There are all kinds of romantic ideas about how you should behave as an artist. But starving in a garret, which I have done in the past, was not for me. Just recently, pockets full of air after moving house, I had a sequence of six freelance assignments being cancelled one after another – all for legitimate and completely random reasons. Suddenly worries were tugging at my sleeve like a tiresome child, saying ‘how can you be wasting your time on stupid POETRY when you are not earning any MONEY’. Luckily the pesky tyke has given it a rest lately as I have work again. Obviously, thanks to the work I’m now doing, I have no time to finish off the poetry I was able to start in the last few months, but was too twitchy to complete. The Catch 22 of real life.
Having returned from 15 or 20 years scribbling about locusts in the wilderness, I notice that the poetry world is now populated by poets who market themselves excellently through social media. Of course there are people who are giants in cyberspace, but Lilliputians on the page and vice versa. But I love the fact that the internet has opened up avenues to all kinds of writing. But I do get irritated by all the ‘on-message’, relentlessly positive stuff – almost as much as I do with passive aggressive self-righteousness. When the little homunculus of real life is goading me and I’m not feeling positive, I try to steer clear of cyberspace for a few hours. With my marketing hat on, I’d say sincerity is an undervalued commodity when building any kind of a brand, especially a personal one.
I prefer to get hold of a book or a pamphlet and read a collection. I want my attention to focus on what I’m reading, not see it on a screen where there are a bazillion other possibilities trembling with life at the touch of a finger or the click of a mouse. I felt this when I started and edited an e-zine around 2000-2003 called AnotherSun. Although it was quite obscure it featured the work of poets around the world and was visited by quite a few in its time.
One way to be successful, of course, is to focus on one thing and do it properly. A life lesson I have never been able to learn. If I had focused on AnotherSun for a few more years, for example, perhaps I could have been somebody, instead of sitting writing this at my computer screen like a bum.
But focusing on one thing is just not who I am. I wish I could because I think I would be a lot more successful. Poetry as my first love has cut the deepest, but I can never resist diversification.
The Opera I’m working on with Helen Russell, for example, is going remarkably well. We have settled into a good working arrangement, meeting regularly to discuss at length the section we are about to write, and how it fits with the shape of the whole piece. I write some words and Helen then scores them for singers and an orchestra. Naturally my bit is a good deal faster than Helen’s, but we already have nearly half an hour of music fully scored with words since February. I like writing these words as you can introduce as much fighting, sex, and stabby stuff as you like. After all, they lap it up in opera I’m told. More news of this when it happens.