Sunday Sojourn – with Harry Gallagher
Happy Sunday everyone, and welcome to the blog Harry Gallagher, a good friend from Elementary Writing Group, and a very busy poet…
Thanks for joining my today Harry! Tell me about your current collection.
Chasing The Sunset is a pamphlet published this year by Black Light Engine Room Press. It’s a collection of poems with quite an unusual overall theme for me, in that there is stuff in it I think is quite exposing – affairs of the heart! It’s not all on the same theme (I do like a bit of light and variety) but it has quite a dark heart – poems in it that I’ve still never read to a live audience, even after touring it! It’s also split into seasons, starting in Summer, progressing through Autumn’s decay and the freeze of Winter, before finding an optimistic ending in the renewal of Spring. It’s really about survival and is set out as a kind of A Year In The Life and I’m still very proud of it.
You’re very prolific in your poetry – where do you find your inspiration, and what are your favourite topics to explore?
I do write a lot, yes. It just seems a natural state to me. I’ve never kept a diary but I suppose creating poetry does that for me. Inspiration? Hmm…everywhere, really! I used to go to writing groups and loved finding that I could write to order. I don’t do that as much, but still like to drop in now and then. Sometimes the ruthlessness of humanity appals me enough to want revenge on behalf of the oppressed and forgotten and I’ll have a rant. But more often than that, it’ll be just something around me – a certain light or a phrase I hear from someone, or a moment of introspection. I quite like the thing of poets essentially being outsiders looking in. It’s no coincidence that artists of any hue, once they become well known aren’t quite as interesting – they inevitably become the observed rather than the observer.
You also perform at a wide variety of venues and types of event – how do you go about choosing your pieces, and preparing for a performance?
Good question. I used to fret a lot about sets but found the more time I spent thinking about it, the worse my selection would be! Then I saw the poet Aidan Clarke use a device where he asked the audience to pick a letter and he would start off a poem beginning with that letter and then work his way through the alphabet. So I arranged a selection of my stuff in A-Z order of titles and began doing the same, but after each poem asked for a new letter and so the audience had effectively picked the set. I don’t do that so much now, but it completely freed me up from over analysing. Now I’ll turn up with my stuff, get a feel for the place and audience, see how I feel and then begin choosing stuff I think they/I will find interesting. And keeping myself interested is quite important I think. Sometimes I’ll get tired of a particular poem and then it has to go to the bottom of the pile until it’s rediscovered like an old friend!
Sounds a great method. So, of all those you’ve been to, which is your favourite ever venue / performance?
That’s a really difficult one. You know what? Despite being a terrible extrovert (show off) I really love tiny venues where you can have a proper conversation with your audience. I loved the Low Lights Tavern in North Shields for this. Robbie Lee Hurst created a really lovely ambience in there and I’m sad it’s gone. But my favourite all time gig was in someone’s front room! It was called the Sunday Salon and was passed onto me by our mutual friend, the poet Elaine Cusack. There were only 5 people there and I did an hour and a half in return for soup! Just a great little gig for people who wanted to know about the poetry.
Always a good thing! How about any performances you’d rather forget? (Not naming names, obviously!)
It wasn’t even a proper gig. The first time I went to a certain gig in Newcastle, it seemed to me (as an outsider) to be quite a scary place. It wasn’t the venue – I’d played there before as an actor and knew it well. Everyone seemed to know each other really well and I sat there alone until I plucked up the courage to have a go at the open mic. The previous poet had left to raucous clapping and cheering. I went on, Billy No Mates, and read something – I can’t even remember what it was now – and was received with what felt like a smattering of polite, subdued applause and traipsed off to the sound of my own footsteps. That’s an exaggeration but you know what I mean! Now I’m sure it wasn’t like that at all, but it felt like it. Since then of course I’ve got to know that whole crowd and they’re lovely people – many are now mates – but at the time I felt very small and ineffectual. But hey ho, I never hear my own applause anyway, so it was doubtless just me!
Through the Stanza, you also provide space for other poets – how did it come about?
It was just a chance conversation with Mandy Maxwell, who now runs it with me. There had previously been a night called Hot Words At The Chilli, run by the aforementioned Aidan Clarke and the lovely Annie Moir, but they decided to stop. I mentioned to Mandy I loved that night and missed it and she said, “You should run one”. I declined, but then thought again and said, “But I’d do it with you!” Since then it seems to have matured and we have a band of happy helpers who run it with us and I’m particularly pleased that Alix Bromwich-Alexandra and Megan Pattie now spend as much time hosting it as we do.
Who would be your dream line-up for the Stanza? You can have living and dead poets…
It changes all the time. Well for a start, I’d have Auden and Dylan Thomas, who are massive figures to me. I love their brilliance and their flaws. Under Milk Wood is such a treasure trove of rich language I can’t even begin to talk about it without gushing. But you know what? I’d have some of our brilliant North East poets up there with them, on a first come, first served basis. There are so many great poets whose work I love around here that it would be impossible to name a few and not the others.
Any upcoming plans / news?
I have a full collection that I’m currently hawking around the publishing world, called Northern Lights, so if any publishers out there would like to get in touch! Other than that, I’m happily gigging and always on the lookout for new and unexplored territory, so again if anyone from outside the North East would like me to come and make you laugh/cry/feel inspired, here’s where I’m at: https://harrygallagherpoet.wordpress.com/