Where new writing finds its voice

Who’s afraid of the dark?

Olive Kohl-Skuttle

An interview with the poet Mark Waldron

Q: You have had a long career in advertising and came up with the classic ‘Daddy or chips?’ ad. But what is the best thing to put on chips? 

A: Damn it! That’s just too hard a question to start with… Oh, OK, vinegar. 


Q: You’ve been a member of Stammers [Roddy Lumsden’s writers group] for a long time, but you are a distinct and individual voice. Has that experience been easy? And how does being in the group help you as a writer? 

A: I suppose I assume everyone who’s interested in writing poetry (or making anything that wants to be considered in the category of art) must be trying to get to the same thing, just in various ways. I’ve always felt in every group I’ve been in that there was that common purpose. I think we’re all after the same fish but with an infinite variety of fish-catching contraptions.

On the second bit of the question, beyond the obvious stuff like checking if a particular poem is communicating anything and getting help with that, I’ve also been guided by fantastically well-read, serious-minded and generous teachers – Michael Donaghy, Roddy Lumsden and John Stammers – as well as all the other poets I’ve met in workshops. I can’t imagine doing without that help.  


Q: Your work has a quality of resignation to it, which, despite its darkness seems to be joyful rather than despondent. Do you agree with this reading?

A: Maybe my work imagines what it would be like to be resigned to the way things are. The act of writing might be a rebellion against that – against a particular and general psychological and cultural status quo. On the other hand it might not be… 

Also I do think there’s something upliftingly funny about this trap I feel I’m in, and I assume to some extent others feel they’re in.


Q: What is the best flavour of crisps? Ready salted, salt & vinegar, salt & shake, sea salt, or cheese & onion? 

A: Can I go for shake & cheese or ready & onion? Or would that be annoying? 


Q: Dogs populate your poems. Is that conscious?

A: No it’s not. I’d actually be very happy if there were no dogs in my work. There’s something about dogs in poems that irritates me, but I keep turning round and there’s another one sitting in a poem with a faraway look in its eye. 


Q: Are any of them salty dogs? 

A: I believe that the expression ‘salty dog’ can refer to a libidinous man. In which case Dougal is a salty dog. 


Q: What are your literary influences? 

A: I think you get influenced at a genuinely affecting level only when you’re very, very young – that’s how it is for me anyway. I read The Waves when I was thirteen or fourteen, and was definitely affected by that. Also bits of Eliot and Dylan Thomas – writers I was given to read at school or writers my parents recommended to me. I think what I saw in Eliot was how effective a particular kind of directness can be – although his meaning wasn’t clear to me, I was absolutely certain that he meant it and that made me sit up. Compared to that, nothing I’ve read since, no matter how much I’ve loved it, has influenced me other than in a quite superficial way. (I think!) 


Q: What are you thinking about in your author photo?

A: I’m thinking about how we are all going to die, myself in particular. 


Q: What is your favourite method of killing slugs? 

A: The chair – though that sizzling sound still haunts my dreams. 


Q: You read from memory at poetry readings. Is that a deliberate choice, or just a way not to use your glasses?

A: For me, reading off the page would only feel like doing half the job. Someone recently sent me some shots they’d taken of me at a reading where I was wearing my specs. I’d never realised they’re completely off-bonk – or my face is – or both. 


Q: Which poets are you currently reading?

A: The three books on the top of the pile next to my bed are by Don Paterson, René Char and James Wright.  


Q: What was wrong with the old dark? 

A: There was nothing wrong with the old dark. That’s exactly what worries me about the world. There’s a brand new dark about and I don’t like it.


Mark Waldron’s debut collection, A Brand New Dark, is published by Salt