About my poetry
Whenever I’m asked to talk about my writing I find I’ve very little interest in focusing on the meaning of my poems. The thing that will get me talking, though, is if I get the chance to go into my writing process. And the part of the process that really interests me is trying to map out the stuff that’s had an influence on the way my poems were written.
These new poems come from a series I’m working on called Squid Squad. If I was to try to summarize the series I’d call it an attempt to blur the distinction between poetry and fiction: the poems feature a bunch of characters whose actions seem to be caught up in some kind of narrative. And although those narratives often suggest something beyond themselves – why would anyone be releasing a beetle from a matchbox, or leaning a ladder beneath a window, or lighting a candle from a dying candle – there’s no narrative resolution. And while there may be riffs that recur in the actions these characters perform or in the way they talk, it would be difficult to say what actually characterizes any of them. What I’m more interested in is creating a world, or setting up a kind of aesthetic. If a reader can find a sensibility running through my poems, that’s probably enough for me.
And that sensibility is, to an extent at least, something I’ve borrowed from other poets whose work features characters. The character of Malcolm Mooney, who crops up in a number of W.S. Graham’s books, certainly informed what I was doing in Squid Squad. And so did the character of Jack who features in a bunch of R.F. Langley’s poems. More recent poets who’ve done similar things that have excited me a lot would include Jane Yeh, Carola Luther, Jacob Polley and Luke Kennard. And the fiction writers whose work I have in some way tried to emulate in my poems would include Lydia Davis or Richard Brautigan.
But I’d like to think my influences come from beyond writing too. In some ways I feel that what Squid Squad is really about is an attempt to take Charles M. Schulz’s Peanuts comic strip and make it into a poem. That probably accounts for why I’ve got a bunch of characters who in some ways are adult but who act like kids a lot of the time. The film director Hal Hartley also provided something of a template – one that’s pretty similar to the Peanuts influence – and I guess the lofty abstract pronouncements the Squid Squad characters make are drawn directly from his early short films.
To sum this up, I would say that for me writing is very often a way of processing my admiration or excitement at what other practitioners are producing. But it is at this level, I think, that it becomes possible to approach the idea of what it is that, for me, my poems mean. In order for the process of influence as I have described it to work, my writing has to have its roots in my reading. Those roots may extend to my viewing and listening, too. And that means that I identify more readily as a member of the audience than as an artist. I like to use the term practitioner because it seems to carry the suggestion of being part of a wider community. And in each new poem that gets circulated among this community of practitioners, we are asking, How about this? Every poem that’s written can be seen as a contribution to a big ongoing discussion about what it is that a poem can do, what is possible in poetry, and where the limits of poetry might lie. This is a slow process, and one in which every question may best be answered with another question – the similarities between some writers might be seen as a form of agreement, while the differences between writers might amount to different factions – but it is a process into which all poets are welcome. And I hope that in putting together poems that pass along some of the delight I find in other writers’ work, the meaning of my writing might amount to something positive, something inclusive, and something essentially very human.
Dustin Mostyn holds the envelope above the steaming kettle. Natalie Chatterley’s snapdragons droop. As she climbs through the railings, Ruth Reith snags her sweatshirt. Bradley Ridley’s spinach boils dry.
Bradley Ridley rips up the flip-chart paper. A slug slides up the kitchen wall. Ruth Reith retracts her retraction that only reluctance comes only reluctantly.
The pencil pokes a hole in Dustin Mostyn’s pocket. A small crow croaks its croony tune. Reason rattles like a rusty bike, says Nerys Harris, tossing a spatula between her hands.
As the temperature jumps and the loop of tape warps, the uncertainty goes out of Lola Wheeler’s voice. The felt-tips leak into Angus Mingus’s pocket. Audrey Chaudri detunes her ukulele.
In midwinter the daylight deepens like doubt, says Natalie Chatterley. Nerys Harris’s beach ball bounces into the brambles. The tulips droop as Audrey Chaudri walks by.
When the principle of pragmatism makes way for the pragmatism of principle, says Dustin Mostyn, it happens on a hunch. Audrey Chaudri’s sawblade rusts.
The lentils leak out of Audrey Chaudri’s homemade maracas. The woodpeckers reckon on the willow trees’ resilience. Where the shallow river narrows, Lola Wheeler paddles home.
Ruth Reith locks the apartment and posts back the key through the letterbox. Dustin Mostyn loosens his lute strings. Natalie Chatterley makes notations of the gnats’ flustery flight.
Rain comes like a resumption in the rigor of things, Nerys Harris says, and grips her pencil between her teeth. The lemon tree trembles. Dustin Mostyn dozes in the thistly grass.
In practice the theory that practice requires a theoretical basis requires very little theoretical basis, says Natalie Chatterley in her letter. Ruth Reith mimes the action of ringing a church bell.
Nerys Harris lets the beetle out of its matchbox. Sunlight subdues the sparrows’ songs. Dustin Mostyn’s gravel shovel rusts. A spiral of apple peel yellows on Ruth Reith’s plate.
As she crosses the park, Audrey Chaudri leaves a line of peanut shells behind her. A ladder leans up beneath Nerys Harris’s window. Dustin Mostyn twangs his wooden ruler.
Ruth Reith sketches a brickwork pattern on the plain white kitchen wall. A raven rephrases the robin’s song. The rhythms of reticence unravel like rope, Audrey Chaudri says.
The wind comes like a wallop of whimsy, says Bradley Ridley. Gnats nibble at Dustin Mostyn’s limbs. The sparrows spit out the spinach seeds. Nerys Harris mimes the action of grinding pepper.
Without the thoughts we’re unaware we think, thinks Ruth Reith, the thoughts we’re sure we’re sure of might possibly not be possible. Bradley Ridley wades upriver. A warm wind hurries the small hawks home.
Bradley Ridley makes a mixtape of songs that can be sung in a single breath. Natalie Chatterley mimes the action of paddling a canoe. In the dusty mirror Hank Strunk draws matchstick people.
A robin gets in through the kitchen window and sits like a self at the centre of things, Lola Wheeler says. Damp gets into the sugar shaker. Bradley Ridley mimes the action of drinking through a straw.
The form formlessness takes, thinks Lola Wheeler, informs the form form will take in its absence. The ravens return like a rigorous form of reluctance, Bradley Ridley admits.
In the sheet of card, Hank Strunk cuts out the stencil of a star. Natalie Chatterley patches the patches on the patches on her sweatshirt. In the lemon tree the wrens rehearse their solemn song.
Matthew Welton (English) was born in Nottingham, lives in Nottingham, and teaches creative writing at the University of Nottingham. His poems take a playful approach to language and often blur the boundaries between poetry and other forms, such as fiction, music and visual art. He has published three collections of poetry with Carcanet, and pamphlets with Moschatel, If A Leaf falls, and Egg Box.