John Foggin

John Foggin has been a teacher, lecturer and LEA English/Drama Adviser. He lives in West Yorkshire where he jointly organises Puzzle Poets Live in Calderdale, and writes a weekly poetry blog, the great fogginzo’s cobweb. His work has appeared in The North, The New Writer, Prole, and The interpreters house, among others.

His poems have won first prizes in competitions including The Plough [2013,2014], and The Mclellan [2015] He has authored four pamphlets : Running out of space , Backtracks, Larach[Ward Wood Publishing 2014], and his latest is Outlaws and fallen Angels [Calder valley Poetry 2016]

John was one of the winners of the 2015 /16 Poetry Business Book and Pamphlet Competition with his pamphlet 'Much Possessed'. 


‘....these vivid, crafted, and humane poems are wise and witty, grounded in compassion’

– Steve Ely, on ‘Outlaws and fallen angels’

 

'This poet knows how to guide the reader through a poem by using clear diction and transparent rhetorical

design; yet the poems often touch on the mysterious. A sensitivity to natural life results in the ego

becoming secondary to the wondrous details of the experiential world.'

–Billy Collins 


 'Tumbling sentences, finely-drawn observations of landscape, people and animals and tender elegies - all written with a generosity and confidence that ensure these poems sing in your mind long after you finish reading them' 

– Kim Moore

Much possessed

[for Polly Morgan: artist and taxidermist]

 

She keeps mynah birds and fledgling sparrows

in the freezer. Knows just how feathers lie

in a wing, the small fine down of the breast,

the jewel scales of thin reptilian feet,

the pitch of muscle, all its give and stretch.

 

She knows about incisions, scalpels, cuts,

how skin can tear, how to tease it from the skull

like a latex glove from a surgeon’s white hand;

translucent films and also oysterish flesh,

the strength of tendons, elasticicities,.

 

She is comfortable with the smell of alcohol,

the sweetness of decay and thaw, the sharpness

of formaldehyde. She is deft with waddings,

patient re-clothings, fine stitching, the smoothing

of plumes, and the way a beak must sit, just so.

 

Sometimes she looks at the backs of her hands,

imagines the bones she has never seen; imagines

the spongy maze of her lungs, the ruby kidneys,

the packed grey intestinal coil, the lens of her eye;

she thinks of her plump-muscled heart.

 

 

 

1)    How did you start writing? I probably started writing about writing before I started ‘writing’ and especially before I wrote poetry. I had a published series for school students (‘Write to the point’: Coursework at 16+) and a book for teachers ‘Writing in the National Curriculum’ in the 1980’s. I wrote alongside my pupils as we workshopped drafts. That kind of thing. I thought I would try to work at writing poetry in the 90s and did a very lacklustre MA course. I suppose I was trying to follow in the footsteps of a former fellow-teacher, Julia Deakin, who was enthusaistic about her MA course, and who began to produce work that ended up as a Poetry Business Pamphlet winner. And it was Julia who first brought me to the PB writing days in Huddersfield, and then Sheffield. I can’t leave the Poetry Business out of it. If you ask me whose poetry influenced me it was Tony Harrison who I met in the 1970s and who has inspired me ever since.

2)    My family background I grew up in the Heavy Woollen District of the West Riding. Nearly all my relatives were Methodists who worked in the textile trades...my dad was a woollen spinner. Our house was a two-up-and-one-down back-to-back. Respectable, self-improving working class. We never had a phone or a car, but we went on holidays to Cornwall when the pals I played out with went to Brid or Blackpool. I passed my 11+ at the age of 10, went to the local Grammar School, could have gone to Art School, but, luckily, went to University in Durham instead, did English, and then trained as a teacher. I can’t remember ever wanting to be anything else

3)    Poets and poems

As a teenager it was the Metaphysicals and their smart poems of seduction. They were seriously hip, louche and sardonic. 20th Century poets include:

Tony Harrison, particularly, Them and Uz, and National Trust...the latter is one of the few poems I know off by heart, and has my favourite line:

 “ the tongueless man gets his land took”

Seamus Heaney..especially Tollund man for its textures and humanity

Charles Causley..the ballads, like Charlotte Dyment, and Timothy Winters

Norman MacCaig. For his apparently effortless craft and erudition and wit.

 

Of contemporary poets I like Christy Ducker especially, and Steve Ely is currently disturbing my dreams. And I really enjoy to be in the same virtual room as so many young ones...Kim Moore I love listening to. Too many to pick out favourites. Apart from Kim.

4)    Where do I write and what I do instead of writing

99%of all my poems start life as first drafts in writers’ workshops. I would write nothing if I didn’t go to them. It’s not that I’m lazy; it’s just that pressure clears my mind and fuels my pen. Subsequently, I word-process my work. I have a study that holds a knee-hole desk I built, and two walls of shelves in front and behind. Books, bones, bookbinding tools, dolls, pictures, picture books, maps, detritus, and my growing contem[poray poetry collection. And my PC. For Facebook. I write a lot of political rants.

I also spend a variable number of hours each week writing a post for my poetry blog: the great fogginzo’s cobweb. It grows more demanding, but I don’t know how to stop, having collected ‘followers’. I feel sort of responsible for entertaining them on a Sunday night.

What do I do instead? DIY. I love machine tools. I build stuff for my grown-up kids. Coffee tables. I renovate old furniture. I lay bricks. I have a big garden, which is hard work. That sort of stuff. I go to the gym when I’ve not damaged key joints. Ditto walking on moorland. And a lot of sweary shouting at Rugby League matches. I do that, too.

5)     Collections/pamphlets

I produced 3 pamphlets in 2014; the first two were self-published, using prize money from The Plough Poetry Competition. The first, Running out of space, was made up of the poems I’d written the previous year that I liked, the second Backtracks, was thematic: an autobiography of my childhood and the ‘biographies’ of my parents and grandparents. The third, Larach, was published as the prize for winning the Camden/Lumen 2013 Poetry Comp., which was judged, as was the Plough, by Andrew Motion. And no, I’ve never met him. Larach was a change of gear for me. The work went up a level. I wrote seriously about the landscapes and people of Skye, and through myth, about deeply personal experiences, including my son’s suicide. This is what the poem ‘Daedalus’ is about. Daedalus becomes the mask I can finally speak through.

pinioned in a parchment sky,

his mind a kite-string ravel,

he stares at distressing

white comets’ tails of feathers,

down at his dwindling son.

My latest pamphlet, Outlaws and fallen angels brings together a series of poems that I guess I first started in in 1981, with one poem which takes the voice of Michael Ayrton’s Minotaur. I added ‘The angel of the North’ in the 1990s. Wrote the rest, each the voice of a soul imprisoned in a great sculpture, in a rush in 2013/14. I was glad to see the back of them, to tell the truth

6)    What am I working on. It depends on what I happen to be reading at the moment. I rely on poetry readings to feel the rythm of the language and its voice to make me want to get something done. It depends on whatever unused notes I have in my poetry workshop notebook. I waste very very little. I steal, intuitively, almost unconsciously from what I’m reading. It sinks in and emerges in the writing. At the moment I’m reading a biography of Shackleton, the Antarctic explorer, and re-reading stuff about Scott, and also stuff about mountains and mountain climbers. I am much taken in more ways than one by Robert Macfarlane’s books on the languages and mythologies and meaning of landscape. I have just worked steadily through a book about the moorland uplands of Britain, and might do something with that. Or it might do something with me. I’ve also, as a result of a residential course with Steve Ely and Kim Moore earlier this year, been writing more ventriloqual poems in the voices of the evil and the transgressive...Myra Hindley, Harold Shipman, Lucifer.. Don’t ask. 

Titles by this author

  Much Possessed
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