Siegfried Baber is an English poet based in Bath. His poems have appeared in places such as Under The Radar, The Interpreter’s House, And Other Poems, and Butcher’s Dog. His debut pamphlet When Love Came To The Cartoon Kid was published by Telltale Press in 2015.
Hi Siegfried. Thanks for taking the time to chat. Congratulations on the publication of your debut pamphlet When Love Came To The Cartoon Kid last year. For the uninitiated, how would you describe the poems collected in it?
Hi, thanks for having me. To put it simply, I guess When Love Came To The Cartoon Kid is a rogues gallery of oddballs and outsiders, strange individuals with even stranger stories to tell. When I write, I like to put myself inside someone else’s head, to see and feel what they might see and feel. I’m a big fan of Randy Newman, and I love the way he creates these three-minute movies with his songs. Each one is a little soundtrack, short and sweet, and often darkly funny too. And that’s what I try to do with my poems.
A few of your poems seem to concern themselves with the 1960’s. I’m thinking of your poem about Lee Harvey Oswald (‘For LHO‘), your poem about the Vietnam War (‘Christmas In Saigon‘), and your poem about a scientist working in Scotland in the sixties (‘Millport In Sixty-Seven‘). I’m curious if you’re aware of what it is about this period in time that has sparked your creativity and made you want to write about it?
I must confess, I’m a little bit obsessed with the Kennedy assassination. Around the time of the 50th anniversary of JFK’s death I watched the brilliant Oliver Stone film again and slowly started reading all of the books about Lee Harvey Oswald and the various conspiracies. I submerged myself in it, really deep…too deep my girlfriend would argue.
As for the Sixties, they had it all, and then some – Dylan, The Stones, The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel; Frank O’Hara and Allen Ginsberg, Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath, John Betjeman and Philip Larkin. Not to mention the birth of all those colourful comic book superheroes – Spider-Man, The Incredible Hulk, and Wonder Woman. What’s not to love?
The ethos of Telltale Press seems to be a very encouraging one, supporting new writers at the beginning of their poetry careers. Can you tell us a bit more about the genesis of the collective and how helpful it’s been to have more established poets like Catherine Smith and Carol Anne Duffy supporting you?
I couldn’t have wished for a better publisher for my first pamphlet. Telltale Press is a poet’s collective – the beautiful brain-child of Robin Houghton and Peter Kenny – where members work together to help with the publishing and promotion, sharing skills, setting up gigs, as well as scouting out new additions to the press. It’s one big happy family. I’m very proud to be a part of it. And, you know, having the Poet Laureate as a patron is pretty awesome too.
I understand you helped curate a Telltale Press & Friends reading in April featuring Abegail Morley, Rebecca White, Sarah Barnsley, and Robin Houghton. How did the event go and are there plans afoot for more readings later this year?
I did indeed, down at the Lewes Arms, which is a great little boozer. It was the second Telltale and Friends gig of the year, after our reading in January at London’s Poetry Café. I particularly enjoyed this latest reading as I got to see fellow Telltale poet Sarah Barnsley doing her thing on stage for the first time. Her debut pamphlet, The Fire Station, is an absolute cracker.
We try to have readings every few months – two members and two guest poets – so keep your eyes peeled and subscribe to the newsletter. Our next night is on 7th July at the Poetry Café again and will feature John McCullough, Sarah Barnsley, Jess Mookherjee, and myself.
What does the rest of the year hold for you? Are there any dates in the diary you are looking forward to or goals you have set yourself?
I have a few readings coming up in the summer and autumn, including a spot at the Swindon Poetry Festival in October – which I’m looking forward to as it’s almost a hometown show for me – but mostly I’ll be spending my time putting together the manuscript for my first full collection, with a view to publication sometime next year if everything goes smoothly.
Finally, can you tell us a little about the poem you’ve submitted to Poetry Spotlight?
The poem I’ve chosen ‘Texas Boy At The Funeral Of His Mother’ is from When Love Came To The Cartoon Kid and was inspired, in part, by the Randy Newman song of a similar name. I guess it’s about innocence, or the sudden loss of it, and how children deal with grief, how they perceive the world and grapple with those big universal subjects of Love and Death.
But despite everything, it’s also a funny poem, I think. Almost surreal. I love poems that get carried away with themselves.
Texas Boy At The Funeral Of His Mother
We buried her on the hottest day of the year
in the rock-solid earth of Saint Augustine.
My father said a few words, thanked everyone
for coming, then vanished into the heat.
The pastor’s head evaporated. Guests drowned
in waterfalls of sweat. My brother’s shoes
turned to glue and his suit peeled at the seams.
Uncle Ned was nothing more than a baseball cap
and a pile of ash. The church roof sagged.
Distant relations got naked and searched for
a sprinkler to dance under. A stained-glass window
scattered its steaming rainbow. Holy things
made from gold or brass bubbled in the blaze.
And later, when the burnt-black flowers
drifted away, I watched the air above her grave
tremble and blur like the roof of an oven.