How did poetry first appear in your life?
With a primary school teacher who made us write a poem every week comprising three abab quatrains and marked me down when I abandoned the rhyme scheme. In any reasonable society people like that would be barred from the teaching profession for life, and preferably detained in custody, but this was Grimsby in 1984 and nobody cared.
What do you think poetry’s relationship to politics should be?
I don’t want a lot of unambiguous, shouty poems about politics, but I don’t want poetry to be entirely disengaged. One quite beautiful collection I read lately is just so frictionless that it generates no purchase on the world around us, and I couldn’t get into it. Sean O’Brien’s last book The Beautiful Librarians is an interesting one – at times the balance is perfect. But I guess rather than prescribe a particular approach to composition, let’s start with the culture surrounding ‘literary’ poetry. First, stop excluding working-class people, and we’ll take it from there.
Has a poem ever changed your life?
Several! The most recent is probably ‘The Walking Cure’ by Matthew Clegg. I have a constant urge to abandon all my responsibilities and dissolve into the landscape, and because of ‘The Walking Cure’ this no longer makes me feel like a guilty misfit. This might sound facetious but I’m not kidding at all. That’s how vital and replenishing a poem it is.
Describe your ideal poetry festival line-up.
Kathleen Jamie headlines the main stage on Saturday night, after scintillating sets from Gerard Manley Hopkins, John Clare, Li Po, Charlotte Mew, Louis MacNeice and Christina Rosetti. Patrick Kavanagh has the legend slot, first poet of the day on Sunday. The vegetarian burritos are excellent and affordable.
Do you have any bad poetry habits?
Writing while I’m drunk.
What is your favoured form of writing avoidance?
Drinking. It doesn’t work.
How do you feel about making a living from poetry? Do you do it? Do you avoid it? Do you want to do it?
I don’t but I’d love to. Wouldn’t we all? You know that idea of a ‘hinterland’ – how it’s important to have things in your life other than your day job? I’m pretty much all hinterland. Some Monday mornings it takes an hour to remember I actually have a day job and I can’t just spend the week reading and singing and looking at the sea. I know only about three people are allowed to make a living just from poetry, but hey. Impossible things are the best things.
What’s a good poem idea that you’ve had but never managed to write?
Two or three years ago I started on a long narrative poem about Doggerland – the area that used to connect Britain to continental Europe until it vanished below the North Sea about 8,000 years ago. The poem was overtaken by other projects but maybe I’ll pick it up again sometime. It should have some resonance if the Brexit negotiations are ever concluded.
Tell us something about putting together your most recent collection, or what you’re working on now.
My pamphlet Sheffield Almanac is one long poem about cities, rivers, rain and regeneration, about where we find ourselves, about Sheffield’s uniqueness for better or worse. It’s taken me more than two years to write, it’s out from Longbarrow Press any day now, and I’m looking forward to performing extensively from it at the ‘Vanishing Point’ walk this Sunday!
Angelina D’Roza and Pete Green lead Vanishing Point, a poetry walk through central Sheffield, on Sunday 28 May (11am start at Lady’s Bridge). Click here for more details of the event (advance booking recommended). You can read Pete Green’s essay ‘Model City’ (on the cultural narrative of post-industrial Sheffield) here.