John McCullough (b. 1978, Watford) wrote ‘Flower of Sulphur’ immediately after taking a year off from poetry owing to ill-health after the publication of his third collection, Reckless Paper Birds. ‘When I returned, I felt suddenly able to tackle areas I’d found too painful to write about before, using experimental forms’, he writes.
McCullough’s PhD, at the University of Sussex, was on friendship in English renaissance writing; ‘Flower of Sulphur’ returns to his experience of study, a breakdown, and a friend’s suicide. It is self-referential, commenting on its own forms – commonplace book, abecedary, game – while still heartbreakingly direct. ‘Poetry for me is a craft and like any craft it takes thousands of hours of quiet honing. There’s no way around this’, McCullough writes. ‘I guess my biggest piece of advice to anyone starting out in poetry is try to enjoy the journey of discovering writers who reshape the way you see the world and each little breakthrough as you refine your editing strategies.’
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