The Queensland Poetry Festival runs from 21 to 23 August. Graham Nunn has helped me to select three poets to feature on LiteraryMinded in the weeks leading up to the festival. A.F. Harrold is number one. Enjoy!
A.F. Harrold is an English poet and performer who does things with words that aren’t always normal. Although, that said, some of the things he does are quite normal. He has written a number of books (one of love poems, one of kid’s poems, two collections of comic poems and prose and pictures) and stood on stages at many poetry, cabaret and comedy events around the UK. When he was younger he entered and won a number of big poetry slams. He doesn’t do that now. The job of poetry has taken him to Canada, Denmark, LA and now is bringing him to Australia.
Photo by Jennifer Wicks.
Postcards from the Hedgehog
The poetic life…
I can’t imagine with any clarity what I’d be doing if I wasn’t living this poetic life. By which, of course, I simply mean being an artist. I don’t see the job of poetry as being any different (in the general sweep) to that of any other artist, except the materials are usually much cheaper – a pen and some paper and you’re away.
The point of this life is that you get to ‘report in’ – you get to pay attention to whatever aspects of your life and of the world that you want, and make a study, think hard, and finally form something out of it – whether it’s a sketch, a statue or a poem is by the by. But at the same time as this ‘pure art’ aspect a poet, or at least this poet, also has to make a living – pay the rent, buy a tin of beans from time to time and all that jazz – and so that leads you into other areas of the craft.
One of the strands that make up the ‘thing I do’ is performance poetry and comedy, which has a slightly broader opportunity to get seen, heard and paid for around the clubs and bars – so I stand up, show off and make people laugh (which is something I enjoy a lot). At the same time as this I write poems for kids (and a lot of my ‘adult’ comedy crosses over into this area – the only difference being in a school assembly at 9 in the morning (most of) the audience is sober, whereas in the cabaret club 9 at night…) which means I have the opportunity to go into schools and attempt to enthuse short people about poetry and language.
Another thing I do to keep the writing muscles flexed is to be a theatre reviewer for the local press – hack work, but I get to see every show that comes to town and never pay a penny, so it’s hardly a burden. So, in short, the reason I live this life plunged in poetry, rather than having a day job, is that no two days are ever the same – one day I’ll be in school jumping around for 9 year olds, the next I’ll be sat at home wrestling with metaphysics, that evening I’ll be out watching some play by the Bard, the next day I’ll be travelling to some grotty gig in a pub’s upstairs room, and so on and on. It’s the unpredictability of the thing, the fact that I’m my own boss, that I don’t have to get up early (except occasionally for school)… It’s a good life, and one to do with whatever you want. (Of course, it also means there isn’t a that regular pay cheque coming in at the end of each month, so it’s also a precarious life, but what’s life without the occasional fiscal panic and hasty visit to the bank manager?)
It’s impossible to make any easy answer as to the question of where inspiration for poems comes from – the obvious answer is, of course, ‘If I knew where it was, I’d be there right now, instead of wasting my time here.’ I suppose an artist has to keep their eyes and ears open and be ready to catch that passing spark as it leaps – it can be a fragment of conversation, a malapropism, an incident, a glimpsed encounter, a period of time in which nothing happens but nature going about its business, or the city going about its… it can be a memory, a vignette of your past that comes to mind when something in the present nudges you and dislodges it, it can be a hope, a wish, dream of the future, or of an alternative to today… it can be a book you read, a film you see, a meal you eat, a person you know, a person you don’t know… I do remember, however, that teacher I had at school, Mr Alexander, who was the first to tell the class that hackneyed but entirely true phrase – Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration. And there’s no arguing, even if on occasion a poem is inspired and writes itself, that this is true – however good the idea, it’s the work put into framing it perfectly, into highlighting and colouring the appropriate view in your poem, in your painting, in your sketch that makes the final result a success or not.
The Queensland Poetry Festival…
I’m delighted to have been invited to the Queensland Poetry Festival. I met some very wonderful, funny and peculiar women in London a year or two ago – an electro-retro-pop-poetry duo, Maiden Speech – and they mentioned this festival to me and somehow I’ve ended up on the bill. I’ve never been south of the equator before, and this first trip is only the most fleeting of visits, but with any luck it’ll all go beautifully and be a lot of fun and the beginning of a fruitful relationship with Australia and Australian poets. I really have no idea what I’m walking into.
Have a look at the QPF program.
Keep up to date on QPF happenings (and general poetry loveliness) on Graham Nunn’s blog Another Lost Shark.