One of the internet’s most prominent poets, John Lavan, presents a new book of collected poems. John’s distinctive voice, enjoyed by his hundreds of thousands of blog and Twitter followers, carries effortlessly from the personal to the pastoral.
Q) John, your collection of poetry, Familial: Selected Poems is distinctly personal, drawing from relationships in your life. Tell us about those inspirations, and how you chose the poems for this book.
A) I discovered my poetry passion about 8 years ago when I met my wife – I used to leave little scraps of verse around on post-its – and I found we both liked what I’d penned. I started studying poesy, avidly reading other poets and writing more and more.
And then there was a moment when I started to write about my son, Andrew, who has Down’s Syndrome. That’s when really big, inner feelings welled – happy, sad and lots in between! My best poems are with, and for, Andrew. As Frost said ‘a poem starts with a feeling of lovesickness or homesickness’ and I aim to express deeper feelings between father and son through words. There’s not a lot of art created from the feeling of love between father and son but the love runs deep.
I started blogging, at Poems from Reality, aiming to write a poem every day. At the moment, you’ll find over 600 poems on there, with over a 1000 followers and I’m closing in on half a million hits! I selected the poems for Familial (published by Apostrophe Books) by choosing posts with the largest number of hits and comments – in a kind of digital global democracy.
It’s a book to help readers feel. As Frost also said – ‘no tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.’
Q) One poem of yours I really enjoy is ‘An Eden Conception’. In the video you describe the birth of this piece:
Using it as an example, describe your writing process, how many edits you may go through, and how you know when a work is finished.
A) A poem starts with the kind of feeling that Frost describes. It’s an inner ache or pulse. Sometimes it can start with an idea, paradox or mental construct – like focusing on a particular modern word or idiom. My best poems start with that inner pulse and are not mentally constructed.
The pulse then gains momentum, the feeling gets stronger as I contact with it; and a moment of voltage arrives when I pick up the pen, computer, iPad – whatever’s available.
Out come the words!!
Typically, I’ll have a draft poem 15 minutes after I start the writing process. Frankly, at this point the poem will be rubbish – but have an essence of feeling in there. Then I immediately go into editing because, when I read through what’s emerged, it’s not good enough – full of repetition, dull words, cliche. As I edit, I’ll look for many forms of ‘poesy-like’ crafting, using rhyme, word and letter choice, image sequence, meter (particularly), line length, stanza, punctuation, breath, alliteration, reading out loud etc. etc.
The art is to make a finely crafted set of intense words that can retain the feeling. Of course, as my mind gets busy in the re-editing, the feeling might get lost – so there is a fine dance going on between head and heart!
I’ll always re-edit over a dozen times, leaving days between the work to let the poem ripen. Because of this mental-emotional dance and balance, a poem is never finished – only abandoned for a while.
Q) Given that, when you read your work aloud, what surprises you the most: your reaction, or the reaction of the readers? Share with us some memorable events and why they struck you as such, and then offer us a peek into where your ultimate reading audience would take place.
A) I’ve only recently started reading out loud in public. Andrew and I performed at the St Ives’ literary festival – so I can talk about that. I work as a management consultant and I’m quite used to standing up talking to groups of people. Reading my own poems out makes me nervous, though, because my heart’s vested in there and I’d like to touch other hearts – so it’s like we’re all potentially exposed!
Once I got started in St Ives, I was fine – although I’ve found that, every time I read, emphasis was different – and I like that – because the poem is emerging in a newly nascent voice-form. Having Andrew alongside is amazing because he’s exuberant and he got to be included in performing every poem. I found it most fun when the audience was also included – repeating some lines and making actions – so that we had a collective, fun and shared experience. Andrew enjoys including as many people as possible in such strange fun.
I guess my ultimate reading experience would be the Albert Hall with Andrew and me, a few thousand people all gesticulating, singing and speaking to a funny and heartfelt poem or two. We got near there in St Ives last month but with 50 people. We received grand feedback – ‘a moving part of the Festival’ people said and Andrew was a little celebrity on the streets as he met people eating ice-cream later. He would give out his own little gifts – in the form of a hug!!
Thanks, John! Appreciate your time, and wish you much success with Familial along with abundant continued inspiration. Andrew is a delightful celebrity, congratulations to you both!
Familial: Selected Poems
plus in other stores (Kobo, Nook, iBooks and more).