Live Canon recently announced a forthcoming collection from poet William Stephenson and we cannot wait to release it into the world on July 6th! The title poem ‘The Lotus Bunker’ - a haunting journey to a dystopian horticultural world - was shortlisted for our 2018 International Poetry Prize and appears in the 2018 Live Canon Anthology. William spoke to Madeline Clark about his poetic process and what readers can expect from this new collection.
What inspired your book?
I like to create imaginary spaces, which led to the ‘Impossible City’ sequence, which is part of The Lotus Bunker, where we have (for instance) a parliament building made of chocolate, or a laboratory where the technicians create new forms of money. I’m interested in writing about pop music, but not music that’s familiar; so, there’s a whole sequence called ‘Entrances’ based on gigs by artists I’ve invented, like The Sudafed Brothers, Protea and Billy Downsize.
Technology and its impact on living things is a major theme of the collection; so, in the poem ‘Decompression’, the speaker’s wife becomes a computer program, and in the first poem of the book, butterflies are built in a factory.
I also like to juxtapose separate historical periods, so the collection has a poem about the Roman Empire ruling modern Britain and another about a tribe of Neanderthals who discover techno music. In the book’s title poem, an indentured slave is growing strange plants underground: these may be cannabis plants, or something even more dangerous – the ambiguity suits me better than spelling things out.
How long have you been writing?
I’ve been writing poetry seriously since 2007; along with that I’ve published three academic books as well, between 2003 and 2011.
What can you say about your writing process?
Full disclosure: I’ve adopted a factory system where poems are written in batches of ten then worked on simultaneously as a unit. Often the ten poems in a batch are about very different things, and they almost never end up in batch order in published pamphlets or collections. Sometimes only one poem in each batch will be finished, and the others turn out to be awful, or take years to get right. But it’s a system I’ve used for sixteen years, and it works. The point is that by editing ten things at once, you never have time to get stuck on a difficult line or stanza.
What was the most challenging aspect of your writing?
Most of the time, if I come across a difficult technical problem (such as ‘what’s the right word here?’, ‘how do I end this poem?’, and so on) I realize pretty soon that I can’t solve it. So, I have to wait until a solution appears, which may take days or years, or may never happen at all. Sometimes stanzas from two unsolved poems can, mashed together years later, form a new poem that works.
What do you hope the reader gains or takes away from your writing?
I’m aiming for a cartoon aesthetic, where colors are heightened, and objects leap out of the screen. So, if the reader gets that feeling, then great. Also, if a poem works, the reader should reach the end and think, ‘I want to read that again’. So, if anything I write gets re-read, or the video of the cartoon is played a second time, then I’m happy.
William Stephenson teaches English at the University of Chester. His first poetry pamphlet, Rain Dancers in the Data Cloud (Templar, 2012), won an Iota Shots award. His second pamphlet is Source Code (Ravenglass, 2013), winner of the Ravenglass Poetry Prize. Reviewers have described his poetry as ‘quirky, refreshingly different and wide-ranging in its cultural references. Data made interesting in a way I would never have expected or anticipated in poetic form’ (Sarah James) and as setting up a world where ‘words slip away from their original meanings, become jargon, trademarks, or symbols on a broken keyboard’ (Tim Love).
Join us on Thursday July 6th at 8pm for The Lotus Bunker’s online launch event. Book your free place and pre-order the collection here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/online-launch-william-stephenson-the-lotus-bunker-tickets-66350977459...
A performance of the
title poem by the Live Canon ensemble is also available on our YouTube channel: https://youtu.be/kVV6tQGhd_Q.
William’s first collection Travellers and Avatars is available to purchase from our website: https://www.livecanon.co.uk/store/product/travellers-and-avatars .