In December of this year, The Broken Spine will be publishing my latest poetry collection, 27 – a collection of poetry for Jim Morrison on what would have been his 80th birthday. In anticipation of this release, I conducted a self-interview using AI to delve into my life, my writing career thus far, and what lies ahead for me in the future. Here’s an overview of our insightful conversation:
AI: I’d love to hear about your early experiences with music and how it influenced your creative journey.
AP: My early exposure to music was a profound influence, primarily through my father. This shared love for music created a strong bond between us, shaping my musical preferences. I particularly cherish the moments when we explored the music that had resonated with him during his youth. It was during these times that I discovered the significance of song lyrics, a form of creative expression that became increasingly important to me. My father’s enthusiasm introduced me to artists like Bob Dylan, Frank Zappa, and The Specials, who went beyond mere musicians; they became conduits for social and political commentary. It was from this point that my fascination with music, song lyrics, and anti-establishment themes took root. It’s worth noting that although my father wasn’t an avid reader, his influence subtly introduced me to the world of literature.
AI: Could you share some specific songs or lyrics that had a profound impact on you during your youth and why they resonated with you?
AP: Some specific songs and lyrics from my youth left a profound impact on me, shaping my worldview and creative journey. “Hurricane” by Bob Dylan, for instance, tells the gripping story of Rubin Carter, a man wrongly imprisoned for murder. This protest song not only highlighted racial injustice but also exposed the systemic problems within America. On the other hand, Frank Zappa’s “Any Kind of Pain” delved into the portrayal of women in the media, celebrity culture, and the emptiness often associated with socialites. These themes, though weighty for a nine or ten-year-old, ignited important conversations for me. Dylan’s song addressed racial issues and the inherent problems in America, while Zappa’s critique delved into the creation of superficial beauty and personalities by the media machine. These discussions were pivotal in shaping my early thoughts.
AI: You mentioned your discovery of The Doors in the spring of 2000. Can you tell us more about how that discovery unfolded and the impact it had on your creative journey?
AP: My discovery of The Doors in the spring of 2000 was a transformative moment in my creative journey. At that time, “The Best of The Doors” adorned my father’s record collection, its iconic cover featuring Jim Morrison. Initially, I listened to the first disc without being entirely captivated. My deep affection for The Beatles made The Doors seem like a step too far. However, as I matured and ventured into songwriting and poetry, my appreciation grew. It was a fortuitous meeting with a colleague who played bass in a band heavily influenced by The Doors that rekindled my interest. This colleague introduced me to “An American Prayer,” an album that expanded my horizons. I swiftly acquired “Wilderness” and “The Lords and the New Creatures,” solidifying my connection with The Doors’ enigmatic lyrics and music.
AI: Your journey from college dropout to Master of Arts and Lecturer in English is quite remarkable. Could you share more about the challenges you faced and how you ultimately achieved this milestone?
AP: My journey from leaving college at 17 to becoming a Master of Arts and a Lecturer in English was marked by considerable challenges. At 17, my mental health was severely affected, and my experiences of bullying extended from school into college. It was a distressing period, exacerbated by my early struggles with alcohol. Looking back, a friend I met in the summer of 2022 mentioned that I had become an alcoholic by the age of 18. My parents’ tumultuous relationship further complicated my adolescence. Although they believed they were shielding me from the worst of their conflicts, the animosity between them had a profound impact on me, leading to an extended period of estrangement from my father.
Recovery and transformation became possible when I met Kirsty at the age of twenty in 2004. Her unwavering support enabled me to confront and overcome the difficulties I faced. An accident that left me unable to work for an extended period became an opportunity to return to education. Over seven years, I pursued studies with The Open University. This journey was marked by emotional turmoil, relocations, and the tragic loss of my mother, who had been a source of inspiration. My determination to make my late mother proud and to prove my sixth form tutor wrong and my primary school teacher right drove me forward.
Qualifying during the Covid pandemic, I realised that I needed more classroom experience before applying for teaching positions. I took on the role of a Cover Supervisor at my former high school while also pursuing an MA in Popular Culture. This period coincided with the challenges of 2021 and the ongoing pandemic. Today, as a Lecturer in Further Education, I am gratified by the progress I have made in my professional and academic careers. While the possibility of pursuing a PhD remains open, my immediate focus is on teaching and contributing to the field of education.
AI: Your publishing history includes “Neon Ghosts” (2020), “Belisama” (2021), “Echoes” (2022), and “27” (2023). Can you tell us about the inspiration behind each of these works and how they fit into your creative journey?
AP: My journey as a writer is marked by a significant publishing history that mirrors my evolution as a poet:
- Neon Ghosts (2020): Drawing inspiration from mid-twentieth-century American writers like Ginsberg, Kerouac, and Bukowski, “Neon Ghosts” explores the nostalgia surrounding an America immortalised through music, film, and literature. It delves into the idea of a distant America that feels just out of reach, a land made famous through artistic mediums, yet often unattainable to most of us.
- Belisama (2021): “Belisama” is a collaborative effort with fellow poets Mary Earnshaw, David Walshe, and Paul Robert Mullen. Together, we represent The Southport Poets. The collection comprises forty poems, with each of us contributing ten, offering four distinct visions of Southport.
- Echoes (2022): “Echoes” emerged from a conversation with Matthew M. C. Smith, who urged me to share more of my personal experiences with my audience. It is perhaps the closest I’ll come to writing an autobiography, where I tell my family’s story through poetic letters.
- 27 (2023): “27” is a tribute to the iconic Jim Morrison, who played a pivotal role in my journey as a writer. Had he survived, Jim Morrison would have turned 80 this year. The work in “27” draws from his worldview, music, and writing. Although not purely ekphrastic, this collection wouldn’t exist if I hadn’t discovered The Doors.
AI: “Echoes” began as a set of poems with a central theme of fruit. Could you elaborate on how this theme evolved into a collection, and what personal significance it holds for you?
AP: “Echoes” initially began as a set of poems written for a university competition with the central theme of fruit. My childhood memories were deeply intertwined with fruit and cooking, which played a significant role in my upbringing. Cooking with my two grandmothers and my parents from an early age held a special place in my heart, and I wanted to preserve those memories. When the group of poems I submitted didn’t win the competition (although they came close), I found myself with almost half of a chapbook. The backdrop of the Covid pandemic gave me the time and impetus to complete it. Later, I added a monologue piece that presents a fictionalised version of my maternal grandmother’s life story, adding depth and authenticity to the collection. Writing “Echoes” was a personal and cathartic journey, and I am genuinely delighted with the outcome.
AI: You’ve mentioned your love for poetry with musicality. Could you elaborate on how music and poetry intersect in your creative process and why you’re drawn to this musical aspect of verse?
AP: Yes, I love poetry that has musicality, and I’m drawn to it. Since I got into poetry in the way I have to the extent that I have, I listen to more jazz. I mostly dislike poetry of rhyme and traditional form because I love to be surprised by poetry in the same way that jazz musicians throw me. There are other obvious connections, the speaking for everyman, the fundamental human truths that poets and good songwriters can cultivate. But it’s that surprise that I love.
AI: What advice would you give to aspiring poets and writers who are looking to embark on their own creative journey?
AP: Read a lot. Write often. Share your work. Be porous to feedback.
AI: What exciting projects do you have on the horizon, and what can your audience look forward to in the coming years?
AP: Well, I have my collection “27” due out in December this year. That is exciting. I’m also editing Kyla Houbolt’s upcoming collection “Surviving Death” at the moment. Those projects will keep me busy for the foreseeable future.
On top of this, I’m working on my next collection daily; I’m writing prose and poetry and have had a fantastic offer made to me by a superb press and editorial team. That’s staying under wraps until next year.
2024 will be another big year for The Broken Spine as we have three single-author chapbooks due to be released; a selected works of twenty-five years from a fine, fine writer which will be published just before Christmas, alongside the release of our next collective anthology, which we will be reading for in the first quarter of the year.
Additionally, I hope to present more live performances of my one-man show, “Noir,” as the year unfolds. There may even be opportunities for musical accompaniment. The Broken Spine has planned other live events, and I am currently developing a writing course aimed at helping writers refine and polish their work.
AI: How would you summarise the impact of poetry on your life and what it means to you personally and professionally?
AP: Without poetry, I would not be the man I am today. It’s that simple really. I owe much to it and the community that supports it. They held me up when I needed it, and I hope to give so much back. Poetry serves as a bridge, connecting individuals through the expression of shared emotions and experiences. It is a timeless legacy that has the power to heal, inspire, and transform lives. In my work, I strive not only to honour this art form but also to pay it forward, embodying the spirit of the poetic community that sustained me during pivotal moments in my life.