Interview – John Siddique

Interview – John Siddique





‘Rebellious by nature, pure at heart’ – The Times of India


John Siddique is the bestselling author of Full Blood, Recital – An Almanac, Poems From A Northern Soul, and The Prize. His poetry collection Don’t Wear It On Your Head is a perennial favourite with younger readers. He is the co-author of the story/memoir Four Fathers.

His poems, essays and articles have featured in Granta, The Guardian, Poetry Review, The Rialto and on BBC Radio 4. The Spectator refers to him as ‘A stellar British poet.’The Times of India calls him ‘Rebellious by nature, pure at heart.’ Acclaimed novelist Bina Shah says he is ‘One of the best poets of our generation.’

Full Blood is described as ‘Technically virtuosic yet direct and sensual,’ by The Times Higher Educational, and as ‘Bold as love… Each word is to be savoured like a sip of forbidden wine’ by Bina Shah in Dawn – Books & Authors. Recital has been called ‘One of the most important British poetry books of the last twenty years’ by Lauri Ramey of CSULA. Jackie Kay speaks of Siddique’s writing as being ‘A brilliant balancing act.’

Siddique is well known for his captivating readings, and his infectious love of literature. This highly influential writer has worked with The British Council, PEN, The Arvon Foundation, The Poetry Society and London 2012. He is the former British Council Writer-in-Residence at California State University, Los Angeles. He has been awarded the title of Honorary Creative Writing Fellow by Leicester University in recognition of his contribution to literature.
1 When and why did you start writing poetry?

Writing came as a necessity into my life in my late twenties, having always been a reader, I loved books because they were in some ways my real parents. After hearing a poem by ee cummings I found myself galvanised at how something so easy sounding could contain so much real love and life. I picked up the pen to see if I had anything to contribute.

2.What are your favourite subjects to write about?

I’m not an ironic writer in anyway, the post modern stuff that passes for literature leaves me cold, but so does work that is bludgeoning and overly sentimental. I’m an old fashioned writer in some ways, I write about human things, the things which are right in front of us and between us, but which we willfully don’t see, I like to find the beauty, humour, sadness and truth of those things.

3. The moon and the feminine seem to be the focus of quite a bit of your writing…any particular reason?

A big strand of my work is trying to understand what it is to be a man. I cannot help but experience the need for a life in which that means more than tribalism, being in some kind of battle of the sexes and has no room for soul, sensuality and intellect. I am driven to try to understand how our sexualities both limit us and can move us forward. I want to have lived a life during my lifetime which has been acceptable to me: mentally, physically, spiritually and sensually. The moon affects me very deeply, I can never sleep on the nights around the full moon and in some ways I am quite lupine. I have always been in love with the moon, as a boy I dreamed of being an astronaut. There is a wonderful steep hill opposite where I live, we often go up there late on full moon nights to take in the light and the mystery.

4.You have had a very interesting upbringing and background, a mixture of Indian and Irish, how did that upbringing mould you as a person?

I have come to see that that world is not divided as it would seem to be. Countries, flags, fear and small mindedness are used to separate us. While I know how to play the game in order to navigate this broken system, I am also blessed in that I can see it for the thing that it is.

5. Is it true that you grew up in a house with no books????!!!

Well there was one book, given that my mother was one of those Irish Catholic women built out of barbed wire and half-bricks, I’ll let you guess the book’s title.

6.You seem to me to have bought some of the old fashioned romanticism back into poetry, but from a modern perspective. What do you make of modern poets today in general? Do you think poetry can be ‘cool’ again?

Literature must never be cool, it should always say the wrong thing and never try to fit in. I don’t tend to think that contemporary means best, there are the books of all countries, across all the time of language. I try to read the best of those, and if I can raise my head enough on some days, contribute a few verses to that body of human consciousness myself. I write about real human things and sometimes it’s a bit dirty, too caught up with beauty, or looks where others might not have the courage too, that has always been part of the poet’s job. I’m romantic in the way that the war poets, or writers like Hemingway, Whitman, Neruda and Mary Oliver were/are. Trying to write true lines about our mortality and our place in things, so that we might reach to reason, love and action.

7 Your most recent book ‘Full Blood’ published by Salt Publishing has been described at your most ’emotionally charged’ work to date. Do you agree?

Full Blood is the book I set out to write when I first thought I had to write. It’s my sixth book, and while I love the rest like they are my children, Full Blood is the first time I’ve actually said ‘Yes, I’ve done it.’

8. You have also published a children’s book ‘Don’t Wear It on your Head’ What inspired that and the change of direction you took?

Children need good books, and I thought I’d like the challenge of writing some real poetry for kids. I have no time for idiot writers who say that you have to lower your sights to write for young people. I guess it would be too difficult for someone with that kind of blind overbearing sense of entitlement to get over themselves and try to connect with someone other than themselves. Writing for children is wonderfully difficult and very clarifying as to the writer/person you are.

9. Do you prefer writing or performing your work?

I love reading and writing more than I can say, but I really love talking to people as well. I am so grateful that I get to go around the world sharing the work with people; my audiences tend to be be real people not poets, and I like that.

10. What are you working on right now?

I am working with the musician Julia Kent who is probably best known as one of Anthony & The Johnsons. We are creating an album and live show based on parts of Full Blood. Julia is an astonishing talent and has helped me see so many different ways of doing things in the short time we’ve been working together. We recorded one of the pieces for BBC Radio 4 recently. I’m also out and about doing solo readings mostly based around Full Blood, and there is maybe half of the next book done, but I’m in no rush. I keep writing stories at the moment which is a new thing for me, there are not enough for a book yet, but I like where that is going. I’ve also just written and helped choreograph a piece of contemporary dance, because I love dance, I love that we are physical beings moved by the ineffable.

John Siddique & Julia Kent – Thirst (Live BBC Radio 4) from John Siddique on Vimeo.
Twitter @johnsiddique

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