Monday 5 November 2012

Writer - Lawrence Upton

I'd like to welcome you to my interview with writer, Lawrence Upton.  Enjoy.

Lawrence Upton

Hello Lawrence.  Can you please introduce yourself?
I am Lawrence Upton. I am based on the concrete edges of London though I spend a lot of time in Scilly and some elsewhere.
How long have you been writing?
About 50 years.
What first got you interested in writing?
Seemed an obvious thing to do. I first tried when I was very young; and failed. Tried again when I was 13 and told myself I would try to write every day once I was 14. Still going.
Do you attend a writing group?
I have attended a number of writing groups. I went to my first when I was 15 or 16, I think. Mid 1960s. I am 63 now. I run Writers Forum now. I first went to that in the early 1970s. 
 Why do you go to a writing group?
I am not sure. Of WF, I go to it and work for it because I get so much out of it.
What is the most valuable thing you have taken away from your writing group?
I kind of met my current literary exec through WF. We e-met before but the meetings cemented it. My first exec died a few years ago. So I got another to preserve my work. The world may not thank me for that; but it makes me feel better. That is also one of the most important / rewarding friendships I have.  A tremendous and joyous bonus.
And hearing and watching myself perform my poems to others is very different and more demanding than reading it alone. 
 What genre(s) do you write?
I write poetry but I also work collaboratively with musicians and painters so that I take writing into its graphic and sonic areas as well as writing lines that don't reach the other margin(s).
Are there any genres that you don't enjoy writing?
No. There are some I am less than good at; but that's something else.
Maybe novels.
I have hardly had an alcoholic drink since the start of 2009 - one sip of wine, one sip of beer and one entire glass of wine in over three years; but I wouldn't say I don't drink; just that if the thought or opportunity arises I can't much see the point
I have written novels which I have never even tried to publish. Now I don't see the point of trying to write them. I think once I thought one ought to write a novel.
I write short fiction... I'm ok at it, but I like to work with metre.
Have you ever had anything published?
wrack, Quarter After Press, USA, forthcoming
Memory Fictions,  Argotist Ebooks, UK, 2012 (e-book)
Unframed pictures, Writers Forum, UK, 2011
Pictures, Cartoon Strips, Sound & Language, USA, 2010
a song and a film, Veer Publications, UK, 2009
Water lines and other poems, Chalk Editions, USA, 2009 (e-book)
Snapshots and video, Writers Forum, UK, 2009
Scat Songs on a text by Chris Funkhouser, Xexoxial Editions, USA, 2008
Wire Sculptures, Reality Street Editions, UK, 2003
Word Score Utterance Choreography, edited with Cobbing Writers Forum, 1998
Some commentaries on Bob Cobbing, Argotist Ebooks, forthcoming
Have you sent your writing to agents/publishers?
Agents, no. Publishers yes. I have received rejections especially magazines because I speculate more there. It's best not to be indiscriminate in where one sends. Target to some degree. I target very carefully sort of with whole books.
What is your view on self-publishing/e-publishing?
I did self-publish in my teens and still circulate material samisdat. Self publishing is good but I favour a little press approach. Best not to be one's own editor; so long as the other editor's decision is not taken as gospel. The landscape book I am working on is going to a kind man who is going to look at it and at least make suggestions. I don't know why; I am not paying him; he must just be a good man; but I shall learn. (He is of course a reliably good poet – no point in being edited by someone who is not able to make the judgment on experience.
E-publishing is fine. I had an e-book MEMORY FICTIONS out as an e-book earlier this year; and my book WRACK is due out as an e-book and a real book in USA. I prefer real books; but e-books have many good points.
Have you ever attended an open mic event for spoken word performers?
Have you ever entered writing competitions?
Once or twice I entered. Once when I was really encouraged to. The man who encouraged me did win. As a principle, no.  A stronger principle each year. It is not a principle I try to persuade others of.
How important is it for you to share your writing?
Very. There is no point otherwise.
Who/what influences your writing?  Where do you get your inspiration from?
There is no such thing as inspiration. (Sorry. No offence intended).
None taken; we'll just have to agree to disagree on that.  
Well I don't agree, Rebeccah! I don't see there is any evidence for it. I don't see there is any clear meaning to the word. There is an original meaning which I regard as a fallacy; and generally the word is used so loosely as to be devoid of any specific meaning. For instance, some people ask “Where do you get your inspiration?” and mean “Where do you get your ideas?” Others mean something more tangible which is generally to do with being in a particular state of mind.
Now I might understand that, but there are better ways of saying it, ways that allow the writer or any artist to be active in the process of achieving that state of mind.
And then there are those who do seem to believe their words - or is it just their ideas? – come from somewhere outside of themselves.
The term is, at best, imprecise.
How do you come up with your characters' names and personalities?
Well, that assumes that I write a certain kind of writing. It's not much of an issue for me; but it's also not much of an issue. When I need names, the entities seem to name themselves.
Currently I am writing the life of a mediaeval saint who may or may not have lived. But he has a name; so I use it. (That is: all that is known of him is that an island was once called Insula Sancti Elidii – hence Elidius or Elid.  They call it St Helen's island now but celebrate his feast day there on 8th Aug.) I was conferring with him today about some problems he once had. His memory is surprisingly good for a man over a thousand years old. And I help him.
Do you have a writing routine?
Get up, write, stop for food and drink ad hoc, write, go to bed. Writing in this sense is not necessarily constant scribbling.
That's the default. Little things like shopping, doctors visits, friends disrupt and stretch the pattern but I write on the ways there and back. Ditto going to readings, concerts and exhibitions –  essential but have to be fitted in because life is rather short.
Ditto giving readings and talks both of which I really like doing.
The best time of day varies.
It depends what you mean by creative. I am looking to avoid repeating approaches which have worked. It's a matter of outwitting oneself.
I woke with a weird and somewhat private dream in my head last night. It didn't wake me. I found it there when I woke. In the middle of the night. 
I am currently spending nearly a month in a tent and occasionally my background consciousness wonders where it is.
I had a drink of water and continued writing a piece I had started earlier before sleep got me. (I have an LED lamp)
It is a very strange piece of writing and something I would not have come to by routine although it fits into a larger set. There were a lot of words in it but I am now of the opinion that most of those came as I began to wake up. The actual details of the dream, which I believe would have been inappropriate to make explicit here, have faded: they were just routine brain maintenance. I believe the linguistic element is shall I say higher level. I have known people to keep dream diaries; but they are usually trying to fathom them. I am content if I can find the occasional poem from one or derive one from a dream.
Nevertheless routine is rather important, essential. Routine can be broken but it's a minimum.  It should not be broken often. It can be stretched often. Writing a lot means that one is constantly “fit” to write so that when everything in the brain lines up with everything else and the ideas flow one isn't doing the imaginative equivalent of thinking “Now where did I leave the screwdriver.”
Do you start out with a complete idea for your poems, or do you just start writing and hope for the best?
Neither; but I often start vaguely to see where it goes. One can always try again and again. One must give each poem all the time in the world if it wants it; but taking ideas at they flood is important too.
The main thing is to write something.
Do you have an editing process?
Edit and edit again. If necessary + the workshop. + picking my editors carefully even if all they do is say yes or no. The poem I'll send you came almost as it is; but it is very short; yet even then it needed some work
I read aloud alone; but no mirrors.
The trick is to know when to stop editing.
What's the best piece of writing advice you've ever been given?
I am not sure one can compartmentalise that way. Read more would probably be the best answer.
What advice could you give to a new writer?
Don't rush to publish. And when you are absolutely sure it is time to publish your first book or pamphlet, consider waiting a year or so.
What do you enjoy the most/least about writing?
I might go mad if I didn't. Madder. That's the most and the least. And anyway after all these years I really have to stay with it now
Apart from writing, what are your other hobbies/interests?
Few. Writing takes all my time.  Most of it. I am not a hobbyist type. I am interested in archaeology. I walk. I stare at things absent-mindedly. I can spend all day stroking a cat. I like seeing and being with my friends and sometimes just descend on them. Galleries. Concerts. But I don't see that as hobbies, except perhaps staring at things.
If you could have written anything, what do you wish that could have been?
I try to write what I wish to write.
I wouldn't want to write LIKE anyone else. I do feel that I still have much to learn from, for instance, Browning, Stein, Auden, W S Graham (errors and omissions excepted) and many of my contemporaries about how to write better; but one does not want to imitate or pastiche. The list of contemporaries varies. The two who have always been on my list are Allen Fisher and Denise Riley in any order. Jeff Hilson is probably in that class; we're not getting  on very well with each other at present but I can't and won't deny that he is a fine poet.
What types of things do you read?  Do you think your writing reflects your book tastes?
I read anything and everything.  I think the second question is too general to answer. I just this month reread a collection of Updike stories which repulse and impress me; Titus Groan; Ashbee's book on the archaeology of Scilly;  Denise Riley's poems and (first time) the boy by Naseem Murr which I found on the campsite.
What are you working on at the moment?
Editing a LARGE collection of “landscape” poems  already referred to which will produce a number of possible  average length books, whatever that is, even with heavy weeding
Writing the book I referred to above (verse): Elidius on Ennor, as a working title.
And a few other things including an essay about aspects of poetry which is still rather vague – an editor's invitation to write “something”.
Do you have a website/blog/Twitter/Facebook dedicated to your writing?
My website is – it is in a permanent state of being not quite ready
I do not tweet.
I detest Facebook.
Is there anything else you'd like to add?
You'd be here all night... yes... One of the important things I learned from Bob Cobbing was that we must take ourselves seriously as poets. As writers; but he said poet and so do I on my own account.
Few now realise how much he had to do with getting poets treated with respect, though it is slipping back. Two many organisers behave as if they are doing us a favour if they ask us to perform for nothing though they would be outraged perhaps if we suggested that they want tradesmen to plumb and build for nothing. There is an implicit assumption that art should not be paid for, which is rather convenient for those who might have to pay and rather inconvenient for writers wanting to eat.
It is still common for events to be poorly organised and badly advertised. And we are supposed to be grateful.
Of course one does have to learn the trade, as it were. And one of the things that needs is practice.
A gathering of writers can give that opportunity. However, in my experience, too many groups impose an idea of what writing should be instead of starting from where the writers are.
One workshop organiser to whom I went in my teens, Odette Tchernine, did go to her writers (metaphorically) and did give even very inexperienced writers great respect and therefore confidence. She did not impose herself.
I didn't stay there because, good as she was, what was possible was, I felt, limited; and it was also a hike to get there.
I next went to a local group which was also limiting in its own way but also so crowded that it took ages to get a turn. The approach was didactic and I felt  oppressed.
Then I went to WF.
I have been involved with other groupings without  in any sense belonging to them. I would guest there. All put too much weight on popular success. If one is seeking to be a journalist, that's ok perhaps.
Much writing may involve criteria which are likely to limit popular success unless quality is compromised.
There is some quality prose writing which sells in quantity; but not much which sells in quantity is well made.
If the desire to be published is the main criterion, fair enough; but I have nothing to say of that.
One group I have attended  includes reading and writing but goes beyond that remit. Though they are or think they are interested in poetry they seem collectively and individually to want what I have come to call comfort poetry, poetry which means to carry a message with which they are happy to agree. Beyond that, they just say they do not understand.
Poetry's mode of meaning isn't like a manual. (I have said this so often that I think I might just get it printed on labels.) If it is possible to say what the poem means in prose statement then what is the point of writing a poem?
Often a reader saying they do not understand is implicitly demanding that each poem carries an extractable meaning; and of course poetry is not like that.
Poetry and other writing found to be difficult is often referred to as modern whereas all writing made now is modern. Attempts to write in a manner and idiom of a past age nearly always result in pastiche and bluster because those manners and idioms are not ours.
Furthermore, one can very easily find many passages from poetry of the past which defy any easy rendition into simple prose. Some though cling to a few poems, comfort poems and say those few do or should typify poetry. They do the craft and themselves no good at all.
I have stuck with WF and now convene it because I have found there people who want to learn from and teach each other by example and who accept that to get anything worthwhile takes effort.
And it has tended to slough off dogmatism. It isn't for everyone; but it is for the serious.
Would you be able to provide a short piece of your work?
The overwhelming
Take good care; each moment'll hit your eyes,
changing appearance, bruising you inside
like puppies; or kittens; or children,
you look here, and there almost immediately
or, as Gertrude said: now; and now; and now;
the immediacy of things as things
Lawrence Upton, © September 2012, Periglis, Scilly
Thank you Lawrence.

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