Nickie Shobeiry interviews Phen Weston about his new poetry book ‘The Silent Balance’. She herself collaborated in the publication of his new interesting collection…
[dropcap size=small]L[/dropcap]ocal to Devon, Phen Weston is a writer and poet whose work continues to reach out to more and more people. His most recent poetry collection, ‘The Silent Balance’, has now been published, with all royalties going towards a very special cause. Below, Nickie Shobeiry talks to Phen about his writing process and the inspiration behind this book.
What inspired you to create this poetry book, and what do you hope to achieve through it?
I had all the poetry sitting on my laptop staring at me, telling me to do something with them – although saying that, there are still so many on there, complaining that they want to be more than data, too. They’re so boisterous at times!
In all seriousness, the poems were already there, but it was my brother who inspired me to do something meaningful with them. A few years ago, he came out to my about his sexuality, and feared that because he is gay, I would reject and shun him. There is nothing on earth that would make me reject him and yet, for him, this act of confession was one of the most difficult and wrenching things he has done. For many years, he has suffered from depression, anxiety and OCD, and when you are worrying about how those close to you will react, these illnesses tend to get worse – but through it all, his strength radiated, and he conquered his fears.
Two years later, he is in the very early stages of starting a support group for young LGBT adults, who may need someone to be there for them. The group helps them find their strength and safety in a world that, at times, can be very intolerant. This support will also be extended to the families and friends of the LGBT community, so that prejudice can be faced up to and stopped.
The last two years have seen my brother flourish in ways our family has never expected. He has become a huge diva, and is one of the funniest people I have ever met. Although the Waka in this book has very little to do with sexuality, it is my way of showing him that I support him with the gifts I have, like he has always done for me. This is why any profit that I personally make from sales will be dedicated to either his support group, or a LGBT charity of his choosing.
You have included Haikus, Tankas, Chōkas, Bussokusekikas, Katautas and Sedōkas in your work. Why these forms, and do you have a preference?
I’ve always had a sweet spot for Waka (Japanese poetry). They seem so simple at first glance – both in content and structure – but they each can hold so much meaning. They emit emotions in ways that no other form of poetry seems to match. It would be hard to decide which I prefer, though. Tankas, although less famous in the West than Haikus, are one of the oldest and most honoured traditions of Japanese culture. They are written by everyone, from the poor to royalty – Emperor Meiji wrote no less than 100,000 in his lifetime! Yet, I have a soft spot for the Katautas, which is a short poem with a 5-7-7 structure. This is considered incomplete. Traditionally, the poem was two halves written by lovers – usually in secret – but now is written by two poets, with two Katautas, each representing the emotions and thoughts of the poets. Conventionally, this would become a Sedōkas, but I have chosen to keep them under the title ‘Katauta’ as, to me, they hold a purer connection to the eastern Sedōkas. The Sedōkas today seem more of a solitary poem than the Katauta is intended to be… however, my opinion on this may still change.
Could you compare the experience of writing with someone to writing alone?
Maybe it’s because I’m a romantic at heart, but the idea of two poets expressing themselves through each other is beautiful. There are times when writing is done best alone; you have more control and can shape a piece into whatever you want it to be. Yet, when collaborating with another, you have to relinquish that control, and show vulnerability by allowing them into your world. With those in this book, it became an extraordinary experience to see how someone reacts to what you write, and to see how their words affect you, too. I have been lucky to work with poets from all over the world on different collaborations, and have thankfully only had positive experiences by doing so. Each new mind you work with helps you to grow as a writer.
Your work is expansive; how long did it take to accumulate all the poems?
I love writing, and although I am fairly novice at present, I have accumulated quite a vast number of poems. I have over 650 on my laptop alone, written over the last year and a half. I enjoy writing and try to do so every day, even if it’s just a few lines. It keeps my mind fresh and active, and allows me to feel a freedom that is usually lost in the 9-5 of everyday life. This collection, though, is the total (give or take a few) of my Waka poetry from when I began my blog at the beginning of 2014, up to a month or so go. It totals over one hundred different poems, and although it only makes for a small book, seemed like the perfect amount for a collection that was aimed at a charity.
From where did you draw your inspiration from?
Inspiration comes from life, emotion, humanity. Every day, we are given the gift of existing against all odds in the universe. I’ve recently finished a dissertation on the writer H.P. Lovecraft, and one of the philosophical themes in his work is Cosmicism – the sheer indifference of the universe towards humanity. He states in his work that the place of us all within the endless chasms of the cosmos is so fragile, that if we were to be wiped out today, the universe would go on without ever noticing. The fact that life is such a fragile thing is what makes it so important to appreciate. Every day, we are greeted by so much wonder and beauty – it’s hard not to find inspiration in the smallest things. As a Taoist, we are taught that, if you think you understand life, the universe and everything in it, you are instantly wrong. Everything is changing, shifting, moving in ways that, as a species, we are currently too young to understand. All we can do is play our small part, and stare with wonder into creation.
Beautiful. Can you compare the process of creating this book to your previous poetry collection, ‘Nothing But The Rain’?
I find compiling collections of poetry very therapeutic. Although ‘Nothing But The Rain’ was more of a challenge, it still became a way for me to shape my thoughts into a physical entity. With my last project, I had something set in mind straight away.I had wanted to collect my Waka together, and at the same time, do something to show my support for my brother. This seemed like the perfect combination. The taboo of homosexuality that we still face today is one of emotion, and there seemed no better dedication to him than a poetic form that is all about emotion!
Why did you choose the title, ‘The Silent Balance’?
‘The Silent Balance’ was not the working title of the book, but came to me through my reading the Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu. He wrote, ‘Countless words count less than the silent balance between yin and yang.’He is the father of Taoism, and I have always been able to focus my mind against the static of modern society through his teachings.The concept of how words are easily thrown around, and how we need to find the balance between what is said and what is meant, fascinates me. Too easily we speak before understanding the consequences of the words used. ‘The Silent Balance’ seemed appropriate for a poetic form where few words are used to achieve something more meaningful.
Is there a particular poem in your work that stands out to you personally? What was the inspiration behind it?
Ah, there are so many possible answers to this question! One of the things I love about Waka is that each form is short, so on any given day, you can open a random page of a book and take something that meets your eye. There are certain ones that stand out to me in different moods. Now, for example, would be the Katauta that begins ‘Riverside train ride’, mainly because the second Katauta was my response to the one you presented to me, and how I interpreted the words was, I think, unexpected to both of us. Straight away, I got visions of Hitchcock’s ‘Strangers on a Train’, and it took on quite a noir meaning for me whereas, when you wrote it, you probably had a completely different idea in mind. That is the beauty of that form of poetry. I mean, did it take you by surprise?
It most certainly did! And what’s next for you?
Well, that’s a good question. I have so many ideas and plans right now! I’m currently working on another, longer collection of poetry that will, I hope, be bigger and more defined than my first collection. I am also in the planning stages for several other projects, both with people here in the UK and with writers abroad, particularly with an up-and-coming poet from Texas who I have had the pleasure to work with on several occasions. However, my heart is currently set on continuing onto a Master’s, where I will be examining Lovecraft’s idea of Cosmicism in greater detail, and how it’s relevant in today’s society – all that stands in the way is waiting to hear about a scholarship I’m after. There is definitely more to come, in so many shapes and forms. For me, writing is life – it’s where my heart leads me each day, and how I understand the world we live in.
Interview by Nickie Shobeiry
Lao Tzu image from: www.catalyzingchange.org
All other pictures from: https://darknesswarmth.wordpress.com