Interview: Neil Rollinson

Neil Rollinson has published three collections of poetry with Jonathan Cape, most recently Demoilition (2007) He's a National Poetry Competition winner and the recipient of a Cholmonderley Award and several Arts Council Writers awards. For five years he was editor of the influential on-line Literature magazine Boomerang. He recently ended a stint as Cerative Writing Research Fellow at Manchester University, and is currently working on his fourth colletion of Poems.

We’ve just had a lovely sunny day at the beach. Where have you been?

I've been at my computer betting on the horses. I do this every day, and then I listened to the cricket on the radio. How was the beach? Sounds like hell to me!

Poetry is the girl you stare at from across the bar all night. We’re telling you mate, she’s a looker and a half. She’s a redhead, that dark auburn colour, in a backless dress. You notice she has READ MORE tattooed across her knuckles when she picks up her glass of Baileys. Eventually, you work up the nerve to go over and talk to her. What’s your opening line?

Drinking Baileys is like drinking sperm. I love the way you lick your lips afterwards.

Gutted. Poetry is playing hard to get. You try again by telling her about your favourite poem. What is it?

Yeah we got off to a bad start there... she didn’t touch her Bailey’s again. I think she's probably from the Poetry School. Have you read A Depression Ode by Coleridge sweetheart? Peter Redgrove thought it was a poem about the power of weather. Its an invigorating poem.

You’re still not winning her over. You try to impress her with the best line you’ve ever written, which is...

'…soon it will get so cold, a single thought could finish us off' I say, enigmatically and give her my best smile…

Bad luck. It still didn’t work. She said no. It wasn’t anything personal, she was just getting over someone. Maybe in a few years, and hey, perhaps you can be friends. Still, you’re understandably upset, and soon find yourself bitterly telling your friends that you never really liked her in the first place, and in fact, she’s really...

a bit dim, one of the hippy happy lot who think that anything they write is good poetry, (cos that's wot happened). Nice tits though!

Your friends are sick of you complaining, so take you out on the town. You don’t remember most of the night, except at one point you got arrested, and you wake up in the Tower of London. Oo-er. Still, it’s breakfast time - how do you like your eggs?

I'll take them easy over, but don’t break the yolks. If you want them in egg cups that's 4 minutes, no more no less. We can then have whole-wheat soldiers.

After breakfast, you discover you’re due to be executed at dawn the next day (how do you like your eggs now, eh?) after committing the highest charge of treachery (you sold the entire British supply of tea for a silver lyre and a packet of Maryland cookies, you traitor). Your only hope for immortality is to write one last poem on the prison walls with the remains of your breakfast. Unfortunately you have no ideas, and the prison guards are already beginning to fight over your possessions. The only solution is to find a cure for writer’s block. What is it?

Who was it said a cold shower and a clean shirt? Probably Auberon Waugh or Mr Amis Snr. But that's about right I think.- I don’t really have time for writers block, they have it in Islington and places like that, it’s a lifestyle choice isn’t it… ooooh I just can’t get my head together at the moment!

Also, what's the poem you write on the walls?

I write the whole of Immortality Ode… by William Wordsworth with a bit of chalky rock, too long to write here but you know the one, that’ll get the bastards thinking about life and death about why they have me incarcerated here.

You’re in the same situation as above, except this time your imagination is wild with ideas, but you’re sick with fear and understandable distress. You may even have a migraine coming on. The guards suggest Bourbon but then remind you that you cannot drink in prison, and proceed to down the bottle in front of you. What’s your cure for generally feeling eurgh?

Good porn, a wank, and lots of coffee. Tried and trusted.

Luckily, you manage to escape. Congratulations, you crazy fugitive, you! You now find yourself on the run with Anne Boleyn, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Queen Elizabeth IV (and her lady companion, Cindy the Prawn). You find yourselves hiding out in a microwave in the back of a fish 'n' chip shop, but there’s only room for four. Cindy gets to stay (because everyone loves her), but everyone else must compete for the right to stay in the microwave. Quickly, sell yourself!

Cindy is in love with me, we had a very passionate affair recently, behind the microwave actually, and she would be heart-broken to see me go, in fact she’s having my baby - it would cruel to have a child grow up without its father, don’t you think? Ditch Fyodor – he’ll only depress everyone!

Even though you’re confined to a microwave, you’re certain someone is stalking you, and so you decide to hire your own personal bodyguard. You’ve narrowed the choice down to the following: Sofia Sestina, Henry ‘Hy-yah’ Haiku, Pat ‘The Gun’ Pantoum, Villanelle Valentine Versace and Free Range Greg (who is currently disguised as a horse). Who do you pick, and why?

What’s with all the formalists? I have a terrible suspicion of anyone who thinks that it’s clever, or cool to write sestinas, pantoums and vilanelles, so I’ll go with the horse, or is it a stallion? It can come to the party I'm having later too.

It’s five years later, and you’re still stuck in that damn microwave, but have not yet been killed by your stalker. You start to think back to happier times. Tell us about the greatest gift you ever received.

I can’t its too rude, and she was just 16, but apart from that, someone bought me Spanish lessons several years ago and that’s just about the most useful thing I ever got. I don’t really like gifts much, and I hate Christmas, so I normally go abroad to escape all that crap.

It’s TEN years later, and you’re now living in a walk-in freezer in Portmeirion. You’ve been writing solidly since your escape from the Tower (that takes you back, eh?) and now have more than enough for a new collection. Do you send it off to your publisher, knowing they may well call the police on you, or do you stay in cognito, writing for your eyes only?

My Publisher would never hand me in… My editor Robin Robertson would defend his writers to the end, but I see what you mean – I don’t think there’s really any point at all in writing for oneself, what’s the point? Poetry is about communication, not therapy, so I’d definitely send it out there and get it published, regardless of the consequences.

Bad news. The police were catching up with you anyway, so you’ve had to go on the run again with Lizzy and Cindy. What with all their shoes and pashminas, there is only room for you to carry one book with you. You’ve decided it must be poetry, but not an anthology. What do you keep? Decide quickly, before Cindy manages to squeeze another pashmina into the suitcase...

Why Brownlee Left by Paul Muldoon – total perfection. Or Lyrical Ballads by Wordsworth and Coleridge.

Congratulations, you’re FINALLY free of the police! Cindy’s last pashmina really came into its own when trying to subdue a detective. Now you are a lad of leisure, and have booked a murder mystery party for eight (including yourself) tonight in a castle in Swansea. Sadly, your friends are all out seeing the new Indiana Jones film (even Cindy) and have cancelled last minute, the cads. Your only option is to call seven poets to take their place. Who do you pick for this rather morbid evening, and who are you counting on to solve the mystery?

Shelley, as long as he can bring Mary and Claire, they must have been amazing. You couldn’t really have a party without Byron so lets have him too, Byron’s half sister Allegra, of course. (Things could be getting a little steamy here, so let’s continue in theme). Catullus and his lover Lesbia, Sappho, the Persian poet Rumi, though god knows what he’d make of Byron and his ilk, Verlaine would liven things up a bit, and finally, though she’s not a poet, I’d invite Anais Nin. Add drugs, alcohol, and big house by a lake and wait for the fireworks.Cindy will be gutted to miss this. As for the murder mystery, well someone's bound to end up murdering someone tonight, with genius comes madness.I'd keep your eyes on Byron and Verlaine!

I don’t really hang out with many poets, too much bitching and self-seeking onanism for my liking, but there are exceptions and a more realistic get together might involve Peter Redgrove, and Penelope Shuttle, Alan Brownjohn, Selima Hill, John Hartley Williams, Michael Longley and Ruth Padel. This would be a quieter afair but certainly a great evening, especially if Ruth starts singing.

Finally, describe a polar bear in three words, without using any adjectives, or mentioning pomegranates.

Next you’ll be telling me you’re LANGUAGE poets, Yuk!. Club the fucker! That goes for the poets and the Polar bear.

- Neil Rollinson, Isobel Norris & Katie Allen

Katie Allen was raised in the desolate wastes of the North, but due to happenstance is currently studying English and Creative Writing at Warwick, of all places. She is eighteen and has never been published before, but this is okay because she spends all her time daydreaming anyway, usually about pashminas and cherry smoothies. If all else fails, when she eventually grows up she wants to run an ice cream parlour.

Isobel Norris has a bio on the About Us page.

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