Christopher Reid’s A Scattering — a collection of poems written in honour of his
dead wife, the actress Lucinda Gane — won the 2009 Costa Award. Reid will be reading selected poems from that collection at the South Bank Centre later this month, as part of the
forthcoming exhibition examining attitudes to death and
grief. Here, Reid talks to Matthew Richardson about his poetry in general.
Looking back over the collections excerpted in your new Selected Poems, has your career panned out as you hoped?
I don’t think the younger me had any clear expectations. A few vague hopes, possibly, but nothing so definite as to leave the older me feeling either satisfied or disappointed.
How do you think your work has changed?
Some gains, some losses. One inevitable loss is the youthful thrill of starting an adventure.
Your early collections are often bracketed as belonging to the ‘Martian’ school. What attracted you to that particular way of using language and metaphor?
Falling under the spell of my friend, Craig Raine, for whom vivid metaphor has always been part of everyday speech. He was starting out in the business, too. We showed each other our poems, and I
caught something of his feeling for metaphor, as well as his high spirits and irreverent attitude to our poetic seniors. But the ‘Martian School’ was largely a journalistic fiction. We
had no shared programme, no manifesto, no evangelical purpose.
As a former Professor of Creative Writing, what are the qualities you look for in a good poem?
The hitherto untried route that takes you, via surprise and delight, to a destination that then seems the only possible and right one.
Which poets have most influenced your work and why?
I’ve felt the influence of dozens of different poets. Donne, Herbert and Marvell got me when I was at school: all makers of shapely poems that combine intellectual with emotional force. Now,
even as a crusty veteran, I’m open to the magic other poets, older or younger, English-language or foreign, can cast. There’s no reason to stop learning.
You have your own publishing venture, Ondt & Gracehoper, and once worked as poetry editor at Faber. What advice would you give about getting published in the current climate?
The important things to learn, and which apply in any climate, are probably unteachable: devotion to the art, firm sense of identity, refusal to hurry or be hurried, ability to tell good advice
Are there any up and coming poets you rate highly?
Yes. I’m looking forward impatiently to the first collections of Emily Berry, Liz Berry (no relation), Philip Hancock, Luke Heeley and Dean Parkin, among others. I hope there are publishers
out there with their field-glasses already trained on them.
What’s next in the pipeline?
A new collection – working title, Nonsense – has been taken on by Faber and will, I hope, come out later in the year. Not sure what will follow. Something theatrical, perhaps.
A farce? In verse? Anybody interested?
Christopher Reid’s Selected Poems is out