Photo Credit: Mark Sherratt
Wayne Holloway-Smith is a poet, editor, and tutor. His poems have appeared in a variety of magazines and anthologies. Wayne’s pocketbook Beloved, in case you’ve been wondering was published by Donut Press in 2011.
Hi Wayne. Thanks for taking the time to chat. Congratulations on your debut full-length collection Alarum with Bloodaxe. Can you tell us a bit more about it and in what ways you think the collection is a continuation of or departure from Beloved, in case you’ve been wondering?
Hi, thanks. I’m really very happy to be published by Bloodaxe Books. In fact, they were the only ones to whom I sent my manuscript. There’s something impressively pluralistic about their approach to publishing – an importance placed upon the representation of a wide range of voices and interpretations of the world. I’m glad to be allowed to be part of that, and hope the book can make a valid contribution.
I’m not entirely certain what to say about its content. It deals, I guess, with themes I was probably too anxious and uncomfortable to speak about previously – mental health, violence, the working-class background I’m from and the weirdness of its hegemonic conceptions of masculinity. I think these topics, or, at least, the manner in which I attempt to address them is what distinguishes the book from my previous publication Beloved, in case you’ve been wondering.
But, also, time has played a big obvious part. There are five years between the pocketbook I published with Donut Press and this first full collection. A lot has taken place in my life since then, including the leaving behind of particular masks and certain tired character traits – this is reflected in the work I think.
Congratulations too on the recent tenth issue of Poems in Which. I’m curious what you find to be the most rewarding aspects of editing the journal?
Again, thanks. I love that tenth issue; there’s some incredibly good poetry in it. A lot of what takes place at Poems in Which is down to my co-editors – Alex, Amy, and Rebecca – all of whom are poets I love and are brilliant and funny people, and each of them work very hard to make each issue happen. I’d be lying if I said a large part of my being involved wasn’t for the selfish reason that it gives me an excuse to hang out with and speak to these guys.
Each of us have quite different tastes, poetry-wise, so it’s pretty valuable for me to be exposed to the critical thinking of them all in this respect. Alongside this, it’s a privilege to get to read poetry by writers I perhaps would not have otherwise come across, as well as to promote the work of people I think deserve it. And also to have my own biases challenged.
You hosted and curated a ‘Literary Salon’ a few years back in which your living room became a stage for some leading poets to share their work with others. Looking back on those gatherings are there any particular highlights that stick in the mind for you, and how well do you think the follow-up anthology Follow the Trail of Moths captured events?
That whole thing was really fun. I had to stop it eventually because the last event had 100 or so people attending, and I couldn’t risk getting kicked out of my flat – the neighbours were complaining quite a bit. Poems can get rowdy. My thought process behind putting these things on was that I was pretty much convinced people who don’t really read poetry, like a lot of my friends and friends’ friends, could really get into it if they had the chance to see/hear some quality stuff. And, I’m happy to say, these events proved me almost exclusively right.
There are loads of incidents which stick in my mind: Mark Waldron filthying-up the stories we were all told as children, Annie Freud gaining a ludicrous amount of attention from hot young men, a dodgy episode it’s best not to discuss happening in my kitchen – apparently on a bin. My budgie, Max Wall (RIP), absolutely loved Inua Ellams.
The anthology Sidekick published (everything they do is awesome) was a nice keepsake, and provided, I hope, a written starting point for those I mentioned who were unfamiliar with poetry, and was made beautiful by the illustrations of Sophie Gainsley.
I enjoyed reading an interview you did with The Poetry School last year about your course ‘The Poem as A Party Guest‘, which seemed to be something of a reaction against poetry that might be perceived as prescriptive and only interested in conveying its own message and opinion. Can you tell us a bit more about how the course went and did it throw up any surprises along the way?
It’s a weird thing to come out with a ‘stance’ on poetry I think. And weird also to ‘teach’ one. In fact, I’m finding I have less and less of a stance the more I learn. The purpose of this course was to present one, perhaps, off-kilter, way of thinking about writing, which I had been mulling over at the time. But by no means was it meant to be some kind of manifesto, or fully formed system of poetics. I’m suspicious of those – they’re annoying and reductive. The ‘party guest’ tagline was a way of structuring some of the processes of experimentation to which I asked students to commit.
Pretty much everyone did, to my relief, and they all produced something amazing that I was a bit jealous of by the end. I want students to get good, and then, when they do, hate them a little for it.
What does the rest of the year hold for you in the world of poetry? Are there any dates in the diary you are especially looking forward to?
Well, Alarum’s being published very soon (unless this whole thing has been one complicated and elaborate ruse to make me look stupid), so, I have to organize a launch. Following that, I plan to expend a great deal of time and energy being anxious, sitting around hoping someone finds something of worth in it. Also, I’ve written some new things, a lot of new things, actually. I’m excited to see where these go.
Finally, can you tell us a little about the poem you’ve submitted to Poetry Spotlight?
It’s the last poem I wrote before the book went to press, and Neil Astley was kind enough to allow me to shift the manuscript around until I found a suitable place for it. I’ve read it live once, for the transatlantic series Poetry Extension, and received, surprisingly, quite a few emails about it from others who have shared the experience it seeks to articulate.
There is absolutely no way to make this real life interesting
My ostensible father downstairs is sore to the dickens
no matter: my illness is alright
two fingers up
the throat of itself nutrients bawling
across the panels of the bathroom
tears backing up in the backs
of its eyes and desperate sometimes laughter
As a child my illness had fat thighs and a scar on its lip
that my mother assured me would one day disappear
as a child my illness was trying itself out
holding itself at angles in the mirror
it wanted so much to be the beautiful boy at school
or something very wrapped up and lifted
a wonderful hybrid creature and dead
almost beneath its blankets
as a child it was wrong in knitwear eating Mars Bars
bowls of ice cream pasta cold beans
bowls of ice cream cold beans Mars Bars
picture this: my illness in a gym
hidden by large men and mirrors
picture this: a field of red flowers
hidden in a field of flowers my illness
dressed in a wide-rimmed straw hat is eating
all the red flowers
Imagine how many surplus
calories you have to eat to gain one pound
said the therapist in her green cardigan
Think back she said in an attitude of prayer
Allow your inner-child to speak out
she spoke from beneath long orange hair
What is it saying, what do you want to say
A shadow carefully distinguishes from all of their shadows
when my illness goes with my friends out driving
to the cinema and with popcorn
it is distrustful of the girl at the counter because maybe
the girl at the counter will give it Coke instead of Diet Coke
when my illness goes with them it waits
til my friends are out of earshot and whispers
to the girl at the counter
I’m diabetic please don’t get it wrong
I ran for a long time with my illness and smoked
Dear Pillow my illness said I am empty as a packed lunch
Dear Pillow how many calories in a red flower
the pillow never did speak back
cat food a flat mate’s Mars Bars bread
bread from the freezer pasta so much cake
bread from the freezer three types of cheese
The therapist suggests a self-help book for my illness
my friend’s mum buys it the self-help book
addresses my illness as She
sometimes it just wants to be scooped up
helpless and placed in a bathtub
My illness grew into itself so much that it ran one day
23 miles from my parents to my nan’s house
trucks on a motorway
horns down Sunday lanes
across some shortcut cornfields and arrived
just in time for dinner
my illness is taking all of the red flowers
inside itself so the field is just filled with my illness
my illness taking all of this imagery
into itself until it is outgrowing
the place where it hides
my friends now speeding past in cars
ostensibly my father is downstairs sore to the dickens