Photo Credit: Jamie Ryan
Simon’s other publications include Bonjour Tetris (Penned in the Margins 2010), Neptune Blue (Salt 2011), and The Debris Field (Sidekick Books 2013). His latest collection Sunspots was published by Penned in the Margins last year.
Hi Simon. Thanks for taking the time to chat. Congratulations on the publication of your latest collection Sunspots with Penned in the Margins. For the uninitiated, can you tell us a bit more about the book and where its genesis began?
Thanks. The book is a long meditation on our neighbourhood star, the most important object in all our lives. I say meditation, but it’s also an impersonation and a playground of ideas: most of the book is written from the Sun’s point of view and it is often female, sometimes male, sometimes neuter, sometimes a deity, sometimes playful and sometimes extremely wrathful and scathing.
The book encompasses science, art, theology, my love-life, linguistic games, a ransacking of literature and art history, and lots more. It began when I wrote the final poem in my previous book Neptune Blue, which ends on a poem called ‘Sol’, written from the point of view of the Sun. This voice really intrigued me and it threw some kind of trip-switch, hurling me into a four-year obsession with our local star. I think it unleashed something in my psyche that was primed to pounce and it also gave me a wonderfully open structure to write the next book and to draw all my aesthetic impulses together.
There is a playful and experimental element to the collection – lyrical poems, couplets, sonnets, concrete poems, erasure poems, list poems – but all the time the sense of a loose narrative thread when reading it from start to finish. How much tinkering was involved in reaching the finished sequence and was there material that didn’t make it into the final book?
All in all I wrote about 130 untitled poems (some were just one-liners that didn’t see the light of day. Here’s one: ‘Does my prominence look big in this?’) and we whittled it down to about 80.
I had set myself a numerical goal: 121 poems about the Sun. This came from multiplying the 11-year solar cycle from minimum to maximum by itself to come up with a solar-based number that would give me enough space to explore everything I had in mind or might discover.
Sensibly, working with the brilliant Tom Chivers at Penned in the Margins, we trimmed and shaped and hardened the sequence. I’m very glad I wrote all those poems but even happier that we held some back.
As well as being a conventional poetry collection, Sunspots is also a multimedia stage show which you toured in collaboration with Oliver Barrett and Jack-Wake Walker. As a poet who seems to relish taking poems off the written page and presenting them in new and innovative ways, do you think the old definitions of poetry are becoming increasingly blurred in our digital age?
I think the field is certainly very rich and open to cross-pollination and collaboration at the moment. There are more places to perform (real and virtual) than ever and all kinds of new technologies to make some aspects of producing art ‘easier’ (I’m thinking mainly of music software programmes and arranging tools, which have helped me).
But I may be looking out from my involved bubble (we know how that can go in 2016) and I’m sure there are hosts of readers who are happy with more conventional forms (the 42-page slim volume from a ‘trusted’ name published by a ‘trusted’ house) and of course there are plenty of people who only embrace poetry at memorials, celebrations, or after terrible news.
I like writing most of all and the written word can lead to anything: poems, stories, novels, songs, plays, operas, cures, cities, spaceships, whole new civilisations. It can also lead to as many negative outcomes.
I get the impression both the book and the show were a big part of your life for a number of years. I’m curious if you have an inkling where your poetry writing might be headed next and do you think you envisage another project where you focus again on a single subject so intensely?
It certainly dominated 2011–2016, filling it with research, travel, conversations with scientists, writing, and touring. I’m currently working on two pieces for theatre: a single-hander for an actor friend of mine, and a larger piece, which I’m writing with a playwright I met online. These are quite focused projects, as you can imagine.
In and around this I’m writing stories and a collection of miscellaneous poems is ‘automatically’ happening in the background. I don’t know if they will coalesce into any kind of theme yet. I think after Neptune Blue, The Debris Field, and Sunspots I’m enjoying the slightly worrying freedom of writing poems ‘outside the dome’ of a programme.
Are there any dates in the poetry diary you have enjoyed this year or are looking forward to?
I also spent a memorable day driving a Tesla electric sports car from Stonehenge to The Shard. You can see a short film about it here. It’s an example of the weird and wonderful things that poetry writing can lead to.
Finally, can you tell us a little about the poem you’ve submitted to Poetry Spotlight?
I’m sending you ‘Ceasefire Heart’, which I wrote after Neptune Blue (which contains a ‘— Heart’ sequence I’m still adding to) and before Sunspots. It feels even more relevant at the moment. The personal, political, and playful.
The exquisite suspense:
my sense of right and wrong
I suppose I want you to prosper,
I wish you autonomy free of youandme
but see how my finger hovers . . .
Deaf to your cons at long
I’ve hidden my uncivil heart
in civilian locations.
I dare you: