An interview with Paul Farley

Paul Farley read his commissioned poem for the first time.

Paul Farley appeared at Palace Green Library on Saturday evening as part of the final weekend of Durham Book Festival 2014. He is an award-winning poet, author and broadcaster, as well as a professor of poetry at Lancaster University. The Bubble went along beforehand to find out more.

You have been appointed as this year’s Festival Laureate – congratulations! Have you had a say in the format or line-up of the DBF? Who were you looking forward to seeing in particular? What has your role entailed so far?

Thank you. My main concern has been writing a poem for it, which involves a lot of staring into space and doesn’t look like I’m doing anything at all. I’m looking forward to it all, and hope it’ll be a celebratory weekend, and that people will discover a few new voices – I think that’s the most valuable thing any festival can do.

Are you able to give us any hints as to what we can expect from your specially commissioned poem or the special event?

At the moment – and this might well change – all I can really say is ‘worms’.

Your most recent collection is The Dark Film, so let us take a moment to look back on a few key themes which seemed to be at the forefront of the poems. A concern for the environment came across, particularly in ‘Newts’. Do you feel a kind of responsibility in your role as a poet and author in the public eye?

Your first responsibility has to be to your work, I think. You’ve a responsibility not to write poems that suck, not to churn out counterfeit goods, not to strike postures… Actually, it’s a very long list, but one key thing is to find a way of staying excited by what you’re doing. I think subject matter is very secondary to that sense of just heating up the language and making it do stuff. My themes recur, and there isn’t a great deal I can do about it.

With that poem in mind, childhood seems to be another key theme in your poetry. Do you think this signifies a kind of nostalgia for the past?

I’m probably more interested in the history of nostalgia.

How do you think The Dark Film compares to your previous collections? Do you see the collections as representative of different stages of your life, a personal odyssey if you will?

I guess not, because there isn’t any thematic chronology, and nor is there any real biographical continuity. I’d hope there’s a different kind of unity displayed over time, but I don’t think I’ve ‘developed’ much, which I accept can be viewed as a Bad Thing in some quarters. It’d be nice to make a huge formal leap, but it’d be daft to try to impose it or foist it on the work.

Do you have a particular poem that you are especially proud of writing? For instance, something that would provides a snapshot of what a new reader could expect from your work?

I’d like to think I haven’t written that poem yet!

Your collaboration with Michael Symmons Roberts, Edgelands, was quite different to what you had done previously! Can we expect to see more from you in the way of non-fiction prose?

That was a holiday from poetry, and it was great, but I was glad to come home. We’re going there again, the land of prose non-fiction, and writing another book together, yes.

Some people might say that poetry has gone out of fashion in a way, certainly it is not recited and learned by rote in the same way that it used to be. What would you say to this? Do you think it is an inevitable process, or do you think poetry can be/ is being revived?

It’s always in and out of fashion, always more or less unpopular, compared to other cultural activities. There’s an argument about how there are so many other cultural forms demanding our attentions these days, but I suspect poetry will outlast us all in one form or another. People will still be writing it and turning to it when we’re all long gone. If you want to be hugely popular or fashionable, you’re in the wrong shop. You’re in the meter cupboard.

With your considerable list of prizes and achievements, I feel that you’re a good candidate for this particular question! Do you have any advice for the aspiring writers amongst our readers?

To put it very simply, there’s no rush.

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