Category: interview

Interview with Graham Mort

Interview with Graham Mort

poet and short fiction writer

Questions by Peter McAllister

Tell us a little about the place you live and space you write in. What can you see from your window when you work? 

I live in a village on the Lancashire/ Cumbrian/ Yorkshire borders. I have an office in upstairs room with an old 1940’s mahogany desk and an Apple Mac computer. From the window, I can see our garden with its greenhouse and tall rowan tree. The garden slopes down towards a small valley with a stream, a ruined barn and hawthorn hedgerows that have run wild. Sheep graze in the fields beyond the garden and a herd of belted Galloway cattle come right up the fence. Ash trees with the first signs of die-back beyond, then fields rising to a distant view of Ingleborough. The mountain looks different every day, often starting off with a pennant of cloud, often invisible through mist and rain, spectacular under snow that turns pink when the sunset reaches it. The sun and moon rise above that eastward line of moorland, shining through the branches of the rowan tree in the morning and early evening.

Graham Mort
Graham Mort

Read Graham Mort’s
‘Skin in the Game’

Read Graham Mort’s
‘Skin in the Game’

What is your writing routine and what do you draw inspiration from day to day? 

I’m at my desk by nine am in winter, earlier in summer. I work for a few hours each morning, but try to get out to walk or cycle in the afternoons. Climate change has made that difficult recently with constant rain and wind, so that’s become a pressing theme or undercurrent in some of my work. I suppose my writing nearly always proceeds from actions or things in what we think of as the ‘real’ world, though I’m not so sure about that supposed reality. All writing proceeds from memory because the present moment is evanescent, then lost. And memories are changed by the mind’s invention. Then the future’s out there like untrodden snow. Sometimes things I’m reading percolate and rise to the surface, triggering the start of something. Sometimes dreams that return and won’t go away. Travel has always been a big stimulus. I also alternate between poetry and fiction and they’re very different disciplines. 

Nature and landscape play a huge role in your work: moments of awareness connecting people to the animal world raise questions about the human condition, our relationships with the environment and with each other. Where do you find the natural details for your poems and stories?  

Even looking through a window, things constantly change, as many people realised during lockdown. I guess writing is the art of noticing things, of giving attention to the world. Sometimes things observed/experienced take on an aura of significance and you know you’re in a moment that will lead to a new piece of writing. Then there is the irreducible quality of ‘things’ as well as the sense of actions or events in the world. Letting the senses in is very important, rather than closing them out. I don’t accept the distinction between the natural and human worlds since we are ourselves a species in that ever-changing context. I don’t really accept the distinction between inner and outer worlds either, since our inner worlds and perceptions of the outer world constantly modify each other. I’m interested in machines as well as organic things and see them as an extension of our human nature and creativity. Human beings are constantly learning to be alive; writers and other artists especially so. I’ve been reading the poems of the 8th century Chinese poet Du Fu recently and what strikes me is the extraordinary detail in the writing allied to a deeply meditative state of being.  

As well as being an author, you’re an accomplished musician and photographer. Do you feel that photography and music are parallel processes to your writing? How do these artforms inform your writing process?  

Photography has been a constant practice at home and whenever I’ve travelled. I use a conventional camera, rarely a smartphone. It’s not necessarily the finished photographs that help me to recall experiences (though I do store and review them), but the act of selecting and focusing on a particular subject, editing as I swing the viewfinder. I think that intensifies any experience. Then there is what you don’t or can’t photograph – extreme poverty for instance, which I’ve seen in Africa – which is intensified by those deliberate omissions, through ethical editing. Writing and photography are reclusive activities, depending on a sense of isolation to some extent. I’m not very sociable, I guess! Music is a different thing for me, a communal activity, a cooperative ideal. I’ve played in bands, and that’s been to do with creating a social space where a group tries to work together, balancing discipline with individual expression within ensemble playing. Often frustrating, because that requires technical ability and a kind of ESP – it’s a different kind of experience that focuses on anticipation as the music unfolds. That’s never been directly linked to my writing, but I’m sure there are subliminal connections and listening to music and musicians has been very important to me. 

We are very excited that you’re contributing a flash fiction piece to Inkfish! What defines flash versus longer short fiction? Does planning and writing a flash piece feel very different to writing a short story? And is flash fiction a completely separate form to prose poetry, or are they too similar to keep fully distinct?  

I don’t get too hung up on distinctions between forms. All writing is a continuum with considerable linkage and spillage between them. I have a tendency to write short stories that are a bit longer than literary magazines like these days (around 6,000 words.) That makes room for characters and locations and patterning through recurrent or resonating images. I got interested in ‘flash’ or micro-fiction through teaching the form. I think very short fiction can seem a little glib at times, though I’ve also read some terrifically compressed pieces that are emotionally moving. I like to write micro-fictions up to about 1,500 words, trying to find what can be achieved in a short space through omissions as well as inclusion. There’s still space for humour (or irony) in that. I’m still experimenting and finding my way, really. I’m still never sure whether a new piece of writing will develop into a poem, a longer story, or a very short one. I guess that decision is taken early on in the process because I rarely convert one to the other. 

Touch by Graham Mort
Touch by Graham Mort
Like Fado by Graham Mort
Like Fado by Graham Mort
Terroir by Graham Mort
Terroir by Graham Mort

There are some amazing moments of intensity and epiphany in your stories – for example at the end of award-winning short story, ‘The Prince’. Is emotional intensity as important as characterisation in crafting a successful story and are both more crucial than plot?  

Very little happens in the present moment of my stories, most of the events can be attributed to reflection, refraction, memory, the actions of consciousness. Especially consciousness interacting with the putative present moment, which gives most of my stories and poems their texture. Wolfgang Iser, the literary critic, recognised the play between anticipation, retrospection and that evanescent present moment in literature and in life. So, I guess I privilege the inner life of my characters and narrators over their actions. Though there has to be interaction with present moment dimensions of reality, otherwise the work would be abstract. Above all, my characters are haunted by memory and responsibility through their actions. They’re certainly not taking part in action-packed thrillers. I suppose I believe in celebrating the complexity of ordinariness, the richness of the everyday, the contradictions within characters who one might think unworthy of note if we met them outside a story. So, I’m interested in the way actions, decisions, omissions, memory and speculation form the tissue of our consciousness and the texture of a narrative.  

Your short story collections - Touch, Terroir , and Like Fado - foster delicate resonances between individual pieces, landscapes and experiences. How did you decide which pieces to include in them and how did you know the best way to order those pieces?  

I think that process has been different in each case. Touch was written over a very long period of time, Terroir over several years, and Like Fado over quite a compressed period of time. It might depend on where I am when I’m putting the stories together – a lot of work in Like Fado was done when I was working in Cape Town, living alone with time to focus intensively. I’m not sure I put that much time into ordering the stories, but try to make the shift from one to the other satisfying in some way, whether that might be subject matter, or narrative method such as voice or point of view. I know a lot of the significant connections can be subliminal rather than consciously arrived at. 

Is the process of crafting a poetry collection similar to the process of collecting together stories? 

Yes, it can be, though poetry is always running in parallel to other forms of writing. You can experiment with very short forms in all sorts of ways, from the form itself to the sense of voice and the angle of attack. Again, assembling a collection is about addressing a range of theme and form. Sometimes I use the spellchecker to identify my own writerly ‘ticks’ and eliminate them, so even diction become a distinguishing feature of variety and an important aspect of form. I’ve written a number of long poems and sequences, too, and that is a similar process of considering the white space between poems, as well as those moments of typographical density where the reader becomes involved with morphemes, phonemes, symbols, metaphors; the meanings that arise from active language, rather than the silences or interstices that live between them.

Samara, written by Graham Mort & illustrated by Claire Jefferson
Samara, written by Graham Mort & illustrated by Claire Jefferson
Into the Ashes, written by Graham Mort & illustrated by Janet Samson
Into the Ashes, written by Graham Mort & illustrated by Janet Samson
A Night on the Lash, by Graham Mort
A Night on the Lash, by Graham Mort

You recently collaborated on an illustrated poetry collection  - Samara - with artist Claire Jefferson. What was it like to put a book together in a collaborative way like this? Have other books of yours drawn in visual art in a similar way? 

Yes, for two early books, A Halifax Cider Jar and Into the Ashes, I worked with visual artists, though in slightly different ways. It’s good for me to surrender control and work with the imagination of another artist in a different medium. I really like the sense that images and poems can create a new thing that is not illustrative, but combinative. And I like having to understand another approach that will be integrated into my own. 

You’re a lifelong teacher and mentor to other writers. What do you love about teaching and do you have any favourite stories drawn from your teaching work?  

I trained as a teacher after working in a psychiatric hospital and I’ve worked at all levels of education from very young kids to PhD students: some of that in schools, some of that as a freelance tutor, and quite a few years in academia. I’ve specialised in distance learning, which works exceptionally well for creative writing. But I love the drama and tension of face-to-face teaching. Stories? Well, I like it when students answer back. When I started my university job, an exasperated American student interrupted me to say, ‘OK, Graham, we’re talking now.’ That was a salutary lesson and a very funny moment – and we’re still in touch. Stevie’s back in the USA now and sent me his book about moles recently. He commissioned a poem from me for that, knowing it would be a subject close to my heart. 

What are you working on at the moment? 

A new book of poems and two books of (longer and shorter) fiction. They were all started in lockdown when covid hit. The microfiction seemed to come from nowhere and I was writing two or three stories a week for a period. That’s calmed down a bit now. I like to get a first draft and let it lie for a while, then start re-drafting, which I think of as the real work. So, all those books are approaching completion. 

What advice can you give to writers just starting out? 

Well, you need to read of course. Become a good reader and read between the lines. Though the connection between reading and writing can be over-stated. It’s never been absolutely obvious to me. They’re very different practices, but we are the first readers of our own work and reading is essential to the process of revision that I spoke about above. So read to appreciate technique. Don’t just read in the medium you want to write in, read everything. Text has invaded our lives, especially in urban settings, so it’s become a part of our daily perception of the world. I read all sorts of stuff, from stories, novels and poetry to current affairs, cultural history, sociology and technical manuals. Read the hand-book for your motorcycle or cafetière or dishwasher. They have their own sense of ethics and morality, their own tone and pitch for our attention. All that gets drawn into stories in particular, but they’re brilliant for ‘found’ poems, too. And persist. Accept the criticism you secretly know is true, but stick to your guns as well. Be a little stubborn but stop short of blind vanity. Of course, that’s not as easy as I’ve just made it sound! 

About Graham Mort

Graham Mort is emeritus Professor of Creative Writing at Lancaster University, and a prolific writer and poet. He has worked internationally in many countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle-East. In poetry, Graham has won a major Eric Gregory Award for his first book of poems as well as prizes in the Arvon and Cheltenham poetry competitions. His latest collection, Black Shiver Moss was published by Seren in 2017. ‘The Prince’ won the Bridport short fiction prize in 2005 and his short story collection, Touch, won the Edge Hill Prize in 2010. A further collection of short stories, Terroir, appeared in 2015 and a new collection, Like Fado and Other Stories, was published by Salt in 2020. Visit Graham’s website. Find Graham on Twitter.

Related

Interview with D. Parker

Interview with D. Parker

author & artist

Questions by Kate Horsley

Tell us a bit about yourself! 

I’m a writer, artist and bookseller living in the UK.  

When did you first start writing and what were the first projects you worked on? 

I started writing in 2019, and had my first piece published in 2020! I started writing poetry, but my first published piece was a personal essay about Orlando and Virginia Woolf. I love myths/folklore and art, and my early pieces were inspired by Greek myths and art.  

'Blue, long may she thrive', visual poem by D. Parker
'Blue, long may she thrive', visual poem by D. Parker

As your writing has evolved, what has changed the most? 

Everything! When I started writing, my poems were traditional in form, but as I read more and grew more confident, I started to experiment. I look back some of my early work and I feel like it was written by a different person! The things that changed most in my writing though, are, I think, structure and form. I love language and I’m interested in how type occupies the page, on how the negative space around the text influences the reader’s understanding of it, and how the format in which the text is presented complements its subject.  

D. Parker, 'Skull rose dagger'

Read D. Parker’s
‘i dream of you so often’

Your work combines textual and visual elements in a bold and experimental way that feels very compelling to look at as well as to read. How did you come to work on this borderline between text and image? 

Thank you! That’s so kind of you to say. I went to a fine arts high school, which has a huge impact on how I approach any sort of visual work, from sketching to collage and concrete poetry. We were always encouraged to experiment with pretty much anything and everything we could get our hands on. The school had a traditional approach to technique, and a lot our lessons were focused on colour theory, perspective, contrast, volume, composition. The blend of text and image came much later, but studying art for four years allowed me to build a strong foundation. Sometimes I find it hard to express what I want or need in words, so a picture—or some kind of graphic/visual element makes more sense to me and helps me (hopefully) to get my point across.  

Can you describe your process? Are there things in your environment that especially inspire your process? 

I have a scattered way of approaching my work, and I often jump from one project to another. I tend to overthink everything, so a simple 10 minute sketch is often the result of an hour of staring at a blank page or looking through my art books or comics/manga for inspiration. I find that if I’m stuck in one media or genre, it helps to switch to something else and carry on working. I love going to museums and art galleries and take a lot of inspiration from my collection of art books, comics and manga. I love traditional tattoos and when I get especially stuck on something I’ll paint a quick traditional rose. And if that doesn’t work, I’ll sketch a section of a cube, which usually does the trick. I love cutting sections in cubes because they challenge me to see a rigid shape in a new way. I have a different process for writing and tend to write in bursts. I don’t read during these bursts. I write every day for a couple of weeks and then come to a sudden stop—when this happens, I read anything I can get my hands on. And a few weeks later, I write again. I’m fascinated by the natural world, and a lot of my recent work centres around the folklore and lives of plants and animals.  

D. Parker, 'Cube'
D. Parker, 'Two Cubes'

Click for a larger image.

Which books, authors and images do you return to the most for inspiration? Who are your biggest influences? 

Virginia Woolf! Woolf’s writing is a huge influence on my work. Orlando is my favourite book; I discovered it when I started figuring out my sexuality, and I can’t think of another book that has had the same or greater impact. I read it many times, and I often open it to a random page just to clear my eyes a little. I always carry a copy with me. Another book I consider influential is House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski. Since you recommended it in one of our meetings, I couldn’t stop thinking about it – I have two of the four(?) editions! Danielewski’s use of structure, typography and layout as means of storytelling is fantastic. House of Leaves – alongside Everything, Everywhere, All At Once – was crucial in the development of my MA portfolio project, Swift. I’m bilingual, and I love reading authors who weave words from their native languages into their work, as well as works in translation. There are so many other writers I read or reread often, like Anne Carson, Mary Jean Chan and Caroline Bird. Some of my favourite artists are Georgia O’Keeffe and Salvador Dali – I especially love the composition of Dali’s paintings.  

You’re the founder and editor of the amazing Needle Poetry, which we love! Can you tell us a bit about how you came up with the idea for Needle? 

Thank you! Initially Needle Poetry was going to be a magazine focused on short poems, but as I started developing the idea, I shifted its focus to experimental and hybrid work. I think there’s a need for more platforms which encourage writers and artists to experiment and just play around with ideas and techniques. Defining experimental writing or work is tricky though, I think, because what is experimental to one is completely traditional to another.  

What is it like running a literary magazine? What do you love most about it and what are some of the challenges? 

It’s exciting! I love seeing new work from writers and artists I admire and I love discovering new (to me) writers and artists! Working on the first two issues has introduced me to so many brilliant voices and techniques. I think my favourite part about running a literary magazine is learning from people. It’s so interesting seeing how people use language, visual elements and structure/form in their work. One of the biggest challenges, for me, is when submitters don’t read the guidelines or research the magazine. I’ve had to reject some brilliant work because it didn’t fit Needle’s guidelines.  

Needle Poetry, Issue 2, edited by D. Parker

Recently, there seems to have been a resurgence of work in vispo and concrete poetry that feels reminiscent of Dadaism and/or the Oulipo movement in some ways. If you agree with that statement, what do you think the reason for this might be? 

I think this is to do with people’s desire to explore more art forms and new ways of shaping their ideas. Dada and the Oulipo movement both emerged as a rejection of the norm and offered a new kind of creative freedom and new sets of rules. Although vispo and concrete poems may require a slightly different kind of approach compared to more traditional poetry, you’re still working with the same elements (rhythm, contrast, imagery, line breaks) they’re just displayed in a different way. I think this is part of why we’re seeing so much of it at the moment: it’s a different playground for people to access, and who doesn’t like discovering new techniques and new ways of developing their craft? I think it’s wonderful to see this resurgence of visual poetry and concrete poetry and hybrid pieces. It’s wonderful to see poets and artists working outside their comfort zones and/or finding new types of comfort zones. It’s just wonderful to see work that challenges me as a viewer/reader and pushes me to think of new ways of approaching my own work.  

Hybrid image/text work walks a tightrope between what words mean and their visual impact. How do you feel the collision of these two art forms alters a reader/viewer’s understanding of both? 

I love this question! I think hybrid image/text work is brilliant because it blends two types of reactions: instantaneous and delayed. I see any kind of image or visual work as demanding a sudden reaction from the viewer. You see an image and immediately have an idea or reaction to it, whichever that may be. With text, you have to take time to process what you’re seeing. When I look at a hybrid piece, I always have the initial reaction to the image at the back of my head, which I think influences how I perceive the textual element.  

What is the most experimental piece or series you’ve ever created? 

There are two! I love our ‘blue’ project and the way it pushes me to develop my craft. It’s so playful and refreshing to work on a prompt and to have the freedom to pick the medium and the style. The other experimental series I worked on is Swift, which is a retelling of the same event in different styles and techniques. Writing Swift is like being on a huge playground. I think the only rule I set for myself is to keep the ‘chapters’ around 5-600 words. The project incorporates everything from traditional prose to choose-your-own-adventure, to prose poems and concrete poems. I’m currently working on a crossword puzzle chapter but I’m still trying to figure out how to structure that!  

What are you working on at the moment? 

A couple of things! I’m working on a poetry pamphlet about Medea, I’m looking into art theft and forgery in history for another project, another poetry pamphlet about eels and a longer hybrid project on queer identity.  

About D. Parker

D. Parker has a keen interest in experimental writing and has an MA in Creative Writing. Her debut pamphlet Rush was published by Bullshit Lit Mag + Press in February 2023. Find D. Parker and Needle Poetry on Twitter 

Related

Interview with Kathy Fish

Interview with Kathy Fish

Author

Questions by Peter McAllister
Kathy Fish

Kathy Fish

Which flash fiction, short story, or prose poetry writers have influenced you the most and how? 

Joy Williams, Susan Steinberg, Sara Lippmann, Sabrina Orah Mark, Susan Cisneros, Aimee Bender, Amy Hempel, Pamela Painter, Han Kang, Ada Límon, Kim Chinquee, Kim Addonizio, Lydia Copeland Gwynn, Tina May Hall, Jenny Offill, Venita Blackburn, Cathy Ulrich, Grace Paley, Beth Ann Fennelly, Miranda July, Anne Carson, Khadija Queen, Lydia Davis, Mary Robison, and Diane Seuss. Lately, I’m fangirling Claire Keegan. I have read every book she’s published. All of these writers have at one time or another opened my eyes to what short stories, flash fiction, prose poetry and poetry can do. I realize these are all women, but truly they are the short form writers whose work I teach, whose work makes me swoon.  

You once said that a lot of published flash fiction “is really more of a scene than a story”. Do you think that ‘single-scene’ quality is something that defines flash versus longer short fiction? And how do you feel the planning and writing of a flash piece differs from that of a short story? 

A single scene can be a very powerful and work as a complete flash fiction. The trick is to allude to more beyond the confines of the scene. Something that resonates emotionally that’s “bigger” than the scene itself. In short fiction and novels, scenes are building blocks and typically don’t work on their own. They’re not meant to.  

I myself almost never “plan” a flash fiction, but yes, flash needs to do all its work in a limited space. That drives how we go about writing it. There’s no room for anything extraneous to the storytelling. It’s more aimed in that way. It’s not so much this, this, this, and this happened; it’s more, this one thing happened, and this is how it reverberates.  

Flash fiction seems to be flourishing in the social media era, and a parallel golden age is taking place in prose poetry. What, in your mind, distinguishes flash fiction from prose poetry, or are they too similar to keep fully distinct?  

Oh I just read the best explanation of the difference from Robert Olen Butler, so I will shamelessly steal it:  

“To be brief, it is a short short story and not a prose poem because it has at its centre a character who yearns.”

But there are published prose poems that feel like flash to me and vice versa. In many ways, the distinction lies in the eye of the beholder.  

You’ve mentioned “emotional urgency” as a crucial driver of flash fiction. How do you feel intensity and/or compression should be balanced with plot or characterisation in a successful flash fiction piece?  

I just finished teaching a weekend workshop on this very thing! I would give more weight to emotional urgency, actually, than characterisation and plot. Robert Olen Butler also said this of plot in flash fiction: “Plot, in fact, is yearning challenged and thwarted. A short short story, in its brevity, may not have a fully developed plot, but it must have the essence of a plot: yearning.” I feel like characterisation comes through organically via emotional urgency, along with voice.  

Kathy Fish, Wild Life (2011)
Kathy Fish, Wild Life (2011)
Kathy Fish, Wild Life: Collected Works from 2003-2018
Kathy Fish, Wild Life: Collected Works from 2003-2018
The Best Small Fictions 2017, Amy Hempel ed.
The Best Small Fictions 2017, Amy Hempel ed.

Wild Life, your amazing “best of” collection, contains 50 stories whittled down from a bibliography of over 200! How did you decide which pieces to include in it?  

Thanks for saying that about Wild Life. I wanted to stay true to the spirit of the original collection of the same name, also published by Matter Press, so a lot of my decisions had to do with this idea of “wildness.” I don’t like the idea of a collection being “here’s everything I’ve written in the last ten years.” I like to think of a collection as a piece of intentional art, where all the works feel organic to one major feeling or theme. There were strong stories I love that didn’t make the cut for that reason.  

You’ve described short story and flash fiction collections as their “own piece of art” that require an alternation of “highs and lows.” Is a pattern of more “intense and ‘softer’ stories” your primary method of collection structuring? 

Yes! I’ve often compared the task of putting together a flash collection as a symphony. Just as we aim for “music” in our individual pieces (varying sentence length, paragraph length, attention to cadence, etc.), we should do the same with a collection. So yes, highs and lows, emotional intensity, point of view and so forth. But also paying attention to where one piece leaves off and the other picks up. I say all of this recognizing that some readers just pick up the book randomly and read all over the place, so none of these things matter in the end, but they matter to me! 

Just as novelists employ a range of physical, virtual and conceptual strategies to structure a book, short form writers range from using post it notes to the latest writing software to structure their collections. How does your story selection process when putting together a collection manifest? 

I’m lucky to have a very long dining room table. We only use it for holiday meals, but it’s GREAT for organizing a collection! I print all my stories out and lay them around the table, then I walk around just – at first – getting a visual feel for them. I use post it notes for the things I’ve already mentioned. Different colours for different aspects, so I don’t have five stories in a row that deal with death or coming of age or whatever. I like to vary the stories formally as well. I should say, too, that once I’m putting a collection together, I take a fresh look at all the stories, whether they’ve been published or not. I see it as another opportunity to revise and polish, often toward the goal of making the pieces fit together better.  

Kathy Fish's Fast Flash© Workshops
Kathy Fish's Fast Flash© Workshops
Kathy also teaches Flash Fiction Retreats
Kathy also teaches Flash Fiction Retreats
Skillshare: Fast Flash Fiction
Skillshare: Fast Flash Fiction

You teach a highly popular series of online writing workshops. How do you feel your writing and teaching processes inform each other? 

I’m absolutely a better writer because I teach. Teaching is a marvellous way to learn anything. Just finding stories that exemplify various craft concepts is a lesson in deep reading. I learn so much from reading the brilliant work of my peers. I love sharing my passion for flash as a form, and seeing that light a fire in my students. It inspires me to keep learning and growing in my own work. I also take workshops from writers I admire. I love being in the student chair.  

What are you working on at the moment? 

I’m pulling together a new collection! It centres around the themes of time and memory. The way our brains work and don’t work in recalling trauma. I’m playing around a lot with form, innovating and experimenting. I’m focused on creating a very unique piece of art, slowly, intentionally, taking great care with every piece before moving on to the next. Ooh that sounds so pretentious, doesn’t it! But this is my way of saying, I’m slow. Don’t look for it any time soon, ha.  

About Kathy Fish

Kathy Fish’s short stories, flash fiction, and prose poems have recently appeared in Ploughshares, Washington Square Review, Waxwing Magazine, Copper Nickel, the Norton Reader, and Best Small Fictions. Her fifth collection, Wild Life: Collected Works from 2003-2018, is now in its 3rd print run with Matter Press. She is a recipient of the Copper Nickel Editor’s Prize and a 2020 Ragdale Foundation Fellowship. Her highly sought after Fast Flash© workshops, begun in 2015, have resulted in numerous publications and awards for the hundreds of writers who have taken part. She publishes a free monthly newsletter, The Art of Flash Fiction, which includes craft articles and writing prompts. She is currently seeking representation for her craft book of the same name.  Visit Kathy’s website. Find Kathy on Twitter.

About Peter McAllister

Peter’s writing blurs the boundary between novel and short story collection. He was shortlisted in the Hammond House International Literary Prize and the Ironclad Creative Awards in 2023. His short stories and poems have appeared online, in print journals and in numerous anthologies and his debut book is slated for publication. Peter studied English Literature at The University of Cambridge, was awarded a Distinction for his MA in Creative Writing and is currently working towards his PhD at Exeter University. He is the editor and co-founder of Inkfish Magazine and a committee member for the Penzance Literary Festival. He is the Inaugural Liskeard Library Writer in Residence.

Related

Interview with Laura Kerr

Interview with Laura Kerr

Visual artist and poet

Questions by Kate Horsley

You are both a poet and a visual artist. Does one or the other of these feel primary to you, or are they both equal passions?

They are equal passions, but I feel a little more at home in the visual art world. Maybe because I have far more years of experience as an artist; my husband is an artist and most of my friends are artists. That said, it doesn’t seem strange to call myself a visual poet, either, because I often include text in my work.

Laura Kerr
Laura Kerr

Your art is incredibly distinctive. How did it evolve? And which artists and writers have influenced you the most?

Thank you for saying that! My art has evolved over many years, almost like a natural progression, mixed with determination to attempt to create something new. I formed an early art appreciation for process artists such as Lynda Benglis, performance artists such as Chris Burden, and the Fauvist Artists, with Henri Matisse being my foremost inspiration when it comes to the canvas. Many text artists like Christopher Wool, Jenny Holzer, and Barbara Kruger have definitely influenced my work as well. They really understood the power of words.

Can you tell us a bit about your process. What inspires you in the everyday? Are there particular creative problems you encounter, and how do you solve them?

I take lots of photographs of whatever strikes my eye. I think I qualify as a photography hoarder. This includes my collections of old photographs from the 19th century. Daily, I read in small increments of time, write down ideas, draw, and paint my ideas that come to me. The last couple of years canvas painting has become a part of my process instead of a finished project. I paint to create something else. Eventually I photograph it in bits and pieces to be digitally edited into that something else. My only problem is lack of time, and lack of computational skills. There’s always something new to learn.

What is your favourite piece/series of your own work and what is the most experimental piece/series you’ve ever done?

My favourite series was a site-specific series of paintings, exploring a theme that runs through much of my work, which is opulence. It’s a loud theme sometimes, as my series of large-scale paintings exploring Grimm’s ‘The Fisherman And His Wife’ shows. The canvases were painted with rhinestones, beads, sequins, lace, etc., and took a few years to complete; it was technically a process art. I wanted to make them too beautiful, too decadent, too much, and yet alluring. And like the story, each painting – with the first one being just traditional paint – became more ornate and embellished. My most experimental work might be the visual poetry book published by NoPress called Monospaced Poems. I plan to make a pdf of it soon.

The Fisherman and His Wife I, Laura Kerr
The Fisherman and His Wife I, Laura Kerr
The Fisherman and His Wife II, Laura Kerr
The Fisherman and His Wife II, Laura Kerr

Click for a larger image.

It seems as if vispo walks a tightrope between what words mean and their visual impact. How do you feel the collision of these two art forms alters a reader/viewer’s understanding of both?

Yes, it’s a tightrope for sure. I know I have taken great liberties with the genre, experimenting with how far I can go. I often remove words I don’t think are needed. I’m like an editing machine, where it all ends up on the floor. I trust my readers. Many will understand what I am saying and even bring their own unique perspective to it. Most visual poets aren’t looking for word meaning, because it’s a visual language and experiencing it is very different from text poetry. If we use actual text, it often isn’t necessarily about the word(s), but rather about the word’s relationship with the image and/or the reverse. Mind you, we don’t just make visual poems for each other. Someone who is not a visual poet or poet once said they liked my book without ‘understanding what it means’. That’s a great compliment really.

I’ve read that your work merges digital technology with traditional mediums like painting, drawing and photography to create a new language of expression. How do you combine and balance those elements?

I think I may have touched upon that in question 3 but I will say a bit more about technology. I don’t have any formal training in tech but it has always played a part in my artwork dating back to my first desktop computer in the mid 80’s. I used to draw with the original (black & white) photoshop and then print it, apply colours to it with dry medium, then use the images to inspire a large-scale oil painting. Nobody saw the process, the only thing left was the canvas painting. The first one I called ‘Apple Blossom 1’ because I used a Mac.
Sometimes my creative process is similar to erasure poetry in that I am removing details by computer so that my work better emphasizes what I want to communicate.

In your work, what are the main borderlines between and intersections of traditional textual poetry, concrete poetry, visual poetry, and visual art?

I have an appreciation for many genres of visual art. The limitlessness of art. When I work with text poetry, it’s not unlike art to me, but obviously it hails from its own history. Perhaps I overstep some of the literary boundaries, but that spurs me on. The endless possibilities are the part of the process that I find exciting. I experiment with the relationships between typographical and spatial elements to present new language and meaning.

Ungerminated, Laura Kerr
Ungerminated, Laura Kerr
Denumerating, Laura Kerr
Denumerating, Laura Kerr
Me Denaturing, Laura Kerr
Me Denaturing, Laura Kerr

Click for a larger image.

Do you constantly keep pushing the boundaries of art/technology experiments or do you feel that you’ve now found your ideal language for expression in your current work?

No. I will never stop trying to develop a new language of expression. My art has always been connected to technology, and both art and technology are always changing.

You teach art – what do you love about teaching art? Do you ever discover something new when you’re teaching?

Teaching art has been a very positive influence on my artwork in so many ways. Primarily, it kept me from becoming too hyper-focused on my own work. You gotta look up. And the students offer a unique challenge in that I couldn’t just teach art from my own perspective – I had to teach visual art from the art world’s perspective. Of course they asked ‘what do you think?’ and I shared my own ideas but they, too, shared their own ideas. It’s a win-win situation to be a teacher. Very rewarding.

What are you working on at the moment?

I enjoy working on several projects at a time. I am working on a commissioned canvas painting, a music album cover design, a visual poetry book, publishing an online visual poetry pdf journal called InterPoem, and my newest venture in the very near future is a podcast.

Finally, what advice could you offer to writers and artists who want to experiment with hybrid forms and intermedia?

There’s a huge amount of free information on the internet. There are a number of artists/poets who are willing to chat about their work and give advice. Look at what’s currently being done. And above all else believe in your work and craft your own path.

About Laura Kerr

Laura Kerr is an award-winning Canadian visual artist and poet. In 2012, she was honoured with a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal for her art & continued contributions to art education. She is co-owner of Paradise art, an art school in Winnipeg, Manitoba specializing in classical and contemporary art education where she has taught both youth and adults for over 25 years. Find Laura on Twitter.

About Kate Horsley

Kate’s first novel, The Monster’s Wife, was shortlisted for the Scottish First Book of the Year Award. Her second novel, The American Girl, was published by William Morrow (US) and Harper Collins (UK) and translated into Korean by Tomato Publishing. She loves experimenting with the shape of flash fiction and poetry and is working on her first short fiction collection and putting the finishing touches on her next novel. All her longer fiction has been optioned for film and television. Kate studied English Literature at Oxford and holds a PhD from Harvard. She has taught at Chester and Lancaster Universities and is currently a creative writing lecturer for Comma Press and the University of Hull.

Related