I won’t pretend to know anything about poetry, except that I know what I like. So when Richard Wheeler agreed to talk to us about his love of words, I was delighted.
Richard has known Pembrokeshire from childhood and, like so many people we talk to, came back again and again until the opportunity presented itself (a little over ten years ago), to make this his permanent home.
Desiring a better life/work balance was a motivation and when it became possible to run his IT business from home the dream was realised. Happily removed from the noise and bedlam of the South East, he relishes the nourishment he experiences from the natural world, just by stepping out of one’s own door.
“At the back of our house near Newport there was a wild wood.” he tells me, “I saw an opportunity to add to the diversity of the wildlife in this space – and to my own enjoyment through the seasons – by planting a wider range of shrubs and small trees to create a wildlife garden. Today, the number of bees, birds, butterflies etc. has grown exponentially.”
I ask Richard if he has particular places in Pembrokeshire that have won his heart. He tells me that he is fond of the south of the county, but that he loves the wildness and, the drama of the North.
“I really enjoy the ocean”,he tells me,“but principally from the safety of dry land!” He cites favourite stretches of the Pembrokeshire coastline: Ceibwr, Strumble Head, Cwm-yr-Eglwys to Pwllgwaelod. “Ultimately though,I’m really more of a woodland and fells person. The Gwaun Valley, the Preselis, Tycanol Wood are all places I really love to walk and explore.”
Having read some of Richard’s poetry,it is clear that his love of the natural world is a constant inspiration. He is someone who seems to enjoy contrast and subtlety. I wonder, has he always written?
He nods, “My sister and I were lucky in that our parents read to us (Kipling, Betjeman, Keats, RL Stevenson, Laurie Lee etc.) when we were very young and I think this is where the seed was sown. I’ve been a bookworm ever since! As a young kid I enjoyed writing simple, rhyming verse, limericks and the like.” He recalls a moment when aged around twelve, he passed some poetry he had written to his father. His dad’s response before looking back at the TV was to say, ‘You didn’t write that.”
I wince. For a lot of young people, that would be the end of their interest, but not Richard.
“I know you can be sunk by that, “he laughs, “but I saw it as a positive. My father didn’t think it could be my work.”
During his mid-teens Richard tells me that he got a bit side-tracked, creatively. “I now look back at stuff from that time as amounting to little more than a rant – polemic. The polar opposite of the kind of subtlety that I really enjoy.”
He moved on from this to spend the next few years – (aside from the day job) song writing. Music is another one of Richard’s loves.
“For all my love of ideas and mental exploration, it’s important to me that poetry is accessible. I’ve learnt to trust in my musical ear to now drive the poetry. The sound of words and the selection of words is therefore central to how I write. The result, I hope, is poetry that is thought-provoking and where the language lingers with the reader.”
I ask Richard how he puts a poem together.
“When I read other people’s poetry, I want a real sense of how the poet sees and relates to the world; together with the unique way they use words and language. Unsurprisingly they go hand in hand. My own creativity can be led by either of these things. With Sea Glass for example (this poem appeared on Pembrokeshire.online in August 2018) whilst reflecting on life overlooking the estuary in Newport, I arrived at the line,… ‘And there is a sense that the world creates itself from moment to moment,’ which was enough to raise the pen.
Other times the music of the words, rather than observation and reflection, is the starting point, i.e. when abstract lines come to me fully formed. Hence in An Omen the lines…. ‘In a year when the gooseberries were unresolved, the relied upon flesh…‘, which made me want to build a poem around this.
Quite often it’s the specific character and rhythm of the words that dictates the entire poem. For example, in drafting ideas for the poem The Stonemason, ‘Eye to hand/hand to eye…’‘ became the opening lines and gave me both the rhythm and feel I was looking for.”
I ask Richard how long it takes to create a poem
“Invariably each poem is something of a mongrel! I’ll craft ideas painstakingly, usually in long hand. Once I have this core and I feel the poem is working there’s the option to either keep honing it in the same style, or to introduce more leftfield, freeform lines giving the final poem a more mixed-media feel.
Some poems come together in next to no time. For most, this is just a start, and I return to it over days and weeks. This gives time for the poem to gestate! It’s fun to see it take shape, to begin to have a life of its own. I guess this organic element is what’s exciting about any creativity.”
Richard tells me about Alice Oswald who, in his opinion, is the foremost poet in the UK at the moment. “I’m with the writer Jeanette Winterson in, above all, wanting to be deeply thrilled by language; Oswald’s inventiveness, risk taking and originality makes the work truly amazing!”
What other poets do you enjoy?
“Other favourite poets include Imthiaz Dharker, Seamus Heaney, Kathleen Jamie, Gillian Clarke, Michael Longley and Kathy Miles.”
Do you have any published work?
Richard shakes his head, “I am not anti publishing per se, but for now it’s not what I’m motivated by. I feel it changes things. I have heard poets say that you only need 40 poems to publish a volume of poetry. Is that the right criteria? There’s already so much stuff out there.” He feels concerned that once one has the ambition to publish that this changes the relationship with the work. “It becomes a sort of deal. You write for other reasons.”
However, Richard is also aware of the question: Does a poem exist if it hasn’t been shared? To that end he helps organise poetry events where poets are invited to read their work for the benefit of those of us who love to listen.
“When we share our poetry out loud with others it gets to breathe and take on a different life. The life you hoped it could have when ‘on the dry page.’ Which takes us back to trusting one’s ear!”
That sounds great. Where can we find you?
“We have regular events at the Bluestone Brewery, Cilgwyn, near Newport. Details of the latest events covering Oct-Dec will be posted at https://www.bluestonebrewing.co.uk/events Entrance is £5. We normally have 2-3 ‘name’ performers across poetry, music, storytelling.
There is also the CellarBards open mic poetry evening held at the CellarBar café in Cardigan on the last Friday of the month. This is co-run by Jackie Biggs and Dave Urwin.
At the end of 2017 a group of us secured Arts Council funding for a show ‘Poetry + Cello’ – performing in community venues, village halls, theatres etc. The group comprises 8 poets and the acclaimed cellist, Daniel Davies. Details, including how to book us, can be found here.
Richard can be contacted at email@example.com
And for your delectation and delight, here are a couple of lovely poems from Richard Wheeler.
In a year when the gooseberries were unresolved
The relied upon flesh
Instead held as unspent bullets
We slept back to back
The smalls of our spines
Obdurate hulls in the night
A fire pit of silence
In these moments
Did your eyes close to the owl’s cry
Or stare at the unseen tree
Imagining soundless flight
Before crossing into sleep
In the fetid roof space
Pipistrelles pitched tight to the joists
A trug lies beached, upturned
Once the epicentre of our lives
Its worm-trailed willow
Etched with the sugary ink
Of bruised souls, pressed into service
Strawberries culled early from straw beds
Marble rose-white above the red earth
Now teased from the calyx
Undressed in the kitchen’s shadows
Toying and vying, seeping with intent
Love is when you relent, you said
Amongst the cut freesias
Never far from the conversation
The willow’s spoils spilling into foothills
Over the hewn oak table
Diced with care into the pan’s alchemy
Buttery smoke, garlic, ceps, cumin
Creating something to believe in
Barometer of where we were
Fastening our fate to the season
And then the conversation ran out
Fruit went unpicked
Later in the year
On a morning filled with cross currents
You placed the medlar fruit on trays to blet
The next day you had gone
Eye to hand, hand to eye
Improvising, no sheet music
The weft of stone observed
Tapped, clocked intuitively,
For shape and fit, not if but when,
A re-working, recycling
Here an otter in repose,
Sinuous flank, opening and closing, ponderous
Wall of ante-sculpture
Animal essence, primal man
At one with the land, eye to hand
Full trust in both. Just is.