Nickie Shobeiry was inspired by poetry performances at Exeter’s Bikeshed Theatre last year. In the first of three exclusive interviews, Nickie chats to Robert Garnham…
EB: What inspired you to begin writing poetry? Do you remember the first poem you ever wrote?
RG: Hello! I started writing poetry by accident. I’d always written short stories, more for my own amusement. I went to a night of performance poetry in Torquay run by Chris Brooks, and I was inspired to give it a go. My first poem was about my family, and it’s a little embarrassing to read it now! I made my debut at Poetry Island with this, and people loved it. Chris asked me to come again, and I’ve been doing it ever since.
EB: Do you have a specific place you go to for writing? Any particular habits?
RG: I always write at my desk every morning and every night, but on my day off I go to the Quiet Room at Paignton Library. I also spend weekends at my parent’s house and they have a room at the back of their garage which, like the Quiet Room, has no distractions. It’s my own private place! I’ve used the same pen for every single thing I’ve written since 1995, writing everything in long hand first, then typing it up.
EB: Where does most of your inspiration come from?
RG: I have no idea! Poems are usually when two or three concepts seem to merge together. One of my poems, ‘Poem’, is about an ostrich queuing at a buffet on a train to buy some crisps, but he’s slowly metamorphosing into a wheelbarrow.
Often, though, people say funny things and the words come back to me when I sit down to write. None of my friends like poetry, so they don’t come and watch me perform; this means I can use the silly things they’ve said freely without repercussion. It also helps that most of my friends, in their own little ways, are incredibly eccentric. I’m fairly normal.
EB: Your performance at the Bike Shed Theatre’s Slam Poetry event last year had everyone in stitches. How would you describe your own writing?
RG: Thanks! I work hard at every single line and once a poem is written, I put it aside, then come back to it and pretend to be the audience. Often the best time to write is when you’re feeling relaxed, but the mind kind of has to be almost half disinterested in the outcome. This is when the silly stuff kicks in, or the unusual connections. If I concentrated on being funny, It would probably end up sounding forced.
EB: You’ve worked as the host of Poetry Island in Torquay – can you talk a little about your experience there, and some of your favourite performances?
RG: I was host for three years or so. I took over from Chris Brooks, who’s now off being a comedy genius, and I had a great time booking acts from the national scene and nurturing new talent locally.
The best nights were when you see someone who you’ve helped get such a good reception. I gave headline slots to Joanna Hatfull and Dan Haynes, who are now huge local talents. I don’t think either had had paid gigs before, so it was a nice feeling.
EB: What was the last poem you wrote about?
RG: Losing a pen in the lining of my jacket (see above).
EB: Who are your favourite writers? If you had to pick your top three favourite poems, what would you pick and why?
RG: My favourite poet is Frank O’Hara. He was active in the 1950s and early 1960s and wrote poems about city life and the experiences of being a gay man in 1950s USA. Yet there was nothing political about him, his poems had a matter of fact-ness about them, almost a flippancy about big issues. He demonstrated that you can mix high and low culture and hold either in high esteem so long as you are earnest in your beliefs.
EB: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received as a poet, that you think is relevant to people from all walks of life?
RG: I suppose the biggest piece of advice has to come from Frank O’Hara, who said the one must act with ‘grace to be born and live as variously as possible’. Which I suppose means, cram in as much as possible.
Interview by Nickie Shobeiry
Helen is turning into Leeds Castle.
I noticed in the sauna last night
That she’s developing
There’s a certain grey aspect to her skin.
She’s got a drawbridge where before
She merely had
The normal accoutrements of a
Middle aged lady.
You always were impassive,
So stony faced.
Let me clamber up your
Instead of a hat she’s got a moat.
Instead of a handbag she’s got a gift shop.
Instead of glasses she’s got a keep.
Here hairstyle was a fashionable bob.
Now it’s crenulated.
Instead of a coat she’s got some tea rooms.
It was hot in the sauna.
She said, ‘You’ll get nothing out of me’.
I said, ‘You’re so defensive’.
She said, ‘Its my job’.
I said, ‘Let me get close to you’.
She said ‘I distrust all potential invaders’.
I said, ‘What if I bring some ice cream?’
She said ‘One must naturally be cautious’.
I said ‘Human society is built on compromise’.
She said ‘Isn’t it hot in here?’
I said ‘It’s a sauna, what do you expect?’
And then a coach party of Tourists arrived.
Oh, Helen, I’d like to climb your
And raise my flag
From your Immovable turrets and other
Ever since she started
Turning into Leeds Castle
She walks much slower
And I got frustrated in the high street
When people kept coming up and saying,
‘I know you from somewhere’.
[divider]Robert Graham [/divider]