American poets tend to take Pound’s
dictum to “make it new” as a foundational principle, and as a result
many of us have a short literary memory. The poetic culture in the UK
seems far more conscious of the legacy of centuries of predecessors.
What are the pleasures and challenges of contributing your voice to
I think that British poets are not immune from Pound’s fret-inducing
mantra – myself included. But yes I am aware of legacy. The Exeter book
of Anglo-Saxon riddles is a current source – though it’s interesting to
note that the translations I am reading in A Feast of Creatures
are by a North American scholar and poet – Craig Williamson. I have to
say that not many of my ‘predecessors’ are British. But I am
discovering traditions from my own culture and there are also those I
am yet to access. Some of Britain’s oldest and most developed living
poetic forms are in the Welsh language – Cynhanedd is the most famous
of these. Although it is my mother’s tongue, I have not yet learnt (or
re-learnt) enough of the language to be able to enter it (translations
can only capture so much of its intensely harmonic patterning). So
these poems are a beautiful musical mystery to me. One day, perhaps.
There is, perhaps, a British fixation on legacy and I find that poets,
readers and literary scenes here are often too inward looking. (Maybe
because we are a culture used to exporting, colonizing). This is a
shame; the contemporary scenes of ‘other’ languages or communities are
some of the most exciting ‘new’ you can discover and bring into English
What’s happening now in the UK poetry scene that you find particularly
exciting – or frustrating?
That already-mentioned parochialism that comes from an
internally-focused culture. Macro-positioning by the hegemonic
gatekeepers who seem blind to diversity or strangeness in new poetries.
And on the other hand, micro-positioning: the negativism and bickering
that comes out of the reaction to this blindness.
But the excitement is so much more than this. Works previously
partially hidden or buried by print-culture are now out there to be
discovered in the digital age. Of course the internet is also the home
of most feverish micro-positioning too! But there are so many
innovative new projects and innovations happening right now, it’s very
In “History of our bookishness,” your
speaker says: “I was given a stipend of blood.” The word “stipend”
strikes us as both generous and restrictive when applied to the concept
of heritage. Likewise, in “a man you might like,” a quantity of
“ribbons make a net,” and in “Three Places,” strange foals are born
within “regions of taxidermy.” Can you tell us what lies behind your
impulse to articulate images of measurement and containment? Are the
boundaries in your poems permeable?
I suppose I am interested in how
boundaries are made and broken. I actually work for an organisation
called Literature Across Frontiers, so it is manifested in my
professional as well as creative life. Language, however full of rules
and however censored or seized by dominant cultures, is sublimely
permeable. The pleasure or ‘waking up’ that comes in finding poetry
operating at and passing through boundaries is my motivation in
reading, writing and promoting poetry.
In these poems you’ve found three different instances of this impulse.
The “stipend of blood” does indeed refer to the gift of heritage and
how gifts are also restrictions. The women’s names are my mothers’
mothers and like me they were lucky enough to come from a culture that
regarded education highly. They studied to degree level and beyond.
Unlike me they were limited with what they could do with their
learning. Though educated they were still women of limited means.
So the gift was restricted. But their education did eventually give me
a great deal. Catherine Glyn Davies – my grandmother – studied at
Oxford and the Sorbonne in the 1940s but was discouraged to continue. She
had to wait until she’d raised four children and supported the academic
career of her husband before she could go back and complete her Ph.D.
in her 60s.
In “Three Places,” borders contain three distinct spaces. South Eastern
Turkey is the first region and South Wales is the third. The region of
taxidermy is actually a distinct time as well as place – a frozen or at
least inaccessible time – that of the Germany in the (very mysterious)
Perhaps pessimistically I sometimes think of relationships themselves
as a measured restricted space. There are boundaries to abide by.
Boundaries you may wish to break. There is some pleasure in ribbons,
and containment or safety in a net. And desire itself can be a
restriction of course.