Discussing his own collection of ‘versions’, Don Paterson muses that ‘versioning allows a poet to disown their own voice and try on another’.1
I enjoy experimenting with extremes of theme and language in my drafts. My habit of the autobiographical ‘I’ is sometimes cushioned by borrowing material from inherited sources.
Despite writing often in the first person, my poetry is not to be read as autobiographical. Instead, I often write in the voices of damaged people; a form of ventriloquism.
Like Paul Muldoon, I feel that ‘form is a straitjacket in the way that a straitjacket was a straitjacket for Houdini’.2 Having always written in free verse, I find writing in formalistic structures to be ‘strange company’.3
Writing in Poetry Review, Philip Gross comments, ‘There’s a mask behind a mask’.4 Paterson goes on to ask ‘Who was that masked man?’, or girl maybe, when referring to myself. I enjoy writing poetry loosely inspired by my own creative inheritance. Are we actually referring subconsciously to our own little ghosts of truths when conjuring make-believe stories? Writing some of my more triggering poetry can be thrilling and disturbing in equal measure. Why does it provoke such a feeling?
As both a writer and reader, my favourite poems exist in word-worlds where ‘the dark and against the grain stand out’5 and, like fiction writer Ali Smith, I do enjoy deploying ‘edge’ which ‘can cut. It’s the blade’.6
I am, however, mindful to use the ‘blunt part of the knife too’7 to provide contrast and variation in my poetry. I employ visceral, sensory language to give light relief from violence in other areas.
I feel that alluding to prose strengthens implementation of the first person ‘I’; a story is being told.
1 Don Paterson, Orpheus: A Version of Rilke (London: Faber and Faber, 2006), p. 84
2 Ian Kilroy, ‘Transatlantic Poet’ in The Irish Times (19 April 2003), 8
3 Paterson, Orpheus, p. 84
4 Philip Gross, ‘Wriggling on a Pin’, Poetry Review, 83.4 (1993/94), 57
5 Robert Lowell, Imitations (London: Faber and Faber, 1962), p. xi
6 Ali Smith, Artful (London: Penguin, 2013), p. 126
7 Smith, Artful, p. 126