Saturday, October 29, 2016

Guest Poet - Stewart Carswell

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve attended some excellent events at Bristol Poetry Festival, including a reading featuring Stewart Carswell, a young poet and a fascinating new voice. I first encountered Stewart when we attended the same Poetry School course a few years ago. He was living in Bristol while he studied for his PhD in physics and was, amazingly, managing to combine this with his writing life. He was included in Eyewear’s Best New British and Irish Poets anthology this year and they were so enthusiastic about this work that they have now published his first pamphlet, Knots and Branches, which reflects both Stewart’s interest in the natural world and his strong sense of place.

Many of the poems reflect the landscape of the Forest of Dean, not far from my own Cheltenham home. That attention to the natural world, particularly the world of trees, rivers and weather, combines a closely observing eye with a search for revealed wisdom in the poet’s surroundings. Many poets with Stewart’s background might have gone down the route of ‘science poetry’ (there is certainly a good deal of that about from poets with similar professional experience), but the influence of his academic training is worn more lightly than that here. We see it in the close accounting for the physical interrelatedness of things and the processes by which they are transformed, yet it is ultimately through the act of imagination that the poems’ epiphanies are quietly achieved. There is an assuredness to this voice that is rare in debuts and I’m sure we can look forward to further publications.
Stewart has kindly agreed for me to publish the poem ‘Instructions for Winter’ here, with the following words of his own commentary. Stewart writes:

'As a poet with a scientific background, I'm quite often asked how I got into poetry. To most people, poetry and science seem to be two very different disciplines. But I would say that they're actually quite similar.

Typically with science research, the procedure is that you make an observation of something interesting, and you try to understand what is happening. You then communicate what happened in a way that people can understand, often using equations where letters are symbols representing properties of the system you observed.

It's the same with poetry, I try and communicate my observations and thoughts concisely through the symbols of poetic imagery. On the surface, the poems may be short and simple, but underneath they are communicating something deeper and more complex through those symbols. I think it is important to make the poems accessible, in order to share the knowledge with a wide audience.

Research is a series of experiments, a journey to find out something unknown.  The process of writing is a little like finding out what is inside yourself.

This poem, Instructions for winter, looks a simple one. I wrote it I think at the start of a winter, or at least it was the first snow of the season. I was walking home through those gentle flakes. The movement of the walk moved me physically, and the falling of the snow moved me emotionally. I wanted to combine those movements, while illuminating something about poetry and observation at the same time.'

Instructions for Winter

If the snow is still falling as you read this
then stop reading and go outside.

Go outside: feel the snow melt upon you.
Some things are not meant to last

and this moment is one of them.
Go outside.

Let the snow do its falling and melting,
stay until the moment has changed you

but don’t forget: when you return,
this poem will also be different.

This poem was first published in Sarasvati.

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