Christopher North

Christopher North’s first collection ‘A Mesh of Wires’ published by Smith|Doorstop was short-listed for the Forward Prize in 1999. He has published two full collections since: ‘Explaining the Circumstances’ (2010), ‘The Night Surveyor’ (2014) and a joint , bilingual collection ‘Al Otro Lado del Aguilar’ (2011) with Terry Gifford - all with Oversteps Books. His most recent pamphlet collection is ‘Wolves Recently Sighted’ Templar Poetry 2014. Since 2002, with his wife Marisa, he has facilitated poetry writing retreats and courses at, Almassera Vella in Relleu, Alicante Spain. ( He chairs ‘Stanza Alacant’ now in its eleventh year.

He is a strong advocate of Peter Redgrove’s incubation process.


Q&A with Christopher North 


How did you start writing? 


I have been writing all my life and was greatly inspired by my English teacher at Pinner County Grammar, Middlesex. I think the key moment was a reading of 'Ode to a Nightingale' – that was a door flung open. Then I was placed in the 1962 Daily Mirror 'Children as Writers' competition. Looking back I see that Laurie Lee and Kathleen Raine were among the judges and a fellow winner was one Marina Sarah Warner.


Did your childhood or early life ever influence your writing?


I attended London University studying Estate Management and eventually qualified as a Chartered Surveyor and went into private practice. In 1967 I married Maria-Luisa Lillo-Verdu in Alicante, Spain – thus beginning my long connection with this province – and we had a son and a daughter. My creative writing in those working years became limited to a daily journal, though I always read a good deal of poetry.On a whim in 1985 entered the BBC Mini Sagas competition and was placed - my saga 'Virus' -  later appeared in my first Smith Doorstop publication and was read out the Today Programme by Brian Redhead. I sold my surveying business in 1988 and became a corporate employee which freed up my time a great deal. I started writing poetry with serious intent and began attending readings and poetry events with gathering momentum.

In 1992 a poem of mine was included in the Poetry Business's Publication 'Greek Gifts'. I started a monthly Poetry workshop 'Metroland Poets' in Buckinghamshire. I attended residential courses at The Lumb Bank, Totleigh Barton and Ty Newydd. I was successful in a significant number of competitions climaxing with a third place in the National Poetry competition in 1995. I was now regularly reading on the London circuit. In 1999 my collection 'A Mesh of Wires' was successful in the Poetry Business Pamphlet collection competition. This went on to be shortlisted for the Forward prize for best First Collection in 2000.

In 2002 We moved permanently to Spain and we begun a series of Residential Poetry courses here engaging tutors from the poetry world including Nicki Jackowska, Michael Donaghy, Mimi Khalvati, Penelpe Shuttle, Christopher Reid, Vicki Feaver, Mark Doty, Matthew Sweeney, James Harpur, Mario Petrucci, Jo Shapcott, Terry Gifford and, of course, Ann Sansom.  I have published three collections with Oversteps Books in Devon and one with Templar Poets.


Do you have any poets or poems that you go back to?


I would say my main literary influences (although I imagine that's really for others to say) include GM Hopkins, Keats, Vladimir Nabokov, Dylan Thomas, Ted Hughes/Sylvia Plath, Peter Redgrove, Alan Brownjohn (I was once stuck for a rainy fortnight in Devon - back in the 70s where the only book I had was his 'Sandgrains on a Tray' - I think I knew it by heart once I left), Monty Python, the Beatles and latterly Penny Shuttle, Mimi Khalvati, Wallace Stevens, Don Paterson, Frank O'Hara, Simon Armitage and Alice Oswald. I would also have to include all the tutors we have hosted here in Alicante.


What does your writing process usually look like?


Around the mid 90s I came across Peter Redgrove's incubation system. Once discovered, I adopted it meticulously and it is the base method I use now. It was very useful when I  had a 50 hour a week job as it works well with those with limited time, but now it is my central process and I rarely write poetry outside it. It involves an early morning free-write, then a revision of a previous entry - usually about six months later - this will be returned to incubation - and then I will take a poem that has been incubating twice and start careful work on it and so on - by about the fourth incubation it's either a poem or it's sent to a hospital file. My hospital patients rarely leave.


How do you go about creating a collection?


The Topiary collection began with before and after photographs of the Passchendaele battle field. It was always the central poem and the others coalesced around it. However I wanted variety and various textures and so I mixed in some lighter poems. I looked at the possibilty of  'Trestles' as the title as that brief piece does gather together a number of the strands in the collection - but finally 'The Topiary of Passchendaele' seemed the best.


What are you currently working on?


I have been exploring the journal as a literary form a good deal recently - in fact a lot of my early work took the form of a poetry journal. I have an mss I am pulling together at present. This includes reflections on poetry and encounters with many poets.  Meanwhile my files have some 50 or so poems 'in incubation' – I will find out what they are about when they surface.


The Topiary of Passchendaele

by Christopher North (1st Sep 18 | 978-1-912196-13-5)


Winner of the 2017/18 Book & Pamphlet Competition


A large and various cast of strange, sad, joyous, repellent and poignant characters. A sort of travelogue or bestiary. I liked its oddity, gusto – and unemphatic pathos. – David Constantine


The Smudge of Andromeda

You need to read it aloud more than once, realising that the first stanza isn't actually a sentence but a proposition that's like an extended title (a bit like the long chapter headings of 18th C novels). I love the way it combines the confusion of 'a smudge' with the focussing precision of what we're being asked to consider...the repeated trillions of stars in a room where all the pictures are shrouded, where the stars are inside and outside in the sky, and the organic rhythmical processes of dusk, the breathing of trees, and the flight of birds coming home to roof. It's dreamlike (with all the accurate precision of dreams), incantatory and magical.

— John Foggin


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