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Interview: Alastair Clarke talks about Green Rain

Alastair Clarke is a New Zealander who returned to the Wairarapa in 2016 from several years in the UK. He grew up in Pukerua Bay, a little north of Wellington, and he believes he was very lucky to have been free to enjoy the wonders of growing up in a world defined by wild hills, bush and the sea. He feels he was also immeasurably lucky to have had a father who was a writer (for NZBC), who deeply inspired in him a love for literature. Alastair talks to NZ Booklovers.

Can you tell our readers a little about the poems in your collection, Green Rain?

The poetry very much reflects my quite fresh perception of my country after many years living abroad. Perhaps, also, the poetry has been stimulated by the new experience of living in a small country town in the Wairarapa: this, after living for long in the centre of a large city.

Poems also explore the inconstancy in perception eg how what we see is influenced by light; or by how parallax is a determinant. And, in New Zealand, how the land and coastlines, so familiar, have been, and continue to be, fashioned by such geological forces as quakes and volcanoes.

And poems concern the way in which our lives play out seasonally; in cycles; or even between tides (e.g. CYCLE). Underlying much of the poetry is how, as we collapse concepts or elements together, our capacity to see is enhanced (e.g. GREEN RAIN).

Are they all new work?

The majority of the poems are recent work.

What were the main influences for these poems?

The influencers have been the experience of re-seeing my country. Most recently, poems (e.g. COCOONED, UNMOVING) express the pervasiveness of the suburban experience – in contrast to the experience of living in the open, rural Wairarapa. Other influences have been attendance at musical gigs (e.g. jazz – a son is a jazz musician); visiting art galleries; illness…Certain impressions, expressions (e.g. an overheard striking, or compelling phrase or idea) stimulate ideas. Over-arching, as an influence, has been my interest in perception: in how we see and know our world essentially physiologically: through our multiple senses; and how our senses constitute a language – and a way of reading our world. Astonishment in experiencing such simple things as five gulls on a beach has inspired poems.

What is your routine or process when writing? Do you have a typical writing day?

I do not have a routine for writing, as such, though I tend to work in the afternoons – I am not a morning person! I work at my desk most days and enjoy working in my quiet, quite spacious, sun-warmed study.

What did you enjoy the most about writing these poems?

I feel a sense of calm upon the sensed “completion” of a poem. I do, however, work through multiple copies, and will daily alter, if only a little, what was felt to be finished. Indeed, I don’t believe that a poem is ever truly finished. The absorption in writing is in itself the joy.

Can you share a piece of good advice you've received about writing?

I have not received advice other than to work toward concision, and to avoid overly odd usages. This I am happy to share!

What advice would you give to writers of poetry starting out?

I would advise that simply writing every day, even if only a little (Flaubert considered a happily completed sentence a day’s achievement) is a good thing to do. And to write in any form is good. Not necessarily to embark upon poetry. Shift between genres.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I read a great deal. I have a profound, perhaps excessive interest, in politics, both nationally and globally. I enjoy reading scientific literature e.g. quantum theory/ theories. I am deeply concerned about the changing climate. I enjoy visiting galleries and attending films and musical events. And family.

“Green Rain” is the first book released by new publisher Ugly Hill Press. Why did you choose that publisher?

Deborah Coddington, the wonderful founder of Ugly Hill Press, chose me. I was delighted that Deborah enjoyed my poetry. I deeply admire Deborah’s dedication and love of the written word, and enterprise and care for her authors. I am confident that Ugly Hill Press will become a very significant imprint.

Is there anything else about your work you’d like to share with our readers?

I would simply say that I have in my poetry responded to something of the wonder and mystery of the world: to its changeability, its contrasts and also to its beauty. In poems like PONSONBY, or TO THE ANIMALS a different approach has been adopted. A writer’s work is various.

Green Rain is the first book published by Deborah Coddington’s Ugly Hill Press.


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