Matthew Welton । Statement (for Tutul)

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Since the clocks went forward I’ve had so much energy that in the evenings it’s taking three cans of Amstel to make me even want to sleep.

The woman at the next table is eating scrambled eggs.

What I am aiming to do here is to make a statement of solidarity.

During the time I was doing what I used to think of as teaching myself to write I would sit down with a poem – Philip Larkin or Elizabeth Bishop or John Ashbery – and look at things like whether the sentences went on longer than the lines or gave out midway through and count up the number of syllables in the lines, and then I’d construct poems of my own using the exact same pattern.

I don’t know what this music is but the flute is mostly beautiful.

What I am aiming to do is to make a statement of solidarity with Tutul, and to do that in a way in which the balance between what I am saying and the way in which I am saying it is fairly even.

I know I have been putting off writing this for long enough, so after my lecture I stay on the tram one stop too many and get a beer at the Lion, and spend an hour or so making notes.

I hadn’t read Joan Didion’s *How I write* essay until it was reproduced in the latest issue of F.R. David.

Castle Rock Session IPA.

I was figuring this approach to writing would give me a way to get what structure was about, and from there I’d be able to use my poems to say whatever it was that happened to come up.

The lyrics are probably not as good as the flute.

In How I Write, Joan Didion talks about writing being the only subject she has, and though she has other interests, for example, marine biology, you wouldn’t come to hear her talking about them.

Like with anything I write, I probably won’t even notice whether this turns out to be a poem or writing of some other kind.

And this’ll be the second time since the clocks went forward that I’ll have been in London, reading stuff I’ve written.

My bike is at Aladdin’s because the chain has been falling off, and this time I can’t seem to fix it myself.

I guess that kind of makes her like an artist who isn’t bothered about what it is a painting is *of* but who could talk all night about the paint brushes and the paint.

If you asked me about it now I guess I’d say I taught myself to write by counting.

Tutul is living in exile in Norway.

I knew that Alice was a bike mechanic but I hadn’t realised she worked in Aladdin’s.

Tutul was attacked by men with machetes in the office of the magazine he edits in Bangladesh, and is now living in exile in Norway. His attackers were religious extremists. Tutul is a proponent of secularism and free thought.

This pub smells of onions.

With the structure thing, though, my interest in poetic form only became stronger and any interest I might have had in actually *saying* something never particularly materialized.

On Tuesday I took my sleeping bag with me to London and stayed the night on Gerry and Kevin’s fold-out sofa

Or like a gardener, perhaps, who can think analytically about soil types but whose interest in eating vegetables is actually pretty negligible.

What I think I am trying to do here is to find some kind of parallel between the kinds of constraints that characterize the way writers like me go about putting their work together – like every line has to contain a word with a double letter in it, or every page has to include the word *mind*, or whatever – and the kinds of constraint that mean that a writer like Tutul gets attempts made on his life, and has friends who get killed, and has to go and live in exile in Norway.

I figured I’d leave my sleeping bag at Gerry and Kevin’s flat, and after the reading on Saturday I’ll just show up with my toothbrush and a clean pair of boxers.

I’m not really hungry but I order the chips because they’ve got Heinz hot mustard, and I want an excuse to try it.

The only time I was in Norway I would sit and read the beer menus, trying to figure out the ratio between the price of each bottle and its alcohol content.

I have this idea that writing and editing are about the process of having a general principle on what’s going in and what’s staying out, which can be applied in any specific circumstance, and that that is also how regimes and organisations and groups operate.

I figure I’ll go and eat curry in town with my mum on her birthday, and the next day get an early-ish train to try and catch as much of the Rich Mix thing as I can.

I write to Tutul and ask if there is a set of principles he uses in his editing or writing; are there, for example, words he’s not comfortable using, phrases he overuses. I have this idea that if he has a set of editing principles then I might somehow use them to create the thing I am supposed to be writing.

I’m not running short of pencils but some of the pencils I use are getting kind of stubby.

With me it can never just be content; it has to be *verbal art* of some kind.

When Tutul writes back he doesn’t answer my request directly, but sends a piece of writing that has appeared in a Norwegian journal.

After the curry thing there’s Jon’s book launch party at the Nottingham Contemporary.

Even if this is the most serious thing I have ever written, there will be something about it that has some kind of artifice or playfulness.

The scars on my feelings are more painful than the scars on my body, he writes.

The mustard is good but I think I should probably have gone with the ketchup.

All I know is everyone is a refugee, he writes.

Gerry and Kevin lent me their spare key but already I can’t remember where I put it.

Book publishing was my profession, he writes, but it was more passion and craziness.

If I’d known I was going to be spending £200 on repairs I might have thought about getting a new bike.

But still in this changed scenery I look for my known sky, he writes, my known sun-rain, that known smell.

Matthew Welton‘s poems take a playful approach to imagery, structure, and the sounds of the language. His recent publications include The Number Poems (Carcanet), which was named as a book of the year for 2016 by the Poetry School and The Irish Times. Matthew Welton is from Nottingham and teaches creative writing at the University of Nottingham.

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