Prior to the release of his debut poetry collection “Cacophony of Stardust” this weekend at Southcart Books in Walsall I took time out to sit down with one of the most well known and respected poets on my local poetry scene and beyond Al Barz, to ask him some questions about the new book and more.
Q.Congratulations on the publication of your new poetry collection Cacophony of Stardust, what was the inspiration behind the title and what can readers expect to find within the book’s pages?
A. I’ll start by saying how I appreciate your generosity with time and attention you give to local poets including myself, with events, Walsall Poetry Society, and these interviews. It means a lot especially from a very popular fellow poet. So thank you for that!
Last year, in late December, I was ‘strong-armed’ (their phrase) by Matty Cash, together with Paul B Morris as his henchman, into putting together a collection. Without their push it wouldn’t have been done. Not yet anyway! I’m thankful for them giving me that push and for their publishing skills.
I tend to hear poetry in my head when I’m reading or writing; the music, intonation and rhythms of lines are an embedded experience. So when I was selecting, from several hundred, these 150 or so, to me it seemed to represent a cacophony; a mixture of sounds creating dissonance as they rub shoulders.
‘Stardust’, well because that’s what a book is, what I am, what we all are, shaped into our human existence imposing our order on the universe’s struggle for entropy….. and also because it’s in one of my poems ‘Moonshine Over Monaco’ which borrows from Joni Mitchell’s song, Woodstock. “We are stardust, we are golden…”
I am truly grateful to Gary Longden, who reviewed this book for me, saying there is something for everyone. My subjects, styles and emotional attachments range pretty widely and I tried in vain to shoehorn them into ‘chapters’ according to subject matter, but these are porous categories.
Being rebellious when confronted with boundaries, I’ll blur the edges, drag in other concepts and kick holes in boxes to let them breathe. My poems have musicality and well defined poetic structure… or not at all, and some reject the concept of ‘genre’.
So you’ll find pieces that are light, dark, horrific, tragic, gleeful, cerebral, some that rant and some that chortle. It’s a bran tub for you to delve a hand into and whatever you pull out will be different each time.
Q. I’ve read and enjoyed the book immensely it’s a great collection of your work, what are your favourite poems within the book and why do they appeal to you?
A. Thanks for that. I’m glad you enjoyed reading it. I am quite pleased with it myself. As for favourites, in Desert Island Discs I always think eight is not enough tracks, but I’ve drawn the line at five here.
Leandra, about a teenage crush, is one of the first poems to get a musical backing. Leandra, the poem, the recording, the CD album (long out of print) occupied a lot of my attention, to the disgruntlement of my wife. I mean, how can you be jealous of a poem?
Patina Paternus, ‘a dish of my father’ is a personal, simplified slice of my lifetime without having a dad around. I knew it would be hard writing about my father but making it about my missed experience, it almost wrote itself. Hardly ever did I juggle with it or strain over lines.
Two Minutes I choose because 11th November could easily be just another annual ceremony with old people and soldiers marching and talk of war, and I wanted to write something more accessible, for a child to grasp.
SJ is about a brilliant young woman, Sammy Joe, about to embark on a Masters Degree who became afflicted with mental illness with brutal episodes of psychosis, and who eventually took her own life. I still mourn her, that wonderful, creative life lost, and am sad for the daughter she left behind. It took ages to be able to set down my feelings of loss of a friend and a friendship, and I am pleased at the beauty that appeared within its form.
Calm Down! gives me a little freedom for fun in performance, to add expression and humour – and I’m pleased with the backing track I created on GarageBand.
Q. As a veteran – I hope you don’t mind me using that word – of the poetry scene in Walsall, the West Midlands and beyond I’m interested to know how and when you started writing poetry and what inspired you to pick up the pen?
A. How did I get to be a veteran?? But it’s true, and it’s a long time since I was ten. My writing was atrocious then, I couldn’t be arsed, and I always got poor marks. Then I came across a piece of advice – ‘find a word you don’t know in the dictionary and use it’. I became obsessive about it. I wove into my next essay four bloody good words for a ten-year-old and it got me top marks and high praise from Miss Love, my English teacher. My opening phrase… “I had become listless with life….” I can’t recall what that was supposed to mean, but hey!
My mum gave me ‘A Child’s Garden of Verses’ by R L Stevenson, and others. I read it over and over, and composed poems way back then, but nobody really noticed. When he died, I raided granddad’s bookcase for more material before they dumped his hundreds of books and I ferreted away a couple of dozen classic poets, which I still have.
Teenage motivated me to develop a devastating style of writing letters to girls I’d met. I practically orgasmed from the endorphin rush in my brain with every letter I posted, often including poems I made up. (See? It’s all about getting the girl!)
I had four poems accepted for an anthology by a Welsh publisher when I was twenty-two, the first I ever sent off, and I still have the royalty cheque. (It was never about the money.) it was so easy that I assumed anyone could get published anytime. I didn’t see it as an achievement so I didn’t bother much after that.
Then Life crowded out Poetry but she is a tenacious mistress. She lay in wait around corners, naked, enticing, beckoning for me to spend days in her arms. If I didn’t, the earth would no longer sing, clouds would drape themselves over trees and love would die. So I relented.
You give birth to a piece of art when it comes together, surprising yourself with the power and beauty of your muse. You may say to yourself “Wow! That’s absolute genius, man! Where did that come from?” And it’s not conceit, it’s delight.
How can you not keep returning to a lover that makes you feel like that? But I never forget that every brilliant poem is surrounded by piles of unusable snippets and plenty of mediocrity.
And my handwriting is still atrocious.
Q. As well as being a poet, many of the times I’ve seen you perform I know you’re not afraid to whip out your organ and perform your work to a keyboard accompaniment. When it comes to writing poems how do you determine which ones work better to a tune and what goes into your music writing process?
A. Haha! I joined Poetry Wednesbury in the 90’s which got me back to working on my writing more. I had a Yamaha keyboard sitting idly by and thought one or two of my poems might work with some music, so I sat down and picked out chords, added preset rhythms and so on. It worked quite well and gained added interest from poetry crowds, even at Birmingham Arts Fest, for several seasons.
Whether a poem is suitable usually depends on it having a consistent rhythmic structure throughout, to fit with a regular music rhythms. It is an aesthetic extension of the performance rather than a song. Blurred boundaries. I create the poem, create the track, alter the poem to fit with it, adjust the track to suit, and so on. Pondering and frustration play a part and hours of staring blankly while the brain filters the cacophony. 😜
Nowadays, iPads and GarageBand app have become my go-to for backing tracks. They’re getting more complex, too, and it can take several months to develop. Some tracks break free and refuse to support their poem. I abandon those to the Internet. Some are cantankerous, like If You Were Birmingham which underwent a personality change after I married it to its track (I Would Hug You). They have since divorced.
Q. After the launch of Cacophony of Stardust what’s next for you?
A. You think I’m organised, don’t you? The mess of creative impulse in my head will throw up a strand of something that may lead somewhere. I have thousands of words of a novel written and lying dormant, hundreds more poems that could turn into another book, some music looking for a poem and vice versa, and a continual list of events that I want to attend.
Video is what I’m veering towards. On my website, before I ditched it in preparation for a redesign, I had posted a very raw piece of animation to Leandra. It depends on health and home commitments, but I want to stretch into video more. However, I never want to lose the performance gigs where concrete has set around my spiritual feet.
Q. If folks want to find out more or listen/read some of your work where can they find you online?
A. As a bit of a computer boffin I’ve had an online Internet presence for over twenty-five years and built a dozen websites. It may take a while, but there’s a redesign of my main website started. In WordPress, my poems have now been depleted but I occasionally add more. SoundCloud has recordings of poems and music tracks and there’s some on Reverbnation and a scant selection of YouTube videos.
My website :: www.albarz.uk
WordPress :: https://albarz20.wordpress.com
SoundCloud :: https://soundcloud.com/al-barz
Reverbnation :: https://www.reverbnation.com/albarz9
FaceBook :: AlBarz Twitter :: @AlBarz
LinkedIn :: Al Barz Google+ :: Al Barz
Once upon a time I was the only Al Barz on the Internet, but now loads more Al Barzes have sneaked in… and a Persian mountain… but there’s still only one me.
Thanks Al for that great interview, if you can’t make the launch you can buy a copy of Al’s new book on Amazon here.