What will you be reading tonight?
SH: Poems about China mostly, and coelacanths.
FL: I’ve got eating imperfectly cooked hedgehog, some dogs and a poem in which my grandfather is a unicorn (see below.)
Fran Lock: Poetry is where I splurge my emotional incontinence.
How much of your work is drawn from personal experience?
FL: Most of my stuff tends to have a basis in personal experience. Either that or I just plagiarise or cannibalise the lives of my family because they are deeply amusing, to me any way.
Presumably your poems about China are from personal experience?
SH: I guess they are a mixture of personal experience, family history, lots of my mum in there but also lots of obscure bits of history books that have just nabbed my attention.
I grew up in Hong Kong but then moved to England when I was 8. I’m going to read a longer poem tonight which is about that move. It’s called Crossing From Guangdong. My mother was born in Guangdong province in 1948 and fled from mainland China to Hong Kong with her adoptive mother when she was a baby. The poem’s about two crossing. The crossing she made as a refugee from the communists and the crossing I made to this side of the world when I was small.
Sarah Howe: Being mixed race I’ve found lots of ways of writing about things that are a bit hybrid or mixed up.
What about your new collections?
SH: Mine’s not due out until next summer so it feels like a distant dream. I periodically wake up in cold sweats thinking my publisher might stop publishing poetry. It doesn’t have a title yet. I’ve been thinking of calling it A Loop Of Jade but it is as yet unlabelled.
FL: Mine’s called The Mystic And The Pig Thief and it should be out in May. I’ve finished my involvement and now I’m in a limbo where I keep thinking maybe it isn’t going to happen and I’ve just dreamt the whole thing and I’m going to wake up like in The Wizard of Oz. It will feature uncooked hedgehogs and dogs in circus hats as well as lots of poems about my granddad and Ireland.
My granddad’s a legend, his legend looms large in all our lives. He’s a character, is the polite way of putting it. He doesn’t care about poetry or anything that isn’t Irish folk music but I think I have my sense of humour from him and his way of looking at the world and that flamboyant largesse which I bring to poetry that some people like and some find slightly repellant. It’s his excess that comes out in a lot of the stuff.
Who has influenced your poetry, Sarah?
SH: I was going to read a poem tonight, part of its title is After Ashbery (see below.) He’s been really important to me. Quite a few of the poems in the collection are kind of abstract in the manner that Ashbery is abstract. I’m quite interested in that and the relationship between his work and abstract paintings.
What are the main themes of your work?
FL: Mostly dogs and personal trauma that I feel the need to exorcise and also just laughing at my family. I’m not really from a family or a culture that believes in keeping things to ourselves with any sort of tact or restraint. Poetry is where I splurge my emotional incontinence.
SH: The relationship between the past and present and what survives and what lingers, what traces there are and what gets destroyed and obliterated. Also hybridity. Being mixed race I’ve found lots of ways of writing about things that are a bit hybrid or mixed up.
What are you doing besides poetry?
FL: Swearing at the internet, walking and training dogs and developing a variety of bruises from mastiffs and Staffordshires. I work as a dog whisperer but I’m more of a dog shouter at the moment.
SH: I teach English at Cambridge University and spent my lunch time today minuting a meeting which was half about coffee cups and half about whether the menu in college should be written in French any more. I’m also finishing my poetry book and my academic renaissance book neither of which is drawing to a close.
How do you fit poetry in your lives?
FL: Poetry is either something that’s pushed out and you grab an hour or something that takes you over completely like black mould and you can’t do anything but.
SH: I usually write my poems in the middle of the night and by that I mean between about one and four in the morning. I’ve only recently realised that most of my poems are about night which really shows a lack of inspiration on my part.
You can hear Sarah and Fran on this show.
MONOPOLY (after Ashbery)
I keep everything until the moment it’s needed. I am the glint in your bank manager’s eye. I never eat cake in case of global meltdown. I am my own consolation. I have a troubled relationship with material things: I drop my coppers smugly in the river. (I do everything with an unbearable smugness.) I propose a vote of thanks. I make small errors in your favour. Sometimes I pretend nothing is wrong. I won second prize in a beauty contest. I am yellowing at the edges. I was last seen drawing the short straw. I hang about tragically on street corners, where I hand out cards that read: if you see I am struggling to lift this card, please, do not help me.
POEM IN WHICH MY GRANDFATHER IS A UNICORN
My drill-bit bonce is a power tool, pure Black & Decker. I don't joust, but bore and cork; laborious blue- collar spirochete. I gauge, I weigh and counter-sink. Pallid navvy, I plot courses, grade curves and warble loony shanties under a flimsy, freeloading moon. In summer my kinked withers steam as I doss by the flat, brown pond and champ at my baccy. There- with any luck- some stringy, somnolent blonde will fodder me up bruised apples; smear Deep Heat on my sweated flanks. This is what passes for pleasure. Winter’s worse, and when that chilly bastard climbs in at the window me and my muckers huddle. In the cold-clammy dark we are a row of raised middle fingers. We glow, spark and jar; rare as uranium rods, we are, and twice as bloody depleted. Sometimes, the ganger has us gouge staves in the frozen ground for come mister tally man, tally me a coffin, marking off The Dead on The Job. And sometimes he wants we should lance and spar and Toro! Toro! while the overseers spill tinnies and lay bets. It is bad, but not that bad. Yous can always nuzzle with some ruddy bawd, have her hanky-knot your Billy-beard; there’s the cider-squishy tang of her, lank and gold as dirty straw. That, or yous can dream. I dream of earth what didn’t surge or churn but greened, sweetly, keenly, me yokeless and shiny, simpleton free. I dream when we was High Horses, tilting into groves of gushing sun to munch at peerless pomegranates. That was long ago, though. Long ago and far away and maybe only make-believe. Pretty fiction’s well and good, but we are none of us children. This is life, girl, and in the end I’m glue, you’re glue, like the rest.
Fran Lock from Poems In Which