MICHAEL SUTTON IN CONVERSATION WITH JANE ORMEROD
Michael Sutton is a poet from Liverpool, England. He currently studies Creative Writing at Edge Hill University where he is the recipient of the 2018 Rhiannon Evans Poetry Award. His poem “Bailiwick” is included in Birds Fall Silent in the Mechanical Sea.
Jane Ormerod: Hi Michael! Congratulations on your poem appearing in great weather’s new anthology Birds Fall Silent in the Mechanical Sea. “Bailiwick” has an intriguing title. What is the background to this work?
Michael Sutton: I discovered the word “bailiwick” a few years ago while working for Her Majesty’s Passport Office. My manager would often use it in our weekly team meetings, and I was struck by the odd phonological charisma of the word. I hated working in the Passport Office, so I think the word took on a negative connotation in my subconscious mind, hence its dark, sarcastic usage as the title of my poem. The poem was written in hospital while I was waiting to be seen for what seemed like an eternity. The point is that your bailiwick is not necessarily something you choose.
JO: Can you tell us a bit about your life story? How and when did you start writing?
MS: I started writing when I was around thirteen. Is that normal? I know a child who has written and handbound several books and he is only seven, so I guess there is no “normal.” I hardly read at all as a child. My main inspiration for writing stemmed from the lyrics to the indie rock music I listened to as a teenager, which later led me into poetry. Thank you Peter Doherty, Jarvis Cocker, Jeff Mangum et al. As far as life stories goes, I was recently reading Patrick deWitt’s new novel, French Exit, in which the character of Madame Reynard asks: ‘Do you ever feel that adulthood was thrust upon you at too young an age, and that you are still essentially a child mimicking the behaviors of the adults all around you in hopes they won’t discover the meagre contents of your heart?’ and I thought, Yes. Yes, I do. But writing makes me feel a little bit more like a purposeful adult.
JO: How did it feel to win the 2018 Rhiannon Evans Poetry Award from Edge Hill University?
MS: It was strange. Strange and heartening. I never expected to win any prizes for my writing, so it was a pleasant surprise to be recognized by other writers for my work.
JO: What encouraged you to submit to a New York publication?
MS: New York and poetry are kind of synonymous in my mind, so it seemed only natural. When I tell people that one of my poems is being anthologized by a “New York-based publisher” it feels very cool and almost exotic. I would love for my writing to have an international reach. I have published in France and America, but I hope to spread my work farther afield, as there are so many brilliant and eccentric publishers and publications across the globe.
JO: There is so much going on in the world, what fuels you to create?
MS: I like to turn the suffering I observe into scenes of absurdity. It is quite a selfish coping mechanism.
JO: How important is the city of Liverpool to your writing?
MS: I would say that it is the spawn of the city, rather than the city itself, that really influences my work. I could write an essay about The Beatles and how much they have affected me as an artist. I also relish the Irish influence, the sea shanties that rose from the docks, and the street poets of all obscure manifestations. The city itself is somewhat of an incongruity. It is a beautiful city, but it also a city of shame. There is a deep anguish tangled in its history which poetry would do well to address.
JO: Do you enjoy performing your poetry in front of an audience? Any guidance for writers just starting out?
MS: I do enjoy it. I have to sort of trick myself into confidence to get through it and give a sufficient performance, but it can feel very liberating in the moment. I usually like to recite longer poems because it seems I can really get into the flow of the work and create a compelling energy. I also like to hear other poets read their longer works as I feel I can better grasp the true frequency of their art through the extension of style and theme. My favorite reciters are those who find the perfect delivery to correspond with their work. Someone like Ilya Kaminsky, for instance, recites in such a peculiar way, melancholy yet fiercely exhilarating, that you cannot help but listen, even if some of the words are unclear, and this matches his poetry in a profound way. So, advice-wise, I would say: be expressive, even to the point of strangeness. It is a performance after all.
MS: Perspiration. A lot of perspiration. I am a very perspiratory person. Excepting this, I am sure I will recite some poetry, though I am having a little trouble deciding what to read. I was considering attempting a Baudelaire “tribute act” but I am terrible at French accents. Likely, I will read some new poems I have been working on, as reciting them live can be a good way to get a feel for their essences. I have been writing from a place of despair a lot recently, so you might expect some veiled diatribes, but hopefully they are disguised well enough to pass for entertaining poetry.
JO: Finally, what’s next for Michael Sutton?
MS: Following the reading at the Poetry Café on the 4th of September, I am back in London on the 11th to read at the award ceremony for the Streetcake Experimental Writing Prize, for which one of my poems is nominated. I will be starting my MA in Creative Writing at the end of September, and my band, Come Bubbles, has a couple of gigs lined up over the next few months as well. After that, who knows? Perhaps I will move to the Galapagos, something I have dreamed of since the age of nine when I first saw a photograph of the Volcán Wolf. I would quite like to set up camp near the rim and just wait for it to erupt. God willing, my body will be preserved in solidified magma for billions of years until, inexorably, the earth is swallowed by the sun. But, for now, I am really looking forward to the poetry readings I have coming up with you guys. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to share my work.
Birds Fall Silent in the Mechanical Sea is an exhilarating collection of contemporary poetry and short fiction from established and emerging writers across the United States and beyond. The anthology also contains an interview with musician/artist Walter Steding.
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