Poetry Showcase: Simon Rennie’s Adverse Camber
This spring, Simon Rennie releases his third poetry collection Adverse Camber. Our Arts and Lit Editor, Zach Mayford, attended the launch event and caught up with Dr. Rennie afterwards for a short interview.
Dr. Rennie launched his collection at dusk, March 28, surrounded by free-wine-sipping colleagues and students. Since 2015 when he joined the Exeter faculty, the poet-academic brought a love for verse, a hatred for the term ‘free-verse’, and his monthly poetry reading Inn Verse from the North to the South. I still remember him teaching me that the only word that rhymes with ‘pint’ is ‘rynt’, a word said by milkmaids to cows. He’s full of gems like that.
After lamenting the seven-year gap since his last poetry collection, Dr. Rennie read eighteen poems from the slim but substantial volume, Adverse Camber. The cover, illustrated by Alec Newman, evokes a cautionary road sign, and such was the inspiration. ‘Adverse Camber’ the tilt in the road and the tilt of the wheels: in Rennie’s words, it represents ‘going forward at the wrong angle’. This is the first of the good doctor’s collections to have a theme, as the collection exclusively features sonnets, organically engineered or sculpted from existing work. As you’ll read in the interview, the collection is divided up by ten Adverse Camber poems, that cryptically denote the sub-theme of each ‘chapter’. Look out for a poem called Hooray For The Hat, a summery shout-out to The Sun Has Got His Hat On which will perfectly accompany the post-exam chill.
After the reading, I asked Dr. Rennie about his creative career, and how it led to Adverse Camber:
Q: I was wondering why you choose Camber– does it have some metaphorical value for you?
A: I’m definitely interested in the poem as a thing– as an artefact- and I like the idea of poems as little machines. I like the idea that poets borrow language and reassemble until it develops its own autonomy.
I like the idea of poems as little machines
Poetry is often a journey, a movement forward but slightly tipped. My previous collection was titled Unless Otherwise Stated: that otherwise is the adverse in this title. I always try to make titles have some sort of movement to them. The road sign ‘Adverse Camber’, it’s like when the roads are bent the wrong way. Roads are rarely flat. The camber allows the water to run off, and I like that image, that cross section curvature of the road.
Q: One of your poems was included in an anthology called Best of Manchester Poets and I wondered to what extent do you consider yourself a Manchester Poet?
A: It depends on which part of Manchester poetry that you are talking about. Many of the poems at the beginning of my second collection were inspired by being in workshops run by Michael Symmons Roberts. They weren’t inspired by his poetry, they were inspired by my awe of him. I believe that is when I wrote some of my best poetry, being in Manchester at that point and studying in MMU. I’m from Manchester but my influences are from Shelley and Auden, British poets who have shifted the way that poetry speaks. And also Theodore Roethke who writes a lot about nature.
my influences are from Shelley and Auden, British poets who have shifted the way that poetry speaks
Q: I noticed that on your back-cover, John Wedgewood-Clarke says your book looks intensely into absences and ‘ancestral vacuums’ and I think Shelley does that as well, looking at the gaps between things.
A: Yeah, I’ve written another poem in the second collection that speaks about that. I hear Bells: that’s about listening and finding the gaps between things. It’s like how poetry works, for Shelley, the underneath HTML reading, it is what makes it searchable. Poetic in the way computers present texts, as an analogy. I am interested in what lies between. I say to students, in terms of thinking of ideas and critical essays and creative essays, it is not exactly what your idea is, not the abstract ideas that you have, but it is about the space between them that makes it interesting.
Q: You’re credited with coming up with a cryptic format of poetry. Is there a cryptic element to your collection?
A: When you don’t know what poetry means, that creates the movement: that creates the motion. That abstraction is helpful. I created a cryptic poem where you take a word from the poem that repeatedly rhymed. You take key words out of the lines, and you create cryptic clues of the gaps. The extra clue is the semantic meaning of the word that should be there and how many syllables there are. I invented that in 2005, and it was published in a magazine in Manchester. I think I’m going to crypticise a couple of the Lancashire Cotton Famine poems from my database and make them into puzzles. They are obscure. I will do that and have prizes on twitter.
You take key words out of the lines, and you create cryptic clues of the gaps
Q: Are there any poems in particular that you recommend from your collection?
A: Often when I write a poem, I think it’s the best one I’ve ever written, and then the further I get from it, I realise it’s not. I like Insomnipotence, as it sticks to its form very closely. I Iike the rhyme scheme- and I also like that it’s true. I think everybody who occasionally suffers from insomnia, or even sleeping too much, can associate with it.bookmark me