Why I Write (Five)

I can’t believe it’s the fifth week in my ‘Why I Write’ series! These posts every week are certainly helping to brighten our dismally wet winter. Hoping the computer will reel me in. And today, I’m thrilled that poet, Gary Longden has agreed to share his feelings about writing with us, and he offers some interesting insights.

I first met Gary a couple of years ago at a spoken word event in Worcester. At the time, I knew his name as I’d heard of his poetic duo with Amy Rainbow – one of my ex-writing students who has gone on to exciting things, one of them being the partnership with Gary. (Those of you who came to the launch of ‘The Piano Player’s Son’ will have heard them there.) Their poetic duo is wonderfully entertaining, but I also discovered that Gary is an extremely talented and thoughtful poet in his own right. He was longlisted for Birmingham Poet Laureate 2012/2013 and performs at venues all over the Midlands.

Over to you Gary:

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As a poet I write to connect with the outside world. I continually worry that what I write is somehow unrepresentative of me. Then I rediscover a truth. Whatever we write is representative of us, at the time of writing. The fear is not that it is not representative, but that it is.

My two great influences are the economic staccato of Ernest Hemingway and the lush grandeur of DH Lawrence. My writing bounces between those two polar opposites. What I read fuels my writing. Increasingly I seek contemporary sources. Although the Greats set a formidable standard, they told  tales of their time, and great writing must be of its time, as well as able to transcend it. So I seek great writing from the past, and stimulating contemporary writing, to read. How can you write well without having read well?

I am poor at articulating my own raw experience in my writing, choosing instead to observe others. I find difficulty in distinguishing between what is important to me, and what might be important to others. Furthermore my emotions are the sum total of a lifetime of experience and emotion, condensing that I find most difficult.  I eschew writing as personal therapy, it needs to connect with others in some way.

One of the advantages of writing poetry is the burgeoning performed poetry circuit. Few people sit down and read poetry, fewer still buy poetry books, but dozens, sometimes several dozens attend performed poetry events offering me the opportunity to interface with my audience and gauge their response. I am a great believer that “the voice of the people is the voice of God”. Many times I have been surprised both by how work which I was unsure about gained traction, and at how work that I was confident about disappeared into a sea of indifference. Comic writing has the advantage of an instant response, your audience either laugh, or they don’t. Serious writing, or work with a message, can confuse- is the silence knowing awe, or bemusement?

A psychologist once opined that nothing we say or do is neutral, it has a purpose and significance. I have come to understand that is true of my writing, of any writing.

The brief form of poetry tempts the writer to replicate the formula of those which are successful. It is a temptation I try to resist on two counts. Firstly it invariably represents a dilution of the source work. Secondly there is so much else to write about. Like the musician nagged to replicate a previous hit single. My favourite writing quote is from Joseph Heller. Upon being asked by a journalist if he did not acknowledge that his problem was that nothing that he had subsequently written had surpassed “Catch 22”, Heller replied “Who has?” Although I can only dream of the heights scaled by Heller the principle that when you have done your best, move on, is a good one.

Gary Longden

You can find out more about Gary and his writing here


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