I started writing poetry long before I wrote anything else. It’s just always been the thing. I loved reading poetry from a fairly early age but in my teens, it was a big focus. And all sorts. The renaissance poets, the metaphysics, modern songwriters, Willy the Shake and basically anything I could get my hands on or wrap my ears around. This is when I developed now lifelong loves for the words – and style – of James K. Baxter and Sam Hunt. For the work of Fleur Adcock. And the likes of Joni Mitchell, Suzanne Vega, Leonard Cohen, Lou Reed and Bob Dylan helped too – because in their interviews they pointed to poetry. And in their books of lyrics they legitimised lyrics as poetry and often included actual poems too.
So when I was 13 and through to when I was about 21 I typed all of my poems up on an electronic typewriter. My landlord biffed it in a skip when I was slow to move out of a flat. And though I haven’t yet written about that, it’s on easy recall so will make it into the pages one day. As it’s absolutely another story for another time.
I handwrote the poems first, then typed them up after – and I was inspired at first by the music I was listening to and the poetry I was reading. There are still a few poems that survive from those early years and I’m locked in a pact with myself to never look at them. They’re in a loft. There’s a beer crate stuffed with folders – pages and pages and pages. And I think if there’s anything ‘good’ in there it won’t be a huge loss to never unearth it.
These days – and really for most of the last two decades – I’ve used a computer for poetry writing. I will sometimes still scratch an idea out on a piece of paper – I carry notebooks when I remember. But also I make notes in my phone and I type directly to the computer, writing the poem as if it’s an assignment or a story or a review. And it is. That’s how I see it. Diary entries, little pieces of autobiography – a way of remembering. And a bit of storytelling.
And maybe I felt legitimate – though I think a few years before that my style clicked. For myself I mean. In my teens and twenties I tried many different things – rhyming and traditional forms, earnestly replicating favourite writers. Falling short, of course.
And then I took a break – got busy writing music reviews. And when I came back to poems, around the time of starting my Off The Tracks website, nearly a decade ago now, I felt the form fall into place. Blank verse. Some rhythm and rhyme play, sure. But whimsical stories bent to fit the shape of a poem.
Some people have said that I’m about democratising poetry. Making it accessible. I’m not sure who first said that – it was in a review I believe. But I like it. That’s certainly the aim. Poetry is – or can be – for anyone. I think poetry scares people off sometimes – like jazz, or classical music, or arts festivals. The very word has a fright attached to it. People worrying they won’t ‘get’ it.
I’m still very jealous – or at least in awe – of poets that I couldn’t possibly replicate. I’m doomed to write quickly and publish almost without caution. The blogging/reviewing worlds have punished me there. But what I can do is write the way I write. And so, mostly, I’m very okay with this.
And if I haven’t scared you off completely here’s a link to me reading a poem from my book live on RNZ – this was recorded last year ahead of the launch.
Finally, I have a YouTube channel where I read poems. I must be the most uncool person on YouTube. And that’s quite okay with me.
All of this comes from me rebuilding myself as a poet. I recently told someone that I’m a failed poet that has pieced myself together from those failings. I wasn’t looking for sympathy, nor a laugh – it’s just the truth of it as I see it. I tried all sorts of styles, and none of them fit. I was looking for my voice. I have it now. It has stuck with me. I’m happy with that. You are also stuck with it. But you get to click away whenever you want to. I don’t. And that’s also okay.