What do you think are the most hopeful features of British poetry today?
First, the excellence of young poets. Non-British readers can pick up the trail of some of them via Facebook links. Look out, for example for Kim Mooress tough insights into love and daily life, and the exuberant, dialect-enriched poems of Liz Berry.
Secondly, a thriving pattern of performance, and participation, which is happening in small venues (like pubs!) all over Britain. People of all ages and poetic tendencies meet, read, listen, and have a very good time. I am one of them, I can be found each month in the upstairs room of a local pub at the Buzzwords poetry group, listening to poems by local writers and excellent guest speakers. The performance skills of Slam poets, for example, amaze me.
What would you like to see happening in British poetry in the near future?
I would like to see imaginative attempts to scatter some of this excellent new work far more widely. The poetry posters on the London Underground are a perfect, but far too isolated example. (Anthologies of the Underground poems are bestsellers.)
I've always worked outside the literary world, first in a technical college, then in industry. I find that many people know the odd poem from school, which they cherish, but then rarely encounter poems again. If they do come across an appealing, moving piece, they often value it very much. I'd like to see this happen far more often.
Do you think that British poetry responds powerfully to politics, and to the state of the planet?
No. I think very little strong political poetry has been written in Britain in my lifetime. Some of the best that I have seen was published in a national newspaper by an ex-punk musician called Martin Newell. British folk music, which I greatly admire, has searingly good political songs, such as Chris Woods' "Hollow Point" (found here) about the shooting of a young man wrongly suspected of terrorism. I can't think of an equivalent in British poetry.
Throughout my writing lifetime there has been some uneasiness amongst British critics about poems which deal with animals or the countryside. Some critics seem to feel these were instinctively conservative. But in fact the non-human world, for which we have no adequate general labels, has been signalling to us for some time that our farming, our transport and our hunger for goods in the developed world is taking a terrible toll. For example we are beginning to realise in Britain that we could lose the wild bees (the bumblebees) which pollinate our fruit. What might seem tiny subjects for poems are of huge importance.
Which poetries, beyond Britain, particularly interest you?
I very much admire the freshness and the formal accomplishment of the best new poetry from the USA. It is only in the last decade, via the Internet, that I have been able to begin to explore this. Most US poets were completely unavailable in book form in Britain in the last century. Of course I am only scraping the surface, but I constantly come across work which stops me in my tracks, especially at Poetry Daily.
I have read a reasonable amount of classical Chinese poetry in various translations, and would like to know more of new Chinese writing—I read what I can. I find German poetry very congenial technically (although my German is very weak), and admire many contemporary German writers. Alas, I can't appreciate the music of Russian rhymes in the original, but I have read the major Russian poets of the earlier twentieth century. I have also been deeply impressed by more recent writers, such as Elena Shvarts and Tatiana Voltskaia .
What do you think is helpful in improving your poetry's formal qualities?
Finding a poet who is technically excellent in the many ways I am not, and reading them carefully. It tunes the ear! I have just noticed this while reading the collected poems of Elizabeth Jennings.
Which lines would you most like to have written?
T. S. Eliot's lines from The Waste Land, beginning "My friend, blood shaking my heart/ The awful daring of a moment's surrender". And the whole of Carol Ann Duffy's poem "Mean Time", for its dark and, to me, inimitable music.
What do you most regret about the pattern of your own poetry publishing?
I decided to let seven years pass between the publication of my third collection in 1987 and my fourth in 1995. This was partly because a Selected intervened, and I thought I would wait and edit my work with new rigour. But it was too long. I am not sure if my original readers thought I was dead, but I think some of them certainly thought I had forsaken poetry for gardening!
Why do you do so much reviewing?
When John Gielgud was asked why he did some many (dubious) films, he said (I quote from memory) "But, dear boy, they ask me, and they pay me so much money!". I should say at once that reviewing is not as lucrative as bad films, and that, originally, I asked editors, who had already published my poetry or requested articles, if I could do the odd review. I think they then discovered that I have an industrial reverence for deadlines. I am now regularly asked to review for major British magazines.
This is a privilege. I decided to venture into reviewing originally because I had a little more time; there was much good new work about, and I wanted, in a minor way, to alter the weather of critical opinion. It has led me to many fine and moving poems I would otherwise have missed. I should probably pay my editors!
How, in general, have you fitted poetry into your own life?
In my twenties, married, but childless, and with a full time job, I scrambled through writing at weekends. (I don't write poetry well after a day's work.) I then acquired a horse, so scrambled faster. Then I had a child. My technique unravelled, but I was only working part-time, with proper holidays, so I began to re-build my work. Then I went to work in the family business, first part-time, then full time, with very little holiday. I also had the horse (though I never did the stablework), my daughter, and various problems with older family members. I continued to scramble out poems at the weekends. I still do. It's not unusual now for me to keep poems for a year. I do attempt to revise properly, and new poems keep elbowing their elders aside!
I did, however, publish diligently. I don't write for the drawer. I can't. There is no room in the drawers in this house!
But this year—2013—I will be retired from my day job! So...
What are your aims for your own poetry?
To take it out into the world, at last, by doing more readings, once I am retired in 2013. To read more. To write better.
Do you encourage your readers to get in touch with you?
Yes, please. I have a website, which likes to claim it is also a blog, at www.alisonbrackenbury.co.uk
There you will find new poems, short essays on everything from parsnips to poets I admire, and a contact page to send messages to me.
I am also on Facebook, as Alison Brackenbury. Do bear with me if I am slow to add Friends! I will be quicker soon, when retired!
I have one project I'm very keen on—a Facebook group called Poems from Alison. Members of this group receive a free new poem from me, every couple of months, in their news feed. (I can sent out the poems by email, if you prefer.) I welcome comments on these poems—they are new, and may well have obscurities or faults I can remedy.
I am also on Twitter: @ABRACKENBURY. Yes, I did leave the caps lock on by mistake! My twittering include birds, cats, a few notes about what I'm doing, and links to new poems or poets I've found and admire. I'm there to listen, too, and am happily following a lot of good souls who amuse and enlighten me! Do look me up.
Alison Brackenbury was born in 1953, and is descended from a long line of British shepherds and farmworkers. She may be Britain's only poet in a boiler suit, as she has worked for over twenty years in her husband's family metal-finishing business. Her most recent collection is Singing in the Dark, Carcanet, 2008. Her eighth collection, Then, is due to be published by Carcanet in April 2013.
Alison is extremely interested in poetry on the Internet. She publishes new poems via her blog at www.alisonbrackenbury.co.uk, and via her Facebook Group, called Poems from Alison.