Saturday, 12 September 2009

Interview With Michael Molyneux

Next in our series of interviews, Richard Hirst talks to Michael Molyneux about his collection of poetry: Selected Poems. Michael lives in Preston and will be performing at Word Soup on the 22nd September - so if this whets your appetite, you know where to come. Michael blogs here.

First of all: congratulations - I imagine you must be very proud to have a book of your selected poems published. How did you get into writing? How long have you been writing poems?

I have been writing poems since my formative years, when, on a train, I wrote a very self-indulgent rhyming poem about feeling responsible for society's improvement and the contrasting pull of the personal freedom I was experiencing at the time. I think this was quite a naive way of looking at the world but, at the same time, I think it's a relevant principle at some level for every person, (and one that Andre Gide writes about in his book The Immoralist).

That was my first memory of poetry and, although the dilemma remains, was that of a different person. I now rarely write poems, being more concerned with experiencing 'poetry' in the everyday than reading or writing 'poetry' as an art form.

I think it is important to discover the poetic in its many forms. Often, trying to render or capture 'the poetic' in a 'poem' can actually do more harm than good. I find that many poets, and I certainly don't exclude myself here, write as an excuse for living or to try and pass off emotions, ones they can't fully understand or accept, for art.

Poetry is commonly both a cathartic process, or a kind of mental masturbation, and a kind of collector's search. But in the words of Thoreau 'how vain is it to sit down and write when you have not stood up to live'.

Between this more stoical approach today and the early musings, there have been innumerable postcards, beers mats and napkins filled with mystic ramblings, love letters and descriptions of trees in the night-wind (etc!).

The poems themselves seem to follow more of a European tradition than a British/English one. Would that be a fair assumption? Who are the writers who you admire and feel have influenced your work the most?

I think the British tradition is generally one that lacks passion, insight and mysticism. This is clearly a general statement and I could cite many exceptions. But, as a rule, I favour Japanese poetry (short, mystical and allusive - and therefore a better reflection of what life is really like), Spanish poetry for the deep passion and congruence, and also some American poetry.

The two greatest poets on the last century were, in my eyes, Wallace Stevens and Pablo Neruda. Pablo Neruda writes about love and the sea better than anyone I have ever known and Wallace Stevens fuses the imagination and reality in a subtle and profound way - 'the poem of the mind in the act of finding what will suffice'. I find it amazing and disheartening that so many people are yet to look outside the bounds of one or two familiar poetic traditions.

I believe you were born and raised in Preston. Do you feel the city itself has had any influence on your writing? Has your background as a philosophy student at UCLAN had any bearing on your poetry?

The only influence Preston has had on my poetry is thanks to the poetry society at the university - I don't know if this still exists. Preston has only featured in my poems as 'an urban area' and in a negative light.

As for philosophy, I think that poetry and philosophy are intrinsically linked, as they both are rooted in a primordial sense of wonder at the world and address many of the same questions, albeit in different ways. I again refer to Stevens. Merleau-Ponty is one philosopher who writes so eloquently as to warrant the title of poet and who writes about the link between language and being.

Selected Poems
is published by the Clan-U Press which, as the name would suggest, is a UCLAN publisher, and is run by Ceth, a national Centre of Excellence in Teaching and Learning. Can you tell us anything about this and how it came to publish your work?

Ceth is the University of Central Lancashire's publishing house. The university runs a module in which students must publish a book from beginning to end (editing, marketing, printing, proof reading - the lot). My selected poems were published by a group of several students who were studying such a module.

Do you have kind of 'routine' for your writing? Have you got any advice for any would-be poets who may be reading?

I personally don't have a routine for writing but I think there are many commonalities in other writers' routines that might serve as advice for other would-be writers. Regular walks, reading constantly, getting drunk occasionally, sleeping well, travelling, exercising, falling in love, looking had at everyday objects until they shed their veneer. I suppose there are too many to list.

The important thing, though, is developing self awareness and then forming a routine (or otherwise) around what you discover about how you operate. The best advice, though, is rather than succumb to ordinary weakness, don't write at all!

Don't forget to put PrestonWN into your feed reader, or follow us by clicking the link in the sidebar. Our next post is a guest piece by Claire Sharples, who was part of the team who worked to publish Michael's collection.


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