Welcome to the five hundred and twentieth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with poet John Lavan. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, John. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Morgen: I like your ‘new wife’ already. My passion for writing started in my late 30s and I’m pleased to say I feel the same. What have you had published to-date?
John: I’ve won a couple of competition prizes and been published in magazines and ezines. My collected poems are now out as an e-book (Familial: Selected Poems) with Apostrophe Books.
Morgen: Congratulations. Which authors would you compare your writing to?
John: Mixture of Emily Dickinson and Simon Armitage! ;-))
Morgen: I’m by no means an expert on poetry but have heard good things about them both. How involved were you in the eBook process?
John: Very involved. Apostrophe Books are great to deal with.
Morgen: They’ve been very supportive of my blog (thank you, Louise, for all the authors you send my way, and indeed your MD!). Do you think eBooks will change poetry?
John: Established publishers are not interested in new poets – their markets are small and they simply want to promote existing poets on their books (whether good poets or not). E-books allow the creation of new markets and will be good for new poets and for poetry in general as they’ll reach out in new ways and the market will be more free and pure.
Morgen: I do think it’s an ideal format, especially where you can fit the whole poem on a page (screen). What / who do you read? And is it via eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Morgen: I’m the same, and love having the option. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
John: I work with the publisher.
Morgen: That’s the advantage (in my humble opinion) of a smaller press, that they’ll have more time to dedicate to their writers, and of course it’s advantageous to build the ‘brand’ of you both. Do you have a favourite of your poems or topic to write about?
John: My muse is most sweetly my son who has Down’s Syndrome. The feeling between father and son is not very often written about and poetry can catch that love intensely.
Morgen: I write very little poetry (I have too many story ideas to cope with) but it has always struck me as the ideal format for up close and personal, as the saying goes. What are you working on at the moment / next?
John: I’m writing a poem about a solo violinist performing Bach’s chaconne – a concert I saw last week. I’m trying to get that melancholy feeling into a few words!!
Morgen: One of my Monday night (writing group) writers wrote a poem about a pregnant violinist, it was very moving. I’m sure most non-poets (I count myself among them) don’t appreciate the effort that goes into every single word. Do you manage to write every day, or ever suffer from writer’s block?
John: Every day. If I get writer’s block, I write a poem about writer’s block.
Morgen: Why do you think poetry is such a difficult market to break into?
John: It’s badly taught in schools – so it puts readers off for the rest of their lives!
Morgen: I can’t remember (but then it was a while ago) being taught any poetry. I’m sure I was but it clearly didn’t stick. I was of the Jane Eyre, Lord of the Flies and Macbeth era (probably why my writing is so dark, that and reading Stephen King novels and watching Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected on TV). Are there any tips you could give to someone wishing to write poetry?
John: Write about what’s happening to them right now! Express now and then edit. Go for feeling!
Morgen: Speaking of editing, do you do a lot of editing of your poems or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
John: Editing is vital. My mind is too full of cliché to be immediately interesting.
Morgen: And it’s very easy for clichés to slip in (as I proved earlier). I used to write a lot of 60-word stories and found the more I wrote the closer they came out to the word count. It’s obviously not a direct comparison but do you find your poems come out at similar lengths, or do they really vary.
John: I know what you mean. Often the poems emerge as a natural sonnet.
Morgen: Sonnets are hard (for me anyway) so you’re very fortunate… or clearly practiced. What advice would you give aspiring poets?
John: Write a poem every day. Read poetry and work out what the poet is up to. Then steal the techniques.
Morgen: I met British poet Wendy Cope at my local library (when the Council had money for such events) a few months ago and she said she writes a poem every day (except Christmas Day, although I suspect that if she had an idea she’d sneak a few minutes) and that was certainly an inspiration to me. She and Pam Ayres are my favourites (I like quirky humour). If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
John: Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson, Wordsworth. I’d cook an English Sunday Dinner!
Morgen: Nice. I’d be happy with that as the conversations are bound to be about writing. Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
John: ‘I contain multitudes’ Whitman
Morgen: Another poet I’ve heard good things about. What do you do when you’re not writing? Any hobbies or party tricks?
John: Lots of ‘spiritual’ retreats and I’m a traveling businessman – so most of my writing happens on trains.
Morgen: Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Morgen: I have two Twitter accounts and find it really annoying that I have to sign out of one before I can use the other (even using different emails). It must drive you mad (unless you’ve found a way round it and I’m being blonde). What do you think the future holds for a writer?
John: I believe if I keep writing and improving, fate will create a measure of success consistent with my talent.
Morgen: They do say practice makes perfect… oops, sorry another cliché. I do think practice makes us who we want to be… at some stage. Where can we find out about you and your work?
John: My first collection with Apostrophe Books here – http://apostrophebooks.com/books/poetry/familial.
Morgen: That’s the one I know. Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
John: Modern poetry is a little embarrassing in my opinion. If you looked at the best poems of the first decade of this century (say according to Forward) they’re not so good; they embarrass me compared to the beginning of the last century when Keats was writing. In a nutshell, we need more feeling!!
Morgen: Classical writing was certainly very descriptive so you’re quite possibly right. Thank you, John.
I then invited John to include one of his poems…
My son has a marvelous habit of telling
strangers that this very day is his birthday
and they, confused, can’t fathom the truth
but trust his nodding smile, congratulate
the rascal on reaching a mighty fine age
although sometimes they do seem surprised by the notion
that a boy so strange and acting childlike
could be ‘eighteen!’ but if you reckon
that every day is a birthday, he’s actually
at an age over six thousand and five hundred;
older than anyone else on the planet
(that is, according to conventional wisdom).
So he had a chat with Socrates,
shared a drink with an under-aged Jesus,
bounced in a chariot with Boedacia
and learnt his marvelous habits from Merlin;
like telling stories, beading the eye,
smiling, messing. challenging, pushing,
being himself, parading the fool
and testing whether magic is happening:
my son has a marvelous habit of telling.
And a synopsis…
Familial: Selected Poems (Apostrophe Books). An e-book of around 100 poems in a new collection from the pastoral to the deeply personal. John’s poems about his son Andrew, who has Down’s Syndrome) are so touching they’ll bring a lump to your throat within ten minutes of starting to read. Money back guarantee!!
What others say about John…
Robert Sutcliffe, Journalist: “Management consultants are not the first people one imagines to have deep reservoirs of poems within themselves but John Lavan appears to be the exception that proves the rule.
An intensely private man not given to outward shows of emotion these often deeply personal poems reveal him to be all too human with an appealing mix that is profound, witty and quirky but above all warm and compassionate.
Particularly moving are the poems detailing his deep love for his eldest son Andrew who suffers from Down’s Syndrome. The devastation he felt when told the news is brilliantly captured but even more heart-breaking is his pride in his son and the uplifting joy he feels in his presence.
There are all kinds of poems here – but John has a distinctive voice which carries effortlessly from the personal to the pastoral and which will delight all who have the privilege of reading them.”
If you are reading this and you write, in whatever genre, and are thinking “ooh, I’d like to do this” then you can… just email me and I’ll send you the information. They do now (January 2013) carry a fee (£10 / €12.50 / $15) for the new interviews on this blog but everything else (see Opportunities on this blog) is free.
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