Friday, 22 June 2018 - Author Interviews Interview with A Poet's Notebook author Stewart Henderson

Stewart Henderson is a bestselling poet, broadcaster, and songwriter. Lion Books is delighted to publish his new book, A Poet’s Notebookout today!

A Poet’s Notebook contains 21 of Stewart’s poems and each poem is preceded by an engrossing commentary on the sources and development. British wit and poetry at its best.

Here’s an interview with Stewart about his new book, running poetry workshops for children, and the purpose of poetry in our lives:

What does poetry mean to you?

Film produced by Out Of The Ark

How did A Poet’s Notebook come together as a collection?

I had a number of unpublished poems in my ‘topping up the repertoire’ folder, which I’d been road testing. I met, Ali Hull, former Commissioning Editor at Lion Books, in 2016, and she asked whether there was anything further I’d like to publish? Lion published two of my children’s poetry collections, Who Left Grandad at the Chipshop? and All Things Weird And Wonderful. After thinking about it, I sent her a proposal for A Poet’s Notebook and once Ali got the book green-lighted, we were off. So, I have Ali to thank for getting the book contracted!

Do you have a favourite poem in A Poet’s Notebook, and, if yes, why?

They all have a resonance for me, but if I had to choose one, then it would be Blind Date, in which King Kong (the 1933 film version) and I bond over the dark matter of betrayal.

I like to think that Blind Date doesn’t beat its chest (use of apt gorilla cliché, there) but rather ‘parts the fog’ of wounding duplicity in an attempt to self-heal, and understand the ‘little steps pact’ betrayal makes with the shadows.

How do you think you’ve evolved as a poet over the years?

I would like to think I’ve become a ‘wider’ thinker and observer, and that there is a substance and a rigour to my work now.

What’s the best experience you’ve gained through your writing?

Failing…and seeing it as such. I have been fortunate over the last 30 years to actually be published. But in the early years, I didn’t know how to go about it. I rather stumbled around with a vague determination that, like Wilkins Micawber, ‘something will turn up’. Well, sometimes the ‘something’ didn’t turn up. Then what to do? Determination, focus and persevering application are basically the ‘special forces’ that assist at such times. I’ve called upon them to move me forward then, and still do now.

What inspired you to create poetry workshops for primary school children and what have you learned by running them?

In the 1980s, I became ‘a children’s poet’ after being asked to submit poems for children’s anthologies for several publishers. A short while after, I started to receive invitations from Primary Schools to conduct writing workshops, and that has continued since, with my agent, Authors Aloud UK.

I conduct writing workshops because I love it, and deem it an immense privilege. My job is to let the students fly. They will then decide their own flight pattern – poet, novelist, illustrator etc. What I’ve learnt is to let the times in class be times of ‘unstructured structure’. It’s very fulfilling to write a class poem in 45 minutes, and see the children realise, ‘we did that’. One child said to me recently, “this is the best day in school I’ve ever had…ever!”

Do you think poetry has a purpose? Is there something particular that good poetry ought to do?

Poetry brings, at times, the unfathomable to the surface and gives the struck-dumb, appropriate speech. A great example is Tony Walsh’s This Is The Place, performed publically following the murder of 22 people and the injuring of 59 people at the Manchester Arena in May 2017. A group poem is solace, counsel, and can bring, counter intuitively, Psalm-like equilibrium in the most ghastly and numbing of circumstances.

As for what poetry ought to do? On a singular level, poetry can help us to hear our own voice, and that of ‘the good others’ in a thunderous wind tunnel. Effective poetry should just try to say….and never to count the cost.

What poets inspire you?

Goodness, where to start? Of late I’ve been feasting on Wendy Cope’s latest collection, Anecdotal Evidence. Subtle, sagely poems on the human condition. Carol Ann Duffy observed that poetry and prayer are very similar. That ‘twinning’ could be applied to Wendy Cope’s verse. Her poems are concise, and hence expansive, resting in the heart of the recipient like a whispered, earnest prayer, well they do for me anyway. I’ve also returned, like a pilgrim, to two, almost operatic, American poems. Walt Whitman’s Song Of Myself – ‘all truths wait in all things’.

When you’re not writing poetry, where can we find you?

Staring out the window - any window. Or, at present, on the rota of presenters for Pick Of The Week for Radio 4, and then the airwaves. And, due for release in July, on our new album Vesper Sky — with my poems and songs interpreted by the sublime, Scottish singer-songwriter, Yvonne Lyon with her musical maestro husband, David. On Vesper Sky, you will hear two remarkable female ‘vocalists’, Yvonne on the songs, and Carol, my wife, reading some of my poems. Carol’s talents have been called on for various theatre and Radio 4 readings over the years. Once heard, you can understand why. I am blest to have two such exquisite interpreters of my words. I’m in there as well…it’s the way I tell ‘em.

Enjoy reading The Poet's Notebook! Buy your copy here.