interview and event review provided by Kathy Halliday (Founding Editor) and Evie Johnson (Prose Editor)
A lion attends confession, a woman sleeps with a python,
a giraffe walks into a bar…
This may sound like the beginning of a bad joke, but Miles Salter’s latest collection is more poignant than even terrible humour is. The saying generally goes never judge a book by its cover, but in the exceptional case of ‘Animals’, appearance is everything. A tongue-in-cheek photograph of boxing taxidermy mice, speaks volumes about what Salter’s latest collection has to offer; an eclectic mix of poetry, exploring animals with human qualities, or more accurately, the animal which dwells within us all.
The City Fox and friends attended the launch of ‘Animals’, hosted at The Basement, a small venue located beneath York’s City Screen Cinema. As far as venues go, The Basement evokes a sense of what it might have been like to read poetry in smoky coffee houses in the 50s. It is compact and dimly lit, yet comfortable and in a way, homely. The only potential downside to The Basement as a venue for poetry is that it is placed directly below a cinema, which is adjacent to a night club. Having said that, there seemed to be no noticeably noise transfer from either of the larger venues, apart from the occasional bump which was to be expected. We settled ourselves into a dark corner, and waited for the exciting night of talent to begin…
The night kicked off with Craig Bradley, poet and comedian, introducing the event and making everyone feel relaxed and welcome. Perhaps his humour may not have been to everyone’s taste, as is the case with comedians, but he wasn’t without enthusiasm and energy that kept everyone interested and alert, and even made the comedy sceptics in the audience giggle. He set the pace for what promised to be an upbeat night, celebrating the launch of Salter’s anticipated collection.
As a sort of support-poet for Salter, Julia Deakin, who herself generated a laugh or two from the crowd, performed her poetry for the audience. Her pieces contrasted well with the poems Salter would later go on to perform, thus presenting the audience with a veritable smorgasbord of literary entertainment. Deakin also did well to maintain composure despite a few distractions (a few bangs and clatters and general chatter coming from overhead), and was a great act to lead on to Salter’s performance.
Firstly, it is important to note that Miles isn’t a poet – he’s a performer. Not only did we listen to a handful of poems from his new collection, but we were also treated to Miles, accompanied by a very talented guitarist, playing a range of songs from the likes of Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash and more. Although sceptical at first, as I’m one to avoid second hand embarrassment at all costs, I was pleasantly surprised and ended up coming away feeling better for listening to the two of them. It was fun and enjoyable and everything it said on the tin. Miles showed himself to be more than just words on a page but someone who radiates an infectious energy and enthusiasm that made me want to flip open my notebook and start scribbling down words.
In his new collection of poetry, Animals, (his first The Border was published in 2011) Salter explores as the title suggests animals in differing shapes, sizes and in some unlikely places. What’s interesting about these poems is Salter’s humour as he explores human themes through paws, whiskers and wet noses. There are also some beautiful, soft personal poems that fit perfectly and make Animals thought provoking and definitely well worth a good read.
After the event, we contacted Miles to find out more about ‘Animals’, and to ask for his thoughts on the night…
CF: Can you tell us a bit more about the poems which are compiled within ‘Animals’? How did you arrive at the concept for the collection?
Miles: When I was finishing my first book of poems, The Border, in 2011, I had a couple of animal poems. I decided to keep them back as I thought it would be a good theme for a second collection. It has proved a rich seam, it’s been fun to explore animals through poetry, although the animal life in the book is usually a metaphor for the human condition. I see
lots of great animal stories on the news and the internet and would love to turn them into poems. The book is scratching the surface, there are so many great animal poems out there. Ted Hughes wrote many, and there are several anthologies of animal-related poetry etc.
CF: As we saw on the night, you are just as passionate about music as you are poetry. Do you feel that music compliments or inspires your work in some way?
Miles: I love music, yes. For many years it was my main focus, then the writing slowly crept in. What I want to do now is play gigs where I combine the songs and the poems. For me, it feels like the music offers something that the poetry cannot, and the poetry offers something that the music doesn’t! So yes, I think they complement each other really well. Somebody once said that ‘all art aspires to the condition of music’ and in poetry you have similar concerns like rhythm and beat and the number of words that fit a line. But too often pop lyrics are very banal. Poetry goes deeper in terms of language.
CF: How important do you feel book launches to be in terms of publicity and sales? Or do you feel it is more about being able to share your writing with others? What are your thoughts on the launch night of ‘Animals’?
It’s nice to have a book launch, it feels like a celebration of something you’ve achieved, the book has come into the world. And the book launch forAnimals was great because I had lots of friends in the room. But I would like to do gigs all over the place, if possible. This isn’t easy, though, because it can take a lot of time to get gigs organised. For me, it’s important to be out in the world, to share the work with people. I enjoy the social aspect of the arts. You’re with like minded people who love music or poetry. When you’re on your own writing, it can be very lonely. Kate Atkinson said writing a book meant ‘being alone for days on end, trying not to go mad’. So the social aspect is important.
CF: Do you have any other reading events or future projects lined up for the remainder of 2013?
I will be playing gigs around Yorkshire and beyond over the next couple of months – there’s a list of gigs on http://www.miles-salter.co.uk/so people can have a look there.
CF: Have you had any other successes in 2013?
I got an agent earlier this year, one of the London literary agencies. This was a massive break for me, I’d been trying to get an agent for several years and it took a long time. I’m working on a children’s book which I am re-drafting at the moment. It’s taken two years already and it still isn’t finished. I hope a publisher will be interested, we will see…I’ve also written some shorter stories for younger children. There are irons in the fire, which is exciting.
CF: What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Be in it for the long haul. It can take years to make progress. Don’t expect overnight success. Keep reading, read as widely as you can. Write often. Get a critical friend, somebody who can look at your work and help you to improve. Don’t give up the day job! Most writers earn £5000 or less per year from their writing. The ones who make a lot of money are very rare. And that applies even more to poetry! In the end, we write because we want to. And finally, be in the real world. It’s where everything happens!
Many thanks to Miles for inviting us to the launch, and for allowing us to write up this review.
To purchase ‘Animals’ or Miles’ earlier works, visit his Valley Press page here or alternatively, you can purchase the ‘Animals’ collection via Amazon here.