Interview with Meirion Jordan

Meirion Jordan was born in Swansea in 1985. He read Mathematics at Oxford before going on to the University of East Anglia to complete an MA in Creative Writing. He is currently working towards a PhD in Creative and Critical writing at UEA. His first book of poetry, Moonrise (Seren, 2008), was shortlisted for the 2009 Forward Prize for Best First Collection.

I find that there is often this misconception that people can be good at the arts or the sciences but not both. Have you ever encountered that? Are people surprised when they learn that your background is in maths?

Most people are a little surprised but they accept it relatively quickly. There’s no real shortage of poets who have a background in science. Miroslav Holub, for example.

In many of the poems in Moonrise your interest in mathematics comes through in the way you view nature. Do you find there is a natural overlap of maths and creative writing?

There’s a very interesting interplay between maths and creative writing: both attempt to approach notions of truth but in completely different manners. In Moonrise I’m often trying to look at nature as being a complex and systematic force. One thing that I was trying to do with the book was to reclaim this idea of the moon from pure romantic visions, to reckon with it in more technical terms. I read a lot of science fiction and I write a lot of science fiction poetry. That’s another good crossover point. A lot of sci-fi is written by scientists. I like it because it is a literary genre that doesn’t seek to appeal directly to high brow notions of what books and literature should be.

When it comes to writing poetry do you think your age puts you at a disadvantage compared to older poets with more life experience than you?

I’m inclined to think of it as an advantage. I was 21 when I wrote Moonrise. The book represents an apprenticeship in poetry. It’s very difficult to see a writer’s form without two or three books. Because I’m just getting started, I’ve got nothing to lose, no reputation at stake. I can take risks; it’s an exciting thing for me.

How do you feel about Moonrise being shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection? Were you disappointed not to have won?

It’s like a big thumbs-up in the sky that I can look out my window at from time to time, but it doesn’t stop it from raining on me! I’m not much of a competitive poet. I can’t say I’m too disappointed about not winning.

 The critical reception of Moonrise has been very positive. All the reviews I have read have been good. Has that been encouraging?

My editor is very enthusiastic about good reviews because it means people are more likely to buy the book. It’s largely a business thing. As a writer, a good review is often more dangerous for me than a bad review. A bad review will tell you what you are doing wrong, a good review won’t tell you anything. I read one review which was generally positive but where the reviewer had some strong reservations about where he thought I was slipping. That sort of constructive criticism of my work is immensely valuable.

Do you get any useful feedback from doing poetry readings?

Poetry readings are normally done in connection with a book and since the books are rarely published fewer than 18 months after the last poem was written, there is often a big gap between what you are writing at the moment and what people are expecting. I try to reflect what I’m writing about at that particular time. You can usually tell what’s working from how people respond. I’m more gloomy in my writing than I like to be in real life. A short visit to the psychiatrist is a dark poem but people find it a lot more entertaining when I actually read it. I do have a dark sense of humour – certainly in Moonrise – which other people possibly find strange.

What are you working on now?

I’m writing poetry on quite historical matter at the moment. In the next few months I’ll be handing my second book into my publisher. I’m going through it now, rewriting to a greater or lesser extent.

 Can you tell me a little bit about the writing process?

It’s definitely a bit of a funny process. Composition occurs in my head rather than on paper. I wrote Moonrise in pencil in my notebooks and was able to go from the blank page to a poem in a relatively short while, writing short lyric pieces of between 4 and 50 lines. I wrote mostly at night after other people had gone to bed, when I had the most mental and personal space.  I’m more diverse in my writing habits now, partly as a result of doing things at UEA. I’m not averse to writing down a few things in the library and I’ve found that I will now write something long straight onto a computer then come back and alter it.

 Apart from diversifying your writing habits, have there been any other benefits from doing an MA in Creative Writing?

It got me into critical writing, linguistics, literary pragmatics – academic pseudo-disciplines that have sprung up around literary criticism. On the creative side, it gave me one year to take my writing places I would not have been able to go had I been writing purely by myself. It was worth doing for that.

 You’ve stayed on at UEA to do a PhD in Creative and Critical Writing. What do you hope to achieve from that?

I’m hoping to get a third book of poetry out of it. It’s all contingent on what my publisher thinks that they can publish. For the moment I’m happy to write away in a university department – there’s lots for me to learn and lots of time. I’m not in any rush. I have so many more years of writing poetry ahead of me – something I do relish a little.

Where do you see yourself in the future?

I would like to get involved in teaching creative writing, to bring creative writing skills to a wider audience. You can never say anything about how your literary career is going to develop. Poetry takes on more than just a professional form; one can write poems for an audience of one and those are just as important as poems written for hundreds of people.

Moonrise is available to buy from the Seren Books website.

March 2010

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