectively with notions of class, misogyny, shame, violence and sexual abuse. And she does this all through her taught, arresting images: the dog’s prick is ‘a startle/ of red, pencil thin‘, and blood drops become a bouquet of ‘ruby, carmine and cerise‘. Molloy is a master at capturing the hidden traumas of domesticity, and she never lets her readers off the hook — we feel complicit, and accordingly full of troubling and important questions, just by reading her.
Jane: What is the weirdest thing you’ve ever written about?
Richard: In my poem Wound, the speaker, who is a pre-teenage boy, has just undergone a partial circumcision — and I use the aftermath of this operation as a way of exploring the father and son relationship. By the end of the poem, the speaker has journeyed through bodily trauma and shame to reach a place where he is able to begin thinking about his sexuality for the first time. The father becomes the catalyst for this transformation, ‘and then you, daddy, lotioning my scab’; but rather than dealing with incest, I wanted to explore how our parents bodies might be the first nudes we see and how their hugs and affection might be the beginnings of our sexual awareness. I don’t necessarily think of this as a ‘weird’ thing to write about but it’s something I’ve only ever encountered in French autofiction or in essays dealing with psychology, so perhaps it is slightly strange within the context of poetry but it shouldn’t be!
Jane: What do you want to write a poem about but haven’t yet?
Richard: I have always wanted to write a poem which incorporates music, or perhaps even singing, in some way. I used to work as an opera singer and so singing was such an important part of my identity for many years but it hasn’t expressed itself through my poetry, yet. I am always thrilled when a poet sings during a reading, it expresses such massive vulnerability — whilst demonstrating how the languages of poetry and music, while utterly connected by rhythm, tempo and timbre, are so hugely different. Hannah Lowe and Ocean Vuong have both done this and brought me to the verge of tears; in fact there’s nothing quite like hearing Lowe intone the first few bars of the jazz standard Cherokee, in her poem Cherokee, to break your heart. One day I will be brave enough to attempt this, but for now the realms of poetry and song seem almost polar in distance.
This interview is also published by Obby.