This interview is with Simon Banks, a poet who is a repository of knowledge.
Simon Banks, recently retired from working for local government and the voluntary sector, lives in Harwich, South-east England, by the sea and the River Stour. His poetry has appeared in various hard-copy and on-line magazines.
What made you decide to blog poetry?
I wanted to make contact with other poets and lovers of poetry and build a readership. I also hoped people would enjoy, be fired by and learn from my poems!
(I definitely have learnt a lot by reading Simon’s poems.)
You already have another blog where you talk about different things-why does poetry need an exclusive blog?
I thought a lot about that. My first idea was to have one blog with pointers to different sections, but the blog hosts I looked at didn’t seem to make that easy. When I thought about it more, it seemed to me I was trying to do two things and appeal to two largely different audiences – so two blogs made sense. I could always signpost one from the other. One blog would be mainly about political and philosophical questions, plus a satirical series about English local government that would appeal to politically-minded people: that’s sibathehat.blogspot.com.
The other would contain poetry and discussion about literature. That left some bits and pieces of humour and description of favourite places which went into the non-poetry blog. It also seemed to me that wordpress had a lot of literary bloggers and blogspot was less literary.
Your poetry is rich with knowledge of history and myth- do you think that contemporary poetry lacks that kind of in-depth knowledge?
Thanks for the compliment! Not necessarily. Some poets who write on historical events, for example, clearly know their history and there’s plenty of nature poets who really know their birds, trees and so on.
What I think has gone from various separate traditions is a shared mythology. An Anglo-Saxon poet could draw on myths which were widely understood among Anglo-Saxons. I imagine the same is true of traditional Hindu poetry. Byron, Keats and Tennyson could refer to classical themes, Greek and Roman, and assume most of their readers would understand. Now we have access to a huge amount of myth but not really a common language except archetype, even within one country or ethnicity. Not all poetry needs in-depth knowledge, anyway.
(This is interesting for me- everything that we read and assimilate becomes part of the poetry we create. Understanding myth and history can only make poetry richer and more interesting)
What is your advice to a poet who wants to get published in the mainstream- is blogging poems that you want to publish then counterproductive?
As I haven’t yet been published in book form (and haven’t yet tried), I’m no expert. I am working towards this. However, blogging seems to be no barrier to being published in most hard-copy magazines and for me it has opened doors for publication in on-line magazines.
I suspect dislike of blogged poetry amongst publishers comes from two things – the assumption that people blog poetry because they can’t get it aired elsewhere (true of some) and a failure to think clearly about the market: after all, few poets get books accepted without having been published in magazines, and even hard-copy magazines now nearly all have an on-line presence, so if you want to read the poems there for free, you can. I think the more poems get about, the more the market is stimulated. Some people following my poetry blog do not appear to be poets or poetry buffs. Others can no doubt comment on this with much more authority, but I suspect things will change.
Besides blogging, what are some other ways you can get your poems noticed?
There are specialist magazines that may accept poetry – for example, a dragonfly poem to the magazine of a society devoted to dragonflies, or a religious poem to a faith group newsletter. There are also open mic events, Meetup groups and so on, but so far my impression is that these are useful for meeting possibly useful contacts but not directly for promoting your poems. If you write other things, you might try slipping in the occasional poem.
(This is a valuable suggestion-incorporating poetry into your short story for instance can give a different flavour to what you write)
Poetry is such a vague term- is there no yardstick to judge it? Is that why publishers are so reluctant to look at poetry?
No. Lots of other literary terms are just as vague – science fiction, thriller, romance. All would be hard to define. It probably is true that there’s more variation in personal responses to poetry than there is to crime fiction, for example, but publishers don’t like it because they perceive that few people buy it. This is true to an extent, though it greatly underestimates the interest in poetry. Unfortunately many people who like poetry don’t buy poetry books. One reason for this is, I suspect, that a small poetry book can keep you going for a long time whereas if you like thrillers or romances, you can get through a lot of them quite quickly. I do think, though, that poetry is ripe for combining with other things – artwork, for instance, or short bits of prose. Blake did it and it’s now much easier!
What puts you off about poem blogs today? What works?
Good poetry works and bad poetry doesn’t. It’s much the same whether it’s blogged, spoken, between covers or on kindle. One thing about some other poetry blogs both attracts and annoys me – extensive use of pictures.
Some bloggers have a really good sense of what pictures will enhance a poem (which links back to my comment about publishing poetry) but sometimes I access a blog to read the poem and get some delay as the pictures appear one by one, sometimes throwing me off just as I was starting to read the text.
The main problem for me is that I’ve linked to a number of other poets who blog very frequently. I can’t do justice to, say, three poems a day, so I won’t read them all properly, which is a pity. Reblogging makes this worse. The amount of traffic on my computer is now, I think, a factor stopping me writing good poetry, because for that I need mental space and a kind of calm. I had a two-week walking holiday recently, alone, and wrote some good poetry whereas I’d been treading water for a couple of months before.
(So true! In the effort to churn out poems and reach out sometimes the poetry bug decides to go for a walk into the woods and the poet starts wondering about where the craft that flew out of his fingers went…)
What is your advice to aspiring poets-what kinds of poems must they read?
Read the kind of poetry that rings a bell for you, but in a wide range of forms, and note how the poet does it. Don’t stick to traditional rhymed poetry, or to “free verse” only.
Don’t read only modern or only old poetry.
Read in different languages if you can.
Look for things like alliteration and half-rhymes, consider the poet’s choice of images and words, how (s)he catches our attention at the start and makes an impact at the end – for in that respect a poem is much like a job interview or a speech.
I will come off the fence and recommend two things to read – the poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins (difficult for many, but a master-class in handling words, in conveying messages by the sound of words, in half-rhyme and alliteration) and the anonymous ballads of late medieval to 17thcentury England and Scotland (the archaic language can be off-putting sometimes, but for directness, power, drama and simple beauty they are superb – and there are a number of collections).
How much must blogger poets post?
As for the frequency of posting, I think most supportive readers will struggle to do justice to more than one poem every other day. Remember, they’re probably reading other people’s poetry blogs too! Once a week is fine too. Much less than that and I suspect people will lose interest, but not all the blogs on a poetry site need to be poems. I do a few book reviews, an idea I got from another literary blogger.
Are you worried about poetry plagiarism on the internet?
It could be a problem, but I remember that poetry is not big money, so the motivation to cheat is not so strong. If you posted a thriller or a porn film it would be much more likely someone would want to appropriate it. Also plagiarism of the sort that afflicts academic research, song-writing or novel-writing is virtually impossible in poetry: you can’t cut and paste without producing a rotten poem which is unlikely to get published, so you’d have to steal nearly all the poem and then it would be easy to prove it was breach of copyright and the offender would have nil credibility. If it’s not for publication and someone wanted to pass off one of my poems as his or hers to impress, should I be worried?
( 🙂 )
Thank you Simon for your words of wisdom. As always, I enjoyed learning from you.