Dr. Amitabh Mitra asks British Poet Tim Jarvis about various shades of Poetry in England and the heart of true British Poetry, the poetry in the moors, cobbled dockyards, Scottish bagpipes and Irish pub poetry.
1. You edited the Write Away Journal which published poetry from all over the world, what made you start such a journal, Did you achieve satisfaction from your publishing career?
I didn’t start Write Away, it was Sue Tordoff. She started it in January 2000. Initially she published English poets, quite a number from her immediate circle, but as is the way with the Internet the readership quickly spread worldwide. I took over from Sue and published the magazine for three years with help from both Sue and Vivien Steels.
Initially I found the role daunting so I instigated a review panel to help me avoid personal bias in selecting material. The other unexpected side-effect was that intensive editing stemmed the flow of my own creative writing. I don’t know why this was, but others have also found that editing can induce writer’s block. Eventually the block passed and I was able to both to both edit and create.
You ask if I achieved satisfaction. I think so. I certainly enjoyed it and learned a lot from doing it.
2. You are a Radio Engineer, poetry like many of us is a passion we indulge during our spare hours Did you keep a creative balance with your profession and even achieve inspiration from the long rugged coast line which has been your home?
Wel,l writing poetry certainly doesn’t put the bread on the table. Only a few very lucky individuals worldwide make a living as poets. I think that luck is the major part in that too. As editor of Write Away I had to read hundreds of poems per month and I often read poems as good as the best professional poets.
Maintaining a creative balance is not an issue for me. Writing poetry and designing radio transmitters are poles apart so I can easily compartmentalize the creative skills needed for each. The popular stereotype of the engineer is of a socially challenged, conservative dullard but I don’t find this to be the case at all. One of my favorite contemporary poets, Fred Voss, seats almost all of his creativity in his profession as an engineering machinist. His poetry is keenly observant and far from dull. I’m not like Fred though, I never write poems about the telecommunications industry.
I started writing poetry as an alternative to keeping a diary. That was because poetry is so evocative for me. A diary can tell you what you did on a given day and it might possibly help you remember how you felt. But a poem can bring back tastes, smells and sounds just as fresh as when they were first experienced.
I’ve been living in East Yorkshire now for nearly twenty-seven years. I have therefore penned a large number of compositions inspired by the local scenery. Three or four years ago I wanted to write an anthology of poetry describing a journey from Scarborough in the north, down the unique Holderness coastline and along the north bank of the mighty Humber river to my home town of Hull. This was to be collaboration with a local digital artist who would provide the images. No pictures ever arrived however and so I have now resurrected the idea but using my own digital pictures. I’m not a photographer so I just take lots of pictures and occasionally take a good one by accident. The journey will also be a journey through the four seasons.
3. Poetry Festivals, Poetry readings are an integral part of the British Contemporary Poetry scene. There has been a major shift from conservative to a radical surrealistic poetry; poetry of Britain is speckled with foreign languages, immigrant experiences, tolerance and even far right expressions. Tell us about your personal endeavor to accept such creativity and change.
I’m not sure I understand what’s happening with the poetry performance scene here. The local festival (Humber Mouth) seems pretty impenetrable for me as a local poet, which is odd. I don’t know why this is. Slams and rapping poetry styles do nothing for me. Just not my generation I guess. I can’t get with that urban street talk thing. I treat the urban landscape in which I live as another landscape, just the same as the wild rural landscapes of Holderness, both beautiful in their own way. I hope I’m not terribly conservative in my writing but if I am then so be it. As for immigrant experiences, I embrace them. Unfortunately I don’t speak any other languages but having read many Indian and African poets writings in English I really wish I could read their writings in their native tongues.
4. Tell us about good old English poems and ballads that are unique to the History of England, its counties and even tiny villages. Story telling and poems have been a tradition that has survived for centuries How does the new British poet react to it now?
I like some old English poetry. For me traditional English poetry is like American country music. I have to pick over both because there’s a lot in there that doesn’t light my candle. I have to confess that I don’t get Shakespeare. The comedian Lenny Henry recently did a series on the radio trying to unlock Shakespeare for the outsider. He came at it as an outsider himself and presented the programme well. It even seemed that he was beginning to get a love for the great bard. I listened carefully and I could feel him getting it, but I never did. I tried and failed.
5. Tell us about the poetry of the pub, the Irish experience, instant poetry over beers and the political fallout from Ireland’s poetry.
Can’t help you with this one Amitabh. I’ve only been to Ireland twice, both times on business with no time for anything else. The pub scene here in England is interesting. Pub music venues have increased dramatically from my early days in the late seventies early eighties. Most of it is tribute bands and covers but this aside there is still a core of good original music. Here in Hull from venues such as The Adelphi, Springhead and various folk clubs out in the country pubs. Sadly there’s a dearth of corresponding poetry performance venues.
6. From John Lennon to Katie Melua, she was in South Africa recently belting out her popular number that she had written “ Nine million Bicycles in Beijing”, Britain has been blessed with poets and lyricists, your poems have a flavor of the English sea, the sound of the hooves of the horse driven carriage to Devon and the music treading on memories, Would you think in terms of song writing?
Ah yes, I do quite a bit of song writing and therefore lyric writing. In my younger days I was semi-pro singer. This is probably why my poetry is mostly all non-rhyming, non-metrical. If I write something with metre it inevitably becomes lyrics for some music I’m writing. Therefore to keep my poetry as the spoken word I separate it from song and lyric writing.
I do listen carefully to song lyrics. I personally believe lyrics have to stand up in their own right. It isn’t enough for me to hear a good tune with insipid lyrics. If I hear a good tune I want the lyrics to work well for me too. Popular music frequently fails to live up to this ideal and I personally include much of John Lennon’s lyrics in that. Some artists craft (or crafted) excellent lyrics though: Ian Dury, James Blunt, The Stereophonics, John Otway, Van Morrison, Cat Stevens, Tim Rice, Bernie Taupin, etc.
7. You came to South Africa recently, did this rainbow nation touch you, brought out poetry that looked at you differently?
Annette and I loved our visit to South Africa, what a beautiful country. As a mixed race couple we’re heartened to see how the nation has transition from Apartheid to integration without violence. Going to South Africa gave my creative writing a real kick-start. I was just coming out of my writer’s block period and the assault on my senses really got the creative juices flowing. We published some great poetry from South African poets in Write Away and I very much love the country. I’d love to come back and spend more time in Africa.
April 9, 2006
The Poetry of Tim Jarvis