Interview With A Poet
October 21, 2009 § 2 Comments
Banana The Poet (aka Michele Brenton) and I originally meet each other on Harper Collins’ peer-review writer’s site authonomy.com and have been in touch ever since. The first in her series of poetry The Yellow Book is available for pre-order.
I hope you get a chance to read some of her work — you might discover you like poetry after all!
In the meantime, read my interview with Michele and learn a little bit about the poet named Banana:
(For all my US friends, Banana The Poet is originally from the UK but now resides in Kefalonia Greece.)
If you dislike poetry, how did you come to write a book of poetry?
I don’t dislike poetry I dislike ‘poetry’. There is a BIG difference. Poetry is the sort of thing that includes work by poets like Hilaire Belloc, Spike Milligan, AA Milne, Lewis Carroll, Kipling and many old school poets. Poetry tries honestly and unpretentiously to either entertain or explore emotions or paint pictures or tell stories or just have fun. ‘Poetry’ on the other hand is ‘up itself’ and exists purely to point out to readers just how clever and insightful the ‘poet’ is while very often proving the complete opposite.
Why do you name your poetry books after colors?
Once the seven books of the series are complete they will form a rainbow once placed in their correct order on the bookshelf. Life is full of variety, of emotion and of experience. The underlying theme of the collection is balance and light is an allegory for that. The whole, the balance, the one, is made up of the constituent parts. Life is made of light moments and dark moments, the Yin and the Yang of the symbol on the book covers. Every action has its opposite and equal reaction. Pure white light is made up of the seven rainbow colours as seen once split through a prism. Black pigment is the result of mixing all the seven rainbow colours in the paint palette.
The aim is to produce a body of work that explores as much as possible of what I have experienced in the world and to share the rainbow patterns that have provoked me to laugh, cry and then write about.
How did the name “Banana The Poet” come to be?
Banana was the first thing that came into my head when picking a nickname for an internet forum. I got fond of it. Bananas are bright and shaped like a smile and I like eating them. When I got round to blogging my poems I was already banana on my blog system so I just associated my poetry persona as banana the poet as opposed to banana the blogger or banana the novelist, who I was on my other blogs. So boringly logical really.
You attribute your becoming a poet to you father, tell me more about that. (This is too personal so I left it out – hope you don’t mind)
Your poem, “Tinkering with the ivories – or why I’m not a dentist”, is close to my heart, my son is a dentist and I’m sure he would love this one and could relate! Were you really seriously considering the profession?
Oh yes. I got through the first pre-clinical year and was most of the way through the first clinical year when I gave up dentistry. It was the experience of putting everything I had into making a spectacularly complex set of false teeth that crystalised the knowledge I would not be happy spending the rest of my life dealing with patients. The only bit of that poem that isn’t true is that I’m obviously not a ‘young fellow’ and neither was I a virgin, but the rhymes were so lovely I ditched truth for art 🙂
Frankly, I enjoyed the craft side of dentistry much more than the caring part. I loved cold cure acrylic, mucking about with plaster of paris, using the lost wax technique to make crowns from fool’s gold. I made some wonderful models of Father Christmas and elves out of left over red wax and cold cure acrylic in the labs one winter term. I hated drilling teeth and left dental school just before the class when we were to begin practising injections on each other.
The dental school I went to was very keen on turning out ‘pillars of the community’ with their sausage machine method of producing ‘professionals’ – even at that stage when I was still very biddable and well behaved I knew deep down I would never be able to stay within the mold.
The dean of the dental school was aghast when I went to tell him of my decision, I’d just done very well in a microbiology exam. I told him I wanted to be a writer. I think if I had told him I wanted to be a sex industry worker he couldn’t have been more horrified. He told me he had once harboured yearnings to run a pub, “But real people don’t do that sort of thing.” I was too young and insecure to ask him who he thought ran all the pubs in the UK then, androids?
I still have dreams about going back and finishing the course. But then I wake up and I’m very grateful it was just a dream.
Do you feel it is harder to ‘sell’ a book of poetry to publishers than a novel?
Not harder – impossible. Publishers want to make money and they usually have high overheads. When did you last hear about a best selling poetry book? With luck mine might be one, but publishers don’t put food on the table trusting to luck. They go by what has worked before. Novels make money. My poetry will make money, but it needs to be published by a lean publishing machine so that initial small profits will be acceptable in a long-term marketing plan. Endaxi Press couldn’t be much leaner.
In any case I would prefer to sell to readers than publishers. They are the reason my books exist.
How do you feel about ‘giving away’ your poetry for free on the internet?
It’s wonderful. I love to share my work and I have no patience at all. So as soon as I write something – up it goes. Immediate response from readers and I am happy to do it all over again the next day and the next. If I didn’t publish on the internet I wouldn’t produce a fraction of the work I do at the moment. The more people like it, the more I am encouraged and the more I write.
I hadn’t even considered putting a book together until I realised I had seen nearly 100,000 visitors on my poetry4fun website over a three year period! So it was thanks to the internet that the books were thought of.
As long a people don’t pass my work off as their own, or try and sell it, or make use of it without acknowledging me as the ‘owner’ of the work, I am completely happy for people to come along to my website and read my poetry free of charge. That’s why I post it there and Tweet it.
How do you see the publishing industry changing with the advent and ubiquity of the internet?
It took my husband eight weeks to learn the software packages necessary to set up a publishing company and get it up and running from scratch. We deal with the printers over the internet and send the book block in .pdf form for them to produce the proof copies for approval.
For people like us, with previous entrepreneurial experience and solid IT skills coupled with a creative streak publishing has become one of the most accessible industries to get into. I think it is a bit like the seventies when people started cottage industries like micr-breweries and organic cheese factories. At the time they seemed very strange and the general attitude was that they wouldn’t succeed. Like everything else, some did and some didn’t.
But Print on Demand is definitely the way forward for all publishers big or small. It removes the need for huge warehouses, reduces the terrible waste of paper and resources that used to occur when a book got pulped and it means for an author they need never be out of print again, because it is no effort for a publisher to keep the .pdf file of the book to hand in order to zap one off now and then if the order comes in.
Do you think the changes being talked about in the industry will be long lasting, or do you think the old-fashioned paper book will always be the preferred method of reading a book?
My son always prefers to read from his palm top. I prefer a book. I think it is a generational thing and an eyesight thing. I like to read in bed and if I fall asleep while reading, a book is much gentler to hit me in the face than a machine. It is also cheaper and quieter if a book falls out of bed onto a tiled surface than an expensive machine. I think holiday books are better on paper too, all that sand and suncream is not good on a screen of any sort. But my son would disagree with me. I think both will always be with us.