Ben Parker is a poet and editor based in Worcester. He has published two pamphlets – The Escape Artists (tall-lighthouse 2012), which was shortlisted for the Michael Marks Award, and From The Porcelain (Museum of Royal Worcester 2015).
His first full-length collection Insomnia Postcards is forthcoming from Eyewear Publishing later this year.
Hi Ben. Thanks for taking the time to chat. Congratulations on your recent appointment as poet-in-residence at The Swan Theatre in Worcester. Can you tell us a bit more about the residency and how it’s been going so far?
Thanks very much! The residency is still in its early phases at the moment. I’ve had a tour of the theatre and a few productive chats with Chris Jaeger, the Chief Executive.
There are two complete poems so far and many hidden parts of the theatre that I would like to return to as I suspect they may inspire some poems. The costume store and the paint room are two places I am planning to visit soon. Later in the year I will be hosting an open-mic night and working with the Swan Youth Theatre on a piece of performance poetry.
You enjoyed a residency at the Royal Museum of Worcester in 2014/2015, which resulted in a pamphlet of poems From the Porcelain. Can you tell us a bit more about the pamphlet and did you find yourself approaching the writing of them any differently than other poems you normally write?
I think there are poems in From the Porcelain that were produced in a way similar to my normal practice and some that required a different approach. The former came, as many of my poems do, as an impulse that began almost simultaneously with the moment of writing. In other words, I didn’t think ‘okay, I will write a poem on this subject’ then sit down knowing approximately what I would produce.
With these poems I was lucky enough to have absorbed some fact or anecdote from my period of research, which then bubbled to the surface as a catalyst for a poem at exactly the right time.
However there were a few things that I knew I wanted to write poems about and which sat in my brain as ideas for weeks or months whilst I was writing other things. With these poems it was a case of sitting down knowing already that today was the day I would try writing something on X. Hopefully it is not obvious which poems are which!
I understand you will be publishing a debut full-length collection with Eyewear Publishing later this year. Can you tell us a bit more about it and how you feel the collection is a continuation of or departure from The Escape Artists?
It is called Insomnia Postcards and should be out in October. Although the collection will contain a few pieces from The Escape Artists, the majority of the poems are new work.
That said, I do think of it as more of a continuation than a departure. I hope that I have improved as a poet since writing The Escape Artists, but I feel that the dominant voice in the new collection has much in common with that of the pamphlet.
The biggest stylistic departure is probably the eponymous sequence of 10-line poems that is broken up throughout the book. They feel more fragmentary than the work of The Escape Artists, though I think with a similar impulse behind them.
You are also a poetry editor for the journal Critical Survey. I’m curious if you feel working in such a role informs or influences your own writing practices in any way?
I am currently working on my second issue for Critical Survey, so it is still a relatively new role for me. I think anything that exposes you to new writing will have some effect on your own work, therefore I would not be surprised if poems of my own are influenced by those I have been lucky enough to read in my position as editor.
What does the rest of the year hold for you? Are there any dates in the diary you are looking forward to or are there any specific poetry goals you have set yourself?
This year I will be putting the finishing touches to my debut collection, hosting some open-mic nights in Worcester as part of my residency, and writing poems about theatre. I am reading at Fire River Poets in Taunton on October 6th, but if anyone fancies booking me for a reading before then I’d love to hear from them!
Finally, can you tell us a little about the poem you’ve submitted to Poetry Spotlight?
This is the opening poem from Insomnia Postcards and I think is probably fairly representative of the book as a whole. As I wrote the poem I did not feel there was any external source for the character. However, when I came to type it up later I realised that he bore more than a passing resemblance to Harold from Twin Peaks.
Things Are Growing Inside His House
Mould in a petri dish, herbs lined
along the windowsill and flowerpots
making the dinner table unusable.
The indoor-ivy he planted last year
is preventing him reading authors
whose names position them on
the left side of his bookshelf. Does
dust grow or gather? He suspects
the latter but is hoping to justify
the former. A large topiary bush
in the shape of a topiary bush is
technically outside but the kitchen
window is becoming increasingly
difficult to close. In the bathroom
there is little of either now, filled
instead with bonsai trees starting
to belie their name. During summer
he dare not sit in the lounge for fear
of crushing one of the visiting bees.
He does not grow lonely or old
before his time. Orchids are simpler
than people and more beautiful.
His youthful face is full of their light.
You can find more of Ben’s poems across at his website HERE.