Roger Dennis has recently won the National Poetry competition and his poem, Corkscrew Hill, is on my Featured Writer’s page. Until now I thought of him as an artist and I’ve heard from several people that he is a great art tutor: he lives in Ashburton which is my main shopping town. I love his paintings which seem very diverse in style and tone. I really didn’t know he wrote and it seems this was the first poem he sent out into the world. It’s the kind of miracle everyone would dream of!
I took advantage of knowing him to ask him a few questions about the enigmatic poem and his writing ….
Q1. What is the relationship between your writing and your art?
I can see that this is naturally one of the first questions people have when they realise I both paint and write, but it remains one of the hardest for me to answer. They certainly reinforce each other, but do not seem to have many direct links. Writing seldom leads to a new painting, I hardly ever write about or from the subject of my paintings. When I have tried to deliberately combine and work on the same themes together, the results have been either unhappy or have gone off in distinctly different directions. I may now be approaching the stage where those tensions and divergences might be fruitful material to work with [so watch this space] but up to now they have kept very much to their own tables.
I find myself wondering why. Perhaps because I am not at all sure what happens in either. Why do I [or anyone else] write or paint? Things happen within which people have lots of theories about but are probably best not messed with. Self analysis, or investigation of of the creative process, is definitely dodgy. After all, nothing like looking at reflections of yourself in shop windows for tripping over or bumping into things…
Q.2. Could you tell us about the photographer in the poem
Ah. The photographer. I’ve been at pains to keep this identity open. I invite the reader to identify both with the photographer and the “she” counting the sounds [perhaps they are one and the same?] [And also to a lesser extent with the pub landlord.] However, I will say that my original idea, the material from which the poem grew, was recollections of time I spent taking photographs in the Devon landscape that features in the poem.
So the photographer is, at least in part, me, the writer; and by address to writer’s audience, you the reader: us. It is us [we] who are draining the valley by our appropriation through art, just as much as by direct [or indirect] exploitation by all sorts of activities that include improved farming practice, rural industries, tourism, holiday accommodation conversions, sport and leisure, and, I could add now, renewable green energy technologies, and other layers of investment. And always have been doing [throughout history since humans first started carving bone, shaping clay, and settling down to farm.]
[Grammatical point: the “her” in “her valley” refers back to the subject of the sentence, i.e. the “she” who is dragging the flagon along the bar top. But I am happy if that it is open to ambiguity.]
Q3. Would you mind explaining your writing process….
Writing process? what process? – No, although one or two poems and pieces have arrived pre-written as it were, most evolve both in content and form over time and hard work. I suppose it’s a bit like making bread with a hard cold dough, you just have to keep on kneading. Then you need to walk away and let it prove. Then suddenly it starts to rise. Some things do need to be knocked back an awful lot of times, though! In terms of physical process, I use both longhand, in books sometimes, but usually on scraps of rough paper first, and wordprocessors, and recently smartphone touch screens, for all stages without much system or regularity. I find it helps to change the format – hand, print, type-face – to freshen the drafts up.
Fabulous stuff, Roger. Thank you. We all look forward to much more!