Martin Figura is a poet and photographer based in Norwich. He has published a number of pamphlets and collections over the years including the criticically acclaimed Whistle which, together with its live show, was short-listed for the 2010 Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry and won the 2013 Saboteur Best Spoken Word Show Award.
Hi Martin. Hope you’re well. Thanks for taking the time to chat with us. It seems like it’s all go for you in 2016 with your upcoming pamphlet and new poetry collection due to be published shortly. Can you tell us a bit about both?
Shed came out of a commission from film-maker Dominic Clemence. I wanted to do an illustrated pamphlet from what I wrote, clean of the film – which will only use extracts. A similar thing happened with Arthur, my previous pamphlet, which also arose from another film driven commission. Young artist Natty Peterkin is creating some really beautiful and odd illustrations as we speak – making it something completely other than the film. It’s been a great commission for me and produced writing very different to my normal stuff.
Dr Zeeman is a mathematician who built a little machine as a physical manifestation of catastrophe theory, in order to explain it. It’s just one of a number of machine related poems in the book, which act alongside more human poems as metaphors – mostly about belonging.
I get the impression you enjoy the live performance aspect of poetry from your involvement with Cafe Writers and the touring of past shows. Am I right in saying you plan to tour Dr Zeeman and, if so, what can people expect?
A spoken word show is also in production but it takes the poem, along with others, in a completely different direction. It isn’t a book of the show. I really like the idea of taking some of the same source material and making something else from it. The book is much more broad ranging than the show, which has a clear narrative line and is about the loss and finding of love and coming through those catastrophes.
We’re building our own Catastrophe Machine and I have the same visual team, Andre Barreau and Karen Hall, that worked on Whistle. I see it very much as Part 2 of a trilogy. It will be more theatrical than Whistle, with a soundscape as well as the machine and visuals.
Your wife Helen Ivory is a fine poet as well. Do you ever find yourself bouncing ideas off each other and offering feedback on the poems you write? And do you think you’ll ever collaborate on a writing project together?
We’re both very different writers but Helen has definitely had an impact on my writing, making it more imaginative. She’s a very keen editor too. I get more out of the arrangement than she does, but I do most of the cooking.
I understand you’re a fan of photography too and seem to have a nifty sideline in taking pictures of other poets, my personal favourite being ‘A Poet’s Work Is Never Done’ featuring Luke Wright. Care to share the story behind that particular gem?
Well I’ve done a few of Luke’s shows – and he came to me with the idea. I have a builder friend, and so that was it really. The builder showing his cleavage in the picture goes by the nickname f*ck f*ck as that is the word he uses most…
You’ll already have your hands full with promoting your new titles and show, but are there any other projects in the pipeline for the rest of this year?
I am having my first photo exhibition since 2007 in November and will be making some new work for that – which is exciting.
Finally, can you tell us a little about the poem you’ve submitted to Poetry Spotlight?
‘Difference Engine No 2’ is one of two difference engine poems in the new book. The Difference Engine was invented by mathematician Charles Babbage (1791-1871) to prove his equations and is the forerunner of our computers.
This poem was a late edition and arose out of writing the show. I needed something to demonstrate the impact of having a Down’s Syndrome child on the rest of the family. And this fell out of the research – I started by putting an equation into Wikipedia and went from hyperlink to hyperlink nicking stuff as I went.
So it’s pretty much a found poem, without much work from me. I just managed to get it into the book before it went off to the printers. This’ll be its first public outing.
Difference Engine No 2
In a family
there are relationships at play,
a measurable space between values.
What is a norm?
The orbital limits of members may differ widely
making comparisons unstable.
This is often the case
when the dynamics of it
By studying the trajectory of one member
Some may wander erratically,
like a free spinning wheel
coupled to a small motor
by a spring.
The behaviour of one
affects the behaviour of others,
biology and magic
have a role to play.
It may well separate
into two parts:
one that converges towards the orbit,
another that diverges
from the orbit.
An equation is an equality;
is not necessarily true or known.
The parameters of the system
may not be identified precisely
or terms may be missing.
Some are too complicated
to be understood.
A circle map may be used to study
the behaviour of a beating heart,
the position and value of a body.
Families are like:
the flow of water in a pipe,
the swing of a pendulum,
the number of fish, each springtime
in a lake.