FORWARD ARTS FOUNDATION: Please talk about your development as a writer of poetry. Tell us when you first felt you were a poet and how it went from there.
NIALL CAMPBELL: Writing towards my first book, I had a residency in a village in France, followed by some paid time-off with a writing bursary – then, absolutely, I felt like a poet. Writing Noctuary– not so much. It has been a steady five-year spell of writing, very unromantically, in snatches and moments, where life has been dedicated to being a parent. I love that line by Zadie Smith where she says that she writes to stop herself sleepwalking through her life – and maybe this is it. If there has been a development in my writing is has been a growing comfort that every book does not need to be a call to arms, every poem a stance – but that there is merit, too, in sharing the small-scale triumphs and moments of beauty in the regular life. A triumph in being awake and open to these moments.
FAF: What does being shortlisted for the Forward Prizes mean for you?
NC: Ha, probably the hardest question to answer – if only because it is popular to denigrate such things and so to feel pleased might be to seem to support what is called ‘prize culture’ – but to say that I am not would be completely false. It does mean a lot.
FAF: Please tell us something about the creation of your shortlisted collection, from first words to final book. Does it mark a departure or change from your earlier work? Which poems in this collection are most important to you?
NC: Moontide, my first collection, was published the month after my son was born and so the writing period of this second book has been my whole life with him. Has it been a departure – a change in how I write and what I write? Inevitably so. The world, I think, seems larger in my first collection while in this book it is often just the size of a dark room. If my first collection was about understanding one’s place in the world then this second collection is about understanding what it is to be committed and devoted – the tiredness and the bliss of it.
FAF: Which poets do you admire most and what do you value in their work?
NC: When the book started to move towards its final shape, I returned to the book Elegies by Douglas Dunn – it’s a book about the grief of losing his first wife to cancer – but more than this it is a multifaceted reflection on care and loss. Is this a strange comparison to a book about being a parent? I wanted to do something similar in so much that I saw his as a book of love, but love strewn through with sadness – my own, I hope, is at its heart something similar, where love is equally there in the hope, the tenderness and the exhaustion.
FAF: What is next for you as a poet?
NC: I always thought after a second book that I would need to do something different for a spell. This October I begin a three-year project between Manchester Metropolitan University and the Royal Northern College of Music where I’ll be working with the talented composer Anna Appleby in the creation of a new opera. So yes, something different.
FAF: What advice would you give to anyone starting out in poetry today?
NC: I’m not too good at advice, but maybe to remember that poetry, at its heart, is always the sharing of a moment one-to-one. It is our most intimate art.