Interview with Len Evans
I recently had a chance to catch up with Len Evans (who some of you will know as a familiar presence in the TLC art room in recent years) and have a chat with him about his new collection of poems, Walking Backwards Through Treacle, which has just been published by Slap-Dash.
Nigel Wood: Walking Backwards Through Treacle contains a number of poems relating to childhood. Was it a conscious decision to explore particular themes and memories in the book or are these something that emerged during the writing process?
The way I've predominately written the poems in this book is just by writing them one at a time. So, a poem might suggest itself from something I've overheard that interests me or an image that's made an impact or, particularly in more recent times, I've been able to write from a prompt and develop a poem from somebody else's facilitation. The subject matter of my poems is eclectic and personal in one way or another. For example, 'Brothers of the Hood' was written after observing some young men, near where I used to live, taking pride in repairing, polishing and finessing cars. And, with 'poetry prompts', the way I've found my poem is to just follow my own direction from a single sentence or idea (from the 'prompt') and go into my own experience or imagination. The poems can then emerge, be it from childhood, adolescence or adulthood.
The collection consists of 73 poems (if I have counted correctly). I was wondering how long it took you to write them?
The poems in Walking Backwards Through Treacle have been written over, at least, a ten-year period. 'Father and Son', for example, was written in about 2010, with quite a number coming in the last three to five years. So, they have been written over a long period of time. When I came to choosing them, my only criterion was, are they still relevant?
This leads me on to my next question(s) about how you write. Do you have a regular writing routine or do you write when the inspiration takes you? I am wondering too about how your poems develop. Do you revise a lot? Or do you prefer to keep the spontaneity of the original moment(s) of creation?
In terms of how I write, I have absolutely no routine. It's really when a bit of inspiration strikes. If it's a strong enough idea, I find that it often carries me on to finish it. I usually finish the first draft fairly quickly. Then I'll often leave it for a day or two or even longer. When I type it up, I'll revise it in a second draft. And then if I'm presenting it to a magazine or a competition, say, I'll look at further revisions. But there are no hard or fast rules about this process, it depends on other commitments, how I feel and how much energy I've got. Having said all of that, the original impetus, or indeed 'inspiration' of a poem, feels important, because it that that has energy in it and what sparks the interest in the first place. Perhaps put another way, it's that feeling, if it's powerful enough it can give the poem legs until it concludes.
I'm interested in who your inspirations and influences are as a writer – who inspired you to write in the first place and who/what were your models for the kind of poems you wanted to produce?
As far as inspirations and influences go, I read a little bit of William Blake in my late teens and early twenties (after originally reading a chapter about Blake in a book by Malcolm Muggeridge) and was excited by the rhythm of his language and how he articulated ideas in poetry. For example, Blake's ‘The Poison Tree’ is an extreme example of what can happen when we repress our anger-the final line in the poem reads: 'In the morning glad I see my foe outstretched beneath the tree'. I had no formal or informal education with literature, or even much in the way of language, as I spent my teens on the sports field, but when I heard or read a bit of Blake I got engaged. This engagement and connection was also true when I first heard the music of Puccini, Verdi and Mozart, at about the same time. There was a deeper emotional engagement happening.
In my late twenties, I began studying drama, so bit by bit, I started to read and perform playwrights, such as Pinter, Bond and Ayckbourn, as well as reading more poetry. I read some Seamus Heaney, Paul Muldoon, Carole Ann Duffy, Ted Hughes and Simon Armitage. I also started to attend creative writing courses in adult education with Copland Smith in South Manchester. After a period of adult education classes, I set up a peer group, Poetry Writers Study Group, which is still meeting, now called Postcards from Pluto, which has brought me into contact with all kinds of influences. Since then I've read people like Sharon Olds, Rosie Garland, Billy Collins – the list goes on. I think that with all this, the free-verse style that I write in came unforced as my voice.
Walking Backwards Through Treacle is available to buy from Lulu