HELLO POETRY LOVERS, WELCOME TO ANOTHER INTERVIEW
NOW, SETTLE DOWN, TREASURES. TONIGHT, WE HAVE THE EXTRAORDINARY AND GIFTED POET, MATTHEW PAUL !!
SO LET’S MAKE OUR TALENTED GUEST WELCOME!!
(STANDING OVATION AS MATTHEW DESCENDS THE LIGHTED STAIRS)
Matthew! Welcome to the show. So good to have you with us!
I see you got up Carnaby Street after all! Cool crushed velvet bell bottoms!
Thank you, Heather. Yes, they’ll hopefully go with my fringed waistcoat.
Is this guy cool or what?!
(Whistling and woo-hooing from the audience).
(she sweeps everything off her desk with her right arm) (Audience gasp).
Let’s get down to it! When did poetry become a part of your life?
A long time ago, Heather, when I was 15 or 16. I had an inspiring English teacher, who encouraged wide reading. Plus Adrian, the younger of my elder brothers was studying American poetry and he got me into William Carlos Williams and the Beats. I’ve loved poetry ever since, and I can’t imagine it not being an intrinsic part of my day-to-day existence.
Around 2010, I vowed to myself that I’d go a whole year in which I would try to read hardly anything but poetry, and books about it. That immersion was so immensely enjoyable and helpful for my own writing that I carried on with it. I’m sure that practice has improved my poetry by osmosis alone, as well as by more conscious looking at ‘technical’ aspects of what works well – and sometimes what doesn’t.
What an amazing journey, Matthew. We can see that it’s paid off too.
Which contemporary poets do you most admire?
Blimey! That’s a tough one, as there are so many, all of whom plough their own distinctive furrows. I like their poetry in varying ways and to different degrees, depending on the mood I’m in, but I happily revisit their poems. The following spring to mind, but there are many others besides: Mike Barlow, Liz Berry, Alan Buckley, Julia Copus, C.L. Dallat, Nichola Deane, Martina Evans, Paul Farley, Vicki Feaver, Anne-Marie Fyfe, Roger Garfitt, Geoff Hattersley, Tracy Herd, Ramona Herdman, A.B. Jackson, Matthew Hollis, Anthony Howell, Keith Hutson, Christopher James, Zaffar Kunial, Nick Laird, Frances Leviston, Ada Limon, Richie McCaffery, Karen McCarthy Woolf, Marion McCready, John McCullough, Derek Mahon, Glyn Maxwell, Sinead Morrissey, Paul Muldoon, Alice Oswald, Pascale Petit, Kathy Pimlott, Clare Pollard, Jacob Polley, Roger Robinson, Ann Sansom, Peter Sansom, Emma Simon, Gary Snyder, Jean Sprackland, Matthew Stewart, Rory Waterman, Susan Wicks, Tom Weir, Hugo Williams, Tammy Yoseloff and Belinda Zhawi. I must make my reading more diverse.
There’s also my fellow Red Door Poets, the regulars at Anne-Marie Fyfe’s Coffee-House Poetry nights at the Troubadour and the brilliant poets, like Carole Bromley and John Foggin, at the Poetry Business Saturday workshops; and several excellent local poets, including you – blush – (I wish I was even half the poetry performer that you are, Heather), whom I have the good fortune to see/hear read regularly.
How about that?! From the coolest poet!! (wild spontaneous applause) I’ll be dining out on that one, Matthew, up the Marquee tonight! Thank you so much.
Your slick collection, The Evening Entertainment had a very strong voice. It was deservedly well-received. How long did it take to compile?
Well, it was out for a year before it got its first review (not that I’m bitter!) – but when it came, it was a very kind and thoughtful one from Greg Freeman, who, as another south-west Londoner, completely understood the milieu in which I grew up, so for me, it was worth the wait.
The answer to your quesion is a lifetime, in that the collection encompassed many aspects of my experience and interests. But I began writing poetry seriously at university where I had access to amazing poetry books in the library, and to have the encouragement of the writer-in-residence, Martin Lynch.
Aged 20, the first poem I ever sent off was published by Dennis O’Driscoll in Poetry Ireland Review and I thought I had it made.
Unsurprisingly there were a lot of stops and restarts before The Evening Entertainment was eventually published 30 years later. I’d finally got my act together after attending fantastic courses led by Pascale Petit and then by Clare Pollard 10-12 years ago. I was then selected by Ann and Peter Sansom to participate on their Poetry Business Writing School programme and that enabled me to write about a third of the collection in the year before publication and revise the rest substantially.
I can’t thank Ann and Peter enough for their wisdom and knowledge, always conveyed with great charm and humour.
What an amazing learning curve, Matthew! And you really hit pay dirt!
Now, my favourite is The Winter of Discontent, with its authenticity of a winter’s morning. What is yours?
Thanks, Heather. It was meant as a period piece of sorts, about that winter of 1978-1979, a pivotal point in British History from which we’ve never recovered, but I’m glad you detect a more timeless wintery feeling to it.
It’s hard to have a favourite of your own poems, isn’t it? It would probably be one of the poems I wrote about my father, perhaps ‘Sunday at The Oval With Dad’, where the form – it’s a sonnet – enabled me to say exactly what I wanted; or maybe ‘The Surfers of Rock-a-Nore’, because it was the sort of hefty, Existentialist poem which my younger self would have wanted me to write.
Yes, of course! “Crisis? What crisis?” That unforgettable period! That was such an endless winter! I was so reminded of my own Dad shaving and listening to Wogan! Yes, those are also personal, strong pieces.
So, Matthew, tell us about co-editing Presence magazine.
Presence is, I think, the UK’s best journal for haiku, tanka and associated forms, such as haibun and renku. Martin Lucas who co-founded and edited it from its inception roped me in as reviews editor about 15 years ago. Unfortunately, attracting other reviewers was difficult so I ended up writing many of the reviews myself, for better or worse.
When Martin died, in very tragic circumstances, in 2014, we were in the throes of producing issue #50, which was good going for a mag which had had no funding, apart from subscriptions. My fellow poets Stuart Quine and Ian Storr and I pledged at Martin’s funeral that we would continue the journal as a triumvirate, and do so in the collegiate, inclusive and outward-looking spirit which Martin had engendered. I’m very glad that we did. As well as carrying on as essays and reviews editor, I dealt with the postal submissions, which I enjoyed because I usually tried to offer what I intended to be constructive and helpful feedback. Poetry can be such a lonely business.
Stuart dropped out an issue or three afterwards, and very sadly died from Covid in March this year. I stopped my editorial involvement a few years ago now, but Ian, with other’s assistance, is still doing a sterling job with it and continues to nuture a worldwide community of haikai poets.
I still write haiku occasionally, but I feel like I’m on a bit of a sabbatical, whilst I get my longer poems into their best possible shape for publication for my second collection – which may be a good few years yet at the speed at which I progress.
Lumme, Matthew! That is so bitter-sweet. I’m so sorry you lost your friends like that.
Well, we hope we don’t have to wait too long for your next collection (spontaneous applause – “Get penning it!” and other acolades). Now, tell us the best poetry gig you have done, then the worst….
The best reading I’ve given and the most enjoyable poetry occasion are one and the same: in March last year, the celebration event at the Wordsworth Trust in Grasmere, at the end of the first Poetry Business Writing School programme, I undertook. Peter Sansom introduced each one of us, and I took heart from the lovely words with which he introduced me.
For once, I managed to get my timings and emphases spot-on, and the laughs and other audience reactions came in all the right places too. It was a very satisfying and rare feeling!
I can’t remember having had such an especially awful gig, I’m glad to say. Where I’ve read less than my best, it would have been down to having a drink beforehand, which I try to avoid these days for that very reason.
I should end on a positive note and say that, like you, I really enjoy the intimate Coffee-House Poetry evenings, where so many fine poets read; and the exemplary, generous atmosphere of the Write Out Loud Woking open mic sessions – Greg Freeman and Rodney Wood, both terrific poets themselves, do a brilliant job of welcoming and valuing the contributions of all the diverse poets who read there – a few of whom are often newcomers to poetry.
Some might call open mic nights ‘grassroots poetry’, as if they’re the poetic equivalent of non-league football perhaps; but that’s condescending claptrap. I would argue that they are vitally important – poetry is always a solitary activity to start with, but then it becomes a dialogue with whomsoever is kind enough to give their undistracted attention to it. Taking that step from the private to the public can, for various reasons, be understandably very challenging for some people. So it’s very much to Greg and Rodney’s credit that those who do so at the Lightbox (or online now) feel safe enough to do so, in a democratic space where they can feel the warmth in the room.
What a fantastic summing up, Matthew. Yes, the Lightbox have been wonderful. (deafening applause) Well, what can I say? Thank you for such a fantastic interview. Now, are you up for the Marquee? Pickettywitch are getting a round in!
I’m still waiting for my sideburns to grow, Heather, so I’ll listen to them on my Eight Track on the way home. Goodnight