Freeze Frame Anthology. Featured Poet, Jo Von Bargen

Many lives are unfulfilled. This is a big statement and of course, I only know a few people. Yet, we know it do we not? So much tempting fruit is dry, so many talents lie unexpressed. I have been a life long reader of poetry and have come across many beautiful and thoughtful poems. But you know, there was never quite enough juice. There was never that stepping stone to the beyond that I wanted to imagine. I had not expected to see the sort of poetry that I had always wanted to read and could never write myself. Then, I came across Jo Von Bargen based on a recommendation from the American novelist Bert Carson. His tip led me to Jo’s long poem “From This Far Time“. This work has become one of my all time favourite books. The scope is huge and the imagery quite breathtaking. In a sweep she conveys slavery and apartheid with the “‘plowmule sky of dragging days”. The evolution of life from the prehistoric mud is “a glissando of slow subterraneans”. In this poem, she takes on the formation of life, its degradations at the hand of man and states a pure philosophic truth that “No law can transform/What the soul hasn’t learned”.

I would make no secret of the fact that Jo was one of the inspirations for “Freeze Frame”. Like the other contributors she is distanced from the official establishment of poetry.Good job too – she would break it in half! She cares nothing for fashion or trends. Her subjects are the whole of life. Her physical voice and accent is a joy – just so full of notes and humanity. As a teaser here is a special treat. 

In the run up to publication I interviewed Jo.

I’m so happy that you have been able to contribute to Freeze Frame. I have looked for a variety of subjects and approaches to poetry for this anthology. To me you are an absolute master of imagery. You have that ability to connect the reader to an idea with a sudden picture insight or juxtaposition. Is this a gift or something you have worked on?

Thank you so much, Oscar! And sincerest gratitude for all your hard work on this project! You are a fantastic editor to work with.

I am grateful for the gift, and I have consciously worked to develop whatever talent is there. I have always best learned from a word picture, so I was sure others would respond to it as well. It has served well in the overall body of my work, it turns out.

Did you just wake up one day and realise you were a poet? Did you receive encouragement early on in your development?

Poetry has always been natural to me. My Mother saved poems I wrote from the age of six onward. I think I really got the bug seriously in the early nineties when I first read all the Beat poets, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac (although he would argue that label for himself), Gary Snyder, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and many, many others. Bukowski was a particular favorite as well. I had been reading Erica Jong and was enchanted by her poetic form. I’d never, ever read anything so truthful at its core. She was absolutely fearless, like Bukowski. So, 1990 onward was a particularly frenzied time for me in seeking to develop my voice and style. “From This Far Time” came out of that period.

To me your style is entirely unique with its jazz, classical, objective, scientific, emotional, joyful and despairing tones among many others. Where does your poetry come from and who has influenced you?

Hmm. See previous for influences. Thanks for that, Oscar. I’ve always had a deep curiosity about the sciences and all the arts, so I have studied these areas intensely. Knowing how things work is very important to me. I think it all mostly comes from my life-long ability to get to the truth of a matter. As a child, I got a spanking nearly every day for blurting out unwelcome truths at home. I never seemed to have the “veil” over my eyes like others did. Everything was crystal clear from the start. I could smell adult BS a mile away (except from boyfriends), and regularly voiced it….to my own detriment. I never fit into the form in which they were trying to mold me; I suppose I knew life was NOT what they said it was and I wasn’t going to be trained like a circus seal. Needless to say, I was considered the “black sheep” of the family, even to this day.

How do you work? Is it always inspiration or can you grind out that difficult line with doodles and re-writes?

When I’m out walking, sometimes a thought will strike me from the blue and it will tumble around in my mind for a couple of days before I finally have to get it out and follow the thread. I often don’t know what I really think about it until the poetry begins spilling out. It is this art form that has educated me, for sure, and led me down research paths that have vastly enriched my knowledge base. Sometimes it comes out perfectly formed, and sometimes I have to dink around with it until what I was searching for becomes crystal clear. Usually a subject to which I have great emotional attachment blasts out just as I intend it. Anger or sorrow are great creative motivators. In addition, I’m often inspired by other poets and the subjects on which they write. I seem to be attracted to arcane or unpopular topics in society as a whole and dig deeply into those as well. Secrets and mysteries beg to be unravelled!

Do you remember your first poem and how did it come about?

As I remember, it was about my little golden Cocker Spaniel puppy, when I was six years of age. Our neighbour found her dead of poisoning in her back yard and brought her home in an apple basket. It was my first experience with death and emotional loss. I could not find relief from deep mourning until I wrote about it.

Freeze Frame features the physical voice of the poets. I love your accent and the feeling in your voice. Your featured poem “Pole Dancing” was recorded live. This poem always gives me a big smile and a WOW feeling. Are you an experienced live reader?

Thank you, Oscar! In the nineties I lived and worked on campus at Southern Methodist University and was a featured poet at many a poetry reading (non-academe). The campus newspaper regularly published my work. In addition, a nearby bookstore, Shakespeare Books, had open mic every Friday night, and I read a lot there. I miss those days! Poetry lovers are a pretty scarce breed out here in East Texas.

Where do you think your own poetry is going and where do you think poetry in general should go? Have you ever been part of the poetry establishment?

I hope my poetry goes in a positive direction and that I can add sufficiently to my life lessons that my work will reflect thoughts that will enlighten others. Society is changing very fast, and I believe humanity will reach new heights of enlightenment and oneness with others.

I have never been part of the poetry establishment, period. I’d rather stick a needle in my eye. One must fit into a certain mold and work a certain way within those halls, and it’s my opinion that true creativity is often squelched before it can fully develop. There is also a level of snobbery within it that is totally against my own nature. No thank you!

It was fascinating to see Jo’s responses. In the foreword to Freeze Frame I describe her as pure poet rock with all its glinting impurities. You don’t have to wait for the anthology to check out her work. I can guarantee that some of her images in words will live on in your mind. She is a rare talent indeed.

We proceed with the work of getting this book out there. The poems are formatted. All the bios and pictures are are in the right places. The active contents page will be fun as always! The audio files are all ready to organise and configure. I don’t work on this side of stuff. Seems simple enough to me…….

Freeze Frame Poetry Anthology. Featured Poet, Paul Tobin.

Paul Tobin

Today I am featuring the poet Paul Tobin who will be appearing in the ‘Freeze Frame’ anthology which Gallo-Romano will be publishing. I came across Paul’s work about a year ago and started to follow his blog, Magpie Bridge. I’ve since had the pleasure of meeting him and having a ‘Dinner With Andre’ session. (Until I met Paul I had been unaware of this film, but he was kind enough to share it with me. I think it says something about him).

Paul is a dedicated and gifted English poet. His work has a quality of depth in construction that shrugs off ornament.   He is one of those guys who is poetry. Everything he comes across and thinks about begins a process of conversion into poetry. When you are around him you begin to see that we are living in a world of unexpressed poems. Much of his poetry centres around his birthplace of Widnes. Here is one of them, taken from his collection ‘Blessed By Magpies’

Widnes Bridge Poem.

Back to the Delta,
Up the Muddy Mersey,
Over the green bridge
Whose struts define the space
Of this gentle arc.
It is never still,
It shudders at the traffic,
Undulates with the volume.
And on a day like this; raw,cold,
That lazy wind would slice through
The cantilever and splay your guts below.

For me, this poem exemplifies Paul’s style. The flesh of the living human, Nature and the bridge engineering flow into an exposure of reality which is just a little edgy and dipped in mortality.   As we get close to the launch of the Freeze Frame anthology, I interviewed Paul about his work.

Long before I had started the Freeze Frame project I was aware of your work. I read one of your poems where some men were working on the roof of some kind of factory. Immediately I realised that you were my kind of writer and that we probably had many experiences in common. Coming from a blue collar life of toil and grease; was it easy to come out as a poet?

I was a poet, well aspiring to be a poet, long before the grease and overalls. I suppose I made an existential decision that I was going to be a poet when I was twelve years old. I heard Songs from a Room by Leonard Cohen that would be about the time it came out. I made the connection between him being a poet and getting the girls. It took about another twelve years before the work was anything but awful. But I kept at it with a mixture of naivety and enthusiasm.

I left school at 16 and served an apprenticeship. I was a fitter for a further four years at the local ICI plant. K Unit Maintenance to be precise, which was the title of the poem to which you refer. I wrote it sixteen years after I had left the tools. At the time I was in engineering it would never have occurred to me to write about what I did at work, at that time I was writing mainly about relationships, with the self-absorption of the young.

Looking at your style I notice an enormous range of references. Nature often blends with anecdotal story. The metaphysical often comes down to the personal. Have you always had a questioning mind about existence? Is there a wider quest always in the back of your mind as you write a poem about the specific subject – even if it be an apparently ordinary moment of life?

I have no idea where poems come from, they appear out of the ether and I just grab them and work upon them. I have this idea that poems are all around us and poets happen to be the people who see them then bring them into our world. This sounds a little odd, pretentious even, but is the only way I can describe the experience. Once the poem is here though, caught on the page, being revised and revised through as many drafts as it takes, then I can see where the ideas have come from. But while I am getting the initial idea down I just let it flow with no attempt to shape it that comes later.

Until recently I was a member of a writing group for about four years and what I liked about it was the challenge of sitting down in a room and having twenty minutes to produce something on a set topic. I like the idea of being put on the spot and see what come out. I facilitate a poetry group here in Taunton: Juncture 25, we meet twice a month and one of the sessions is a workshop (can’t get away from the language of engineering)and I usually run the session. I love the challenge and try not to plan it too far in advance, so as not to give my subconscious a head start.

Some of your work is political in the sense that it raises issues of public behaviour and people’s perception of their society. Are you interested in politics and where do you think the poet should stand – as a neutral reporter or advocate of a viewpoint?

I believe that the poet must stand by their beliefs. That said I am not sure what I believe in these days. I think I am interested in ethics more than politics. I cannot see a way forward politically, I think we went wrong as a society probably before I was born, I certainly think we have taken many foolish steps since then. But that’s another interview I think…

Poets attempt to turn the personal into the universal, that’s what I’m looking to do once I catch that idea on the page. And there are dangers in making a poem too overtly political, one is that it will age badly, but more importantly I don’t want a finger pointing, obvious work, that batters the person over the head.

In my last book Blessed By Magpies, there is a version of a poem I am still working on. End of Species Exam is just that the equivalent of an end of year exam in school. On the page it is about forty hectoring lines, in performance it has reduced to about fifteen. I want people to think, not to bludgeon them with a set of simple slogans.

One of your poems is called “Prayer” which is a conventional religious term. The poem, however, has a searching pantheistic flavour which does not seem to relate to a codified theistic viewpoint. Often in poems and blogs you give thanks for your privileged life. What can you tell us about the spiritual context of your work?

Yes. I think it is important to give thanks for our privileged lives, we have enough to eat, to drink, we are not in danger of losing our lives, and we are better off than many of our fellow humans.

I have been very influenced by a sixteenth century English mystic, Thomas Traherne. He speaks of delighting in the success of your neighbours as much as in your own success, of wanting the best for everyone. His most famous quotation is:

You never enjoy the world alright till the sea itself floweth in your veins, till you are clothed with the heavens and crowned with the stars.

It is such an inspiring vision and one I try to live up to. I have no formal codified viewpoint as you point out. I am though influenced by the Tao. I think the idea of Balance is really important. For me it is essential to have a personal relationship with the Creator, and to give thanks for the beauty around us and the privileged life that I have.

I suppose I have been drifting in this direction for most of my life. I like working in groups with other people, I like that energy of creating that you get in groups. I have influenced by my work as a Rieki Master, I think it is that growing sensitivity to the energies that make up the world has brought me to realise how fortunate I am.

Much of your work is cleverly observed human interaction and intercourse – some of it quite conflicted. Were you always an observer of mankind?

I suspect so. I people watch all the time. One of the poems in the anthology For I Keep Watch came about one day when I was just walking about Taunton and on two separate occasions people walked into me. My first thought was that I must be invisible today, then I was struck by the idea of the Stasi, the East German secret police and how they kept files on everyone. Then I thought who follows the follower (to misquote)? I wrote the first draft in a doorway.

As to charting the conflicts within interaction, yes, I do. It is how I see people, we are complex and at times we are in conflict. I write poems about the conflicts I have been involved in to make sense of them.

In a few poems you touch on personal unhappiness and failure of relationships. Do you think that poets need turmoil and sadness to see the truth of things and human nature?

No. As I say I use my poetry to make sense of my life. Even if I am never sure what I am going to write about, when I work on it on the page I can usually chart where the component pieces have originated.

Actually I am an optimist, I can usually see the positive in most situations, though on a few occasions I have become depressed. Then I actually can’t work.

Actually I get many ideas when I am in a calm, contemplative state, when I do Tai Chi or Reiki, or I am meditating. I find as I get older I can turn off the chattering monkeys in my head and just be. First thing in the morning is a very productive time for me. That’s usually when the poems come tumbling out.

You are poet in residence at the Fishguard Folk Festival. To me this is something of a true accolade.  It also sounds like a chance to be out there and beating the drum. Tell us a little about this and what it is like?

What is it like? Well that depends upon the festival. I actually have been poet in residence at a number of festivals, last year at The Purbeck Folk Festival and this year at The Acoustic Festival of Great Britain as well as Fishguard Folk Festival. I have also performed at a number of others around the country. They are all very different, some are more organised than others. Fishguard is a gem of a festival, well organised, with a variety of good venues, friendly audience and its free! There is a marked difference between the way the arts are supported in England and Wales. In Wales they are far more passionate and supportive.

I think my abiding memory of festivals is the communication. I tend to walk around the festival site and engage people in conversation and read them a poem. It’s a good way to contact people.  I feel quite naked when I do it but I usually get a reasonable response. It is always surprising what poems go down well, though I have a small set of poems that I usually save for the end of a festival set.

There is a difference between the audiences I read to at music festivals and those at poetry evenings or poetry festivals. People at a music festival are primarily there for the music, the poetry is an add on. At a poetry event you can take more chances. I suppose in the end that is what all performance is about, taking the chance of baring the soul and speaking from the heart.

I am excited about the Freeze Frame project and Paul has contributed some fantastic material and also an audio track that brings so much out of his voice as a poet. My next interview will feature a very different type of poet who has such a depth of image power that sometimes I just have to stop for a WOW! Of course, I’m talking about  the American poet Jo Von Bargen.

As I’m beginning to shape the show and decide the order in terms of voice and style, I cannot help but having a real sense of joy at bringing these guys together and putting out this collection. The contrasts, juxtapositions and the human voice are adding so much to the mix. OK – head down and editor’s hat on……..

The Dark Side Of The Boon

Caroline, Emma, Gilli and a tall dark stranger (Photo Cara Cooper)

In my self styled role as the ‘Poet Lorry-Park’ I have gotten into some strange positions. Just imagine trying to reverse a fully loaded articulated sonnet on your blind side mirror over two lanes of Faber and Faber editors. Whilst this may sound a surreal event, it is not anything like as far fetched as my attendance at the Festival Of Romance in Bedford over the week-end. Imagine the ageing Sparrow outnumbered  100 to 1 by female Romance writers.

My attendance was encouraged by Emma, who needed a poet to drive the car, carry step ladders, a crate on wheels, a long length of wood and several heavy boxes of books. It transpires that to be a fiction author you also have to be a cross between a travelling circus and a troubadour.

Despite all my reservations I had fantastic weekend. Imagine my joy at standing before a bunch of attractive women reading my poem “Erectile Dysfunction”. One glance was enough for everyone to realise that I was not talking about any kind of personal experience. No one actually told me that, but it must have been quite obvious by my virile demeanour.

I met some great writers and a good number confessed to the old cock sparrow that they had written poetry. In truth, when you heard them reading their work, you could hear it. There is a lot of tosh talked about romance writers, mainly by the snob literati. These writers give it out from their hearts to serve a big spoonful of desire, passion, comedy and lust to their readers. Tell me a better reason to write.

And now, let me tell all you poets out there of my contact with the dark side of temptation. As poets we do not seek fame, recognition or book sales. We are pure intellectuals are we not? Yet, at the Festival I met with a young lady who, were I to be a writer of Romance, would be cast as the alluring courtesan of an Arabian oilygarch salmon fisherman. I will not name her because perhaps she spoke in a moment of emotional confusion. All the same, this Mills&Boon representative advised me that they would consider any genre of work including poetry for their new e book venture. I would have blinked, but my vanity prevented me from exposing my wrinkles. They don’t call me toxic Beau Brummie for nothing you know. Any poet out there wishing to explore this avenue, please get in touch. Dare the sparrow reach out for a crumb held in such a tempting hand?

Poet at work. (Photo Caroline Bell Foster)

I do want to acknowledge the writers who shared my table at the Book Fair. Not only did they have to endure a hard day on their feet, but also some old geezer rattling on about poetry. Cara Cooper, Caroline Bell Foster and Gilli Allan please accept my thanks and appreciation for your charming company.

Thanks also to the two actors who turned up at intervals to play out scenes from an historical novel. I thought them to be most frightfully good Sir. Also, there were two Thespians dressed as soldiers from a tin of Quality Street. It was immensely surprising to meet such fellows with their swords out in the Gents.

These events take a whole heap of effort to organise. The supremo was the author Kate Allan, but there were several selfless elves and reindeer. It was so kind of them to allow in an old poet with nothing but a few love poems. As if I did not know, the biggest truth to emerge from it all is that writing is a tough game at any level with many setbacks and struggles. These writers really work and try and try again. The market changes, the demographics of readership changes.  Secretly I was glad to be a poet – ethereal and uninterested in worldly success. As an ambition, it is far easier to achieve. I think I’m there.

Young Love Remembered

A quick shuffle to the front of the cave reveals nothing but fallen leaves, utility bills and a message from Her Majesty’s Government telling me that I can vote for my local crime supremo to control the police.  No one is standing for office on the anti robo-cop speed gun warrior agenda . All the candidates are political party apparatchiks so I think I’ll give that a miss.

We are nearly ready to line up for final approach on the “Freeze Frame” anthology project. I just have one last audio track to perfect and then it will be all action. Beginning next week this blog will feature interviews with all of the poets.

In the meantime, I would like to share with you a little video poem by my dear friend Emma Calin, the Romance novelist. When I first knew her she was a poet with a strong sensual passionate style. She has made a transition into commercial writing but retains much of her old poetic instinct. She had always said she would not write a poem again. However, during the writing of her work in progress novel, she wanted to recapture the sentiments of young love through the eyes of a woman looking back. 

One of the things I have learned from compiling the poems for “Freeze Frame” is that poetry truly is a medium unique to each writer. Each of the featured poets have entirely their own style and position. Emma’s poem featured above hits a spot that I had not realised I still had! To be honest, as a greying old fellow with a penchant for talking about Auden, Don Paterson and Wordsworth, I thought it might be unsuitable viewing. I could not help but enjoy it; so enjoy it I did.