Wales Literature Exchange interviewed our Bookcase author Paul Henry about his writing and his influences.
1. What first inspired you to be an author and where do your ideas come from?
I have lately realised it was my mother’s singing voice that made me a lyric poet. She was a professional soprano and I grew up with her singing big, sad arias in every room of my childhood. Singing was more natural to her than speaking.
The poems and songs I write don’t usually begin with ideas but with feelings and, occasionally, incidents – a case of mistaken identity, a son having his hair cut, a clock not working… The impetus to write more often begins with what Emily Dickinson calls “a certain Slant of light”. I write a great deal out of light. The lyric poet’s art is closer to the painter and composer than to the prose writer.
2. How would you describe your writing?
Lyric poetry. I also write songs. These two genre are different but have much to offer each other.
3. Which authors have influenced you the most?
W.S.Graham, Louis MacNeice and Patrick Kavanagh.
4. In your opinion what are the biggest challenges that writers face today – and do you think these challenges have changed since you started writing?
The essential challenges of writing have, I suspect, remained the same for centuries: to keep writing and improving within the constraints of having to survive. And of course, these constraints will differ across the planet. I don’t think these challenges have changed in my lifetime.
Perhaps the challenge for the new poet is to protect their work and time from a competition culture, adopted with Thatcherite verve, that has demeaned Poetry in the UK since the early nineteen-eighties.
5. What are the hardest and easiest parts of being a writer?
As touched upon already, practical survival is the hardest – how you keep a safe ring around your art while going out to work for thirty years or more; how you masquerade as whatever job is keeping the wolf from the door without letting this necessary compromise ruin your vocation.
Once you’re in your study, shed, studio, cell, ty bach … what seems at first easy becomes difficult. It has to be this way, with lyric poetry, because the heart must lead the way. As Frost (I think) said, ‘No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.’ So the “hard” part, creatively, is in the redrafting.
6. Which writer from Wales would you recommend to readers and why?
Stephen Knight, from Swansea and now based in London. No other poet threads the iambic line, through a host of forms, so deftly.
The Glass Aisle by Paul Henry has been selected to our 2018 Bookcase, our annual selection of recent Welsh literary works which we recommend for translation.