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From Cheltenham...

Daniel Sluman

Daniel Sluman is a 25 year old poet based in Cheltenham, UK. His debut collection Absence has a weight of its own was published by Nine Arches Press in 2012.

Absence has a weight of its own is your first collection of poetry (and extremely accomplished it is too)- tell us a bit about how the collection came together.

I met Jane Commane (editor of Nine Arches Press) after an open reading at Ledbury Poetry Festival two years ago. She encouraged me to send some work to their flagship magazine, Under the Radar, and after appearing in the publication, Jane agreed to publish my first collection, which took a year or so of writing and editing to get into shape. Before meeting Jane, I had been through the usual cycle of submission and rejection for a couple of years, but I have Ledbury to thank in terms of helping me make the leap from unpublished to a first collection.

This collection deals with weighty subject matter; illness, mortality, and relationships. To what extent do you draw on your own experiences to write poetry?

The book examines absence from a number of different angles, and being an amputee gave me a very solid, physical metaphor for that in the book. The bone-cancer I had as a child is certainly the basis for a number of poems, as are relationships and experiences at University. As poets, we’re all trying to get to the essence of something, the hidden life of a topic; I don’t believe you have to directly experience what you are writing about to do this well, but you have to have made a concerted effort to put yourself there mentally. As an example, at the moment I’m trying to write in the voice of a paralysed man. I am not paralysed, but I can still put myself in a form of mental paralysis to create material to invoke a sense of that experience in the reader.

I know you have strong feelings about what poetry should do and be; could you tell us about these?

For me, the point of writing poems is to ultimately connect to people and evoke a feeling or reaction within them. I still find the basis of poetry incredible; the idea that you can arrange a certain combination of words in a certain order on a page, and they can be so carefully and thoughtfully chosen that when a person you’ve never met sits down to read them, something inside them rearranges, they come to a new understanding or see something in a different light. A good poem can change a reader from the moment they read the first line, to the moment the last full stop draws a curtain back over it all, and that’s the purpose of poetry for me, to make people feel something.

Do you have any advice for young poets attempting to see their work published?

The old advice is still the most pertinent; revise, revise, revise, read everything (not passive reading, read actively), and compare your best bits to your worst bits and work out what the difference is. Don’t let only poetry be the thing that feeds your creativity; a poem is an attempt to evoke a reaction, and in that way it works on the same principle as art, music, theatre, etc... Don't be daunted by peers who have read more widely or have access to networks and connections which you don't, you’re dealing with words, you require no special or expensive equipment, a lot of it comes down to how much you ask of the page; ask a lot of it! Being continually critical and alert to everything you write certainly helps if you want to achieve a lot in a short period of time.

Can you recommend any poets you’ve come across that our readers may not have heard of?

In terms of younger poets I would say that Bobby Parker is definitely one to watch out for, along with Max Wallis, David Tait and Cara Brennan. I’m currently reading C.D. Wright’s New & Selected from Bloodaxe. We’re still not exposed to much American poetry in the UK, but Wright is astonishingly good.

You’re also on the editorial committee for Iota. What do you look for when selecting poetry to publish?

We all have different tastes on the committee, which means we hopefully get a varied set of poems for each issue, but the first line has to grab me, it has to have something about in terms of novelty of language or curiosity of topic which tells me it is worth reading. Personally, I love poems where it’s very obvious that something is at stake.

Thank you Dan!