Scott Hastie: Feature Poet

Photo Credit: Neil Stephenson

Photo Credit: Neil Stephenson

I am a full-time writer and poet, based in the UK – fortunate enough to be living and working in tranquil surroundings of the English countryside, some twenty miles north of London.

My poetry looks to positively explore human potential, with an emphasis on love, spiritual growth and self awareness. It is very important to me that my work remains as open, accessible and as simply expressed as possible. My influences vary from the great traditional English visionary romantics through to the distillation of thought and leanness of expression offered by the Japanese haiku tradition and later technical breakthroughs achieved by leading Scottish concrete poets, Ian Hamilton Finlay and Edwin Morgan.

Sparkling new poems & images at http://www.scotthastie.com

Interview

1. Writing requires a great deal of focus and a distraction free environment. Do you have a special place you go to write or a ritual that you use to clear your space and mind of distractions?

 

I am fortunate to have a smallish study all to myself, up in the loft at the top of my house, which looks out over open fields and a tree-lined skyline. Here I have quiet, cocooned space overlooking the English countryside (almost in the clouds…) and everything I need. Far, far away from anything else – phones, tablets and door bells, especially…

For me, as a full time writer, a fairly rigorous, almost monastic daily routine is very important and underpins all my efforts. Not just in creating an outer environment that is conducive to a concentrated and undisturbed focus on my craft – but one that also allows important preparatory time of an almost religious nature – given the spiritual themes that run through my work. On a normal day, this would involve around two hours of preparation: morning exercise (normally running in the countryside) followed by breathing exercises, body stretches and meditation, sometimes with music – before even beginning to even think about any writing…

Having also eaten simply, I then would normally write in silence for around three hours –losing any sense of time, till my body tells me it is time to refuel. Immediately after lunch I would then have a shorter 1-2 hour session (often the most exciting time of the day when earlier writing can begin to coalesce) Evenings are then usually important down time from what is a quite an intense and tiring process. However I would still normally have a couple of short little sessions early, right after my evening meal and also last thing before bed – which are more about reviewing existing work and quick, little polishing sessions – looking fresh and anew at things. For me, it’s very important that every day (whether a writing day or not…) begins and ends with quietly reading through anything from between my two to last six pieces – in order hopefully to stay ‘in the flow’ and ‘in the voice’, clinging on tightly to that ‘silken thread’ that, once it slips from your grasp, I find is often hard to regain! Unless I’m away traveling or have specific social commitments, then every day is a writing day…

2. Who or What inspires you to write? Why

All my life (and for reasons I can’t quite be sure of…) I have always been a seeker in the spiritual sense and always very ambitious about my life. Whenever I am blessed with special moments or insights in my life, then my first instinct is to share the light and energy that comes from this experience, with others. My personal mode of doing this is an artist, a poet in particular… Beyond this, I have always been inspired by books and other writers. What greater gift and truer pleasure can there be that the opportunity to read and absorb, to have an internal dialogue with some of the greatest minds and souls that have ever lived? Especially in antiquity… Just think how exciting it is to be able to get to know the voice of Beowulf, the colours of Ovid, the technical wizardry of Flaubert, the wisdom and majesty of Gibran or Rilke, for example.

3. How long have you been writing poetry? Do you write short fiction or creative-non fiction?

My passion for poetry was ignited, as an impressionable adolescent, by schoolboy studies of the great English Romantic poets in particular – Wordsworth, Keats & for me Coleridge in particular. The work of William Blake and some of the truly great French poets – Rimbaud and Baudelaire were also other key early influences. I then began writing my own poetry in earnest at college, where I was studying to be a librarian and where I was also then editor of the student magazine for Brighton Polytechnic and Sussex University. Quite quickly I became one of many quite active, but relatively obscure young “small press” poets – though my work always sold well and was, at the time, unusual for being sold profitably. Becoming a useful second income supporting the life of a chartered librarian – in the auspicious tradition of a Larkin! Though in my case, the career was in public, rather than academic libraries.

More significant published collections of my poetry didn’t appear till I had young children of my own and was already in my thirties. This was largely on the back of commercial success in other genres – when I was fortunate to author a series of quite lavish and lucrative illustrated local history books and also wrote Reunion, a fast-paced romantic thriller, which remains my only novel to date. Nowadays I write full time, focusing as squarely as possible on poetry once more – with a brand new collection of my work Meditations due out in April this year. Along with the novel, two other collections of my poetry remain in print today: Selected Poetry, a hardback edition and New Poetry, a later title published in paperback only.

4. Recently, you have become involved with social media and writing groups. Why? How do you think social media will help your writing career?

You’re right, this is a pretty new departure for me and was, to be honest, something I was initially rather reluctant about – but was very much encouraged to get involved with by the people at Raygun Indust. who designed and launched www.scotthastie.com here in the UK. I had also always been so conscious of all the other potential pitfalls there are out there for anyone seeking to write anything significant – be it the lure of fame or fortune, or the seduction of style over substance, for example… and, as always stressed by David Lidgate, my current spiritual mentor over here – particularly the importance of not wasting energies and ‘staying in the bubble’ – if truly serious about maximising the potential you have as a writer.

Having said this, I am glad I did listen to Raygun and we have since developed approaches that make this work for me, without literally taking more than a few minutes of my time every day… Even from my limited experience to date – and, like it or not, there can be no doubt that options like Twitter (for general public) and LinkedIn (for peer group connections) are immensely powerful engines of international communication. The web site, which has a built in blog for both general comment and also on individual poems, has also exceeded all expectations since it was launched in September last year. Only four months in, and we are already trading at the level of around 250,000 hits a year – and this from a standing start and with no marketing spend to speak of. There is no doubt that the use of social media and also involvement with writing groups has played its part here.

Although my books have long since found their way to most countries – for me, as a writer, the key transformative effect here has been for the first time getting my work out much more effectively to a worldwide audience. And, of course, the surprises that come from this… For example, the scale of enthusiastic positive interest, now evident from the web site, from the US in particular and also from India and some Arab states has caught us off guard to be honest – but is obviously very welcome, nevertheless.

So in summary, I am now a definite convert! Just twenty years ago, it would have just not been possible at all for me to even dream of reaching the audience I do now, without huge investment from a major corporate publishing house. So it does literally transform everything. What I now say to those that ask is that in this new world, I have two principal endeavors: Firstly to write as well as possible and then secondly to be as serious and cooperative as I can be about getting my work to be read by as many people as possible. Hence, for example, my investment in also making time to do interviews in excellent web based journals such as New Mirage.

5. Talk a little about the poems featured here. What were you attempting to achieve? Are they a part of a larger series? How were they composed or constructed?

To be frank, this is a bit of a hard one for me. Similar to my views about titling poems below, I have always been ardent in my belief that, as far as possible, a poem should speak entirely for itself. Perhaps more so than any other art form, surely this has to be truest for poetry – whose principal aim is to distil an experience or insight down to the absolute essence? To my mind the voice of the piece should therefore always be much stronger and clearer than any artist’s commentary or critic’s voice could ever provide… Still, in the spirit of this interview, I will try my best for you.

I regard the over-arching theme of my work to be a personal investigation into the positive potential of the human spirit. This I think is clearly evident, running through all the pieces featured here. Not that I believe my work can ever be said to be some sweet pastoral panacea, because it never shies away from pain or suffering – and is prepared to also explore the darkness. This being, to me, the absolute crucial axis (the interaction and interdependence of the light and dark, of joy and sorrow, of love and loss – in the grand romantic tradition) and one which lies at the heart of my work and my approach. I remain determined always to be challenging enough to reach deep into the core of meaning and the human experience – although do also accept that, as my work has developed, then my voice has become more reflective and spiritual in its emphasis. It has also always been terribly important to me, at any time in my career, to be as simply expressed and as readily accessible as possible – a vital component of my work to date. And I like to think all these themes are plainly obvious in the selection agreed here, with editor Georgia Ann Banks.

It is here that you can also hopefully see how simple often short line length structures also play their part – though still carefully shaped for emphasis and controlled rhythm & musicality that lifts key passages, enhances meaning and always looks to carefully draw the reader towards the concluding climax of any piece. The success of which for me is always a critical consideration and the key litmus test of success of any particular poem.

6. Who has been most important to your development as a writer?

My first key influence was an idealistic young teacher called Robert Peel, who was my A level (higher grade) tutor of French Literature at Secondary School. He was the first to open my eyes as to what might be possible and, pretty uniquely at that time (when I was at my most rebellious and errant!) also very significantly believed in me. Consequently, I am forever in his debt… Beyond that, I have worked hard most of my life to deliberately avoid being schooled by academic influences and laboured mainly alone – albeit with the bright lanterns of what, for me, are the key voices like Eliot and Rilke to guide me on my way. As also touched on above – in terms of how technically I approach the structuring of my work – then the Haiku tradition emphasis on focusing down and distilling the essence of what you want to say has an ongoing (if often not always expressly obvious…) influence on my work. Personally, I will also be permanently indebted for the technical breakthroughs achieved the pioneering Scottish Concrete poets, Ian Hamilton Finlay and Edwin Morgan – which really helped me see a clear way forward for myself, in terms of beginning to develop a style I feel is my own.

Whatever anyone’s influences – in my opinion, the most significant challenge faced by any writer is to truly find their own voice and I get very weary of what sometimes seems like the endless procession of often technically and intellectually talented young writers, on both sides of the Pond, simply schooled to echo the styles and mores of whatever is judged to then be fashionable by a self-serving established literary culture. To some extent, this is inevitable, I suppose and it is perhaps unreasonable for me to imagine otherwise… but again, I believe the power of the internet has played a very valuable role here in loosening this stranglehold.

7. In the United States many poets read their work at slams, festivals, and conferences. How have you been able to promote your work in your local area? Do you feel that your community supports poets?

Apart from (as discussed earlier, by artistic and spiritual necessity, my tendency to be a bit of a lone wolf) I do have a few other idiosyncrasies as a poet: One is that, unless dedicated to a particular individual or location, I have never believed in titling my poetry. In the spirit of the haiku and my earlier answers about technique, what I say to those that this often initially annoys or surprises is: if you can truly conjure a meaningful title for a poem, then perhaps that should be the poem itself? My other significant idiosyncrasy is that, despite the fact that I have the utmost respect for the practice you describe in your question (which is growing also here in the UK  too) I personally am not and have never been a ‘performance poet’ – despite what it costs me in terms of the loss of promotional opportunities. Like my practice of not using titles for my work, this also surprises some – but what I say to this is: I myself have always written to be ‘read in the head’ rather than declaimed. All I can say is, for me as a poet, this is much more important and multi-dimensional opportunity and moreover, a preciously unique dialogue between you and an individual reader. Would I trust anyone (myself included!) to do justice to one of my poems in oral recital – frankly not… Also would I really want to interfere at all with the very special music any one person could make (in their very own way and with the singular benefit of their unique experiences and resonances) with one of my pieces in their own head – again, not really… Indeed quite a few of my readers do tell me that they read my poetry aloud to themselves quite often and that, of course, is great!

8. Can you suggest poets from your community to our readers? (Please provide titles of books and or websites if possible)

Right at this moment, I would recommend the stunning and very contemporary work of your very own NY poet Sharon Olds, recent winner of the T.S. Eliot Poetry Prize and also the poignant work of Irish poet Dennis O’Driscoll, who died sadly and rather prematurely, late last year. Given, as referred to earlier in this interview, my new and initially tentative involvement in social media, it has also been my very recent privilege to discover several experimental poetic bloggers, whose writing and sites have touched me in some way. Of these I would draw your reader’s particular attention to:

Lina Ru – http://linaru.com

Sylvie Ashford – http://riverscribbles.wordpress.com

Robyn Lee – http://www.throughthehealinglens.com

Natasha Head – http://www.tashtoo.com/

I also think Michelle Vinci, an educator based in Vancouver, is doing new and great work with her Global Twitter Community Poetry Project.

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When in love or inspired,

An eternal kiss from the divine

Awaits us all.

And, just as the frostiest of old maids

Secretly longs to tremble

With excitement in her bed,

One more time.

Or the pained young lover

Pitifully nurses a wound

That renders their heart homeless,

Mourning the loss of romance

Seemingly gone forever.

The truth is

Nothing that truly matters

Can ever evaporate,

Be excised,

Burnt out of your soul.

However ready we may or may not be,

And at any stage in our life,

There will always be the chance

To reclaim our essence,

The shape we call our own.

For, once spun,

The silken thread of all our aspirations

Remains intact,

It can never broken.

And, with courage, even a trail of tears

Will always lead us back

To where our fractured heart longs to be.

So that, just as the wise old Shoguns

Chose to,

With their most precious of porcelain vessels,

We too can repair our cracks with gold

And glow again.

Crazed by life,

More beautiful than ever before.

 

 

© Scott Hastie 2012. All rights reserved.

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Be you a babe in arms,

Newly flush with life,

An infant excited,

A lover who has never felt more alive.

However young and fresh faced,

However delighted, dulled or weary,

The experience of age is in your every move,

Your every thought, your every instinct,

Each breath you take.

Imagine the storyboard of your life.

The inspirations and ecstasies,

The struggles and despair

And, just for a moment,

Gaze back and see a fluid pattern.

How the river of your life has twisted and turned

How it has gathered, coalesced

And how it nudges you still,

How it eases you gently forward.

Like the hands of the clock that shift so softly,

Though we can’t quite discern it,

Notice how your own golden harvest piles up,

And with it its tithe, both in its glory

And ultimately its tax upon you for life’s bequest.

Remember that everyday you still awake,

With good fortune and opportunity,

To the gathering warmth of a new day.

© Scott Hastie 2012. All rights reserved.

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A busy city,

Far from home.

Onrushing,

The teeming crowd,

A tsunami of sorts.

And as you walk on into the melee,

As it comes to you,

For the briefest, sweetest of moments

To catch the eye,

To share a smile,

To touch the soul of a stranger

You may never see again.

This is as it should be.

The often cavernously empty

Business of life will always

Occasionally be overwhelmed by truth.

For the restless soul hungers for such moorings,

Such absolute points of recognition

Gifted by love,

By light shared with others.

But such chances come and go so suddenly

That what was once so recent, so vivid

Already seems so distant and long ago.

What then,

If not still true to your heart?

Only swamped I fear.

Lost on a surging tide,

Swept back to faceless oblivion,

To the ruin of indifference to start again…

© Scott Hastie 2012. All rights reserved.

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Age gathers, colludes.

Cadences fade fitfully,

Seemingly before their time.

But there are echoes still,

Shapes we inherit,

We inhabit, we bequeath.

A life however bravely spent,

Will always be jagged, incomplete,

Never far away

From being enveloped in darkness.

Some may say,

Especially those who’ve known joy in life,

That this is not right.

I tell you clearly they are wrong.

So, just as a dancer

Might spin for you an exact pirouette

And release themselves in the perfect burst,

A lingering silhouette of energy,

Be content to love, to dazzle in the light,

If only for moments…

And then be gone,

With gladness in your heart,

Before the creeping shadows

Claim too much your sadness at leaving.

 

© Scott Hastie 2012. All rights reserved.


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However beautiful,

No pebble on the beach.

You were my touchstone.

And yes,

I have now smelt the perfume of the Gods.

If only for precious moments

Opened the gilded door

And walked through.

Set foot on hallowed ground,

Taken refuge where my soul longed to be,

In the sunlit meadow of my dreams.

Bathed in love and light,

Healed and nourished,

Elevated by experiences of wonder.

It was the miracle of how the needs,

The spiritual hunger

Of two separate physical beings,

Two fractured souls,

Could fit together so perfectly,

Like long lost pieces of some ancient code

That, once re-united, yielded up energies,

Ecstasies and insights beyond our imagining.

That was the key.

And far beyond any love affair

With its own predictable half-life

Of intensity, its cycle of emotion.

Instead a permanent path

That, once illuminated,

Goes ever onward – a way home…

 

© Scott Hastie 2012. All rights reserved.

Untitled

And still the darkness waits for me,

As I know it will…

And ever more avariciously still,

As it senses my journey comes closer to fruition.

I know in my heart it is a given

That I can never entirely banish

This spectre of the night,

It will always be beside me, as it needs to be.

Just as surely as the sunniest of summer’s mornings

Or the broadest of smiles on a lover’s face

Can make your heart soar,

As a counterpoint in the navigation

Of all that’s possible in life.

All that one would ever want to reach out for,

Whether driven by angels or demons…

So I choose to condemn it

To wait on the sidelines forever.

And as an irrelevance, a meaningless shadow,

A token silhouette to all my blessings.

Like the soft dusting of fallen snow on hollow bones,

On the already broken, spilt corpse

Of souls long since departed.

Strengthened by the certainty

That the light I cherish and hold dear within

Will instead keep me safe and warm,

Till my own time comes….

 

© Scott Hastie 2012. All rights reserved.