Sentinel Literary Quarterly Interview with
Author of 57 books including poetry, children's
books for children, and technical training manuals,
Bennett is the award-winning author of The Man
Who tried to Hug the Clouds. He is also the
Managing Editor of Poetry Kit – the foremost
resource for poets online.
heard about you when you became Managing Editor of Poetry
Kit following the death of Ted Slade in 2004. Tell me more
have been a writer and poet since the early 1960’s though at
first I was too young to get into the bars where poetry was
being performed around Liverpool. From the mid 1960’s I was
tall enough for the pub landlords to turn a blind eye and
was able to perform in events with all of the Liverpool
Poets of the time and of course the three that went on to
have that name pinned on them. Later in the 1970’s I
started to perform wherever I could, I even busked at
times. I found that using music as part of my set gave me
a broader appeal for promoters so I began to use the songs I
had written as part of my performance and I was reasonably
successful. The main thing I suppose was that I was
performing in folk clubs and jazz clubs and so was known by
a different audience than those that went to the poetry
nights. I have been a full time writer for over 30 years
and although better known as a performer I have had 57 books
and a number of CD's published over the years.
you manage to run such a gigantic writers’ resource facility
whilst keeping up with the business of writing and a rather
busy performance life as well?
have a lot of help. The site is updated three times a week,
which involve amending, rewriting, installing and
uploading. The update take two half days and one full day
each week, and more when our magazines are being put
online. I manage to compartmentalise all that I need to do
and I think of it as my “job” I am able to fit it all in
raised the bar quite high in the set-up of Poetry Kit. Have
you made any improvements to the original ideas the resource
was built on?
as I worked with Ted on the original redesign of the site in
1999 and 2003 most of the changes I have made have been to
add additional pages; festivals and calls for submission and
other lists which dealt with a need, while blogs and audio
visual lists, where added as these areas grew. Poetry Kit
has web identities with My Space, a blog, and comes out top
or very near the top in all web searches relating to our
named pages. When Ted died the readership had been growing
for some time and we were listed just in the top 1 million
sites worldwide (out of 8 billion) We are now in the top
100,000 sites with over half a million unique visitors each
profiled more as a performer than a writer. Yet you first
have to write in order to have fresh materials to perform.
What excites you more, writing or performing?
really but at different times. First though, you have to
realise that a lot of what I perform is spontaneous and much
improvised and not recorded, though I am reducing this now.
While the poetry I write is published and often never
performed. So I get great satisfaction from both.
performed your work internationally. Do you find your poetry
and performance style warmly embraced everywhere you have
JB: No, I
have never done much in the
My style is defiantly more suited to the American poetry,
jazz and folk scene.
you ever wrote a line of poetry, who were the poets you read
and what made them special for you?
poet I loved and who got me writing was John Betjeman other
than him I didn’t read poetry, I listened and watched,
Adrien Henri, Roger McGough, Allen Ginsberg. Betjeman was
special for me because of his language and his humour, he
was also very visible because of his TV work. I know if I
read his poetry now I am more critical of some of the values
he expresses but when I was a young person reading him for
the first time, his language was free and lively, It opened
the door to poetry being something much more than the
technically good but archaic romanticism that was being
taught in schools. This exuberance of language and freedom
to say whatever you wanted in poetry carried on with the
other poets I was lucky enough to hear perform.
years, (35 years?), of writing and performing, you have met,
worked with, or otherwise interacted with several poets from
across the world. Which poets have been unforgettable either
for the depth of their writing, their performances or just
for the way they are as human beings?
Adrien Henri was the best of the best in every way. A
fabulous poet, a near miraculous performer and a huge human
being in every sense. I performed in the same venues with
him over the years and saw him performing with his group
Liverpool Scene many times. The Liverpool Scene where an
amazing group fusing poetry and music in a way that was
totally original and inspiring. David Bateman, who is a
truly fabulous poet and now very much an adopted Liverpool
Poet in is probably my favourite poet today, although under
represented in publications. I also love the work of
both Chloe Poems and the great Rosie Lugosi. Gill McEvoy,
Liz Lockhead and Clare Kirwan are also very special.
in your bookshelf these days?
of books about weather, clouds, birds and trees which are my
passions. But I suppose you want to know about poetry.
These days I tend to read anthologies, and magazines to try
and keep up with what is happening. My favourite reads are
Bukowski, anything about Bob Dylan. Other poetry
collections I am reading, “We
are Poets!” Poems for Children by Helęn Thomas. a wonderful
book by a great poet.
A New Waste Land
is Michael Horovitz's masterpiece, a book which when it
becomes better known will I think be seen as a huge literary
contribution to political poetics. Glyn Hughes and Robert
Sheppard is there also.
the main thrust of the Creative Writing course you teach at
University of Liverpool?
run a number of different courses and some online through
Poetry Kit also. The courses are designed to meet the needs
of the students. The foundation poetry course is designed
to get people writing, not to be too proscriptive or
didactic but to allow students to explore poetry and to
create the space and freedom for them to write and to enjoy
doing it. My Part 2 course is much higher level designed
for those who have been writing for some time and who might
want to find some challenges to push their ideas of what
they can achieve.
was to put it into a simple phrase I would say that I try to
create a space and conditions for people to explore their
you look out for in prospective students – a natural ability
and flair for writing or a capability to learn and be
Neither, I look for a desire which is only filled by writing
of your past students gone on to do something in the
literary world that has made you a very proud man?
problem I have with this is that someone who wins a small
local prize in a poetry competition gives me as much
pleasure as someone who has won a major international award
or published a major collection. I have had students that
have gone on to do all three. I am proud of all my past
students who have gone on to improve as poets. Five or six
times a year I get books in the post from students who have
gone on to achieve what they hoped for.
writing and performing all begin for you then?
found reading a fascinating experience and as soon as I
discovered that I wanted to write, I gravitated towards
poetry. I came from a working class background and my dad
worked on the docks and in shipbuilding so a career in
writing was not an obvious choice. When I was about 8 I
told my dad that I wanted to write as a career and instead
of just patronising me he tried to point me in the right
direction and was continually supportive all his life.
the purpose of poetry?
is a bit like asking what is the purpose of a painting; it
can be purely decorative, or it may be a remembrance, or a
way to conjure up the past or the future or some distant
place. It may be a political comment or purely subjective
piece of catharsis. In very rare examples it can be life
also all of those things and I think that it adds the
dimension to life which allows us to express our humanity
and our understanding of the world. There are other ways
this can be done but for me it is through reading and
Give me a
little insight into your writing habits, especially, on how
quickly you can convert an inspiration into verse on page.
Well I just finished in 60 days writing 56 poems for a
series which was autobiographical. I wanted to write and
edit it quickly in order to maintain a certain idea
throughout the whole series. Some poems I make up on the
spot but these tend to be flippant while those I try to
rewrite and edit obviously take longer. One poem I started
writing as a notebook entry in 1984 and only finished it in
2001. From these examples you might understand that I don’t
always write in the same way, in fact the only regular thing
I do is to start writing a poem in pencil on pieces of
folded A4 paper.
you hardly punctuate your poems?
never use standard punctuation in any of my poems. But it
is wrong to say that I don’t use punctuation as all my poems
are written to obey their own “rules” and the lines and
breaks I use are the internal punctuation that allows the
poem to be read.
for me is a living medium which should flow with the energy
of the spoken word. By recording the text of a poem in the
way I do I am trying to put it down in the way a
choreographer would record dance movements. I want to make
the point that this is not prose but a different use of
language, a more expressive and magical form.
about love, a poem about war, a poem about flying machines
or a poem about nature, what are you most likely to be
caught reading and why?
of them at different times. For me it is about the way
words are used and I like to be surprised and entertained by
great use of language.
comment on the state of poetry in the United Kingdom today
There is an awful lot of poetry about today. A lot of
performance poetry is agenda-driven and a lot of innovative
poetry is so obscure as to be unfathomable. Having said
that I think the real middle ground of poetry is still
strong and the small magazines are as usual being left to
carry the flag.
that the funding culture that permeates the arts is not good
as organisations are forced to compete against each other.
However I am not sure what the answer is apart from more
commercial sponsorship and advertising. Some of my events
are supported by commercial sponsorship and others by ticket
sales, some by the generosity of venues and audience, some
have no financial support at all.
influence on poetry is the internet and changing publication
methods. One of the major problems is that quality
assessment applied by editors who have committed time and
money to producing a printed magazine and who have to please
their customers is not always there on line. There are some
very good quality magazines on the internet, but equally
anyone can set up and apply their own standard, or none, and
although few, other than the people published on the site,
will ever read it, there is no loss to the editor and they
can carry on producing their webzine for as long as they
want to pay the small costs involved. I think this
egalitarian approach is interesting, but it makes the
quantity of poetry available immense and the quality is so
mixed that you have to read a mountain of uninspiring poetry
before you reach anything worthwhile.
insider’s point of view, predict how British poetry will
change over the next fifty years.
from my own point of view rather than as any sort of
establishment figure, because I have always been someone who
went my own way. But I think we will see the return of
prescriptive formulaic poetry and perhaps more integration
of older traditional forms and those which are from other
Personally I enjoyed the intertextuality of post modernism,
but I think it is already turning into something else and
the fusion we are seeing in music will break down the
barriers. Fifty years ago we saw the publication of Howl,
and we can see the effect that had. Over the next 50 years
things will change but they will also remain the same. I am
just waiting for the next Howl, perhaps it will be an
artwork which uses text as one of its mediums, perhaps it
will be a musical style. Maybe it will be a poem being
written right now in someone's bedroom.
anything I ought to, but have not asked you?
same problems of copyright that effect music today will
effect poets and writers in the very near future and long
term may make affect the value of publication. The
collection which so many aspire to may eventually have
little meaning and the downloaded e-book or small pamphlet
may be produced for specific events, festivals or
readings. In that sort of economy the thing of value will be
the reading or performance and not the printed word.
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