WEDNESDAY, MAY 2: Bermudian teaching fellow and writer Dr Paul Maddern has been selected by the BBC/Scottish Poetry Library to represent Bermuda in The Written World, London 2012 poetry project. They record just one poem by writers from each of 204 nations competing in the London Olympics, and broadcast them between now and September. The poem they selected is Bodysurf which is dedicated to Bermudian Erin Vickers on the eve of her departure for Exeter University, UK. It has also been translated into Czech, and preformed by fishermen (and Maddern) for a Czech TV crew.
Maddern won the Templar Poetry Pamphlet in 2009 and was awarded An Artists’ Career Enhancement Award from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland. He is also working with esteemed poet Sinead Morrissey for a poem called The Tipping Line addressed to Erin’s brother Rowan.
What does it mean to you to have your poem selected for this?
There’s a sense of shock, mixed with delight and pride. It’s a great honour to represent your country and it means a great deal to me.
Why did you choose to write this poem in particular?
Bodysurf was written for Erin Vickers, the daughter of Ken and Jane Vickers — dear, life-long friends. Erin was off to Exeter University, the first to leave the nest, and I wanted to mark the occasion. So, the poem, in part, is about departures and meeting challenges. I hope it’s also about knowing a subject intimately and learning your craft. Seamus Heaney has a wonderful poem, The Given Note, that’s about a fiddler on a remote Atlantic island (one of the Blaskets, off the coast of Ireland). The fiddler takes “this air out of the night” and, as a result of combining real graft and natural talent, he turns it into the best tune he possibly can. I hope there’s something of that respect for skill and craft in Bodysurf.
Describe some of the imagery and metaphors in the piece.
I grew up on Grape Bay Beach. At least, that’s how it feels. I know every inch of that place. And some of my fondest childhood memories are of bodysurfing there. And I still feel lost if I’m not living close to the sea. I think that’s true for many Bermudians. So, the ocean features in quite a bit of my work. The main metaphor running through Bodysurf, unsurprisingly, is ‘the wave’ and our battle to co-opt its force — and, equally, to respect it. Basically, it’s about knowing when to ride and manipulate the force of the wave, and when it’s best to dive through it, out the other side.
It’s not a subtle metaphor!
Is the poem influenced by other poets/writers?
There are writers I admire, of course, and whose work influences me. Going back a bit: Yeats, Auden, MacNeice, and James Merrill. More contemporary: Michael Longley, Derek Mahon, Sinéad Morrissey, Martin Mooney, Michael Donaghy, Brian Turner, Mark Doty, Eoghan Walls, and Miriam Gamble. The great Jamaican poet Lorna Goodison would be another influence, as would an exciting new Jamaican poet, Kei Miller, who teaches at Glasgow University. And Christian Campbell, a young Bahamian writer, published by Peepal Tree Press in the UK (who publish Angela Barry). Prose? Janice Galloway, Elizabeth Taylor (not the actress), Tobias Wolf, A. J. Kennedy…. But it’s hard to get past Jean Rhys and Wide Sargasso Sea, really. The whole might not be a polished gem, but almost every line is worth studying.
Did you find it hard as a budding writer in Bermuda in terms of the opportunities available?
I would say that Dr Kim Dismont-Robinson (amongst others, of course) is helping to change the scene. A very gifted writer herself, the two poetry anthologies she’s organized seem to have galvanized the efforts of the island’s talent — aided by a series of workshops led by internationally renowned writers.
What would be your advice to budding poets finding their way in Bermuda today?
Read — both broadly and deeply. By that, I mean read a huge variety of literature, not just poetry. But when you come across a writer whose work really grabs you, then read that writer with great care and attention. And experience as much of ‘the arts’ as you can: opera, ballet, painting, sculpture, photography, cinema. All of it. And appreciate carpenters and seamtresses; gardeners and teachers.
• Maddern has created an online archive of poets reading their work in public: The Seamus Heaney Centre Digital Archive available via: http://digitalcollections.qub.ac.uk/poetry/recordings/search/