AWM recently sat down with self-published poet James Walton to talk about being a regional writer, crafting beautiful words, and self-publishing.
As a self-published author, what is some advice you would give budding writers wanting to self-publish, particularly in the area of poetry?
Do it! These days there a number of excellent publishing platforms, take your time, subscribe to a few, trial some testing of the product. I had to be in a hurry because I waited for the muse in a job that so occupied me 24/7 for my whole working life no opportunity arose until I quit. I did my first book ‘cold’ using a service set up by a Welsh writer who provides a very economical publishing house to get you going. I sent my proof file, my family and I designed the cover and did the graphic set up for print, and he took care of it from there. You can do it all yourself though very easily and the quality is as good as any industry publishing house, and you won’t be waiting twelve months to hear anything. Make sure though that you have a body of work from various journals, anthologies, etc. that make your book a product that people will want, even from the list of previous publication sources. You are of course, brilliant, but no one knows you! Even a positive reaction to blurb of where you’ve been published will get people interested. Remember, poetry is not a big seller, there is not a lot of publisher interest, most sites will say ‘We do not accept poetry manuscripts’, even if you are the hidden genius that the world is waiting for, you may find it very hard to get a jacket.
When you were writing The Leviathan’s Apprentice did you have a set formula for producing a series of poems that were in conversation with each other?
The Leviathan’s Apprentice was a compilation of that first frantic eighteen months of creative writing, with material published in newspapers, anthologies, competitions and a number of journals. To make sense of it all I split it into six themes starting with Love and ending with a fantasy sequence of a time travelling, gender swapping, reincarnating person who finally realizes his/her own worth. I hope they did work together thematically, I’ve been told by readers that they ‘get it’, but it was a journey. I didn’t start with a formula, but the poems certainly fell into a relationship with each other in the six themes – I suppose there may be a recipe at work I’m not always aware of, like a melody in the background.
How has social media changed the way you approach publishing poetry? You post poems regularly on your Facebook, do you see this as a new medium for poetry?
Being a senior Australian, I’ve come late to social media, so I was a little hesitant in using it initially. It’s fantastic! All the blogs, online magazines, links to independent publishers; they all provide outlets that never existed before, and places that will give you a go. I do post on Facebook, especially links to work published in various places, and also to a community hub poetry site. I got a shock to see on one hub that I had over three hundred separate readers one month, with a posting, once I figured out how to check the statistics! Facebook provides all sorts of opportunities for networking and sharing that’s totally overrun the paper chase. It gets work out with an immediacy that’s gratifying, and we all need that. There are people who use it as the direct medium, especially on the many poetry sites, but my usage is more sharing access to other places.
How has the Australian landscape influenced the way you write poetry? Because you live so rurally, do you feel isolated from the writing community or inspired by the landscape and its personality?
I’m a lover of the natural world and I do see the setting as spiritual/religious and as more than an inspiration – its part of who I am, part of my soul. I grew up in estate suburbs, government and ex-service, but I always wanted to get out into the bush. Because I’m enveloped by mountains, sky, and animals, those features can’t help but influence my daily thinking. I’m sure this landscape, even if I’m writing on a another topic, provides the lyric rhythm to what I’m writing – it is an escapable harmony that comes into my phrasing and imagery. Conversely some readers don’t like the pastoral stuff, especially the ones who tell me they’re city kids, and they like it that way. They still go for the lyric quality in my other work though, to the extent that lately I’ve had musicians wanting to put my words to music, where the poems have a natural speaking beat.
The more I’ve become involved with other writers, I have started to feel isolated from my peers and this isn’t helped by how bad the internet is in my area, even when it is working. I am finding this feeling surprising, as I have tended to be a natural hermit most of my life, but it is there, and I am puzzled by it. A dilemma that may be common to rural and regional writers.
In your poetry writing process, how important is accessibility of meaning? Should interpretation come easy, are there certain themes you want the reader to identify, or do you leave the reader to free interpretation?
Accessibility is a strange beast. I tend to think of accessibility in meaning/interpretation as being governed by enjoyment as much as anything. One of my favourite writers told me my work ‘required a lot of the reader, but God it’s worth the effort’. A poet whose work I adore, writes in a thematic style of imagery which I rarely grasp, but I still get a euphoric joy out of her words. There are levels of enjoyment, and of accessibility, and in the end it is so individual. In one workshop, a participant told me I made him feel stupid, and another told me she swam in every word – what can you do? I got an email from a reader with a beautiful and valid analysis of a poem, full of subtle interpretation taken from the words, but it wasn’t what I was writing about in my head at all!
It varies, and the theme itself can sometimes determine the level of accessibility – what’s in the immediate surrounds, what triggers what it is you are writing about, how the past catches up with that moment, and the chronology of how it comes together for the next step. Maybe it’s just an instant of cerebral fancy, or a vivid description, or an historical commentary with new imagery. If you write it honestly as you feel it, at whatever intellectual, emotional, or descriptive level, the theme is always accessible to someone who has had the experience in some way and who wants to come along.
TJ Wilkshire is a twenty-something Brisbane based artist and writer. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Writing and English Literature and is currently studying the WEP Masters at the University of Queensland. Her work focuses on birds and she hopes to one-day turn into one. Wilkshire’s poetry has been published in Peril and Uneven Floor, and won the NotJack Competition.