On “Reading Dostoevsky in the John Lewis Café, Welwyn Garden City”

Making an example of oneself isn’t always easy. Making an example of one’s poetry even less so.

Nevertheless, I took a stab at explaining some of the process behind writing the poem “Reading Dostoevsky in the John Lewis Café, Welwyn Garden City” in a new post on the Nine Arches Press blog. The poem appears toward the end of my new collection, Cyclone.

You can read the poem, and notes — on sincerity, irony, and class — as part of their “in conversation series”.


The Zombie-Slayer School of Poetry

tor-johnson

The internet wants to turn us into zombies.

I behold the transformation, as one by one my fellow commuters whip out their smartphones — the eyes go dead, the jaw goes slack, drool glistening at the corners of the mouth. They are reading, yes, but what are they reading? A mish-mash of “messaging” designed to provoke consumer behaviour.

Like a zombie, the internet wants to consume your brain. It’s how zombies spread. But poetry wants the opposite — it wants to give, not take. It wants to give you back your brains.

In a new review for Huffington Post, I take a close look at two poets who are taking on the zombie-like drone of mass media with their own fresh language. Equally adroit in high and low registers — as comfortable undoing the undead with a high-powered rifle as with a cricket bat — these two associate as freely as search engine results, tackling big questions with humour, pathos, and self-conscious aplomb.

This poetry will give you back your brains — and perhaps even a bit of your heart.


An American Werewolf in London

“Follow your inner moonlight; don’t hide the madness.”

-Allen Ginsberg

The train that galloped up to the platform this morning, normally crammed with humanity, was empty but for the discarded newspapers lining the window ledges. I thought I had missed the memo about the start of the zombie apocalypse. Turns out the kids have gone back to school, and the tourists have gone home. So I spent some time on my morning commute thinking about the similarities between poets and werewolves.

Culture, like poetry, is so often about what gets transmitted between the lines. It is not, I decided, the bankers and CEOs who normally sit across from me on the train who hold the most cultural power. What we learn on our mothers’ laps goes deep, to a visceral level. What gets passed down, mother to child through generations, forms the culture of a people. Mothers, therefore, are also “unacknowledged legislators” creating and replicating the very “operating system” of a society — its culture.

Moving from California to London certainly feels like I have switched operating systems. Apart from the obvious fumbling as I seek to find where they’ve moved the new buttons and menus, this shake-up gives me the opportunity to discover what is universal among computers — er — people. Contrast is one powerful way to heighten perception and uncover commonality in the quest for what is essentially human.

I have also discovered, however, that poets are not entirely human. Continue reading…