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Poet of the Week – 14: John Froy

TWO RIVERS PRESS POET OF THE WEEK—14: JOHN FROY

John Froy was born in Leeds in 1953 and grew up in south-west England. After gaining a degree in Fine Art at Falmouth School of Art, he taught English as a Foreign Language in London and Costa Rica. Five months on a desert island resulted in On Cocos Island, a fictionalized account (unpublished) and the start of his writing career. He settled in Reading with his wife and daughter in 1986 and set up a decorating business. He juggled decorating with writing for many years: novels (The Driver, To Be Frank), an account of his mother’s death (Mum, So Far), and three volumes of memoir: Waterloo Road: A Childhood Memoir and Teacher, Squatter, City Farmer (self-published) and The Art School Dance (Two Rivers Press, 2010). He began writing poetry in 2001 and has published two collections: Eggshell: A Decorator’s Notes (2007) and Sandpaper & Seahorses (2018) both with Two Rivers Press. John ran Two Rivers Press from 2003 to 2009. He retired to write full time in 2018.

John Froy writes:

A seed blows in from somewhere – first thing in the morning, or out on a walk. Catching yourself unawares is part of writing a poem for me. It might come at times of emotion or stress – a birth, a death, a revolution – but also from the work-out of a good long walk. Wordsworth’s ‘emotion recollected in tranquility’ still applies. This seed – word, phrase, feeling, thought – I scribble down and keep. It may stay in the notebook for some time, as a link with the original impetus and as a spur. It will nag. Usually several more of these elements will spin in. Some will be kept, some discarded – most seeds don’t germinate – or they may go into another poem. It’s about dreams in a way, bits from the unconscious being caught as you wake up, or in the physical exertion of that walk. And let’s not be precious, material may come from anywhere: the book you’re reading, a concert, art exhibition, last night’s TV, a child’s remark at breakfast. There, you’ve got a little heap of words that are important to you and need to be looked at.

You start to build. This is going to be something new to you, unknown; you hardly know where you’re going. You might brainstorm these words all over the page, write them automatically, in a block. Which form will it take? They may suggest themselves: this is a sonnet, ballad, villanelle, prose poem, half-rhyme couplets; a few poems do still happily arrive ready-made. But most are work – the inspiration of popular imagination surely comes through work – and there are several forms any poem can take. The words from the heap go in, some are discarded, new ones added, and you have a first draft. There will be many drafts, the draft and graft of the poem. Not that this is unpleasant! Here lies the joy of it all really, the working over and over, honing until finished. Is it finished? Put it away for some time and see. It may be helpful to show the poem to someone, read it aloud, take it to a group (graciously accept their criticisms). Back to the graft, until you can do no more, until it no longer changes. Title? The all-important title might have come straight from the pile, chosen itself, or evolved with the poem, jumped out at the end. Now leave it alone. Probably a poem is never really finished. You change and so can it, but mercifully, in the case of the published poem, you can’t fiddle with it anymore (though Auden did). No, it is done. Move on. This is how I see it, more or less.

And what are they about? Well, they will be a reflection of me. I used to be drawn into the storehouse of my own history, my family and childhood memory, now I find I’m digging new ground: nature and the environment, climate change, the mess we’re making of everything. This matters. Auden, the tinkerer, whose poems were never finished, said nothing was ever changed by a poem. Maybe not directly, but its existence can be an instrument of change. Currently I want to make poems that embrace the environmental issues of our time.

SEAHORSE

One, dripping in my palm –
soft-boned hippocampus,
curl-tail, bug-eyed charmer.
We rescued her with cupped hands
far outside the bay in a Zodiac,
saw fighting seabirds drop their prize,
brought her back to the sea grass.

A million dry in boiling sun
for seaside souvenirs.
Millions more are crushed to powder
for Traditional Medicine Trades
where they’re a catch-all cure.

Are there more?
There are, remote, in hiding.
They dance in the sea grass
at dawn, she lays in his pouch,
this rarest thing of the male
carrying fertile ova to birth
and probably their downfall.

[from Sandpaper & Seahorses]

COMMENT FROM A COATIMUNDI

All this, we believe, was made for us
as has been written for millennia.
‘Not so,’ says a coatimundi, rootling
along the forest trail, ‘I am older,
and there are others. It isn’t all for you.
We watch her go about her business,
tail up, unperturbed, while cataclysm
and pestilence tumble on our world.
Will we at last own to a step too far?
‘It was an animal market, I heard.’
And how helpless we are, have been
since the first cave. We are to blame
not you, dear gruntly creature.

[uncollected]