The Methodist minister and the Superintendent of Belfast Central Mission (BCM) has published his first poetry anthology
Doodlings and Doggerel has been written over the last 30 years. An “enthusiastic amateur”, David brings a combination of understanding, knowledge, perception and form to each piece, allowing the reader to briefly join him on a private journey of comprehension of the wider world, his personal surroundings or what might have been going on in his head at that time.
Has poetry come naturally to you from a younger age?
Like many others, I wrote a lot of angst-ridden teenage “poetry”, but none of that, mercifully, has made it into this collection. I have received no formal training in poetry. I continued to be involved the arts and specifically in theatre, and my interests and experience there, more than pure literary poetry, shaped my interest and writing.
You call yourself ‘an enthusiastic amateur’ but you’ve published a collection — do you consider yourself a writer?
Only insofar as I write incessantly. In my “day-job” as a Methodist Minister, words are my stock-in-trade, but most of my writings are for a specific context. Some of these poems originated in those contexts but I hope they might have validity beyond them. The others largely started as exercises in informal personal therapy helping me to process things going on around me. Many of them appeared in various forms over the years on my blog “Virtual Methodist” but I never expected them to find a home in a published collection, as many people have unpublished collections of their poetry mouldering away, in drawers and filing cabinets, so I am surprised and delighted that New City accepted this collection for publication.
Are there subjects you find comfort in writing about?
Some of the poems here are an attempt to find some kind of comfort or peace in a conflicted space, either personally or in the world at large. Trying to boil down my thinking and feelings about difficult issues into as few words as possible, rather than the prolonged, closely reasoned “rants” that I was once known for among some of my peers online (a sort of pseudo-spiritual Dominic Cummings). Others are a response to seasonal events, particularly in the Christian calendar, but in them I am often trying to look at the familiar in a different way.
How do you feel about writing about difficult subjects?
In many cases that is the very origin of the poem. The proverbial grit around which any poetic “pearl” might have formed. Or as the poet Damian Gorman put it at a 4 Corners Festival event a few years ago, two ideas coming together like pieces of flint to create a spark. Poems rarely offer a resolution to difficult or conflicted situations, but they do allow them to be expressed in what I hope is a creative tension, offering new perspectives and possibilities, although they perhaps raise more questions rather than offer easy answers.
How has your faith influenced your poetry, if it has?
Even in the poems that are not dealing with explicit religious or spiritual subjects you would not need to dig too deep to find evidence of the influence of my Christian faith, I suspect. My faith is part of who I am, so if that were not the case the poems would not reflect the real me. But I hope that it does not influence my writing in a predictable way, nor be seen as the only dimension to my writing. Politics, science, art and other aspects of life also influence it. Some of my poems come directly from the words of the Bible, but also from reworking the words of other writers, some Christian, others not. I hope I have been clear in attributing my influences in the more than extensive footnotes.
How comfortable do you feel about reading your poetry aloud?
Back in ancient history I was an actor, so reading or performing in front of others holds few fears for me, but historically I have always preferred to use other people’s words. You grow up performing Shakespeare and you realise that your own efforts are mere doggerel by comparison. However, many of the poems here were originally written to be read (or sung) aloud, often by others, and it is a special privilege to hear your words in the voice of another person. Others which started out as reflective pieces, or mental doodles, have subsequently been reworked to sit more easily on the tongue, because ultimately, I believe what Clive James wrote when he said: “With a poem the most important thing is the way it sounds when you say it.” He is dismissive of what he describes as a “pseudo-modernist idea” that “there might be something sufficiently fascinating about the way that words are arranged on the page”, but as someone for whom this is the first time a collection of my words have been printed on the page of a published book, I am inordinately pleased.
David’s anthology of 60 poems, Doodlings and Doggerel is available to purchase for £6.50 via www.belfastcentralmission.org, with proceeds going towards the Chaplaincy program at Copelands, BCM’s new residential and dementia care home on the County Down coast.
For more information, visit www.copelands.org.uk