This unique book of prologue poems with frayed ends, rhyming couplets with obsessively counted syllables, at 6 by 9 inches may not fit into your back pocket, but you will want to carry its secrets around with you always. Together the poems form an existentialist novella about a man outside his own time and a study of empathy and pity. The front cover painting by Andrew Salgado is another secret, a parergon to the artist’s Storytelling era, which has never been exhibited. The book is introduced by Ned Raggett who offers his own thoughts on the Apparitionist.
Can you start by telling us a bit about yourself? How would you describe yourself as a writer?
Whenever I greet people in the street, I’m likely to simper at them slightly as I say “Morning” or “Hello”, and then I invariably let out a weak laugh, which is involuntary. I’ve often tried to suppress this laugh, but can’t seem to bottle it up. It always comes out, a little nervous giggly sound, and, despite it only being audible to me, I find it infuriating. Then there are sides to my character that show me to be far less worried about public approval or validation, a side that allows me to cope well in an emergency, so that I can talk fluently to paramedics, and a side that can tear a strip off someone who’s upset one of my loved ones in some way. This disregard for approval is evident in my writing, but so is that irrepressible simpering laugh. I do have a strong sense of empathy, however, which is perhaps what defines my work more than anything, though I resist the didactic approach.
My speech patterns in social situations mark me out as an eccentric, and can alienate me quite quickly, and these ways of speaking mirror my literary idiom. I will often use highfalutin and bamboozling language in a social setting, and, as with that little laugh, I can’t seem to stop myself. But then in contrast, for example, someone will express some uncalled for annoyance with my driving, and, without thinking, I’ll get out of my car and hear myself shout in a Basildon accent, “You got a problem mate?” Going from eloquence to base inarticulacy manifests in my writing as bathos.
I know that you and I have spoken about Apparitionist, but could you please share some of your inspiration behind the collection for others?
I was interested in making use of several techniques in the writing of my book. I’ve already mentioned bathos. I find it a useful, playful way of wrong-footing the reader: just when they think they have me pegged, the prevailing colours in a poem will digress.
Colour was at the forefront of writing the poems, not only because I’ve always seen colours whenever I hear sounds, but because I’d made a decision to work closely with painters, mainly Andrew Salgado. Andrew’s style of painting is always developing, and he too seems to enjoy wrong-footing people, but essentially his style is recognisably gestural. I would write to/stalk Andrew, and he would occasionally reply, and my book took some if its shape from my thoughts about his work.
One other technique worth mentioning is a process that I call “Evanescing”. “Poets ninth removed from the Somme, deprived of generous hell, will glom onto trifles,” is a line from one of my early poems, and the motif that runs through much of my work. Of course I feel immensely grateful and privileged to have never seen conflict first hand, but I’ve often wondered what my role as a poet might be potentially. I wanted to write about conflict in our world, the devastation in its wake, but was unsure how I could go about this without appearing crass. I also wanted to stay clear of didactics. I came up with the idea of using this evanescing approach, which allows me to travel without moving from my location, at all times making clear that I know who I am and where I am, but seeing through empathy others’ desperate situations.
What has been the most challenging aspect of writing Apparitionist?
The words fall into place pretty fast when they do come, and so on a practical level it has been hard to get them down quickly enough on occasion, especially when I’ve been interrupted by prosaic but unavoidable activities like needing to go to the toilet or eat. In fact, there is much about going to the toilet in this book, as there is about eating. I explore why, oddly, notions of both promote strong feelings of empathy within me. It has something to do with how these bodily functions are related to milestones in our early development, and can be taken away in a stroke.
Likewise, what has been the most rewarding part of the writing process?
There was a realisation, after I had written quite a lot of the poems, that they were not simply individual pieces, but were instead forming a homogenous narrative about someone who is reviewing their life after their death. It was unexpected, perhaps, but felt very natural at the same time, and has sparked a new energy in my work: keep writing, revisit themes, and a wider story will emerge.
Do you currently have a work in progress that you could tell us about or any upcoming ideas?
Since publishing my book, I’ve realised that the reference point for my narrative has shifted away from the Apparitionst towards a different character, which I’m calling Flâneur-fabular. For anyone who is interested, this subtly new perspective is unfurling and free to read on my Blogspot.
Do you spend a lot of time reading? If so, what would be your favorite genre?
I do spend a lot of time reading novels, but because of my obsessive tendencies, I make painfully slow progress, and tend to get slower towards the end of a book as I re-read each passage. To counter this obsessiveness, I intersperse novel-reading with poems. At the moment I’m reading The Book of Monelle by Marcel Schwob in tandem with the selected poetry of Herbert Read. I like a central character that is profoundly introspective, I suppose, which one finds across the genres.
Do you have one book or author that you draw inspiration from and would recommend?
A poet I hold in the highest esteem is Gerard Manley Hopkins. He illustrates to me why poetry is the greatest art form. That’s my view. People will often praise a poem by saying it’s so good, it is close to music. Poetry is not “almost” music; to say that is doing it a disservice. It has an oral dimension and tradition, obviously, but its power lies in the fact that it makes use of quietude and is ineffably inside of you, as much like a prayer as a song. Other poets I like very much are Nizar Qabbani and Celia Dropkin, whose work is hard to find in print.
I’ve also been a long-time admirer of the lyrics and literary work, blogs etc, of Nick Currie, aka Momus. I find him fascinating, how much of his work manages to be simultaneously tender and unnerving. I write to him/stalk him sometimes too.
Can you please share something with us about yourself that we would not know from your bio?
People may be surprised to hear this, but I spend rather too much of my time wondering why I’m not more liked, why my work is not more recognised. I confess that I would like to be more popular, but at the same time, I can never compromise. No space but this thin place for me, as art’s consensii sits entrenched, but I will not mimic.
And I have to ask, as I always do, do you drink tea? If so, what would be your favorite blend?
My favourite is camomile tea, which I drink with the bag on its string left in the cup.
Whitenails is a writer of prologue poems and rhyming couplets with obsessively counted syllables. Since the age of 21, he has suffered from a neurological condition that affects his balance. His book, Apparitionist, a study of empathy and pity, was published by Indoor Fighting Press in November 2017. Its poems build to form an existentialist novella about a man outside his own time. He is seen as an outsider, and is rarely published in magazines. His poems are more likely to appear in the exhibition catalogues of artists with whom he has established a creative bond.