Since I know this interview is a little on the long side (which is a good thing), I won't spend too much time introducting Katy Evans-Bush, who recently released her first collection of poetry Me and the Dead through Salt Publishing. She also maintains the very popular literary blog Baroque in Hackney.
As I've come to expect from titles published by Salt, Me and the Dead was a very enjoyable read. Here's one of my favorite poems:
You told me the universe is doing something.
I forget what: expanding or flapping
in the wind or something--no matter which,
it's only one infinitely possible universe.
It's only ours and imperfect anyway.
Somewhere somebody else's universe
is either expanding, its particles drawing strangely
away from one another as if in horror but still,
I suppose, part of the pack--
or even shrinking (did we consider that?)
which would be caused by the atoms huddling
close for warmth or comfort
against that flapping wind or something;
rubbing together, the friction,
the blanket of static, creating our electric
storms and other interesting diversions.
The universes are, in their multitudes,
unending and also infinitesimal. Some say
they're parallel while others talk of layering.
Oh, the layered universes--I picture them
piled high like feather beds, the feathers inside them
brushing across each other or something.
What are you up to?
Right now? My boyfriend's daughter just took me out for a slap-up lunch (with cheesecake) for my birthday! She's nearly 15 and she earned the money herself, so it was a huge treat.
Other than that, I'm reading up on Oscar Wilde and Henry James for a long poem called (so far) Speculation and Conjecture. It's half done, and I'm thrilled that it's going to be published in January as a pamphlet by Rack Press in Wales.
Then there's the next collection from Salt; they'd like a manuscript by the end of the year.
Then there's this novel idea.
And I'm a bit behind on essays and reviews promised.
Then there's work, kids, laundry, the kitchen…
You maintain a very popular blog at http://www.baroqueinhackney.wordpress.com. How do you feel poets can benefit from having a blog? Also, do you feel all poets should have a blog?
Well… there are maybe three ways in which a poet can benefit from having a blog, but spending time writing blog posts instead of poems probably isn't one of them!
It's a great way to establish a web presence and build a readership. BUT, it is incredibly time-consuming. Really, you need to be doing it for its own sake. You need to have something to say, and be unafraid of saying it. (Yes: I have had fear. Mainly when you realise beyond the shadow of a doubt that the poet you wrote that thing about has just read your blog. It's a great lesson in circumspection. I'd apologise here but that would mean admitting I said it in the first place.)
You also have to be interesting, so that people will come back and read you. This may seem obvious! But there are some very boring blogs out there and they reek of the devoir. (Of course, there are also lots of great ones.) Maybe it's just about looking as if you're interested in things. Humour helps, but deep thinking and being interested go a long way.
Mine is only partially a poetry blog. I say it's about all the same stuff as poetry, which of course includes poetry; but I write about anything. I maintain multiple blog identities: poetry, local neighbourhood, arts & culture, home life anecdotes, certain political issues, and grammar/copy-editing etc.
A blog is a great way to lay out your stall – if you have one to lay out: this is the "having something to say" caveat. You can use your blog to position yourself, identify and deepen your aesthetic (or other) stance, work up material even. You can establish your credentials as someone who can, for example, write reviews; editors might take you more seriously because they can see you are seriously engaged in the cultural dialogue. But this will only work if you really are engaged…
And you have to love your blog. You need to work long and hard at internet-networking, registering on blog directories, reading other blogs and commenting, building up a blogroll you can stand by, getting to know the landscape, working out RSS feeds… It all takes time. I don't want to put anyone off, but I really don't think it is for absolutely everyone and no one should feel they have to write a blog. There are other things you can do to raise profile. If you're just doing it to get a web presence you'll resent it. And if you don't do all that, you won't get the readers anyway so it won't do so much for your web presence. Also: it's a long haul. I've built up my reader base over nearly three years.
The third benefit, of course, is your readers. Mine are wonderful. I'm always amazed by the great comments they leave. Such interesting people; I really think I have the best readers in the world. I love them. And I'd never have had them without writing my blog!
Some of them tell me they've even bought Me and the Dead…
You have lived in both the United States and United Kingdom. Do you notice any differences in the voices coming out of either country?
Well, there's a massive difference! Just as there is in daily conversation, TV, pop music, etc. As Oscar Wilde famously said, two countries divided by a common language. But then, there is a lot of overlap, as demonstrated in crossovers in all those areas.
The UK "voice" is much more wry, ironic, mocking or self-mocking. There's more use of humour. Wit, word play, punning (even the serious papers here have punning headlines as the standard), double entendre – and there is much more metrical rhyming poetry from people who don't consider themselves "formalists." The political divide between "free verse" and "formalist poetry" doesn't exist in the UK. (I think it is a political, not an aesthetic, one; and it's exacerbated now by the fact that a lot of poets write free verse because it's all they know how to do.) Glyn Maxwell is an example of an English poet who writes in form, who isn't a "formalist" poet in the political sense, who has crossed over (as it were) to the USA. Most poets here use rhyme, sometimes, and metre, sometimes, and think nothing of it.
There is a sort of earnestness in the US which does spill, to ill effect, I think, into poetry. It doesn't do in the UK ever to look as if you care too much about something. But then, the UK can suffer from a surfeit of politeness and anecdotalism. You want sweep, too, and America certainly has that.
I love the multiplicity of experience and the opening-out of the more pronounced Modernist influence. I love DA Powell, and Frederick Seidel, for example. As different as they are; they both use words and cadences in really invigorating ways.
My favourite poets come from both sides of the Atlantic; I think either without the other would be much the poorer.
Me and the Dead is your first full-length collection of poetry. How long did it take to get this collection together?
In one sense you could say my whole life, as I've always read, and written, poetry. But I think the oldest poem in there goes back to maybe 2001, maybe 2000, so in that sense it took seven or eight years. The next book won't take nearly so long – partly because there were poems that didn't fitin the first book, and partly because I think I'm on more of a roll these days than I was in 2001 – or, clearly, before. At that stage I was finding my feet in terms of what and how I wanted to write. The fact that the first poem in the book is from 2001 must mean that that's when I started to find my feet.
Were you surprised by anything during the publication process after your manuscript was accepted?
Not really: as I was new to it I had few preconceptions. Also, Salt is a "small" indie press (though they publish many more poetry books than the "big" established ones), so I knew the rules might be different from what you hear about the big publishers. The main surprise I suppose was how closely they worked with me on things like the cover.
What do you think makes a good collection?
Seriously! People talk a lot about narrative arc and all that, and I think it doesn't matter. Why be so prescriptive? Any good book will have engagement with the world. Something to say. Depth, or truth. Either variety or a single idea used well, and fruitfully. Seriousness of purpose – even Ogden Nash had that. It will do what it does, and do it well. It will be surprising and then inevitable, but still surprising.
What is your favorite poetic form?
I don't think I really think in terms of "forms" as much as structure, or the over-arching idea of form. I write a lot of blank – or blankish – verse. And I am very attracted to sonnets, I love the dialectical structure. But I recently wrote something that feels to me like a sonnet and it has thirty dimeter lines, so don't consider me the expert please.
I think "form" is a word we don't really use correctly, anyway. EVERYTHING has form, unless it is "without form and void," like an egg white. I'm not remotely interested in reading a poem like an egg white.
Whatever the rules, whether the poet made them up or even became conscious of them, whichever bits he or she has pulled from the prosodic toolbox, every successful poem must have some sort of structure or form – something the poet decided he or she was trying to do with that poem. You know, a poem that uses only every third letter of the alphabet and has three spaces between each letter has a form.
High Modernism has form. The higher, the higher.
Language poetry and flarf don't interest me overly. Pure chance is just random and not interesting to me. The human brain is designed to seek, and make, and discern, pattern: even when there is no pattern we try to find it. And IQ tests, what they test is our ability to make pattern. Sure, there is value in being able to cope with the unexpected, but the definition of coping would probably be to make it useful in some way: i.e., to find meaning. If something has no meaning it isn't interesting.
And so on. I'm very open about what I enjoy reading, but I'm utterly attached to the idea of meaning.
Who are you currently reading?
James Merrill: I've recently been rereading his Ouija board epic The Changing Light at Sandover, which I always find very beautiful, weird and fruitful. Very funny, and haunting, and deep.
Also Mick Imlah's astonishing and rich The Lost Leader, which has added poignancy since his early death in January; I've particularly been enjoying the final section, Afterlives of the Poets – and it's only in writing it here that I realise it may be on a theme with the Ouija board romance!
I'm just about to write an essay for the Contemporary Poetry Review about Michael Donaghy's Collected Poems and his prose, The Shape of the Dance; so I've naturally been reading those, too.
Then there's Rita Dove's fascinating new book, Sonata Mullatica, featuring a mixed-race 18th century virtuoso and Beethoven, which just arrived in the post… and Roddy Lumsden's new collection, Third Wish Wasted, which is just out… and a young Hungarian poet called Ágnes Lehószky…
Also I memorised one of Shakespeare's sonnets the other week, and loved it. I said it for days. Lovely shapes in the mouth.
And then there's this book about Henry James and Oscar Wilde…
And, er, Twitter…
If you could pass on only one piece of advice to your fellow poets, what would it be?
I'd say, with Henry James: "try to be one of those people on whom nothing is lost."
You can read Katy's blog at http://www.baroqueinhackney.wordpress.com.
Or visit her publisher at www.saltpublishing.com.
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