Because poetry is the most flexible of all media. The length of a poem can range from one line to an entire book. It can be descriptive, artistic, historical or political, can rhyme or not rhyme, scan or not scan. Anything goes. For years I used to write editorials for the Guardian and I sometimes feel I am just writing editorials in rhyming couplets, albeit with lighter subjects. It is an opportunity to get anything off your chest. Cheaper than therapy.
Yes, you seem addicted to ryhming couplets
I know, I know. I keep trying to escape but as soon as one rhyme creeps in another forces itself through as if I had no control. It must be a childhood thing - rhymes being rammed into us at primary school. Maybe a little therapy would help after all.
What is your favourite line from any poem - apart from your own?
Easy. "And all the air a solemn stillness holds" from Thomas Gray's Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard. I often think of this when I am sitting in the garden in the evening when the wind has dropped and no leaves are moving. A perfect line. The words and the alliteration echo the sense. Almost impossible to improve. Gray is the most quoted poet and also one who borrowed most from other poets so I don't know if this line can be traced farther back, as if it matters . .
Your own most memorable poem?
My memory has been so bad for so many years that I honestly couldn't quote from any of my own poems (though I still remember those rammed into me at school!) but in terms of memorable experiences it must be "Crossing the Why", the first poem of my first book of the same name. It is about the origin of the universe and reactions to it ranged from a country vicar putting it into his parish newsletter to an atheist who knew she only had days to live and asked for my book. Her son told me that it was the last time she laughed (though it wasn't intended to be funny) and she commented: "That just about sums it up". I found that truly awesome.
Where do your poems come from?
For many years I have spent 15 or 20 minutes each morning - or more if the muse bites - trying to put ideas or experiences into words, usually sparked by wanderings in London or something I've read. But the best discipline - especially for a journalist - is to be given a subject and a deadline. For years I have written for a small poetry club in Surrey consisting of a group of fascinating women who meet and read poems on a subject agreed at the previous meeting. I write one or two on the same subject each month and visit them once a year. They think I am doing them a favour but the opposite is the case - I have dozens of poems which would not exist but for their subjects and deadlines. It is also one of the very few places I can go to where my entrance significantly reduces the average age. At the last meeting the 94 year-old left as usual in her red Mercedes car and the 95 year-old said she had to go for what she said was her first ever visit to the doctor. Her children thought it might be a good idea just to have a checkup. Must be a poem lurking there somewhere. If only I had a deadline . . .
Any other poetic quirks?
About 15 years ago in an attempt to sell my first book I linked it to my first web site shakespearesmonkey.co.uk which tries to get a computer to reproduce randomly a two line poem I wrote (Can art by accident be bred/ And if it were would Art be dead?) in the way monkeys might replicate Shakespeare on typewriters. It never sold any books but the the computer has been running 24/7 ever since. It got to 13 correct characters pretty quickly but hasn't moved on for ten years. Also, while at the Guardian we did the first text message poetry competition which was the most enjoyably creative thing I did at the paper.
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