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Angela Keaton

Interview by Jim Bennett

Angela Keaton was born in Wirral, Cheshire, U.K. Attended Notre Dame Grammar School, Liverpool and Institute des Ursulines, Brussels. Studied at Liverpool University, Edge Hill College, Ormskirk, Lancashire and recently gained an MA (Distinction) from Lancaster University.  She is soon to be giving an exhibition of poems on posters at Edge Hill College.

Where there any particular influences on you as a child which helped you to develop as a writer and poet?

 What has shaped and formed today’s ‘me’? Perhaps a home in which books were regarded as among the pleasures of life; reading in bed was a nightly luxury. Perhaps the influence of my, two years older, brother who pleaded for me to be allowed the freedom of the local library before the then statutory age of seven.

How has reading poetry influenced your development?

Poetry seduced me. Latin chants and Victorian hymns gave me a taste for metre and rhythm. An enthusiastic junior school teacher infected me with a love of the sounds of words. What did it matter that, when I read John Masefield’s poem ‘Cargoes’, I had no idea what ‘quinquireme’ was, nor could I place ‘Ophir’ on a map? I could roll the words off my tongue and revel in the magic. In my teens I ‘loitered palely’ with Keats and wept for dead soldiers with the war poets. My mother gave me a book, which she had treasured since girlhood. I remember its green suede cover and brittle wafer thin pages as well as I remember the poems by Wordsworth that were within it.

By this time I had made two assumptions about poets; they were all, except Christina Rossetti, men and they were all dead. Later I discovered, to my astonishment, that Walter de la Mare wrote the poem ‘The Traveller’ only shortly before I first read it. I also discovered that women did write poetry, but that, for reasons either of merit or prejudice, little of it was published in anthologies. Art and Architecture interested me and I was familiar with style changes in the 50’s and 60’s but was less aware of literary Movements. The beat poets did not howl loudly enough for me to hear them in darkest Devon, where I then lived, nor, to the best of my knowledge, did the Liverpool poets perform in Tiverton.

In the late sixties I visited an exhibition of ‘Concrete Poetry’ and discovered that poets were alive and well, if albeit impecunious, and that their poetry was evolving. I explored the then contemporary poetry. I visited, with Ginsberg, a ‘Supermarket in California’, plunged into depression with Sylvia Plath and watched the aftermath of  ‘Whitsun Weddings’ with Larkin. During this period I continued to read poets of the past and was particularly attracted by the enigmatic nature and concise brevity of Zen writing.

I learnt that not all poetry lies divided evenly into lines and stanzas. It can masquerade as prose or lie haphazardly on the page as if shaken from the brain. Poetry can be what the poet chooses to make it, but it must strive to be the perfect expression of thought.

In recent years you have studied poetry, has that affected the way you view poetry or the way you produce it?

Recently I have been aware of the influence of the French Oulipo poets with their preoccupation with potentiality and mathematics. One version of Raymond Queneau’s ‘One Hundred Thousand Million Poems’ was the basis for my work ‘One Sonnet’. I used all the words from Queneau but none in their original order, the form was potentially sonnet but I chose to disturb the metre to prevent it fulfilling that potential.

The American Language Poets provided further fuel for my thoughts. Lyn Hejinian’s ‘My Life’ was the stepping off point for my ’Singular’. I did not however use her time scale or my poem would have run to several volumes.

I envy Dylan Thomas his fluency, the linguistically innovative nature of his writing. I admire the way in which Peter Finch divorces words from their contexts (Words Beginning With A From a Government’s Welsh Assembly White Paper). In it he wrings from an arbitrary collection of sounds entirely new significance, and travels from a stuttering assembly, through appointments, administration and agencies, to Welsh wishing wells. He makes his point more cogently than any un-deconstructed White paper ever could. Maggie O’Sulllivan makes words dance in space and draws from them such heart felt emotion that they bleed on the page.

I admire these writers but have no wish to write as they do. Rather would I use their influences to enrich my own writing.

So are there particular areas you want to explore with your work?

I plan to investigate further the nature of relationship, chaos and coherence. Is existence dependent on random circumstances or is it part of an evolution of interaction, seeded in the infinite past, influencing the present and forming the foundation of the future?

Living in The Far East and South America changed my perspectives. I saw the world not from an exclusively Western European, Christian, point of view. I was influenced by other cultures and political stances and by different religious beliefs. I re-evaluate my acceptance of the Western theory that time is linear and give consideration to the Eastern acceptance of time as being cyclical. Perhaps events are discrete, co-existent but contiguous, existing in all dimensions of time and space.

One of the aspects of writing that I am currently exploring is the graphics of poetry. The visual aspect of my work is always important to me but the emphasis varies. The difference between my visual and verbal work is a matter of degree.

I am interested in the ways that my work, particularly the more visual pieces can be performed, for this reason I take every opportunity to give readings to a variety of audiences. I encourage members of these groups to participate in the performances; thus, through their input I continually gain new insights into my own works.

My poems are not all confined to sheets of paper; some are installations. They may not contain words or if they do the words or letter may shift or change position on their axes. Sound, colour, or even sense of smell may be incorporated. My works are uninhibited by barriers of genre and art form.

Do you have any strategies for planning or writing poems?

Ideas for poems or poetics may occur haphazardly, suggested by place, event or my reading. I keep a Journal so that I may preserve this material until I find an appropriate moment to use it. Although I refer to ‘a Journal’ at times it consists of a collection of envelopes, menus, scraps of paper tucked into the back of my diary until I have an opportunity to archive it.

I try to write, as far as other commitments allow, every day and at a regular time. While the creative impulse may strike in any circumstances my development of ideas takes place at a large table, with plenty of space for me to spread out drafts and reference books, or at my computer. The acquisition of a new machine to replace my somewhat antique model has made me eager to experiment with its potential as a tool for my art.

My thoughts and my writing are inextricably joined, one being born from the other in a two way process. Therefore comment about writing is concealed within my work.

This commitment is I think explicit in your work and your performance of it.  I think it has a degree of integrity which is rare.  How would you like your audience to view it?

I would wish to see myself described as a serious poet whose work showed integrity, insight and imagination; one willing to take risks, be innovative and experimental. Above all I would choose to be known as a lover of words.

In my work I do not strive to impose my thoughts on other people, rather to give them the opportunity to interpret as they wish, to make of my ideas their poems. It would please me if my efforts might stimulate others to analyse new work, experiment with unfamiliar forms and to have courage to expand their literary vision.