Inky Interview Exclusive: Chinese Poet and Eremite: Hongri Yuan

Tell us about your journey towards becoming a poet.

I liked literature when I was a child, and dreamed of being a great writer in the future. When I was about eleven years old, I wrote my first poem. Although it was only a few short sentences, it was astonishing at that time, as books were barren. At the age of sixteen I started my job, and read world literature in my spare time. Then I decided to make literary creation my career, for all my life. Basically, my creation may be divided into two periods: the first period is before 1990, the second period is after 1990. In the first period, lyric was the main form of my poetry. Later, I found that lyric only expressed emotions, and they were incapable of changing the world. So I began to read Laozi’s Daodejing and explore the truth of the universe and life. After that I started to roam around. In the meantime, I saw some monks who practiced in temples, and the fairies who lived in seclusion in the mountains. They all gave instructions and enlightenments to me. These edifications taught me a new understanding from the universe and life, especially in understanding the two ancient philosophical thinkers, the men of the age, Laozi and Zhuangzi. At this time, I began to have a knowledge of prehistoric civilization and ancient civilization. From then on, there has been a qualitative change in my poetry, and I created successively some poems beyond time and space, especially when I meditated one day at noon in 1990. I saw an extraterrestrial city above space — Platinum City.

Thereupon, in 1998, it seemed to me that I was inspired by the Gods, and created a series of works such as Platinum City, The City of Gold, and Golden Giant, continuously.

You are interested in creation. What is your philosophy?

I had an insight into the knowledge of time and space, and I thought that time is namely space. Ancient civilization and prehistoric civilization did not disappear, but hid in another space.

What is it you love about poetry? Have you considered writing a novel or a play?

I like the poetry of the ancient Chinese poets, of British poetry I particularly like the works of William Blake, Keats, and Yeats. I had once written a short novel of magic realism. I will further explore and create novels in the future. I once wanted to create a new type of writing: integrate poetry, novels, and plays, but there is no clear distinction or limit.

What other themes do you write about?

The theme of my creation is prehistoric civilization and the future civilization of mankind, especially the exploration of future civilization. Platinum City, that I have seen, is exactly the future civilization of mankind. I believe that this is a revelation given to mankind by the Gods.

How do you think technology is affecting humans in today’s society?

Platinum City has answered this problem, the development of science and technology will not destroy mankind, on the contrary, with the development of science and technology, human civilization will change dramatically. Platinum City written in Golden Giant is exactly the future civilization of mankind.

Describe a typical day in your life.

I am an eremite and have lived in seclusion for the past 20 years. I copy China’s ancient codes and records, practice meditation and calligraphy, and also take a walk every day.

If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?

Help mankind to find their own soul, and mankind will find their sanctity and greatness.

Who inspires you and why?

Laozi and Zhuangzi, the philosophers of ancient China have deeply inspired me, especially Zhuangzi, because they made me aware of the insignificance of mankind.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Explore the human soul and create works beyond politics, time, and ethnicity.

What are you reading at the moment?

I’ve been reading China’s ancient codes and records, which I do all the time.

What is next for you? What plans have you got?

To explore further the secrets of the universe, and the future civilization of mankind, write poetry, or a new type of writing. Thousands of years ago, the tradition of monasticism from an ancient sage was not at all cut off, not only in the temples, but carried forward by the fairies who lived in seclusion in the mountains or countrysides. I hope one day I can write of their incredible wisdom.

Special thanks to Yuanbing for his assistance.

Inky Interview Exclusive: Poet Sanjeev Sethi

You have written three poetry collections. Can you tell us about them?

Suddenly For Someone was published in 1988. I was 26 years old. Nine Summers Later, the second one as the title suggests, was issued as many years later. That makes it 1997. This Summer and That Summer was released in 2015/16 and published by Bloomsbury, India.

I see poetry as an extension of myself. I seek it in most settings. Poems are my response to stimuli. They help me make sense of my situation. I wrestle for nuance by wrenching words and woes. Some poems dip into my emotional deposits, others document the demotic. The attempt is to arrest a moment of truth in a tasteful manner. In short, poetry is my engagement with existence.

Each of these books encapsulates my understanding of the world and my capability to express it. The basic premise hasn’t changed, just my skills as a craftsman, and perhaps I have a deeper understanding of what I write about.

Can you share a few of poems from your collection, This Summer and That Summer, and walk us through the idea behind them?

The opening poem is Pigeons. In suburban Mumbai where the average size of a flat is as large as your handkerchief, the poem is about the issues a harmless bird and her progenies create as intruders:

Pigeons

Pigeons have no tenancy laws.
She placed her squabs on my sill.
When I protested, she gazed at me
with looks which were a hybrid
of hesitancy and hostility.


At night, the pigeons cooed.
Throughout the day,
the exhalation of their excreta
wafted across the apartment.
During feed-time, their twitter
was louder than church bells
annunciating crisis. But I was helpless…


Soon I decided — to be kind to myself,
I had to be cruel.
I opted to evict them.
But there are no courts for this.
No legal machinery.
Only feelings.


Feelings have always failed me.

(Soul Scan is a meditation on the travails of being a poet):

Soul Scan

(1)

Shells of silence underneath my skin
burst in a rash of run-ons.
Clear as mud, carp the critics.
But I soldier on like an infantryman
bulwarking his nation’s border,
hoping to be helpful
in an era of nuclear warfare
or bombardments from the Net.

(2)

In my growing years I wished to be famous.
Parents gave value to visibility.
It was reassuring for them
to have others accept their issue.
When their pressure ended
I realized,
I am best in my booth.

(3)

Without strain of the perfect gargle
or granules of pitch
I sing sweetest for myself.
Skills of a soloist
I have not gathered.
I thrive when my skin trills for itself.

(Have a look at):

Realization

Fraught with fissures, I can see
my life wriggling like some children
waggle out of their parents’ care.

In my case there is no one
to chide. I’m ward
and the warden.

Survival anthems urge
you to be accountable.
Here I’m,
mindful of my mistakes.
Now what?

(Ruse is a love poem):

Ruse

Bathed in bounties of the elements
vacillating fronds blushed. On the corniche
your palm in mine, we were at a fork
parrying tines of the past. You & I
told our truth, as we wished it
not how it had panned out. Like maquillage
or habiliments, we tried removing
the restrictions but doing away with untruths
did not blend with our biotope.
Our chansonette ran on another tune.

(I will end this with Friendship):

Friendship

Whenever I call her, she is on the cusp
of an interlude. When we are together
honesty is her other name.

The world riddled with rift must reign
in the sequences of her smile.
Grief is her gatekeeper.

When the phone rings, her callers
have promises to proffer.
Full of fire, she is destiny’s flaw.

Some symphonies will never be hers.
Still my friend’s lilt has the potential
to light the lame. Often she disowns this gift.

Her universe seems untidy,
but it is unsoiled. Her haphazardness
is on display while mine is disguised.

It is things that we disagree upon
are the things that draw me to her.
Fortitude is this friend’s flag.

You live in Mumbai, India. Describe a typical day in your life.

About five years ago I began an intense creative phase which continues unabated. In this phase I have no life outside of writing. All of me is engaged in writing and its auxiliary activity. I’m at my desk for almost 15 hours.

If this seems drudge-like, it is not. I am in it out of choice. I luxuriate in it.

Who inspires you and why?

Life and its layers.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

To not be as tense as I have been. There is no big battle to win. The journey is about small everyday victories and loss. To try to have as clean and meaningful existence as is possible. To be of value to others, and if that isn’t possible, at least try not hurt others.

Tell us a story in five words.

You are your best story.

Have you been on a literary pilgrimage?

Almost every time I am on my desk. For me inditing is a meditative stance, so when I go within and create a meaningful poem, it is a literary pilgrimage. There are days when I end up at the picnic level, the results reach my dustbin. But that is another story.

Why do you think poetry is important?

Because it reminds us of our humaneness, it keeps us in touch with our truths. And perhaps makes us better individuals.

What are you reading at the moment?

In this phase of extensive writing I am not a serious reader. The internet has opened possibilities, on an average day my inbox receives fifty to hundred poems from various sources. As the mood and mind decides, I peruse some of them. But no serious reading.

What is next for you? What plans have you got?

To keep writing and publishing as long as I rejoice in it. I’m published in this or that place somewhere in the world, almost every other day. To continue with vigor.

Get your copy of This Summer and That Summer

Inky Interview Special: Italian Poet Gabriella Garofalo

Tell us about your journey towards becoming a poet.

It is a journey born under the powerful signs of loss and sorrow. I, a child who had to face the death of her brother, and who grasped for the only help she felt was being close to her, grasped for words and poetry, because words can heal and hide, and poetry is a meaningful hiding place. Decades elapsed. Yesterday’s child still here, still busy with sails and rigging, her mind rife with images from all the harbours she’s docked at, the only change being the language, after writing in Italian for many years she switched to English.

What is it you love about poetry? Have you considered writing a novel or a play?

The endless, boundless freedom poetry allows me whenever I write. I’ve never considered writing a novel, funnily enough, though, every now and then I wonder what it’s like to write a play.

What do you care about? What themes keep cropping up in your writing?

What themes? Loss, I think, pain, the sorrow my soul is plagued by whenever facing the relentless, intractable inconsistency of life. To be more specific, I might argue that my poetry is a cartography of my soul.

How do you think technology is affecting humans in today’s society?

I’m so glad we have technology, it’s made our lives better, and I mean it; just think of our health: nowadays so many diseases that killed so many people until a few decades ago are treatable; besides, we can communicate much better and much faster, communication being, I believe, an important thread in that tapestry we call life.

Describe a typical day in your life.

Nothing to write home about, I’m afraid. After handling my daily errands and my daily chores, I sit at the PC, read, write, words and books being the main staple of my diet, of every day in my life.

If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?

Only one? 🙂 If I could, I’d eradicate the tree of selfishness, the root of so many evils.

Who inspires you and why?

Emily Dickinson and Sylvia Plath. They were so powerful when handling those high-charged wires that are words, and when shaping for the readers those unforgettable scenarios that have both haunted my mind ever since I read their words, and fed my phantoms, my obsessions.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Yes, well, what advice, with the proviso, of course, she takes careful note: Never stop believing in words: they do deserve your trust.

Have you been on a literary pilgrimage?

I have indeed, and twice! I’ve been to Amherst and to Chawton.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Never stop befriending words, never stop trusting them, never stop loving them.

What are you reading at the moment?

Karl Barth’s The Humanity of God and Matsuo Basho’s poems.

What is next for you? What plans have you got?

I’d like to keep on writing, reading, living the way I’ve always done- what else?

Inky Interview Special: Poet Ken Pobo From Pennsylvania

Tell us about your journey towards becoming a poet.

I didn’t start out thinking I would be a poet. I was a wannabe pop singer. My first poems were peace and love imitations, my own Crystal Blue Persuasion and San Francisco (Wear Flowers in Your Hair). I got bored with faux song lyrics—but not with writing. I was 15 then. I’m 63 now.

What is it you love about poetry?

Poetry is perhaps the place where I feel most free. A blank page never judges you, never says you’re doing it wrong. It just says fill me. Make a mess. Have fun. Cry.

Tell us about your book Loplop In A Red City, which was published by Circling Rivers.

Loplop is a book of ekphrastic poems. For years I’ve written poems connected with art, particularly paintings, and I began putting them together and seeing what would happen. I owe Art Historian Dr. Ilene D. Lieberman a great thanks because she introduced me to work by many surrealist and women artists. My life grew richer from this, and I think the poems did too.

What themes have you written about in your book of prose poems, The Antlantis Hit Parade, forthcoming from Clare Songbirds Publishing House?

Many writers debate the difference between flash fiction and prose poetry. These are shorter than many flashes, but I’m not sure that length is the deciding factor. The prose poems are often surreal in their imagery. Some of them take on topics of identity, particularly LGBTQ+ issues. I hope that humour appears throughout the collection. I didn’t have a special theme for the work. Voice and image, I hope, weave it together.

What do you care about? What themes keep cropping up in your writing?

LGBTQ+ rights. The environment (in praise of Nature, but also mourning for what we are doing to our poor, wounded planet). Flannery O’Connor says that a writer will have material for the rest of his/her life by getting to be 18 years old. I still investigate my childhood, the places and people who formed me. I’m never too far away from the planets. I see them as characters. I write often in character poems: Trina, Steve, Wandawoowoo, Dindi, Aaron, many others. Sometimes I prefer to think about their lives more than my own, though everything connects.

Describe a typical day in your life.

I’m a professor of English and Creative Writing. My day in the work week is classes, meetings, and grading. Exciting? At home, my husband and I are big gardeners. It’s May now, my favourite month, but an exhausting one. No matter what the day, music is a part of it.

You collect vinyl. Have you a favourite?

My favourite song of all time is from August 1967 (I was 12 when it came out): Twelve Thirty (Young Girls Are Coming To The Canyon) by the Mamas and the Papas. My favourite band is Tommy James and the Shondells.

If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?

Hate. I want it to stop. It won’t but I want it to.

Who inspires you and why?

Poets of all kinds inspire me. Bette Davis films. Ingmar Bergman films. Anyone who works even in small ways to make us more kind and less selfish.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Don’t be so scared. Make mistakes.

Tell us a story in five words.

Naked, he answered the door.

Have you been on a literary pilgrimage?

Not in a formal sense but I’ve been writing since 1970 and it still feels like a great journey, full of surprises, a few hairpin turns. Unlike some car trips when I say ‘Are we there yet?’ I know there is no ‘there’ (apologies to Gertrude Stein). There’s another poem ahead.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Make time for your writing—which, I know, is easier said than done. Get off phones and Facebook long enough to have time to dream and meditate, and ‘bad’ poems can be our best help.

What are you reading at the moment?

Julia Baird’s biography of Queen Victoria. My favourite novelist is Thomas Hardy, and I want to know more about Britain in that time period. Recently I was rediscovering Gwendolyn Brooks. That was/is a pleasure.

What is next for you? What plans have you got?

The plans I have now in terms of writing are not much different than at 15. Keep writing. Do what helps the creative fires to keep burning.

Ken on Twitter

Inky Interview Special: Nyanda Foday, Birmingham’s Young Poet Laureate: with Claire Faulkner

Birmingham has an amazing creative vibrancy and it seems that poetry is at the heart of it. Nyanda Foday is currently Birmingham’s Young Poet Laureate. I was lucky enough to see her perform recently and managed to chat to her about her love of spoken word.

Where does your love of poetry and spoken word come from?

It’s hard to say. I’ve been writing poetry since I was very little, but up until somewhere in secondary school I definitely preferred prose. I made the switch when school-work and my extracurricular ramped up, and I had less time to write. I enjoy it because I find there’s something very satisfying in stringing together some words in a way that viscerally affects you and others. I enjoy spoken word because I like to perform and I feel that there’s more of a poet-audience connection than in page poetry.

How did you get involved in performance poetry?

I went to Beatfreek’s Poetry Jam with my friend and that was when I started to really make the switch. When I first watched established spoken word artists perform I suddenly just needed to one day be able to do that, and I went to a lot of poetry nights, meeting more artists and developing my poetry in the process.

What do you like about performing?

I very much enjoy the interaction with the audience- the whole mood of the piece changes depending on the audience you have. I’ve also always enjoyed performing, so it was already something I did before I took up poetry, but it’s definitely a different experience when you’re performing your innermost thoughts as opposed to someone else’s writing.

You’re currently Birmingham’s Young Poet Laureate. What an amazing achievement. This must keep you busy. What’s it like to be a Young Poet Laureate?

It’s amazing- the opportunities it has presented have been incredible, and the kinds of things I never would have been able to do without the laureateship. I’ve been able to perform at National Holocaust Memorial Day, the National Writer’s Conference, and it was how I got involved with Random Acts and ended up making a short film.

I recently saw the film of your poem Listen, and think its an amazing and effective piece. The combination of sign language, film and spoken word works so well. Can you tell us about the background to this?

I’ve always found sign language to be particularly beautiful, and when I was approached by Random Acts I figured I could just try to create a concept that would allow me to work with sign language. I decided that the most appropriate topic was expression outside of the voice, as I felt it would compliment sign language and add value to the use of sign language. It worked out really well, and getting to work with Mary-Jayne de Clifford, the translator, was an incredible experience.

Who or what inspires you to write?

I am a very inward-facing poet- I tend to write about how I’m feeling and things that happen in my life. However, I am also incredibly inspired by the poets I see perform- like I said, watching an incredible performance fills you with the need to perform something that makes other people feel the way those poems made you feel.

What’s next for you? Can you share any details of projects you’re currently working on?

Well, I’m coming up to the end of my first year at university, and the end of my two years of laureateship. What’s going to happen next is very much a grey area. With the move to uni, which meant a different lifestyle and a different geographical area, almost all of my poetry this year has been going back to Brum for laureate requests. I imagine I’m going to be doing a lot less poetry unfortunately, but I would like to make more of an effort to break into the scene where I’m now based. I would love to carry on doing the same kinds of performances, but I don’t think I’ll be asked to do them as much without the laureateship. I’m honestly not really working on any projects at the moment, things are kind of winding down for the year, though they might increase again in the Summer.

Who would you recommend that we read or see in performance?

I definitely cannot provide an extensive list because there are so many incredible artists- especially in Birmingham. First things first- go to an established open mic night (Poetry Jam, Howl, Stirchley Speaks, Hit the Ode, etc.). The talent will vary depending on the night a lot of the time, so I would recommend trying each night at least two or three times. This will introduce you to some of the local poets, and you’ll get to see some different types of poetry.

Individuals: (please remember that this is in no way extensive) Amerah Saleh, Case Bailey, Aliyah Hasinah, Jasmine Gardosi, Jess Davies, Leon, Bohdan Piasecki, Sean Colletti, Carl Sealeaf, Wuzza Razz and so so many more can all be found in Brum. Two poets I’ve performed alongside who I really enjoyed but aren’t based in Birmingham are Raymond Antrobus and Kaveh Akbar.

Do you have a poem you would like to share with our readers?

I wrote this poem walking home in the snow and just taking some time to enjoy the calm of the night

Abominable Snow Woman

Snow hitting the inner corner of your eye feels like it should hurt, but it doesn’t
The snow simply sits there
Cries itself out
Curves down the contours of my face
Tickles its way into crevices and faults and flaws
As its cold seeps into my skin
And I can’t feel my face
And it’s better that way.
The snow is clinging to my hoodie
I stopped shaking it off maybe ten minutes ago
It is persistent
Clings to itself
The first thing it covers is my breasts
Sheathes me
I become an abominable snow woman
And as I walk back in,
I am amazed by how long it takes for the snow to thaw
It is nothing if not persistent.
And when I am changed out of wet clothes
And my toes are now dry
And I am inside
I am still frozen

Do you have any advice for new writers?

I always highly recommend going to see poets perform, because in my opinion, it’s the best way to develop as a spoken word artist. Try to explore a variety of styles so you can work out what affects you the most, and what you would like to perform. You’ve got to be patient with yourself- at first you might not think your poetry is that great, but you’ve got to keep going and just keep trying to write the kind of poetry you want to read/see. Also remember that poetry is very subjective, and affects everyone differently. I’ve had some poems that I’ve been unhappy with that other people have really enjoyed. Most of all, just do your best to keep writing and keep enjoying writing.

Inky Interview Exclusive: Rus Khomutoff, a Neo-Surrealist Poet From Brooklyn

You are a neo surrealist language poet from Brooklyn. Congratulations on your new poetry collection, Immaculate Days, published by Alien Buddha Press. Can you tell us about it?

About 3 years ago I had a personal trauma and Immaculate Days grew out of that situation. Those were dark days in my life and channelling my feeling into poetry was natural for me.

What is it you love about poetry? Have you considered writing a novel or a play?

My talent for poetry comes from my father who encouraged me to write in high school. I remember he gave me his typewriter and gave me his blessings. I wrote extensively in high school but it was never serious, at least I never took it seriously. There were others who encouraged me to pursue poetry.

Can you share some of your poems and the inspiration behind them?

I wanted to dedicate a poem to William Carlos Williams and this was the result:

Sonic threshold of the sacred

To William Carlos Williams

What waxes wanes
the enforced reincarnation hour
and green quartz veins
over the mind of pride
nonentities
Nowhere you!
Everywhere the electric!
the golden one
living in a poetic world, devouring words
these are the thoughts that run rampant
love paves the way to our existence

I watched an action movie called Nemesis, and I really wanted to use that word in a poem:

Nemesis sky

A secret transmission
a noncoincidence found in
infinitization of otherness
the flame under the rubble
traversed unceasingly by the horizon
interdependence of a cosmic trigger
blossom quick synastry
sweet bitter officialdom
of the nemesis sky

This poem was built like an improvisation:

Silentium

Underneath the arches of these generalities
the past, present and future
of the eternal menagerie
enchantments
like a bouquet of fire through the lyric
guilty pleasures that enter while you exit
cyan deserve claim
bestow kiss merge rot
speculate dragonfly
linked deletions and much more

What themes keep cropping up in your writing? What do you care about?

I am all over the map when it comes to themes, the most important thing about my writing is that what I write excites me.

When I write, the most important thing is honesty, being able to accurately channel that nexus of feelings and emotions is key.

If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?

Poets in general should be more supportive of each other.

Who inspires you and why?

Synth music, disco….I am a keen observer. The sights and sounds of the city…..Lately I have adopted the philosophy of a radical acceptance. I am not a practicing Buddhist, however I relate to a lot of Buddhist concepts.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Being young you take a lot of blind chances. I have dealt with substance abuse and depression. I am hesitant to give any advice to anyone. All I can say is that you educate yourself and find yourself, because each person is a unique manifestation.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

No, not really…I think writing is a magical art and each individual finds their own footing in it.

What are you reading at the moment?

Last year I discovered two phenomenal poets-Ric Carfagna and Felino A. Soriano, they have really changed me as a writer. My writing was missing spice and I added some.

What is next for you? What plans have you got?

My friend Mark Sheeky from England has expressed a desire to collaborate with me on a project.

Follow Rus on Twitter 

Get Your Copy of Immaculate Days

Inky Interview Special: Gerard Sarnat, a California-based Poet and Social Activist

Can you tell us about yourself?

Thank you for the invitation, Deborah. I’m a 72-year-old California-based poet and social activist, and have worked as a physician, Stanford professor, and healthcare CEO in the past.

What is it you love about poetry?

For me writing poetry is an elevated, cleansing, meditative experience.

Can you talk us through the inspiration behind your poems Bronx Rails & Poet Pourri?

Bronx Rails was inspired by the Red Wheelbarrow fast-food joint in the surreal, often dysphoric TV show Mr. Robot, riffing off fellow doc-poet William Carlos Williams.

BRONX RAILS

solicited or not, fsociety is tracking you this Christmas.
Blur between whore art and slush pile poetry/fiction requires a transvestite prophet’s high priest magical robes.
Dark army dares Costanza Paoli to open Evil Corp’s attachment.
Or on second thought, fuck that, trust white rose below.

The Red Wheelbarrow
ORIGINALLY XXII from Spring and All (1923)

so much depends
upon
a red wheel
barrow
glazed with rain
water
beside the white
chickens. 

A century later, these words of William Carlos Williams, New Jersey family doctor
& poet, nurture fsociety’s Mr. Robot with Coney Island anarchic hackers’ barbeque.
Scrapping high school-ers say, ‘What fur? Let’s meet at the bike racks at 3.’

Poet Pourri originated as a nod to recently deceased poet John Ashbery: his unpredictability has always been a welcome challenge to a physician trained to write linearly and logically.

POET POURRI

i) Nitroglycerin Terminology

“What I am trying to get at is a general, all-purpose experience —
like those stretch socks that fit all sizes,” John Ashbery

Splenic
cosmopolitan
wrathful
climate crisis
denier —
clicks & brick
battery
blows up chest
pains

iI) lonelyhearted misanthrope

neon planet DNA howl, lab
sow or cease cow passages
north, hungry chimera still
point streetcake patchwork,
paperlined mothy penniless
press wolf’s words w/out jam

What themes keep cropping up in your writing? What do you care about?

Deeply loving family whose private satisfactions allow me publicly to go out tilting at windmills, for instance, setting up and staffing under-resourced homeless clinics, fighting for Middle East peace as a member of the International Board of the New Israel Fund.

Have you ever been on a literary pilgrimage?

Jim Morrison’s grave in Paris. Sort of namesake Sarnath in India where at The Deer Park, The Buddha gave his first sermon on The Dharma. Scores of times being in the presence of iconic older Jewish brothers: Leonard Cohen, may he rest in peace.

My wife and I were at Oldchella in 2016 to be in the presence of Bob Dylan. A photo and short article of us was published in the New York Times

If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?

For the vast preponderance of Homo sapiens lineage, we have been undomestivate wild animals foraging in Hobbesian “nasty, brutish and short” ways just to stay alive. Humans, particularly testosteroned XY males, are slowly learning how to be civilized, how to live together..

What are you reading at the moment?

Under-appreciated Bill Knott’s poetry collection I Am Flying Into Myself and Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk’s, The Red-Haired Woman.

Who inspires you and why?

Barack Obama, Thich Nhat Hanh, my youngest daughter (who’s recently started a family), among many others.

Tell us about one of the best days of your life.

Although I’m particularly drawn to Burning Man’s sense of community and openmindedness and adventure — my middle son and I have been there together many times — other edgier aspects are not for me. The Ecstasy Tent At Burning Man is wonderful.

What is next for you? What plans have you got?

For the last week, this new member of the Orphans’ Club has grieving the loss of my 102 year-old mother.

Personally, my wife of nearly a half century and I are pretty much on the circuit travelling among our three kids and four grandkids. Next stop: the room we stay in Los Angeles above our oldest’s garage.

Poetically, I’m beginning to envision publishing my fifth collection which ventures deeply into visual and concrete poetry.

Gerard’s Website

Inky Interview Exclusive: Award Winning Poet Sara Hirsch at The Storyhouse, Chester: with Claire Faulkner

I often find poetry at its most magical when I least expect it. So when I stumbled into The Storyhouse in Chester one rainy afternoon, looked up at the balcony and saw in child’s handwriting ‘this poem is a map made of lines. Just lines. Why don’t you take one and see where it leads you’. I was immediately hooked and spent the next hour walking around the building reading the poetry installations which emerged from the WayWord festival.

The poems are written by children from three local schools; Tushingham-with-Gringley C of E Primary School, J.H. Godwin Primary School, and Queen’s Park High School. The pupils took part in workshops with award winning poet Sara Hirsch, and together they created poems about identity, libraries, history, and stories.

The verses are all surprising, inspirational and delightful to read.

‘I Come From…’ opens with the lines:

I come from reading at the dead of night

as quietly as a fingertip turning a page.

Each poem appears on the walls in the child’s own handwriting, and this adds an extra impact when viewing the installation.

In ‘This Library…’ The Storyhouse is described as:

a tornado

sucking you into an adventure

it is another dimension

When trying to answer the question in the poem ‘What is History?’, the children have written:

It is a complex question waiting to be asked

It is a record player that has stopped working

A guitar that has been played a little too much.

And further on in the poem, history is described as:

a locked door

a code waiting to be cracked

it is lonely

a broken time machine

I enjoyed the experience of finding the poems, and took delight from the positive input that the children must have had in the writing and creative process. I wanted to know more about the installation, so I contacted Sara for more information.

What was your involvement in the WayWord festival?

I worked with local primary school children in January to create the poems for the walls of the Storehouse, to be unveiled during the WayWord festival. I then returned during the festival itself to perform a family show and lead a workshop for the 16-25 youth theatre group, so I got to see the finished poetry murals for myself. They look fabulous and I was so proud to see the children’s poetry displayed in such a unique way around the building.

How did the children react to the poetry workshops?

They really loved them! I never know in advance what the reaction will be and how the children will take to me and my workshops. But these ones were particularly memorable, perhaps because we were working towards an end goal. The fact that they knew their words might make it onto the walls of this amazing building really got them excited and it created a brilliant atmosphere in all 3 schools I visited. I usually really like the fact that my workshops aren’t leading up to anything in particular, as it takes the pressure off the kids to create something ‘finished’. But this was really different and really gave the kids a sense of pride in their work, because it was being valued by a venue that they love and respect.

Were you surprised by their reaction?

I was surprised with how they stepped up to the challenge and worked together to produce something really grown up and professional. I usually set no expectations on a workshop so that the children are free to explore their ideas and imagination. So the fact that they were so focussed on creating something they would be proud to show off to the public was really amazing.

Seeing the verse displayed in the children’s own handwriting is extremely effective. How did this idea develop?

Isn’t it! I really can’t claim the credit for this idea. It was thought up by the Storyhouse and the designer (Matt Lewis) and I just did what I was told! However, it was a big part of the workshops – to get the kids to write up their lines in their own handwriting and it was really fun to be a part of it. My rule in all my workshops is to be as messy as possible (scribble things out, say whatever comes into your head etc.) and so giving them permission to carry this idea on for the final product was really liberating. I love that there are spelling mistakes in the poems. It makes them feel really authentic.

Do you think it’s important to encourage children to write poetry?

Of course! Regardless of the fact that it is fun, educational and creative – giving young people the chance to express themselves in different ways is so important for emotional wellbeing and development. Creativity is being sucked from the curriculum, which is an absolute travesty and so the more poets, authors, artists and creatives we can get visiting schools, and giving kids an alternative to the academic standards they are constantly measured against, the better.

Can you share with us what other projects you’re currently working on?

I am currently setting up a spoken word production company in New Zealand called Motif Poetry with Kiwi poet/producer Ben Fagan. I will be heading up the education side of it and hopefully it will eventually be an international venture to connect poetry scenes in the UK and down under. I am also running a lot of international workshops at the moment (I will have performed in 7 countries before the end of March so far this year!) and am working on my third poetry collection which explores feminism and architecture. So lots going on…but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Image credits: Mark Carline

Inky Interview Special: Colin Dardis: with Claire Faulkner

After reading your bio and website, I think you must be one of the busiest poets around at the moment. You must love what you do, but how do you fit everything in?

Geraldine O’Kane, who co-runs Poetry NI with myself, we both love poetry, and we both love seeing other people grow and develop in their writing and their discovery of poetry. So I guess if you are really passionate about something, you just find the time and energy somehow. Poetry has been very important in helping me deal with my depression: it’s created social circles and new friends, and given me a sense of self-worth, so although at times it might feel busy, it still feels vital.

You champion local poets and co-run Poetry NI. What’s the poetry scene like in Belfast at the moment?

Belfast, for a long time, had very few opportunities for poets outside of the Universities. Purely Poetry, our open mic night, has been running for over six years now, and back when we started, poetry wasn’t really seen as something to do on a night. Now, thankfully, more and more places are seeing poetry as viable, something that audiences want. We still have a long way to go – what Dublin has on in the space of a week would easily outnumber what happens in Belfast in a month. But it’s improving slowly.

As an editor and publisher you must see and read a lot of work. In some cases, you might be the first person to see it. What’s it like discovering new poetry and poets?

I think as an editor, you have to have a responsibility to discover new writers and showcase them. You can’t just publish your mates. It’s amazing to publish someone, perhaps for the very first time, and then a few years down the line, see how they have advanced. We’re fortunate in having our Purely Poetry open mic night, with new readers coming and being able to hear their work. But we are also wary of being too Belfast-centric, and want to push more North West and rural voices moving ahead.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Read. Simple as that. You can’t be a writer if you don’t intake words and revel in the output of others. Join your local library. If you’ve a student, definitely read beyond what’s just on your course reading list. Subject yourself indiscriminately to books, read widely with an open mind, and don’t be afraid to try out writers that might be completely different from your own style or what you’ve read before.

Additionally, don’t be afraid to create bad art. Not everything you pen has to be prize-winning. As long as you are engaging with that creative element, and exercising your brain, the really good stuff will come eventually.

What inspires you to write? (If you have time!)

Often, I write to try and make sense of things, either of what is happening in the world, or simply how I see my own place in it. My own mental health impacts on what I might write about; often, it’s just feelings and behaviour. But I guess like most other writers, I just react to what I see and experience. Anything really can be inspiration, from a news article to the shape of a cloud, from falling in love, to making a cup of tea.

What works are you reading at the moment? and what or who would you recommend us to read?

I’ve just finished Joan Newmann’s new collection, Dead End (Summer Palace Press, 2018). All the poems muse on death to a degree, some with black humour, some with a startling candour. It’s fantastic, and I definitely recommend checking it out. I also finished reading a collection from Hungarian poet Attila József while on the train the other day. I was in the middle of Lost for Words by John Humphrys too, although I have to say some of his recent comments in the news has put me off that…

For recently released poetry, two of the best collections I read last year were Ruth Carr’s Feather and Bone (Arlen House), inspired by the lives of Dorothy Wordsworth and Mary Ann McCracken, and Michael Farry’s The Age of Glass (Revival Press).

You’re involved in so many projects. (One of my favourites is Panning for Poems, I love the design aspect.) Can you tell us what you’re working on at the moment, or what’s coming up for you in the future?

Panning For Poems is Geraldine’s project: Geraldine greatly enjoys micropoetry, so she wanted to give a platform to that which didn’t necessarily deal in formal structures like haiku, tanka, etc. All the poems are printable on one A4 sheet, to fold up and keep in your pocket or bag in case of a poetry emergency!

Otherwise, Purely Poetry and FourXFour Poetry Journal are continuing as normal. The next issue of FourXFour will be out for Poetry Day Ireland, on 21st March. We’ll also be looking at doing some more live readings and slams, and ideally, we will want to release more chapbooks through Pen Points Press.

I noticed that a lot of the projects you’re involved in make poetry very accessible for readers. (FourXFour, micropoetry journals and P.O.E.T. – Poets Opposing Evil Trump are all available freely as pdfs on the Poetry NI website.) Do you think poetry is becoming more accessible than ever before?

PDFs are an easy and cheap way for us to distribute poetry. Distribution is a massive challenge. If you publish a book, how do you get it out there, to the wider reading audience? Online publishing allows you to circumnavigate that issue somewhat, but importantly, poets still need to earn a living; there needs to be a paying market alongside what is being freely accessed. So hundreds of people might download a free PDF, but if you charge for it, what happens then? Hopefully, if it’s really strong writing, people will still be willing to pay, and help a poet buy a notebook or pay the rent.

I’ve always loved poetry, so I’m biased, but I’m interested if you’ve seen or noticed a rise in the popularity of poetry in the last few years? Do you think poetry is becoming more political?

Poetry has always been political – ask Plato and Socrates. Poetry has been used through the centuries to make political points and to rebuff them. It goes back to accessibility – instead of printing a poem and nailing it to the door of your town hall, or handing them out in the market square, you now upload it, or tweet, or blog, Youtube, Soundcloud, etc. Poetry isn’t becoming more political, just more people are exposed to it, which is a damn good thing.

Would you like to share one of your poems with us?

Thank you. This one was originally published in Abridged, and will be in my upcoming collection, the x of y, available from Eyewear Publishing later this year.

Harvest

We group instruments of sleep about us:
gum shield, throat spray, ear plugs, bodies given
in set agreement.

In Summer, we require less than our skins.
Dreams ruptured from the heat; stray images,
kindling for the stars.

Come November, additives of blanket,
socks, pepper the bed with one poppy red
hot water bottle.

We take up our positions, defenders
to each other’s rampart. Security
of unified arms.

Soon, you are drowsy; I begin the slow
pilot of my torso towards the moon,
moods tucked around us.

We go to our little deaths together,
awaiting the morphine touch of Somnus.
These are our soft times.

Colin’s Website

Colin on Twitter

PoetryNI

PoetryNI on Twitter

Geraldine O’Kane on Twitter

Inky Interview Special: Dorli Nauta

You have recently written and published your book From A to A and Back Again which is based on your father’s experience of forced labour in Auschwitz 1943-5, and his letters home to Amsterdam. How fascinating. Congratulations, Dorli. Could you tell us more about it?

The first time I found out that my father, Wim Nauta, had been in Auschwitz during the Second World War, was when he told me that he was applying to the German Forced Labour Compensation Programme.

In 1942 The German State began to suffer setbacks; the advance of the army was halted, and the troops stalled at many fronts. More and more German men were sent to the front, more and more German women had to work in the war industry. There was a severe shortage of labour and the Germans started to look elsewhere for workers. The Netherlands had to supply labour also. In June 1943 there was a call up announcement for all males between the ages of 18 and 20 to report for work in Germany. When my father and his friends returned home from a rambling weekend away in the countryside, their call up papers were waiting, informing them to report to the Labour Exchange the next Thursday.

About 550k Dutch people were forced to work for the Germans. That represented, with regards to the number of inhabitants of 9 million, more than 6%. The Netherlands were hit hard. A total of some 30k people died of the consequences of this forced labour.

But Wim Nauta came back to Amsterdam, hence the title From A to A and Back Again.

In translating the memoirs, how did you try to get your father’s voice across?

I made several attempts at translating the letters. I was trying at first to keep very true to his voice, with the slang and upbeat tone of the letters. But it didn’t make for the best English, as my daughter Jessica pointed out!

After a few tries I became more relaxed about wanting to translate ad verbatim, and I concentrated more on getting the meaning across in good English.

With so much information to work on, with letters, diaries and memoirs, how did you begin to organise the structure of your book? It must have needed a lot of patience?

On the 27th January 2013, Holocaust Memorial Day, I met Chava Erlanger at the Imperial War Museum North, where she unveiled her artwork; ceramic stars representing the Star of David.

We got into conversation about the mutual connection we both have with Amsterdam. We became Facebook friends and stayed in touch that way.

When writing the book I tried to fit everything in chronologically, with links in my own voice. I found it hard to make a selection out of all the material that I had, especially all the old historical documents. I tried several ways, but nothing was ever quite right.

In May 2015 I made a version which was printed and passed around family and friends.

You have included colour reproductions of original photographs in your book with co-designer Gwen Riley Jones, a freelance photographer who works at the John Rylands Library in Manchester. What are some of the images you included, and are any images of the letters included?

Around that time I met up again with Chava in the John Rylands Library, she introduced me to the photographer Gwen Riley Jones. This time I was able to give her a version of the book, which had as working title The Ticket.

Then Chava got in touch with me and said this story needed to be published. She approached the Six Point Foundation, a charity for Holocaust survivors; they agreed to sponsor me. Gwen Riley Jones, photographer and publisher came to help me. Gwen and I worked together, editing, designing and re-editing. At last on 1st of December 2017 the book was published.

The book starts with images of my father’s photo album, followed by all the letters in Dutch on one side of the page, with the translation in English on the opposite page.

There are also images of wartime documents, notably a train ticket and a Red Cross Telegram and family photographs.

Your father was called to Germany with two of his friends. They were all musicians. Which instruments did they play, and what kind of music? How much insight did you get into all three characters through your father’s memoirs?

My father and his friends played several musical instruments; guitar, accordion and mandolin. In the photograph album A/Z Oberschlesien you can clearly see the instruments slung over their backs. The music they played were popular songs of the time such as Drei Vagabunden, which they played on stage as part of the Dutch Cabaret performance. The show was called Seltene Witzen (Silly Jokes).

I have a collection of the music they played in a folder that my father gave me. It is quite a mix amongst others: Stardust by Duke Ellington, Bye Bye Blues, Samoa Eiland, Polish folksongs, Oh Suzanna, Do You Remember The Night In Zakopane, Bing Crosby’s Cowboys’s Medley, You Are My Lucky Star, Caravan, Pagan Love Song, Poor Nelly Gray and many more in German, English, Polish and Dutch.

I don’t think I ever met the two friends Jan and Carel, but reading the letters gives you some idea of what they were like. My grandmother mentions that Wim was very lucky that his friends came with him.

Could you please share with us an extract from your book?

Extract from a letter from Wim to his family in Amsterdam:

Auschwitz, 2nd November ‘43

Dear All,

I have just received your letter dated Sunday 17th October, so that didn’t take that long to arrive; only a fortnight. You wrote that you had sent a parcel two days previously, well that was so, because yesterday I got a card to say that I could collect a parcel in Kattowitz. At five o’clock I jumped on my bike and was off, then onto the quarter to six train and at half past seven I arrived in Katto and quickly went to the Express department to collect it. Fortunately everything went really quickly and the parcel was completely in one piece and everything you wrote about was in it. It’s fantastic and of course I thank you very much. Then I had something to eat and back on the nine o’clock train.

I arrived back in Auschwitz at half past ten at night. I went to the bike shed and started pedalling so as to be back quickly. I was about halfway, when passing the bus stop I saw a girl of about twenty five years old. She asked me if there were still any buses going. Well of course there weren’t any buses anymore; she had two suitcases with her and was on her way to the station. I decided to do the gallant thing and put the suitcases on my back and together we went to the station. On the way she told me that she came from Vienna and that her husband had been stabbed to death in a street fight, during the revolution. So she was from the right side, and according to her, almost all Viennese are. When you go into a shop there to buy something, you wouldn’t dream of giving the Hitler salute, not like here, because there you wouldn’t get served. According to her, Vienna is still the way it was before the war. At half past eleven we arrived at the station and we said our goodbyes. She gave me three apples, a handful of cigarettes (eight!) and 5M. Of course she also asked me to write to her sometime. Great wasn’t it? The only thing was I didn’t get back until half past twelve, but that did not matter.

As regards moving on Moe, that’s nothing you know, we would like to, but you can’t leave here at I.G.Farben.

As forced labour my father and friends were allowed to travel on specific times and days within a 100 km radius.

Another extract taken from the memoirs my father wrote; I paraphrase, it concerns the immediate aftermath of the night of 13th February 1945 in Dresden:

After 5 am there was no ‘all clear’ siren. The electricity had been cut. They waited until they heard no more bombs drop, then they went outside.

The first thing Wim saw was a dead horse lying on the pavement. The house next door was on fire. The inhabitants were taking their furniture outside and Wim and his friends helped them to get it all out. They debated what to do next. It was clear that they had to leave Dresden as fast as possible. They made their way towards the Elbe. Dresden was a big, smoking rubbish heap. The anti-aircraft gang had made little paths where possible, between the debris. Along these paths they arrived at the river, but they didn’t know what was safer; to stay on this side or to go over the bridge, which miraculously had hardly been damaged. They decided to cross the river. At the other side they walked down the steps, to get to the sandy riverbank. Under the arches they saw an unbelievable amount of dead bodies; people who had lost their lives during the bombardments. When Wim saw this he became very frightened and realised that it would only need a bomb fragment or a splinter of the anti-aircraft fire, for him to end up amongst these victims.

They were walking along the river’s edge, when they heard the buzzing of aircraft up high. From the bombardments on Auschwitz, Wim had heard about the theory that a second bomb never falls in the same place. So if you were too late for a shelter, you had to jump into a bomb crater, stand to the side and hope for the best. The three friends put this theory into practice and ran from crater to crater.

Where is the best place to get a copy of From A to A and Back Again?

My publishers are a small company and I am my own agent. To get a copy of my book you can send a cheque for £16.99 plus postage of £2.90 together with your address to:

Dorli Nauta, 16 Eaton Road, Bowdon Altrincham WA14 3EH Cheshire UK.

I also have a Facebook Page and you can message me on there, or on Messenger.

Have you any future plans for further books, or projects?

I haven’t used all the material and documents I have in my possession, so I might write a kind of ‘follow up’ to this book. I also write and tell stories for children; so far for my grandchildren but I have plans to publish a small collection sometime.