Poet Robert Nisbet Tells Us How It’s Done
The setting for my interview with Robert Nisbet was the County Archives at Prendergast. It’s a wonderful and under-used resource for those interested in local history. I was there researching my novel; Robert was there researching material for the local history group that he runs in Narberth.
Robert is a Haverfordwest lad born and bred, and his earliest memory was of the extraordinary snows of the spring of 1947. A bit later on, he published his first short stories while still a student, and he continued to publish stories throughout a 40-year career teaching English to generations of Milford Haven kids.
His collection Downtrain, for instance, contains 24 timeless tales of Pembrokeshire life. Characters from Haverfordwest fret about the selection policy of local teams, have a haircut, take trips down to the Haven, and generally live their ordinary lives in an extraordinary way.
But in more recent years, Robert has turned his talents to poetry, and again he has published to much acclaim. I was interested in is how he does it. I wondered if he might have been inspired by his work as a teacher, writer, RNLI volunteer, Haverfordwest Museum volunteer, associate professor, historian, course leader and football match reporter. In fact, it’s simpler than that. Perhaps the following will help a budding poet or two, right here in Pembrokeshire or farther afield.
Rob B: “So, what’s your method? You must have been asked this a hundred times before, but where do your poems actually come from?”
Robert N: “The process starts on a Saturday when I go online and print a list of 20 or 30 random titles of other people’s short stories and poems. I don’t read the works and, at this point, I don’t even look at the titles. Then, on a Sunday morning, I sit down and let my mind wander, first over these random collections of words, and then wherever it will go.”
RB: “So you only actually write poetry one day a week, just on a Sunday morning?”
RN: “Isn’t one a week enough?”
He actually hones Sunday’s poem through the rest of the week, so it’s not strictly accurate to say that he only writes poetry on a Sunday. But his method is disarmingly simple. Perhaps, like me, you were put off trying to write poetry by torturous teenage attempts or by being forced at school to get to grips with The Waste Land or The Tyger. If so, maybe now’s the time to give it another go, using Pembrokeshire poet Robert Nisbet’s tried and trusted method.
Rob Barnes lives in Pembroke with his partner Kirsten. He is currently writing a novel about rural life in Pembrokeshire during and after the First World War.