Friday, April 19, 2019

My Writing Day: James Roome

I'll keep this brief. Or at least, I'll try, because when I sit down in front of a white page, I never know what will happen. Sometimes I have a vague plan, sometimes just a title, sometimes nothing but an urge to write (though these times are often the worst). 

When I sit down to write I will typically limber up with a few sketches that may contain the odd interesting image, but don't necessarily constitute a whole poem. After the initial disappointment (or the empty feeling you get when reading back over work that is in no way successful), I will sometimes hit upon something real. Invariably, my subconscious fills that part in. I like to follow ideas down into it until I'm surprising myself. This method is definitely inspired by Frank O'Hara's idea in ‘Personism’ that you have to take chances in your poetry. You have to take the risk of being illogical in your choices (I'm paraphrasing) of word, line and image. When I hit on something I keep digging (now I'm borrowing from Heaney!) until I reach the bottom. That moment when you stick your spade in and it hits rock. Then it's finished. On the way down, some weird stuff can happen.

My digging tends to happen all over the house in snatched moments, or very early in the morning/late at night. We have a three-year-old son who likes to press the buttons on the laptop. Also, my job as a secondary school teacher keeps me very busy. There really is no time whatsoever during a typical working day to dedicate to writing (there's hardly time to eat some days), so during the week I will typically write between 8-10pm. At weekends I can occasionally take a whole day and dedicate it to poetry, but more usually I will be up at 5am (sometimes 3, as I am today, though that's more due to insomnia than compulsion) and work until mid-morning. By necessity, therefore, my poems come quick and are shaped by life. I rarely spend time on craft in an initial draft, with the exception of sonnets, which I love and am constantly trying to write to varying degrees of success. I like to listen to the sound of rainfall whilst I write, so I usually find one of those ten-hour videos on YouTube and plug in.  

When I am stuck, I look to the bookshelf. Writing should be a conversation with contemporaries, and I find the work of other poets to be the most inspiring thing. When I'm in a rut I look to O'Hara and Koch, who reassure me. More recently I have discovered the work of Martin Stannard. He is widely published in the UK but, despite having studied an MA in poetry and having been relatively engaged with contemporary poetry for the last few years, he had slipped through my net. His collection, 'poems for the young at heart' through Leafe Press, is fantastic. I also love the work of Serena Mayer (Broken Sleep) for the surprising things she does with sentences, leaving them half-finished and subject or objectless, and Phoebe Power on Carcanet. There are many other poets who help me, but these are the particular names that spring to mind at this moment because they’ve been gathering on my bedside table at night and whispering ideas in my ear.

Once a poem's initial draft is done, editing is usually a process of minute changes and deletion. I recently introduced punctuation back into my poetry (I found myself labouring over systems to indicate clause shifts and insert pauses, when in fact one already exists!) so I'll be fiddling with commas and full stops for a while, deleting sections that don't add anything or are blatantly 'poetic', chopping up lines and also ensuring the narrative holds water - my poems almost always rely on narratives for their drive. Then I save. I save, save and save again. Then print off a hard copy. The hard copy is the final stage of my editing process. I like to scribble all over it. Seeing its physical form gives a fresh perspective. You notice things that don’t work; metaphors that are mixed. I re-edit and it’s done. Until I edit it again, that is.

Not really a day at all then. More a collection of moments. I have tried not doing it. Logically, poetry is an inconvenience. An extravagance. I suppose that’s why I’m always desperately trying to be more illogical.

James Roome received an MA in Poetry from MMU and is based in Manchester, UK. His work has appeared in Magma, Tears in the Fence, Ink, Sweat and Tears and the Wordlife anthology. His first chapbook, Bull, is out now from The Red Ceilings Press.

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