As a former bookseller I’ve seen far too many self-published collections of appalling poetry in cheaply-bound paper, so it was a great pleasure to read a new book by a real poet – Me and the Dead by Katy Evans-Bush, an author you may already know through her excellent blog Ms Baroque.
I’m completely out of my depth talking about poetry, but the words that instantly spring to mind when thinking about Me and the Dead are: evocative, profound, sensual, elegiac, witty and compassionate. I shall be savouring this beautifully produced Salt Publishing book for a long time to come. Here's a taster:
To My Next Lover
All weekend I kept thinking about you :
Katy Evans-Bush is currently in the middle of a virtual author tour and has kindly agreed to stop here to answer a few questions.
First of all, thanks for visiting. This is the first author event I’ve had that hasn’t involved ordering several dozen wine glasses from Oddbins, so I shall have to improvise. I’ll start with a virtual cheesy nibble...
Q – I’d like to know how you ended up moving to London...
I heard they had loads of wine at their author events! No, really. I came over for something to do, really. Imagine it: an aunt in Finsbury Park, and Kings Road there for the taking only a few years too late… I studied English Lit for a year, hooked up with a boy, and stayed.
Q – And how has this shaped your identity as a writer?
For many years it confused the hell out of me. I wasn’t in America and I wasn’t yet properly in England. Even though both countries ostensibly speak the same language, it was like being transplanted into a foreign one – but I didn’t even have my original language to myself, everything was mixed up and muddied. Slang, accents, figures of speech, frames of reference. It took me about nine years – and two babies – to sort all that out, and even then when I first began writing again it was “in American.” It was another five years before I really owned my geographical space, as it were. Now I just feel like a Londoner, but as so many people have pointed out about the book, I really do have a foot on each side of the Atlantic, and people often tell me how very New York I am... I grew up reading American poetry, of course. As well as Pound and Eliot. Oh, wait...
Q – I’ve always liked RS Thomas, but it was only when he did a reading at my university that I felt that I truly understood his writing. Do you think poems are best read aloud?
I know that goes against the orthodoxy. Well, I think some poems might be best read aloud! Maybe “James James Morrison Morrison” – the favourite poem I share with Jonny B – or even something like “Kubla Khan” – but not The Waste Land, and not Frost at Midnight. I think poems work best if read alertly to oneself in that private inner voice we all have that isn’t as crude as a real voice. A real voice locks the poem down so much; and so many poems are aso complicated, you need to be able to see them and think about them and read them slowly.
Having said that, Radio 3 recently played Anton Lesser’s reading of the entirety of Paradise Lost, an hour a day, and it was wonderful. Even though I don’t like his reading. I thought Tom Baker would have been better. And it would have been better if I’d had the book to hand.
The poet George Szirtes talks about the “intimacy” of reading aloud, the history of reading things aloud to small audiences, and the very best poetry readings can be like this. Though that is very rare. You want to feel like someone is really telling you something – like the Ancient Mariner, that they’re almost buttonholing you with it.
Q – As a bookseller I found poetry impossible to sell. Are you frustrated by the degree to which poetry is marginalised in contemporary society, or do you feel that the internet offers some hope for writers to find readers?
Well, hope is a thing with feathers. Here I am on the internet!
But yes: tremendously frustrated. I always have been, ever since I found out – though I had a sheltered childhood, and never knew till I became a bookseller myself, at the Penguin Bookshop in Covent Garden. (Ah, those heady days! Peter Mayer was head of Penguin then, touting his pile ‘em high & sell ‘em like carrots philosophy everywhere; shortly after that computerised stocktaking came in, Books Etc. ate London and the rest is history.)
Seriously, I think people are deprived of words, which is like saying they’re deprived of meaning. Many people say they like poetry, or would like it, or used to like it. But the way things are set up nowadays you practically aren’t allowed to like it. Thank God I grew up in a house full of books, in a family of people who loved words. And I have such exciting, deep, intense ideas for things I want to do, I plan to make some really beautiful poems this year, and it’s terrible to think hardly anyone will want them…
Q – This may be an impossible question, but how long would a poem like ‘To My Next Lover’ take to write?
That one took half an hour. I swear to God. I sent it to a magazine editor, Michael Mackmin at the Rialto, throwing it in as a makeweight among a load of poems I thought were really good. He took that one. And none of the others! It’s so often the case… So it wasn’t till it was published and everyone was telling me they loved it, how funny, how bittersweet, how fucking tragic to admit to watching EastEnders, that I looked at it and saw that it was okay. And it really was the best storyline they ever had! Nothing can beat the beauty of that, except maybe the time Phil framed Den Watts for murder, throwing that gun down on him through the skylight…
Sometimes writing is really fun. It feels like telling yourself jokes. That was one of the times.
Q – On your website you mention that you’re working on a novel. Can you tell me anything about it?
No. I’d have to shoot you. I said that in a moment of insanity. I said it to make myself do it.
Q – Finally, I notice that growing up in the USA you must have watched The Osmonds. Are you a little bit country or a little bit rock n’roll?
Sweetie, I’m a little bit country AND a little bit rock n- roll. And I also used to watch the Jackson Five cartoon.
Me and the Dead is published by the wonderful Salt Publishing.