Ben Banyard lives and writes in Portishead. His poems have appeared in Popshot, The Interpreter’s House, Prole, Ink Sweat & Tears, The Broadsheet, Sarasvati, The Dawntreader, London Grip, The Open Mouse and many others.
Hi Ben. Thanks for taking the time to chat. Firstly, congratulations on your forthcoming pamphlet Communing with Indigo Dreams. Can you tell us a bit about how it all came to fruition, from joining Jo Bell’s 52 Group through to having a published collection of your own?
I wrote poetry pretty much daily while I was studying for my degree (English Literature at Plymouth University’s sadly defunct Rolle Campus in Exmouth) but only really showed it to my wife, who was a fan – I certainly didn’t submit it anywhere or try it out at open mics.
But after graduation I completely stopped. I’m not entirely sure why. I suppose work intervened. My mum encouraged my writing – I get my love of reading from her – and when she died in 2012 I felt guilty for not pursuing it while she was alive. Earlier that year our twins were born and then we moved house so there was an awful lot going on and it felt like everything was in a state of flux.
Starting to write again helped me to order my thoughts and examine them more closely. I joined a great online writing community called ABC Tales where I was posting poems and flash fiction and the nice feedback I got from other users gave me the impetus to keep going.
Then on New Year’s Day 2014 I was browsing through poetry hashtags on Twitter and stumbled across Jo Bell’s message about the 52 project. I very nearly didn’t sign up for the Facebook element, but I’m so glad I did because the sense of community and fellowship as poets, as well as friendly but constructive critique, were the only way I think I’d have managed to fine tune my writing and find my voice. I’m not the sort to go on writing retreats or attend meetings!
In response to Jo’s prompts (which has now been published via Nine Arches Press as an excellent workbook) I wrote about 180 poems in 2014, and then I carried on writing and posting, drawing inspiration from Norman Hadley’s prompts when he took over for the first few months of 2015. That’s an awful lot of material, and some of it will never see the light of day but Jo encouraged us to write about subjects that might never have occurred to me in ways which I would probably never have approached.
In about May of 2014 I felt happy enough with some of the work to start submitting it and my first poems were published by The Stare’s Nest and Nutshells & Nuggets. Then I happened upon Indigo Dreams, when Dawn Bauling took four of my poems for her Sarasvati magazine. The relationship with Ronnie Goodyer and Dawn grew from there, and after she took a couple more poems for The Dawntreader, Dawn suggested I might like to submit a pamphlet.
What can readers expect from the collection?
The twenty poems in Communing talk about love, death, parenthood, place and nostalgia. Rather than just choosing what I considered to be my best poems, I wanted there to be some common thread and I decided to use my poem ‘Communing’ as the starting point for that; it’s about the way that religious rituals punctuate our lives, whether or not we identify with a faith (I’m an atheist, myself).
From there, the idea of communing, or relating to our sense of self through people, places and, significantly, photographs, helped me to decide on the content. It felt right to tackle a lot of that in my first book, but it’s hopefully quite a gentle read and there are flashes of humour here and there to lighten the mood!
You set out a definite mission statement on your blog Clear Poetry about where your poetry tastes lie and how some contemporary poetry can be too lofty and cryptic for its own good. What in your opinion makes for a successful poem?
The poems I choose for Clear Poetry are generally very economical – I don’t like waffle, or those silly words you only read in poetry by people who want to show off. During 52, the word “shard” came to represent that. I think most people who don’t think they like contemporary poetry form that opinion because they read work which feels impenetrable.
My idea was to give the reader two or three poems which they could easily read and enjoy in a short period of time – a coffee break, for instance. That’s not to say that these poems are simple – often they will yield more meaning from repeat readings. I like to try and take risks here and there, though – sometimes I’ll use work which requires a bit more from the reader.
A poem’s “success” depends upon the writer’s skill at imparting a thought to the reader. Take down all of the barriers which prevent that process from working and the reader will hopefully be dropped right into the poet’s mind as he or she was writing. I’d say Philip Larkin, Seamus Heaney and Norman MacCaig were masters of that.
I understand you’re a fan of making mix tapes. To put you on the spot a little, could you list some favourite poems of others that you’d include in a dream compilation?
Wow. Have you read Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity? The part where the main character is asked by a journalist from the local paper to list his top five songs of all time? It’s an agonising process which he turns over and over in his mind because he knows that some like-minded music fan will end up judging him based on the tracks he picks. And so it is with poetry, I suppose.
OK, in no particular order, the poems I come back to time after time are real big hitters like Larkin’s ‘The Whitsun Weddings’ and ‘An Arundel Tomb’, Hopkins’ ‘The Windhover’, ‘Carrion Comfort’ and ‘God’s Grandeur’, Heaney’s ‘Death of a Naturalist’, ‘Digging’, ‘Blackberry Picking’ and ‘Strange Fruit’ and MacCaig’s ‘Stars and Planets’, ‘Praise of a Man’, ‘Sounds of the Day’ and ‘Landscape and I’. Yes, mostly well-known poems, but read them, especially out loud, and you can easily see why they still resonate.
What does the rest of the year hold for you in the world of poetry?
I’ll be out and about promoting Communing – I’m booked in for an Indigo Dreams showcase reading at Cheltenham Poetry Festival on 12th May and there will be a joint launch in Bristol at some point in the Spring with Deborah Harvey, whose latest collection Breadcrumbs is due out shortly, also from Indigo Dreams.
I’ve got a copy of Jo’s 52 workbook so I’m doing that again this year as it’s a very good way to maintain writing discipline and continually stretch oneself. And I want to publish my first full collection in either 2017 or 2018 – I certainly have enough material to do one tomorrow but again I want it to be a cohesive book with some kind of narrative thread upon which I can string 60 or so poems.
And of course the mantra for any poet is to “Send The Buggers Out” (or STBO for short), so I’ll be submitting to my favourite magazines throughout the year.
Clear Poetry will continue every Monday and Thursday as normal, although I am toying with the idea of asking the poets I feature to record themselves reading their work, which would add an extra dimension. There will almost certainly be another anthology towards the end of the year, which might come out as a print edition if I find the time.
Outside of the world of poetry, my children start school in September so that will be the focus in our household for the rest of the year!
Can you tell us a little about the poem you’ve submitted to Poetry Spotlight?
I think it represents Communing quite well. As a child I was fascinated with old photographs, especially those in my Gran’s album. She died in 2001 aged 93 and we were very close, although it wasn’t until several years after she passed away that I realised what a terrible married life she’d endured.
for Lillian Flannery (1907-2001)
Here’s her photograph album;
there are gaps, Sellotape shadows.
The snaps which remain are spidered
with notes in Argos ballpoint.
I can picture her in the maisonette
peering through her magnifying glass,
folding herself out of some,
scribbling over faces in others.
Flicking through half-smiling moments
I wonder where all of the love went.
Was it spent, laid down, set aside
to reside in the spine, the margins?
Was it ever there at all?
I’ve read her diaries: she suffered
her husband, his death a release.
She could have thrown his pictures away.
But there were wars in those days;
people clung together, held tight.
They kept their feelings in heirlooms;
I wish I could remember their names.
You can listen to Ben reading poems from his new pamphlet HERE.