Poems can come from anywhere. That need you have to describe the rain better than anyone else. Or that need to level with an experience, be it a walk by the beach or bereavement. For me, it was a need to explain an atmosphere or mood, and it began with music. Then, you guessed it, writing music. Awful stuff. Three chord jams with hammy philosophical lyrics, or nausea-inducing songs of love and loss.
Poetry, in fact, didn’t grab me by the collar until I was in my late teens, and bizarrely, it was Dante’s epic poem Inferno that dramatizes the circles of Hell that really got me interested. Since then, the need to describe and dramatize a moment or a memory, to drill deeper into the subject, and by doing so, deeper into the language, has never left.
I’m fascinated by poems that take an ordinary place or thing, be it a park, factory, railway station or telephone box, and then explode it to represent infinite personal memories or facts, told using a series of startling images that drench the place with ideas that become unforgettable. You know a good poem when it changes the way you look at something. That, I think, is why I write, to preserve, excavate and explore, to, as Seamus Heaney says, reveal a ‘revelation’, often of the self to the self.
Poetry helps me think things through, and writing it is always an adventure.
JOHN CHALLIS, born in London, lives and works in the North East. He is a recipient of a Northern Writers’ Award and a Pushcart Prize, and holds a PhD in Creative Writing from Newcastle University. His poetry has appeared in many journals and anthologies including Butcher’s Dog, Clinic, Magma, Poetry London, The Rialto, and has been broadcast on BBC Radio 4. His debut play, The Next Train to Depart, premiered in Hexham in 2014. He is also a freelance teacher and workshop leader, and is an arts events producer.