Welcome to the show, everybody! We’re back at the Talk Show studio!
(rapturous applause. Security on alert)
Now calm down, Poetry Lovers, we don’t want to frighten off our esteemed guest – the amazing Mark Chamberlain …
(pandemonium – the house virtually comes down)
(the host bangs a ruler on the desk – there is silence)
That’s it! Settle down, Poetry Lovers! As we welcome the wonderful fabulous poet himself!
(Our esteemed guest walks elegantly down the lighted stairway)
Mark, welcome to the show…
Pleasure, Heather, thank you for having me on.
The pleasure is all mine, my sweet. May I say I love that purple velvet hat. You could be Donny Osmond himself sitting there! Goes fantastically with that knitted light blue tank top! Isn’t he the Most, Ladies and gentlemen?!
Thank you, it is actually Donny’s, a personal gift. And I was up all night knitting this top, I hope the colour isn’t too much!
(Raucous shouts of disagreement. The host silences them with a look)
(the host places the angle poise lamp menacingly above our esteemed guest and he is ruthlessly exposed by the hard glare)
fill us in on your impressive achievements…
Well, I’m very proud to have had a handful of poems published now, in titles including Finished Creatures, the FT, and the Hudson Review. I’ve got another one coming out in Magma soon too. And it was fantastic to be commended in the 2020 Troubadour International Poetry Prize, judged by Mona Arshi and Mark Doty. The poem – ‘england poz’- is very important to me on a personal level, so it was extra special to have it recognised in that way.
That’s so impressive – and in such classy publications. And the Troubadour – that was an international competition! What was it like reading it out?! You should be proud!
(An awed ripple through the crowd)
When did poetry become a part of your life?
One of my earliest memories is learning John Masefield’s ‘Cargoes’ at school. I would have been about eight years old. I loved it for its evocation of exotic ships – the “Quinquireme of Nineveh from distant Ophir”, the “stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus” – and then the glorious change in the final stanza, which begins:
Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack,
Butting through the Channel in the mad March days,
I did a course at the Faber Academy in 2017 and one of our tutors, Maurice Riordan, had us study ‘Cargoes’. It was great to revisit it. I’d forgotten how important that poem is to me.
What beautiful words, I’ve had my breath taken away. I can see why it was such a powerful influence. And the Faber Academy has a wonderful reputation.
Tell us about your greatest influences…
There are so many and I find that influence keeps evolving. TS Eliot is a key poet for me, as is Danez Smith. Lowell has been very important to me too, and I’ve written about his collection The Dolphin for the TLS.
Other poets that come to mind are Rene Char, Terrance Hayes, Bridget Pegeen Kelly, and Naomi Shihab Nye. An important writer for me in my teens was Harold Jaffe. He wrote these short, subversive docufictions which I was obsessed with and which continue to influence me now.
Well, Mark, from that one answer, I’ve I’ve learnt so much. Your education is to be envied.
(Awed ripple of applause)
Are you working on a collection at the moment?
I’m starting on one. It will be a long process. Possibly I’ll get a pamphlet together at some point in the meantime. We’ll see.
Until recently, I’ve really only been thinking about my poems as standalone works. While there are themes and stylistic properties that run across them, I’m only now beginning to think properly about how they might be able to sit side-by-side.
Yes, it’s interesting about collections and stand alone poems. I do think of them like that.
Okay, you know what I’m going to ask next
(gasp from the audience)
What’s the best gig you’ve done so far, then the worst…..?
I think the best and worse gig are one and the same. It was a reading at the Arta la Uzina festival in Suceava, Romania in 2019. It came at the end of a residency where I was one of a group of writers and artists from Germany, Romania, South Korea, the UK and the US.
We all read or exhibited work in this beautiful old water tower that had been converted into a gallery. It was such a privilege to be part of it. One of the poems I read was about a big, ugly hotel in Cluj-Napoca, another city in Romania. The poem imagines the hotel as a kind of supernatural malevolent force that destroys the speaker’s soul.
After the gig, we were taken out to dinner by one of the festival’s founders. I didn’t know anything about him beforehand, but it turned out he was president of the Romanian Architects Association and he told me that he’d designed the hotel in Cluj that I’d just denigrated on stage. So an awkward end to an otherwise wonderful evening.
Priceless, Mark! I can see a sitcom emerging from there! As well as a wealth of wonderful verse.
Well, in all my years in the business, I have never heard of a best and worst gig in one evening. Amazing. In fact, this has all been fascinating. Thank you so much for coming on the show…
.(Thunderous applause – security rush back prematurely from their fag break)
Now, Mark, dressed like that, you must be going off somewhere cool…….
(our esteemed guest looks a little embarrassed…)
Well, er – the Troubadour Discotheque. The Slaggs have got me on the VIP list…..
What?! They told me they were in tonight watching The Good Life! Who else is going????!!!
Well – er – Anne-Marie, Angus, Barney, Fran, Michael, Dobby, Lady Po, Dino, the Lucy’s, a bloke Mrs Slagg met in the street in 1972……
(Shakes her fist at the sky)
I’ll get there one day! I swear I will ! I’m giving Mrs Slagg a piece of my mind!
Well, I’ll be off now. I don’t want to miss a dance with Mrs Slagg – there’s usually a queue.,
(our esteemed guest legs it up the stairs two at a time, Dobby follows suit)
Wasn’t he the most, Poetry Lovers?! Fascinating, intelligent, talented and just wonderful. We’ll keep a watch out for Mark…
Thanks for tuning in, PL’s, we’ll be back with more shenanigans real soon, meanwhile I’m going to get knitting that tank top!