Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Assimilate before you disseminate

[...] arriving at that crucial recognition and fostering of a new voice in poetry is something which can only be achieved in private, in isolation, though much reading, much writing and much thought. You have to read all the other poets, but then you have not only to absorb those influences but to assimilate them and eventually find yourself writing poetry which is distinctively and recognisable yours, unlike anyone else’s.
‒ Neil Astley

The above is an excerpt from an online Guardian dialogue between Neil Astley, editor of Bloodaxe Books, and his reader (and would-be writer) ship. The questions and Neil’s answers are insightful, lucid and, above all, loaded with the level of passion that one expects led to him being credited with giving the public ‘as wide a range as possible of contemporary poetry by all kinds of writers’.

What struck me about the particular quote above, indeed throughout his answers, was quite how valuably Astley regards patience. I think I know what he means: a year ago I was advised to send my collection to a publisher after making some general corrections and doing a bit of trimming. I didn’t take the advice and I’m glad of that. I know the collection isn’t ready, and I know one of the reasons for that, and it’s a simple one: I can’t pin down precisely what it is I’m trying to say; I haven’t, in Astley’s terms, fully assimilated the style and technique of my contemporaries and began to produce wholly original, distinctive, Jake Campbell poetry.

One of the ways I aim to remedy that next year is by sticking to the advice above and reading more of the greats as well as those new writers whom presses such as Bloodaxe and others are putting out there now. It’s time to make a Christmas book list.

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