Pirene’s Fountain interviews
With Oliver Lodge
Welcome David. We very much appreciate you taking time out of your busy schedule to answer a few questions for PF.
Would it be alright for you if we started with a few broad brush strokes?
Let’s tee off with a nice easy starter for ten. You have been writing and publishing great poetry for many years now. Can you give us the David Caddy line on what constitutes a truly great poem?
A great poem beguiles and reveals itself slowly over time, which is its true test. It might use any combination of poetic effects in unusual or different ways to draw the reader into its world. It could well have a balance of sound, musicality, narrative voice and structure, an exact placement of each word, precise use of detail for textual depth and a fresh resonance. It is of its moment and takes the reader somewhere unexpected.
Tell a little about your childhood and schooling David. Did your literary aspirations start early in life and can you remember any particular teacher, book or poem that lit the touch paper for you?
My poetry comes from the natural world and the people that inhabit that world where I grew up. There were no books in my childhood home apart from a set of encyclopaedia. I enjoyed Shakespeare’s poetry and the Greek myths at junior school. It was there that I felt excluded and marginalised. At Sturminster Secondary School the school was divided into houses named after local poets, William Barnes, Thomas Hardy, Robert Young and Walter Ralegh. I slowly discovered who they were. I had a good English teacher that encouraged reading aloud and a love of language and also a History teacher that encouraged questions and debate. I loved listening to the radio cricket commentaries of John Arlott, the poet and radical liberal thinker, and the great radio comedies, such as The Goons, Round The Horne and I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again, where word play dominated. Growing up in the Sixties was great fun. I began writing comedy sketches, monologues and poetry from the age of fourteen and started publishing poems at sixteen. I started performing at and organising events at eighteen.
Your literary magazine Tears in the Fence has been on the scene now for approaching 30 years! Can you tell us a little about how it started and how it has evolved? How does your editing job fit in with your poetry writing and with your other commitments?
It began as a literary magazine for the Green movement. The title stemmed from my protests against the fencing off of local rights of way and Sarah Hopkins involvement in the Greenham Common protests against nuclear weapons and Spare Rib magazine. From this twin interest in environmental and feminist issues, we quickly became internationalist in outlook and welcomed overseas contributors. Almost from the outset, one sixth of our readership has been international. Building on human rights, ecological and socially aware poetry, we evolved into a literary magazine with a clear identity and gradually widened our own reading and critical skills. We embraced an eclectic, as opposed to dogmatic, approach to publishing and essentially worked towards becoming an alternative magazine of poetics and wide reading.
I read submissions almost every day. I have had to adapt to reading more on the computer, whereas I used to carry submissions around with me to read whenever I had the chance. I tend to write in concentrated bursts of activity that involve complete immersion in the writing and so my editing work is done at different times. I have found ways to switch from creative to administrative tasks. It is harder to switch from writing in one genre to another in the same day, although I have always tried to do so. Wide and concentrated reading when you are not writing is important as are new experiences and discovering what is happening locally and nationally.
Let’s turn now to your recently published book The Bunny Poems. We understand that the ‘Bunny’ referred to is a friend of yours who provided inspiration for the collection. Can you expand on this at all and explain the relation to your earlier Willy Poems?
Bunny is both a narrative device and fictional character that is based on someone that I know and aspects of his experience. The poems are an imaginative reconstruction of parts of his story and possible accounts of things that someone like him may have experienced. Certainly Bunny lost his words and regained them, as does my character. The threads of the poems move out beyond singular experience to wider areas of recovery from any major debilitating trauma. There's an underlying theme of resistance there, to poverty, to the nature of class-relations, to the power of language as a tool for administration and for self-expression. The poems record a displacement and the shock of disconnection.
Bunny lived next door to Willy. I did not know this until relatively recently. They lived through the same historical period in the same town and felt the impact of local economic and social changes in different ways. They both lost their homes. One lost his life and the other his voice. My poems are an attempt to come to terms with their tragedies and to show something about the underlying matter of the local area.
The collection clearly displays your deep love of your locality in North Dorset and your obvious affection for nature and the rural idyll. Tell us about the importance of place in your poetry.
I don’t think that my mature work has much of a rural idyll!! It is mostly anti-pastoral. Identity is shown within place and language. So identity is seen through place and use of language. Bunny’s sounds and attempts to speak and his inner thoughts are shown within a dynamic landscape. There is a blurring between Bunny’s inner voice and a narrative voice. Bunny finds his voice in part from walking the fields and woodland and riverside and from drinking and getting down on his hands and knees at times. He experiences good and bad things. His confidence grows. There is an idyll in, for example, the birds and sentient creatures that he meets and considers. Some of the characters and locations appear in poems in my other books so that there is a continuity of people within a landscape over time. Hopefully there is joy and sorrow in my work, as Steve Spence wrote in Stride magazine (link), I attempt to marry a cavalier and puritan approach, of simply living in the moment, to offering an alternative vision of possibility.
There is a great attention to perception in the poems. Where does this come from?
Bunny is walking the landscape and looking for signs. He is focussing upon finding himself through memory and familiar places and experience of the present, perhaps to glimpse a future. It is a changed and changing landscape. He is attempting to come to terms with the vagaries of life in relation to the vagaries of a wild life. He aligns himself with ‘the scarcely visible’, and such a person, living in a caravan in a field without electricity, is scarcely visible to the wider world of bureaucracy, politics and government. He is one of our forgotten people. There is a psychology of perception present in the poems. A looking for the known and unknown.
In your poem ‘Signalled as Ox-tongue’ you write “I want to write and speak an entirely different and opportunistic language”. Does that line come close to encapsulating what poetry means for David Caddy?
The line encapsulates the inner thought of Bunny. It is his narrative voice that is speaking. He has to be opportunistic in order to survive, to find the next meal or drink. My relationship to that line is that I am attempting to give voice to those who are marginalised and do not have a voice. The ‘entirely different’ has a range of possible meanings for Bunny, the reader and myself. The ‘opportunism’ is more specifically Bunny’s need to adapt to new situations and conditions as they arise.
Throughout the collection we are left with the distinct impression of an environment and lifestyle under threat. Do you feel that you are recording or preserving something or merely documenting a decline?
Yes, it is under threat and it is in flux. The first section of the book is historical and marks some of the background to the second section. That section can also preface The Willy Poems in the same way. The second section is a specific sequence of experiences within a highly localised landscape and is offered as a documentary account of how seeing and walking a landscape can impact on the psyche.
Tell us about your new project ‘Fire’ and how you think it will fit in with your existing body of work.
These are predominantly love / relationship poems that explore the difficulties of finding and developing a loving relationship. They move from a broken relationship to the challenges of a new and deeper love. They are related to The Bunny Poems through the theme of troubled identities and the complex striving to reach a better place. The poems seemingly have hit a chord with readers / listeners. They are written from either a male or female perspective or sometimes both. They are often addressed to a figure and situation that changes throughout the sequence. There is a lot of dramatic tension and unresolved love, that is to say a desire to live and be happy in a new relationship. Voices from the natural world comment as well. Vagrants leave their mark on the locality. These are highly localised inner experience poems with light, darkness, joy and pain over time.
It has been said that the USA and UK are divided by a common language. Do you consider it important that our US cousins “get” the more British references in your work? Is the universality of your work something that you give consideration to?
I assume that you refer to specific detail. Some of that detail is universal and others less so. I don’t know that it matters that much. I think that the broader issues of my work apply and are relevant to situations in Africa, Australia and America. The specific details and their range of reference will, if necessary, emerge. We live in the age of search engines and so readers can use Google for unknown references. The anti-pastoral is global.
We’d like to finish by bowling you a couple of googlies David. The internet - good or bad for poetry? Text and internet speak – the English language successfully evolving or heading for extinction?
The internet is relevant to poetry in that we have search engines, dictionaries and parts of the canon and some ephemeral material online. One difference for poetry from say 1960 is that communication between poets is quicker and that the language is much closer to hand. Word of mouth, though, is still exceptionally important. So my answer is neither. Evidence suggests that the English language continues to successfully evolve into the world language. OMG for Oh My God and Lol for Laugh out loud are useful additions. Why not?
Thank you so much for taking the time to discuss your work and offer your wisdom to our readers David. We are confident that you will have added to your substantial fan base.