We talk to James Nixon about language, music and what makes a good poem. James’s work appeared in issue thirty-nine of Neon.
In your poem “Fitch Kids” the narrator seems to despair at the degraded language of the young specimens which surround him. In the case of the poem this is due to an enforced overexposure to “teen dramas”, but I wondered what your thoughts were on the oft-repeated theory that the English language is decaying, and that the internet is helping it on its way?
I would say that the popularity of the internet has fostered the growth of a linguistic aside where aspects of language have been allowed the freedom to mutate according to a culture of immediacy and dynamism. Language has always strived to mutate in order to accommodate new experiences. English is a hodgepodge of Germanic and Romance languages amongst others and is one of the richest languages to write in, due to cultural changes, often sudden ones, that have stretched it. Our increased use of the internet as a society is just another cultural shift and language has adapted in order acclimate with the technology. Writers can utilise the internet to create innovative and invigorating linguistic effects. Poet Kenneth Goldsmith recently said that “the internet – comprised completely of text-based alphanumeric language – is the greatest poem ever written”.
I think that those who prescribe to arguments concerning the internet’s detrimental effect upon language have a vague idea of what language is. It might be that they are indirectly lamenting the loss of archaic languages, which I agree should be protected and preserved, taught if possible. The lazy use of language is often seen as symptomatic of our generational dependency on technology and some damn the internet, which is in fact a medium that enables users the space to develop neologisms and warp language creatively. Online, you can say what you want, however you want. Languages always serve a purpose, but equally they are mediums for democratic enterprise and experimentation.
I loved the descriptions of music in your poem “Monday Evening”, where a song is described both as an “ice cream soda” and a “bee-stung lullaby”. How important is music to you? Where did the idea for this poem come from? Do you have any musical influences?
Who doesn’t love music? Music is very important to me – it was one of my first loves. I grew up in a household that always had something different and strange playing on the stereo. And choosing certain bands to idolise is a right-of-passage for most young people I feel. I have rather inherited my dad’s (bad?) taste for music. I enjoy blues mostly, but have been listening to a lot of Chet Baker lately and enjoy discovering new acts. I am not sure whether music influences my poetry much. They have always remained rather separate in my life, although I suppose having an awareness of rhythm, beat and rhyme from a young age has influenced the way I approach words and writing.
The poem “Monday Evening” is a twisted homage to The Kinks. I remember watching a documentary about the band which detailed their violent falling-outs and the manic creative processes they struggled through to write songs. For a group of guys who wrote mostly pop songs they were unstable individuals. I couldn’t not write a poem after learning something so revealing about these iconic artists.
Could you tell us a bit more about the poetry blog and anthology series mentioned in your biography? What’s behind the intriguing title of Fry Your Friends?
Absolutely. Fry Your Friends is a poetry blog that invites writers to submit their work for publication alongside others. The process is democratic and aims at simplicity. It can be difficult sometimes for developing poets trying to get their work read and published, so Fry Your Friends aims to do the hard work for them by publishing it and sharing it. I hope the blog feels more like a community of poems than an archive. It is still finding its feet, but if we can keep publishing quality poetry who knows where it will lead.
When I was mulling over names for the blog (when I probably should have been doing more important things) all the candidates were inspired by the saying that one must kill one’s parents to be able to begin writing, metaphorically speaking. As Helen Cixous says “To begin (writing, living) we must have death.” It is thought that the rejection of past inculcations and time-worn ideas gives rise to creativity. But “Kill Your Parents” sounded a bit sappy, and I liked the alliterative bounce of Fry Your Friends.
You also mention several of your personal heroes in your biography – Charles Bernstein, Junior Kimbrough and Terrence Malick. Could you tell us a bit more about these people and how they have influenced you?
I suppose they, amongst other influential individuals, populate my mind a little like characters in a play. I appreciate them for their art. When I first read Charles Bernstein’s poetry it blew my mind a little. The poet Jack Underwood recently described in a tweet how some poems you read seem to open up your mind like a lake. Bernstein’s do this for me. When you read through his oeuvre you realise he has never settled on a particular form, style or approach. I like that about him. Likewise, Malick. He is a bit of a pioneer and a renegade, although I expect he would tell me to shut up if he overheard those epithets. His latest films are all air and motion. I am working on a poem at the moment after watching his WWII epic The Thin Red Line. Watch this space. And Junior Kimbrough is just downright dirty delta blues. Give him a listen. He is all about the music.
You have a number of other poetry publications. Could you possibly point us towards a few?
I am working towards an MA in Creative Writing currently so I am hoping to put together a collection soon, but you can read some of my poetry on The Cadaverine website, my short fiction on The Patchwork Paper website, and I would recommend everyone to buy a copy of The Wait poetry anthology. One of my poems features and the proceeds go to Cancer Research. Plus you get a lot of book for your buck.
What do you look for in your own poetry reading? What makes a good magazine? And what makes a poem stick with you?
I respond kindly to visually stimulating art. Magazines the feature striking photography and art alongside quality poetry go down well with me. Ambit and Neon do this well – the visuals set the tone of the magazine and reflect the themes of the poems.
I think poems that stick with me also have a kind of internal tonal balance. There are those poems that drive towards or wrestle with a moral question, whether it is the speaker’s or the author’s, and although I often appreciate the way in which the key idea is got at, I can never quite connect with these types of poems. I prefer poems that don’t try too hard to impress you and simply relay experience back to you. Poetry is never about what is said, but about how something is said. At the same time as reconfiguring something that you thought you knew well in an interesting way, the best poems often retransmit something that you thought only you knew or experienced, but they say it better than you ever could. I am particularly enamoured with Philip Larkin’s poem “Coming” at present. I feel it is a near-perfect poem. Larkin is able to achieve so much within such a clipped form.
James Nixon lives in South London and is the editor of the poetry blog and anthology series Fry Your Friends. He is currently studying Creative Writing at postgraduate level at Royal Holloway, University Of London. His poetry has previously featured in Smiths, the Boston Poetry Magazine, Long Exposure Magazine and The Patchwork Paper and is forthcoming in Neon and The Wait anthology. James is passionate about the arts – his heroes include Charles Bernstein, Junior Kimbrough and Terrence Malick.