In Conversation with Patrick Woodcock, Part I

Patrick Woodcock is a Canadian poet who employs poetry to document the suffering of humanity in war-torn countries? a kind of poetic nonfiction. (See The Voice Magazine’s review of Echo Gods and Silent Mountains: Poems, his book of poems based on his time in Iraqi Kurdistan.) Recently he took the time to answer Wanda Waterman’s questions about poetry schools, his childhood, and what pointed him towards poetry.

The Surrealist Influence
Patrick doesn’t place himself within any specific school of poetry, which is not to say that he feels all poetry schools are one or that he remains uninfluenced by the styles of other poets. In his early youth he developed an attachment to surrealist, romantic, and metaphysical poetry, which resonated so much with the weirdness of his personal life as to eventually throw him a little off-balance.

?When I was in high school I loved surrealism?from ?Where’s the fish?? to Philippe Soupault. But as I began to travel and explore?truly explore?my daily life became far more odd and surreal than my dreams. I was living within a fog of surrealism during the day and then dreaming of nothing more than sitting in a chair beneath a tree at night (I still have this one a lot), so I had to abandon my initial fascination with surrealism and look elsewhere.?

In keeping with the romantic direction in which he’s observed the arts heading these days, Woodcock has been delving into metaphysical and romantic poets, but he says he doesn’t see their influence in his latest book of poems. (Some of us would beg to differ).

?Remote? Poetry
?Overall the symbolists have influenced me the most?Mallarme continues to astound me every time I read him. I have referred to my writing as ?remote? poetry, ?remote? because of my geographical locations, ?remote? because I have chosen to write the least-read form of literature, and lastly and most importantly, ?remote? as in the channel changer.

?The television remote had just come out when I was young, and so we no longer had to sit and watch unbearable television. It pains me to hear lazy journalists make sweeping generalizations about the vulgar hordes with short attention spans. Look at the television programmes we were given in the 70’s and 80’s; most of it was complete rubbish. We had every right to say ?f-k you? and change the channel.

?In a way, the television remote was my first artistic tool. If I only had 30 minutes to watch TV I would use it to create an enjoyable mosaic of sounds, colours, and visuals from the subpar programming we were given.

?This has carried over into my writing. If I begin a poem as a folk narrative or choose to write in iambic tetrameter only to find out that my subject requires another approach, I change it. I don’t feel obligated to adhere to one form throughout a piece. So I am quite comfortable in changing the channel midway through a poem or even a line. My subjects demand this flexibility from me.

Acerbic Irish Wit

?I was born on July 12th, which is William of Orange Day in Ireland. It is a wonderful day when the Irish get together and kick the crap out of each other. So my first name is actually William. not Patrick. As a child named Willy Woodcock I had two choices: pursue comedy or develop a nifty little heroin addiction.

?From what I can remember I have always been a funny person and so is my father, but in that warped, acerbic Irish way. When most people were watching The Love Boat and Fantasy Island, my father and I were watching Benny Hill, Dave Allen At Large, The Two Ronnies, and Monty Python.

From Comedy to Music

Music was right up there with comedy for Patrick. He and his brother both studied violin (?I was horrible at it while he was brilliant?). He eventually satisfied the musical urge by learning basic guitar chords and then joining a choir. Singing in the choir, he says, ?… helped me cultivate my morbid fascination with funerals, cemeteries, and the pageantry of mourning.?

From Music to Literature

?In my teens I began to listen to bands like The Smiths, The Church, The Cure, Momus, etc., who all had wonderful lyrics?I had rarely paid attention to a song’s lyrics before? and this led me to a new respect for literature and inevitably poetry. Once I began to read and explore poetry I knew that this was the avenue I wanted to pursue.

?Comedy always came too easily to me. There was no challenge; I never had to force it. Writing poetry is so bloody difficult, such a daunting task and struggle ? and That’s why I’m so passionate about it. In the end The Life of Brian and Robert Lowell’s ?The Quaker Graveyard in Nantucket? have moved me equally, and the only difference between them is that Lowell’s lines are much harder to reinvent and re-create.

(Patrick Woodcock’s Tumblr page. Echo Gods and Silent Mountains can also be found here on Facebook:

(to be continued)