Peter Daniels

'Sometime like the middle Wednesday in August
you might understand what it was that you needed'

— From 'Housework'

 

Peter Daniels has published three pamphlets with Smith Doorstop, twice as a Poetry Business competition winner: Peacock Luggage with Moniza Alvi (1992); Be Prepared (1994), Through the Bushes (2000).

Peter has also won the Ledbury (2002), Arvon (2008) and TLS (2010) poetry competitions. He was listings editor of Poetry London in the 1990s, and took the MA in Writing at Sheffield Hallam before leaving poetry for a while for a busy job. He returned to poetry through translation, and was a Hawthornden Fellow in 2009 when he started his translations of Vladislav Khodasevich from Russian: a collection of these is due from Angel Books in 2013. He has recently been Queer Writer in Residence at the London Metropolitan Archives.

Peter has a long-awaited first full collection Counting Eggs in April 2012 with Mulfran Press.

 

 

 


THE JAR

 

Covered with raspberries bigger than any raspberries,
the vacuum-sealed lid is a hard lid to open,
but using knees and much clenching, in the end
I wrench it free — the vacuum goes plock — and something
brown and alive with legs comes up for its outing. 

And it’s enjoying the fresh air again, staggering
almost over the rim: fast as I can, I struggle
to put the lid back, not to deny it existed,
or kill it, but keep it there in the jar, alive
in its environment — whole raspberry preserve. 

The manager opens it up, inspects the animal
sprawled over the soft meniscus of raspberry:
dead after all, killed by the shock of it probably.
But it’s a carcass, sufficient to clinch the matter:
I go through to the aisle of jams to fetch another.

 

 

 

Peter on his work

I started writing at school, in Birmingham. We did the Penguin Poetry of the Thirties for A Level: I was attracted to Louis MacNeice because he’d lived in Birmingham. He was an early influence, and I still feel him somewhere in the kind of lines I write. Stevie Smith fascinated me though I’m not quite sure how she influenced me, and I couldn’t carry off her kind of strangeness. Captain Beefheart and Bob Dylan were the other people that are still deep inside my poetry.

 

Elizabeth Bishop “At the Fishhouses” is a favourite – it’s a model of how to think through an observed world at some length. Thom Gunn is important to me, not only as a gay poet but as someone with a range between formality and freedom, intensity and a light touch. Czeslaw Milosz has a way of writing about grand themes in an intimate, personal way but still rather breaks some of those rules we’re taught about not using abstractions, or writing on grand themes. Vladislav Khodasevich is someone I’ve been getting to know in the parasitic way of a translator: he found his own modernist way of writing at the time of the First World War and the Russian Revolution, and he has a combination of passion and scepticism that suits me. He seems to have foreseen his own posthumous obscurity, and here I am digging him up:

 

But after many many years of darkness
a stranger will come and dig my skeleton up, 

and inside the blackening skull that his spade
smashes, the heavy coin will clang –

 and the gold will flash in the midst of bones,
a tiny sun, the imprint of my soul.                          

— 'Gold'

 

I mostly write in my study, first thing in the morning, with various devices to give me random prompts for scribbling. The scribbles can take a long time to turn into poems, and a lot get thrown out. The internet is a major distraction, especially Facebook. I do also work for a living, now and then, and go for walks.

 

Through the Bushes was my second competition pamphlet, and mostly I put it together with things I had already published in magazines. the judge was Dorothy Nimmo, who I had met at the Quaker library where I worked when she was researching her James Nayler poems, and I knew her work and must have thought a little about which poems might appeal to her. “The Jar” is a poem that pretty much tells the story as it was – opening a jar of jam with a live insect in it – probably a cockroach though it might even have been an earwig, I wasn’t looking too closely. It’s got a little bit of rhyme in it which I was pleased with as it came naturally without too much fuss. That’s not typical of me, though. I do revise and tinker a lot, sometimes for years.

 

With a book coming out, I’m taking stock a bit. In my London Metropolitan Archives residency I ended up writing an obscene ballad of 60 stanzas, which was a bit unexpected. I’m doing some more work for them but the results might be more respectable. I’m also tidying up some Khodasevich translations for the book next year, and thinking about further work from Russian.  

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