FORWARD ARTS FOUNDATION: What does being shortlisted for the Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection mean for you?
JAY BERNARD: I have been to several Forward Prize award ceremonies now, and really enjoyed the readings, so it will be interesting to be on the other side of the fence. Surge has been quite a long, sobering and eye-opening journey. It’s nice to get encouragement like this.
FAF: Which poets had the most influence on this collection and why?
JB: It was interesting to see which poets I gravitated towards when I was trying to put this collection together, because they were not always or necessarily the poets I knew best or would call direct influences on my writing. I found Jimmy and Rita by Kim Addonizio incredibly useful for ordering and spacing; Li Young Lee for patience and focus; The End of the Alphabet by Claudia Rankine when I was looking for little details, shards of experience; Linton Kwesi Johnson and Dorothea Smartt for the courage to be direct and not shy away from my own voice. Alice Oswald’s The Thing in the Gap-Stone Stile felt full of experience and yet incredibly spacious. I am very porous. I find that I learn and appreciate something from almost every poet I encounter.
FAF: Please tell us about the creation of your shortlisted collection, from first words to final book. Which poems in the collection are most important to you?
JB: It ended where it began, with uncertainty. In one way, the most important poems are the voices from beyond, because those are the ones that invite the audience in; in another way, the most important poems are the ones I read less often. The quiet ones that document commemorations, small moments, people I have known, notebook fragments.
FAF: What is next for you as a poet?
JB: That is hard to say…
FAF: What advice would you give to anyone starting out in poetry today?
JB: Switch off the internet, learn to live cheaply, and FFS, just do an hour a day.