A Ten Question Interview With The Artist… Jonathan Butcher

Why do you write?

My main principle reasons for writing are that I enjoy it, and it helps to keep me focused. Writing poetry is one of the few things that keeps my head on track, and keeps me motivated, and I find that it helps keep any momentum going in other elements of my life as well. I’ve also had an urge to express myself creatively since being really young, but could never find a medium that suited me, or that I was any good at, and poetry has always been something I don’t necessarily struggle with. I’ve always used reading as a form of escape as well, so it seemed natural to start writing. It’s also helps relive boredom, which is always good.

What books do you read?

I used to read novels exclusively for years, but once I discovered poetry and started writing then they got more or less replaced by poetry collections. I will always have a collection by someone on the go, but I can find it hard to relax with a book of poetry, because as soon as I get through five or six pages the ideas start rolling around my head and I end up reaching for my notebook, so I rarely finish one in one sitting. It is nice to go back to novels as well, but I tend to slow down a little when I do. I’m currently reading ‘Almost an Equinox’; a collection by London based poet Sarah Maguire, that I’m really enjoying.

What inspires you?

I find myself usually inspired by my surroundings, and I think as a poet it’s impossible not to be. I was born and have lived in Sheffield all my life, and take a lot of inspiration from that. I have always been drawn to writers who turn their surroundings into these far-fetched and abstracted landscapes, and that has always appealed to me especially as I grew up in a rather mundane part of the city. Due to the amount of time I have lived there, I have also developed a sort of love-hate relationship with it, which I think helps as well. I also, like most people, had somewhat of a lively youth and I draw a lot of inspiration from that as well.

How did you know you wanted to be a writer and when?

I had been writing little things on and off since I was a teenager, but never had the courage to show them to anyone, other than a few close friends, but it was in my mid twenties that I decided I wanted to take writing more seriously. It was around this time that I started reading poetry almost obsessively, and I found I related much more to the structure of a poem than I did a novel. I had always lived in my own head somewhat when I was younger, and found I was able to express myself more confidently as I got a bit older. It was also one of those ‘If I don’t do it now. I never will’ sort of times.

How do you deal with rejection?

When you first start writing and submitting to magazines and journals, it’s more or less all rejections for the first year or so, and even after you find your feet, you get just as many rejections as acceptances. It’s just part of being a writer as far as I’m concerned, and it genuinely doesn’t bother me. It’s an important learning curve that you have to embrace, and you’ll never progress unless you do. You should never let it discourage you. I can remember years ago, one of the first magazines I ever submitted to was some quarterly print publication, and the editor sent me a rejection including a scathing page long rant about how they hated my writing and added an attachment entitled ‘How to be a Poet’ (which,incidentally, I never bothered to read). Needless to say, it didn’t put me off.

Who are some writers you admire?

William Burroughs, Garcia Lorca, Ezra Pound, Scott Fitzgerald, Sylvia Plath, Charles Bukowski, Frank O’Hara, Kathy Acker, Gregory Corso, Anna Kavan, Philip Larkin, Simon Armatige, and Stephen Spender are some of the writers and poets I would say I admire, and have drawn some kind of influence from. There are also a host of poets on the current underground scene both in the UK and US who I greatly admire and have had the privilege of having some my writing published alongside.

Is writing the only artistic medium you do?

Yes.

What would be some advice you would give to your younger self?

I would find it excruciatingly difficult to spend more than five minutes with my younger self without wanting to reach for the nearest blunt instrument to knock some sense into him, so it would leave little time to impart any worldly wisdom.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Read. That would be the most useful piece of advise I could give, especially if your just starting out. You should be reading poetry on a more or less daily basis You have to have a passion for it in the first place, and a poet who doesn’t read (and they do exist!) is going to struggle somewhat. Find a style that works for you and start submitting work as soon as your happy with what you’re doing, and be realistic about the magazines you are submitting to. One of the biggest causes of you writing being rejected is if it just doesn’t fit in the publication you’ve submitted to. Always respect the editor you’re sending to and above all be patient. Stick to your own work ethic and try not to be too influenced by other writers you may know. Carve your own path.

What is your writing process?

I try to write on a daily basis more or less, and during a good period I usually write around three or four rough drafts a day. Once I’ve got around twenty or thirty, I then sift through them and I might find five or six I’m actually happy with, and that I feel confident sending out to editors. I try to keep editing down to a minimum, as I want to try and retain any energy a poem might have, rather than kill it off trying to make it ‘perfect’. I rarely sit down and think ‘right, I’ll write a poem about this, and then send it to this magazine’  I would much rather just keep continually writing around one or two ideas and then see what come out, and that seems to work for me.

Jonathan Butcher

Jonathan Butcher is a poet based in Sheffield, England. He has had poetry appear in various print and online publications including: Popshot, The Belleville Park Pages, Ink, Sweat and Tears, Elbow Room, Dead Beats, Gutter Eloquence and others. His second chapbook ‘Broken Slates’ has been published by Flutter Press.

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