BLOG Amy McCauley

NWR Issue 107

Poet Paul Farley in Aberystwyth – 29 April 2015

Liverpudlian poet Paul Farley lives between Lancaster and London. He has, he says, never ‘felt rooted or attached to a place’ since his childhood in Liverpool, and poetry as a form of ‘return’ or retrospective mapping has infused his work over the last twenty years.

During his talk in Aberystwyth, Farley explored his sense of being ‘unhoused’ as he read from his work and responded to questions from the floor. His anxiety about reading came through in various off-the-cuff comments: ‘It’s horrible this, isn’t it?’ and ‘It is an ego trip, isn’t it: reading poems to people.’ But these elements of self-doubt showed a pleasing vulnerability quite at odds with the confidence of his performance. An off-book recitalist, he spoke his poems with a natural poise, neither over-performing nor collapsing into pensive concentration. Often looking out of the window as he spoke, he seemed to address a community beyond the room, which prompted me to consider just who Farley is addressing in his poems.

Reflecting on John Clare’s sense of being ‘unhoused’ as a result of his having been ‘booted out of his own sense of who he was’, Farley made the interesting comment that Clare’s ‘words go beyond him’. Something similar happens in Farley’s work, both on the page and in performance. For me, his are not intimate poems of confession or revelation but are attempts to find a ‘home’ in a tradition of place-writing. During questions, Farley mentioned John Clare, Michael Donaghy and Seamus Heaney as being particularly strong influences, and I reflected that Farley’s poems are often ‘speaking back’ to this line of mentors, and enter into a continuous dialogue about notions of place, space, time and ‘home’.

Despite saying, ‘I’m rubbish at talking about my poetry,’ Farley’s responses to questions from the audience were thoughtful and decidedly unglib. Ideas of perspective, the ‘mobile gaze’ and the question of where or what constitutes ‘home’ yielded a fruitful discussion of the poem itself as a kind of ‘home’ or a means of ‘getting back’ to a former home. Questions of travel, it transpired, have become central to Farley’s writing life, and his magpie mentality – which uses ‘found’ images, objects and experiences in his personal project of mapping – means that even the most mundane of items earns a place in his poetic environment.

As far as I can see, Farley’s poetry is concerned with the intersection between two major conceptual domains: the temporal and the spatial. He is not an optical poet – his worlds are not ‘closely observed’ or ‘meditated on’ as visual phenomena; and he doesn’t aim for documentary clarity – rather, he is a poet of the spaces which are imaginary, memorialised and rubbed smooth with time. Time, for Farley, is a kind of space; and spaces occupy particular moments in time. His talent, perhaps, is in fusing these two domains to create a field in which time and space simply become indivisible.

Farley questioned the nature of being an ‘author’, referring to his found poem which maps the topography of his mouth (courtesy of a dentist in Windermere), and the question of authorship returned in the discussion on collaboration. Farley first worked with Michael Symmons Roberts on Edgelands (2011), and the two are currently collaborating on a second project called The Deaths of the Poets.

On his experience of collaborating with Symmons Roberts, he said there was a kind of ‘edginess’ produced by the process of editing (and being edited by) a partner poet. And ‘edgy’ is definitely a word I would use in relation to Farley as a character. He possesses that peculiar combination of confidence and anxiety which seems to be common among poets. Nervy, assured and punctured by self-doubt, Farley seems both vulnerable and buoyant – and yet the paradox yields an interesting tension, both in his character and in his work. This, I suppose, is the result of being perpetually and unstintingly ‘unhoused’.

The Deaths of the Poets (co-authored with Michael Symmons Roberts) is forthcoming from Jonathan Cape. Farley’s Selected was published last year. His radio adaptation credits include an updated adaptation of Charles Kingsley’s The Water Babies.

Amy McCauley is Poetry Submissions Editor for New Welsh Review




       


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