Quizzing Roddy Lumsden
April 9, 2009
We’re delighted not only to have Roddy Lumsden as our poet of the month, but also as the first to step behind the scenes with us on Our Sweet Old Etc. He’s from St Andrews, studied at the University of Edinburgh and is now based in London. He has published five books of poetry – Yeah Yeah Yeah (Bloodaxe, 1997), The Book of Love (Bloodaxe, 2000), Roddy Lumsden is Dead (Wrecking Ball Press, 2001), Mischief Night: New and Selected Poems (Bloodaxe, 2004) and Third Wish Wasted (Bloodaxe) just launched in March at StAnza: Scotland’s International Poetry Festival in his home town. He teaches at the Poetry School, is a freelance writer and editor, and a quiz maestro.
We lobbed a few Qs his way, and here are his delightful As.
What of your early years?
I’ll try and get this answer down to twenty words if you’ll allow me the one extra necessarily longer one ‘St Andrews’: ‘house; sea; Kinkell; aunts; Cupar; rowans; swimming; Woodburn; football; Langlands; birds; prog; stories; Scarborough; sausages; putting; brothers; quizzes; sand; drumming.
Is everything stolen?
No – I might be persuaded that everything is repeated or rediscovered, but sometimes poets like Chelsey Minnis and Jen Hadfield remind us that words can be put together in ways they have never, ever been before.
Does life spoil us with unfortunate combinations?
Yes, like older brothers who are into prog when you are a child. My poem which mentions this is about combinations of like with near-like, as opposed to the cancelling (or occasional doubling) effect of opposites meeting. All human combinations are dangerous and we need to flick the switch before we trigger the fortune.
What things shouldn’t you know?
…how much of ‘history’ is real because you never can…what people you don’t care about think of you…exactly when you need to be up in the morning…how the absolute magic of music works.
Would you mind revealing a curious brain-bending fact of your acquaintance?
Yes, the sitatunga is the only land mammal which regularly sleeps underwater. It’s an antelope which prefers to sleep in shallow swamp, with its nose peeping out for air, than risk being preyed upon by water-hating big cats during the night.
The fancy dress theme is ‘Come as a poem’ – what poem would you come as and how?
I’m sad to announce that I wouldn’t come – I’m really not a ‘letting my hair down’ sort, to my shame. I did fancy dress once about 25 years ago. I have a bit of an idea for coming as Robert Lowell‘s famous sonnet about Muffin the guinea pig, but am not sure if I should try and come as the creature or the cage.
You recently wrote 30 poems for napowrimo (30 poems in 30 days) 2009 in one day – is this a typical day’s work, and if not, what is?
I didn’t really of course – it was a mildly satirical comment on those who do this. Having said that, when I was finishing Third Wish Wasted last year, I cleared the decks workwise and spent the period between late June and early August only writing and revising poems, often from notes and fragments which had gathered over the past few years. I wrote nearly half the book in that five week period. I don’t have a typical day as a writer – I go with fits and starts. My teaching and editing work is much more structured and built into a routine, which I appreciate.
If there was a limit, what’s the one poem you’d carry with you, mentally or actually, and why?
Always a manifesto piece for me, the second poem of WS Graham‘s sequence ‘What Is the Language Using Us For?’
Do you think poetry is in rude health?
Artistically, yes. Commercially, no. As with all things in British life at the moment, I think there is far too much concentration (by publishers and the media) on a small number of often not very good poets. Our school curriculum favours poor poets with ‘social messages’. Plain fare poetry often gets rewarded by plain fare judges. I’m a big admirer of ‘elliptical / associative’ poetry from the US, though it has been suggested that this strain of poetry had peaked.
Describe yourself as: a metre of verse; a curry; a decade.
I’m a spondee – some say I can’t exist in English.
I’m a korma – mild and sweet but complex.
I’d like to be the 1950s in New York, but suspect I am the 1520s in mid-Fife.
Who would play you in a film of your life?
It would have to be Jack Black I think, though he might have to take voice lessons from Fat Boab.
If you weren’t Roddy Lumsden, doing what you do now, what and who would you be?
I’d like to be a singer. I’d guess that I might be a singer past the age of pop stardom but still highly regarded and engaged like Nick Cave or Jackie Leven.
Everything in my life right now is about this big Bloodaxe anthology I’m preparing called Identity Parade – New British and Irish Poets. It’s out next Spring. I also have a pamphlet of poems due around then from tall-lighthouse, the small London press I work with, which is all about various ideas of resurrection and reincarnation.