FORWARD ARTS FOUNDATION IN CONVERSATION WITH IAN PATTERSON

FORWARD ARTS FOUNDATION: When did you start writing poetry and what drew you into it?

IAN PATTERSON: I started writing poetry at school, but didn’t write anything I was happy with until I was in my second year at university. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t reading and writing: what drew me to poetry was, as far as I can gauge, the pleasure I took in rhythm and sound and form when I was a child, and as I grew older, an awareness that poems were a strange form of knowledge with the capacity to arouse intuitive or unconscious responses, almost like echoes of being.

FAF: Please talk about your development as a writer of poems. Tell us when you first felt you were a poet and how it went from there.

IP: I first felt happy with a poem I’d written when I was nineteen. The poets who influenced me at that time were William Carlos Williams, Gael Turnbull, Denise Levertov and Chinese poetry. From there I moved rapidly into reading lots of contemporary poetry: it was the late 1960s, and I read Donald Allen’s New American Poetry anthology, which introduced me to Creeley, Dorn, Olson, Duncan, O’Hara and others; I was keen on LeRoi Jones (as Amiri Baraka was in those days), and in this country on J.H. Prynne, John James, Lee Harwood, and the English surrealists (especially Hugh Sykes Davies). I edited magazines with Nick Totton, Fred Buck, and Barry MacSweeney. And then it was everything.

FAF: What does being shortlisted for the Forward Prizes mean for you?

IP: It is very nice and makes me rather proud to think that other people like and admire what I write, after having been doing it for so long.

FAF: Please tell us about the genesis of your shortlisted poem. Is it part of a collection or sequence? Where can a reader find more by you?

IP: It is an elegy for my late wife, Jenny Diski. I started writing it two days before she died, last year, and completed it in the days after that.

Some of my earlier books and poems are collected in Time to Get Here: Selected Poems 1969-2002 (Salt, 2003). Since then, The Glass Bell (Barque, 2009), Time Dust (Equipage, 2015), Still Life (Oystercatcher, 2015) and Bound To Be (Equipage, 2017).

FAF: Which poets do you admire most and what do you value in their work?

IP: The living poets I most admire and most frequently read – today – are probably (in alphabetical order) Michael Haslam, John James, Rod Mengham, Eileen Myles, J.H. Prynne, Denise Riley, Juliana Spahr, Keston Sutherland, and John Wilkinson. But there are many more. What do I look for in their work? Beauty, intelligence, surprise, freshness of poetic thought.

FAF: What is next for you as a poet?

IP: The next poem is always next.

FAF: What advice would you give to anyone starting out in poetry today?

IP: Read as much as you can, as thoughtfully and as feelingly as you can. Don’t try to be ‘a poet’.