For a lot of people my decision to publish a collection of my poetry came out of left field. If I have a public reputation at all it is as a journalist and as someone who wrote an advice book. But as I mentioned in a previous post, this all sprang from a love of writing that was born when I was 10-years-old and was rooted in poetry.
Set a homework task by teacher, I discovered a facility with and empathy for words that I had not suspected I possessed. Why would I have? I was 10! You are hardly thinking about things in those terms at that age. But it sort of makes sense. In that same year I was tested and found to have the reading age of a 17 year old! I was a voracious reader and probably had an abnormally large vocabulary. Also, as the youngest in a household of seven (I have 2 older brothers and 2 older sisters) I was reading all of their books, my parents books as well as my school books, my own library books and borrowing friends books.
This reading thing got so out of hand at one stage that, when I was 16, I was reading upwards of nine books a week. When people ask me why I think I can write, this is the reply I give: because I have read so much I think I have an organic understanding of what works. The fact that I studied literature helps of course.
But the reading age and this impressive homework exercise don’t really explain it at all. The extra add-on I suspect is music. Once again I have mentioned that as a child, our house was awash in music of many kinds. I suspect that I may have over-identified with the reverence with which particularly the pop stars were viewed and latched onto their lyrics and the ideas of songs rather too attentively. I wrote poetry sporadically from ten till about twelve, but then it exploded.
Of course twelve is adolescence, puberty, girls, angst… and oh look, I had a ready-made vehicle. Many of my adolescent day dreams were of escaping my weird little world into one of fame, money and superstardom. My poetry my not have resembled song lyrics then, but a lot of what I wrote was based around famous tunes of the day. (No, I am NOT gonna give any examples! But Tears For Fears did feature!)
During my teenage years I was very lucky to have a succession of teachers who really encouraged my writing. English at high school was a big help too… I love the discipline and restraint of sonnets and Haiku and use them frequently in my writing still today. It was in my high school years too that I discovered my two biggest poetic inspirations: TS Eliot and EE Cummings. Oh wow, maybe I should start going as DA Chislett!
I still have the book of poetry (handwritten) I compiled in 1983 during my last year of primary school. And all the books I put together in high school, military service and university. There is a folder of notes and various computer print outs. But as far as DOING anything with my poetry, that sort of petered out in my twenties… after university. Somehow, somewhere I decided that I preferred prose and that I was more of a writer than a poet and I just stopped talking about it. And by and large, stopped writing it. It never went away, but my focus drifted.
It wasn’t until Michelle McGrane posted a few poems one after the other up on Facebook in about 2008/2009 that I thought much about writing poetry seriously again. I was intrigued that she put stuff up on a social media site. I was intrigued by the reactions to her work (so diverse, sometimes unexpected) and I was even more intrigued by her reactions to the reactions: she was also obviously taken by surprise by some of it.
So I thought, well, I wanna try this! So I did. I got a bit carried away of course I (being me!) and ended up posting a poem every weekday (sometimes two or 3) for about 18 months! The reactions fascinated me. People were able to read so many truths into what I wrote. The fact that anyone took it seriously was nice. The weird stuff, the stuff that resonated, the stuff that didn’t. Some of the presumptions were annoying, some just amusing. And I began to realise, it doesn’t matter. I like writing poetry. I no longer care how GOOD it is in any absolute, academic, elitist sense. This is cool, this is fun. So I carried on. And then later, in a fit of madness, decided to turn it all into the book, “For You Or Somebody Like You.”
Some of the choices were informed by the reactions on Facebook, some not. I used 2 editors to help me distil and finalise the world that appears in the book. What little critical opinion that was forthcoming was not derogatory. And I am still writing poetry. There will be another e-book soon enough.
Like a lot in my life in the last 5 years, the book was about something started early in my life coming full circle. About me re-claiming a part of myself for myself and assimilating it. I don’t actively recall my childhood being traumatic, but I certainly seemed to feel the need for some sort of escape or outlet. Poetry is a pretty benign one and one that trained and geared me for the life I have led. I like coming full circle. Like everything meant something after all. Again, this is all tied up isn’t it: In childhood, in meaning, in purpose?
If you chose to you could take the fact that I have ended up as a writer doing what I am doing and look back at my life and analyse it to reveal how, from an early age, I took a series of decisions that seemed aimed at almost solely this as an end goal. And I am not done; the best is yet to come. But hindsight is 20/20 and when I was a kid, clarity of purpose was not, shall we say, my strongpoint. But I was an instinctively impulsive doer. And this is what I did.
You can by a physical copy of For Your Or Someone Like You Here: http://bit.ly/10osyBg
Or the e-book version here: http://amzn.to/13hpRYI