Andrew Oldham Interview
by Shanta Everington
Andrew Oldham was born in a Bolton Hospital in 1975. He grew up with dreams of rockets to Mars amongst washing lines and gossip. His poetry has been broadcast on BBC Radio Four Poetry Please. His first collection Ghosts of a Low Moon (Lapwing, Belfast) was published in 2010 to critical praise. He has been published in Ambit, The Interpreter’s House and The London Magazine. He continues to write but now lives in Yorkshire.
I caught up with Andrew to talk about poetry, writing and getting published.
Hello Andrew and welcome to The View From Here. How did you get into writing poetry?
I was a teenager; teenagers at some point will try their hand at poetry. After I got over this and believing I was another Coleridge, I started to write poems about observation. However, in those early poems I wrote about the romantic idea of love, of fictional dark beauties that could never be found on the margins of the industrial and rural landscape I grew up in. I gave these first attempts of dark beauties to an art model at the college I was attending in Wigan. That sounds bad. It sounds like a cheap chat up line akin to ‘come up and see my etchings’. It wasn’t like that, she was an old friend, a friend I drank with, caught the bus with and I was stunned when she walked into my A level Art naked. She asked to see my poems after a drunken boast that I wanted to be a poet. It went downhill after that. Her boyfriend found the poems in her handbag. He thought the dark beauties were her. He chased me all over town. She never spoke to me again, convinced that she was indeed the dark beauty. I blame the Romantics for my descent into poetry. Poetry can get you in trouble and it is always best to get into trouble for something you have done. My poetry since then has always been based to some extent in my experiences.
“I blame the Romantics for my descent into poetry.
Poetry can get you in trouble.”
You published several poetry pamphlets before your first full collection. Do you think the pamphlet is an important vehicle for poets?
Yes, those first three pamphlets, Technical Support, Columns of Frozen Light and Breathing Slowly were important. During my twenties I honed my craft, read loads, ditched styles that came to a thundering dead end. In my twenties I was a secret Larkin, Hughes, Plath, Sexton, Stevens, Bukowski and Bunting. I think poets learn by emulating. I learnt to work with my own form and rhythms that came largely from where I have lived and live now. I learnt to write work that could be read aloud and read alone. Those pamphlets chart that journey and thankfully they are out of print. For me, magazines are far more important. They taught me how to write a single good poem. I learnt to focus on line and image, take feedback and rejection from editors, to write for an ever changing market and readers. I think it is important that all poets support magazines by subscribing to them and submitting to them. Magazines are the lifeblood of the industry, they bring forth new and established voices, they allow readers to discover new poetry and magazines have a distribution that I never had with pamphlets.
Your first full poetry collection, Ghosts of a Low Moon has been met with critical acclaim. How did you go about putting the collection together?
You also have some poetry coming up in the Cinnamon Press anthology, Lung Jazz: Young British Poets for Oxfam. Can you tell me a bit about that project?
The Cinnamon Press 'Lung Jazz' showcases some of the finest young poets writing and performing today. All the profits from the anthology go to Oxfam. I am proud to have been selected to be in the anthology and I know that the editors, Todd Swift and Kim Lockwood did an amazing job in selecting the poets. It captures a moment in British Poetry of those Young British Poets who may be known to some but should be known to many more. The likes of Luke Kennard, Clare Pollard, Helen Mort and Chris McCabe spring to mind. I’m just happy to be amongst my contemporaries.
Do you have any interesting writing habits?
I never consider my writing habits to be interesting. Every poet approaches the page differently and it is foolish to copy any poet in the way they write. I write a lot, my notebook is always with me and I am always jotting something down or sketching something. I work my poetry in my notebook and only the final edit is typed up. This is due to my continuing deterioration in my health, I have spinal problems and this means I do not spend hours at the face of my computer. It hurts too much to be that stationary for too long. I write on the go. I edit on the go and then that final edit sits in a dark drawer for a month or longer, it relaxes as I move on. When I come back to it, I come as a reader and if it does not work, it is edited again. If in another month it still does not work, it never comes out of that drawer. I write a lot, I edit a lot and I am my harshest reader. However, my fiction writing habits are completely different and they involve the door to my office, if it’s closed I’m in the world of the story. If it’s open I am reading that world aloud and you can stop by and listen, and pass comment.
Are you heavily embroiled in the ‘poetry scene’, attending readings and performances and do you enjoy this side of the poet's life?
I used to be heavily embroiled in the performance poetry scene of the nineties. I was on a conveyor belt of readings, launches and events. I grew to hate it. I love a good reading, I love a well promoted reading, I adore an event that gets bums on seats and pushes poetry onto new audiences. I hate the stuffiness and the belief that if you put poetry on, people will come, they don’t. I enjoy all aspects of the poetry world, when that world is treated as a profession and not a hobby.
Do you have any advice for poets trying to get published?
Keep submitting, keep reading, subscribe to magazines, be polite, have a voice and don’t moan to an editor who rejects you. Treat rejection as a positive; see your day as incomplete until you get a rejection.
What’s the story behind the title of your website, Andrew Oldham’s Boneyard: The Neon Thoughts of Andrew Oldham?
It harks back to Ghosts and the sequence American Vignettes. The neon thoughts are from the Neon Boneyard in Las Vegas. It is a beautiful place where the old signs of the city, the casinos, the shows are stacked and left to die in the arid air. There is no better metaphor for our own journey through life. We have moments of glory, we have moments where we are forgotten and finally we all wear away but there is always that old glory behind our eyes.
What are working on now?
I am working on a second collection, a first novel and short fiction for a digital platform.
Is there anything else you would like to say?
Yes, there will be poets and writers who have dismissed the coming of the e-book but be careful. I was amongst the first wave of writers to use the web to produce original work. In the nineties many writers saw the web as a platform to reproduce work, that the web would never be anything other than a passing fad. All I would ask is always keep an open mind and see where it takes you, and if it’s really good journey, write about it or tweet it.
Thank you, Andrew, and the very best of luck with all your writing.
For more information on Andrew and his writing, please visit www.andrewoldham.co.uk