AWF is lucky to be promoting Daniel Sluman and his new collection of Poetry ‘the terrible’ due out later in 2015.
Interview with Daniel Sluman – By Nina Lewis
1) You studied a BA in English Literature & Creative Writing in 2008, had you written poetry before then?
Like a lot of people, I’d tried writing poetry in my teens. I think it was probably a way to try and come to terms with my disability, and the general confusion that comes with puberty. The writing was absolutely awful, lots of she’s so pretty, why doesn’t she love me? type poems. I can’t help but wince when I glance at them now.
2) Can you remember the first poem you were really proud of?
I don’t think that feeling has really happened yet, I’m not sure it will. The perfect poem in my head is always going to fail on the page, I see my job as minimizing the damage. I think that ‘Absence’, the first poem from my debut, was really important to me in opening up a dialogue between myself and my disability, so that definitely stands out in that way.
3) What motivated you to complete an MA in Creative & Critical Writing?
I enrolled on the BA in English Literature & Creative Writing on a kind of a whim. I was staring down the barrel of temp work and I felt like I was at an important crossroads in life. I enjoyed the BA so much, the MA seemed like a no-brainer, and the theory and workshops I engaged within my MA have been vital to me as a writer and as a researcher. I’m incredibly happy that I made the decision to do my MA, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to take this step up to PhD level.
4) What would be your best tip for combating procrastination?
Repetition and routine. I write pretty much every day, and it’s something I’ve just got used to through forcing myself until it feels normal. Facebook, Youtube and Twitter always poke their head around the door on occasion, and rather than lambasting yourself for engaging with it, it’s important to cut yourself some slack on occasion. Balance is really important, so doing an hour of editing should definitely be seen as worthy of fifteen minutes of idle surfing afterwards, and maybe that reward structure that works well for me, might work well for others too.
5) What does your writing space look like?
Until now, it’s always been a laptop slung on the corner of a sofa, or a dinner tray. Now I have an actual desk space for the first time, which I’ll be using soon. It will have sheets of notes and my manifesto on the in front of it, and the whole living room will have poems stuck to the wall. I like to think that this helps me see the collection as a whole; I can walk around the house, noting how the poems look against each other, and I can make notes directly to them with a pen, to be taken down, updated on my computer, and re-printed for the wall again. Other than that, just a laptop, my fingers, and a cup of tea, which is obviously crucial in lubricating the creative process.
6) Could you tell us a bit about your poetry life before your first collection was published?
Striving is probably the best word to describe it. I wrote, edited, read, and listened as much as I could. I would draft at 3 am outside my halls of residence, with a cup of tea and a stack of drafts, I tried to make every reading I could, and I volunteered for helping with workshops. I started getting a few poems in journals, expanded my network of poetry friends on Facebook and locally, and I just tried to remain focused on getting a book deal. I achieved that in the last year of my BA and I was over the moon (still am!).
7) How does the process of writing a second collection differ from writing your first?
It doesn’t much really. I work on developed ideas on my computer, print them off, scribble obscenities on them, and try again. An awful lot of poems get discarded, or bits recycled from them, and it can take dozens of drafts to write what still amounts to an unusable poem, and years to get something right. That’s always been my process. It’s messy, it’s time-intensive, it’s emotionally exhausting, but it’s the only way I know to write poetry.
8) Where do you get ideas from?
The places in my head I don’t want to enter. Misheard lines from TV. Programmes on Radio 4. The internet and weird forums I find myself in at 3am in the morning. My childhood, and specifically for this collection – my anxieties, nightmares, guilt and shame complexes, and every behaviour these have manifested themselves in
9) How do you write?
First ideas go into my phone, then they get moved to my laptop as a document, then they get their own folder with various drafts of the poem included. I used to write in a notebook but my bad handwriting and shaky hands mean that it’s a lot harder to do nowadays.
10) Who do you like to read?
Melissa Lee-Houghton and Bobby Parker are the two British poets who I come back to again and again. Other than that, lots of poets from across the Atlantic, like C.D. Wright, Brenda Shaughnessy, Rosmarie Waldrop, Dorianne Laux, Robert Lowell, and Adrienne Rich.
11) Was there a specific person who spurred your interest in poetry or encouraged you with the form?
I had an English teacher at Secondary School called Mr Adams, who was probably the best teacher I’ve ever been taught by. I remember one lesson where he read ‘Eve of St. Agnes’ by Keats, and I was transfixed. It was the first time I was aware that poetry could have a physical effect on me. That felt like a revelation.
My lecturers at University of Gloucestershire, Angela France and Nigel McLoughlin were incredibly nurturing in the period where I started to take writing very seriously. The advice and critique they both gave was invaluable to me, and I owe them a great deal.
12) Has your idea of what poetry is changed since you started writing poems?
I think it continually does for all of us. We change as people and that means we change as poets and our notion of what we do is always in flux. Personally, when I HAVE to write something down, that’s poetry, it’s an unrelenting feeling that I need to communicate something that I don’t think I’ve seen communicated in a certain way before. So poetry for me is vital, it’s incredibly personal but at the same time it’s universal and porous (as language is itself).
13) What does ‘being creative’ mean to you?
It’s a reason for living and a part of everyone. It’s play, it’s the opposite of destruction, and it’s making something for its own sake, which is all the more vital in our current capitalist, mass-manufactured, superficial society.
14) Do you have any creative patterns/ rituals?
I edit for most of the day, and when an idea seems ripe enough in the notes app on my phone, I tentatively put it on a Word doc and hope something sticks. I try to read as much as I can at some point during the day, but my concentration levels are severely restricted by my medication.
15) What advice would you give to aspiring writers? (You knew that one was coming)
Don’t compromise. We compromise with our feelings, our dreams, and what we really want to say to people every day, but the page asks nothing of you, it doesn’t judge, so don’t be afraid to put anything in it.
16) Do you still owe Carol Ann Duffy a drink?
Hahahaha. I’m sure she won’t remember buying me one, it was five or six years ago. I was attending a festival where she was reading and I briefly stood beside her in the queue when she bought me a glass of red wine. I’d love to buy her one back though, yes.
Daniel’s debut full-length collection, Absence has a weight of its own, was published to critical acclaim in 2012. His second collection the terrible will be published Autumn/Winter 2015, also with Nine Arches Press. He tweets @danielsluman
Look out for more posts about Daniel Sluman and his new collection ‘the terrible’ – COMING SOON!