Poetry: why experiment?

I heard today that some of my poems are going to be included in the anthology The Edge of Necessary: Welsh innovative poetry 1966-2016. I started thinking about the particular kind of experimentation that I enjoy, and where that urge comes from. It put in my mind a particular moment.


In 1985, when I was 4 years old, my mother and I came back to Wales. My mother had been teaching in the Midlands, but now we were living a house at the top of Hendredenny Hill where sheep blundered from the fields into our gardens, and horses leaned their long, inscrutable faces over the fence. I didn’t speak like anyone else, so I tried not to speak at all unless I had to. I started writing at 4, perhaps half-hoping that poetic language could be more perfect than everyday speech. My mother and father were separating, their marriage collapsing but I knew that to talk about it would cause too much pain, so I would write euphemistic rhymes about toads, or the moon.

This particular moment explains everything about how and why I want to experiment: the desire to accommodate a language that is not mainstream, to allow space for silence too, and to find a slanted way to speak about the most intimate subjects. Later studying Creative Writing at University of Warwick (the Midlands again), I encountered the Surrealists, L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets, psychoanalysis, Modernism, OULIPO techniques like N+7, and experimental poets like Medbh McGuckian who in her poem ‘Slips’ uses Freud’s footnotes to tell a woman’s story. Now, as a Visiting Assistant Professor at the Ohio State University, I teach my students how to replicate dream language: how to garble a disturbing thought, still leaving behind an unsettling trace of what is being avoided.