Please Hear What I'm Not Saying
How did you come to write poetry?
Reading the lyrics of I Am The Walrus by The Beatles on a bus coming back from Largs in 1978. I hadn’t heard the song but the words intrigued me and I started coming up with my own variations.
A lot of your poems are autobiographical. Why did you choose to tell these stories through poetry rather than prose?
I have two main autobiographical themes in my current batch of poems - the circumstances of my birth and adoption and my lifelong battle with dyspraxia, even though I didn’t know it was called dyspraxia until I was 42. The internet delivers screeds of information and opinion to us every day but I value the white spaces on the page, hence poetry rather than prose. If there is a spiritual element to this at all it comes from laying the words on the page, not that I go in for particularly spare or enigmatic layouts. Also I want to keep some things private. That's a responsibility I have and I take it very seriously. The responsibility my poems have is to impose some sort of order that my everyday self can’t manage. As a dyspraxic with organisation issues that’s important to me.
How does dyspraxia affect you?
Co-ordination and concentration problems impact on every aspect of my life. They always did, before I had a name for them. My brand of dyspraxia affects my fine motor co-ordination, my concentration and short-term memory and has given me an increased sensitivity to loud noises - balloons bursting, fireworks, etc. It's not a quirk or a phobia - it's how my brain processes the noise. It has always been socially embarrassing. I think my physical awkwardness was a contributing factor in getting bullied at school, although there were other pretexts. One time I came home at lunchtime with my blazer covered in spit. About five classmates in Arithmetic class had decided to gob all over me. When I asked one of the perpetrators why he'd done this he said it was because he'd heard that I was adopted. I got punched after History class because people thought my surname was German. But it all boiled down to not having the manual dexterity to defend myself.
It can't have helped and I didn't have any understanding of how various difficulties I had were linked. I've always been a poor sleeper and I'm always fighting frustration about my inability to keep up with certain tasks. They call dyspraxia the hidden disability and it's insidious. I would trade nearly anything to have the skill set of a regular guy, believe me. I don't believe having dyspraxia has given me any special insight. Perhaps past difficulties and bad decisions on my part give me the impetus to keep going as a writer in my fifties and keep moving forward.
What is your ultimate goal as a poet? In other words, what do you hope your words, out there in the world, will do?
I would like a body of work out there in a physical format that people can hold. I had a short-run book out a while back, beautifully illustrated by a friend of mine, but which left a few boxes unticked that I'd want a publisher to get right next time - get an ISBN that works, send it to the British Library, etc. I'd like to have a proper book, then another and another. Art is its own reward but I hope not to operate in a vacuum. I’d like to produce work with something to say about my feelings, some sort of USP. I stopped writing poetry when I started writing songs. I made seven albums of original songs under my own name and if you listen to them there’s some catchy tunes and clever wordplay (I couldn't escape my influences) but you won’t hear too much about what I might call the real me. But then again I’ve only known my true identity for under three years, after having my adoption papers opened and investigating from there.
If you could make music that reflected how you saw the world what would it sound like?
Unknown Pleasures by Joy Division, produced by Martin Hannett.
What are you working on right now? How do you want your poetry to evolve?
I’ve been working on a series of poems about my adoption. My birth mother came from Canada to give birth in Edinburgh and them flew back again. I come with a backstory, much of it new to me. Whether or not it all comes out as a collection, though, I don’t know. Some of these poems only work in conjunction with others. I’m also trying to say how my adoptive mum and dad got a bit of a pig in a poke with me. In 1963 no-one knew what dyspraxia was beyond clumsy child syndrome and it took me to 2005 to hear the term myself. I think that the buffeting effect of the condition compounded my insecurity as an adoptee and continues to influence my behaviour and reactions. If I don’t take the chance to discuss these issues in my work, I’m just writing for effect and there will be no development. I guess if I had the chance to have a book or pamphlet published now of poems not directly referencing my birth story, I would base it on my poems which ring true to me about how I see, and have always seen, the world. Living with dyspraxia really alters your perception, I think. I don't particularly feel "on the spectrum" as some dyspraxics do, but I feel many of my thinking and behavioural habits have been influenced by reacting to the condition for so long. You won't see me in poetry slams, effervescing about politics or examining my Scottish identity. If I get a collection of my birth story poems published I'd include a quote by the Canadian poet David Helwig: "..nationality is an accident of time, like love." I'm interested in conveying my individual take on things and hoping it chimes with someone else’s.
What’s the most challenging part of writing a poem?
1. The ending. 2. Not repeating yourself. But 2 doesn't matter that much. Just don't repeat anyone else - and if you do, credit them.
How did you get involved with the MIND poetry project?
I think I saw a posting in the Federation of Writers Scotland page on Facebook and thought I’d have a go. I’m pleased to have this poem in such a worthwhile collection. The poem that the editor, Isabelle Kenyon, chose, is pretty much a direct description of me attending therapy in Dunbar, which was prompted by some OCD thoughts I was having, worrying about asbestos. I’ve had therapy over the years for various things – sleep, mainly. Years ago I was given a monitor to attach to myself to monitor my sleeping patterns. It didn’t work, I no doubt attached it wrongly. The therapy sessions in Dunbar turned out to be art-based. I’d always been terrible at Art, literally bottom of the class, because of the hand-eye coordination thing. The Technical Drawing teacher thought I'd wandered in from remedial class. But these sessions gave me the feeling I had when writing a song – the freedom to go wherever my imagination took me and circumnavigating my limitations. Sometimes I was found wanting in a group situation as a musician but I could make something decent when left to my own devices. Turned out the same with the artwork. It lowered my stress levels too and helped take care of the OCD.
The other thing that helped was reading conspiracy theories in blogs and on Facebook. My rational mind kicked in and I could see that my daily obsessions were colouring my thoughts in a similar way to those of conspiracy buffs. That was a revelation and I was able to stand outside my thought process then. That really shook me out of OCD.
So therapy is a theme in your work that you feel comfortable with?
Yes. Reading and writing poetry can be therapy, regardless of the subject, but my experiences of therapy sometimes become the subject. I wrote a poem called Settler’s Song that was published in an online journal a couple of years back which I’m also happy with because I think it gets to the gist of how I felt at sleep therapy sessions years ago. It still resonates with me and is all the better since I chopped the last stanza. One time, soon after my dyspraxia diagnosis, I was attending a private therapy clinic in Glasgow. The drummer in my band at the time had been going and said they could treat dyspraxia. He was the kind of guy who would tell you what he thought you wanted to hear and of course when I got there they’d never heard of it. It was a well-meaning but quite hippy-dippy establishment set in a vast old redbrick school building. Plus, they wanted something like forty quid an hour and after two visits I couldn’t afford it. They suggested instead an “exchange of energy”. I wasn’t sure what that meant but it turned out they would continue to treat me if I painted their ceiling. The day I was supposed to do this I ended up in hospital with severe stomach pain and spent the night in a ward. I’ve made up a poem about that but not submitted it anywhere yet. I do see therapy and interventions as a theme I’m developing and having my poem Therapy Session included in this MIND anthology, Please Hear What I’m Not Saying, encourages me. When I was working on the batch of poems about my adoption, I often thought about my birth mother listening to the clock ticking in a strange room 3,000 miles from home the day she visited the adoption agency – Saturday April 6th, 1963. I worked for a while as a support worker on a zero hours contact, so I’ve seen these things from various positions.
When is Please Hear What I’m Not Saying published?
The expected date of release is Thursday the 8th, on Amazon. It consists of poems from 180 poems written by 116 poets and I'm very happy and honoured to be one of them.