Interview with Milner Place
Mark A. Murphy: Which poets are you currently reading?
Milner Place: I am currently reading John Yamrus and Carola Luther.
Murphy: Which poets would be on your shortlist for the next Nobel Prize?
Place: No names spring to mind, except Milner Place.
Murphy: Which poets do you always return to and why?
Place: Pablo Neruda and Ken Smith, most of all. Either will spark me almost invariably into producing something myself.
Murphy: What do you think of the adage: ‘talent borrows, genius steals.’?
Place: Not a lot.
Murphy: Do you agree with the poet, John Redmond when he writes: poetry does not have a nature’, what might poetry be for you?
Place: I guess I can agree with Redmond. My concept of poetry is that it is similar to music, in more ways than one. And like music, there is infinite variety which is subject to individual tastes. It might be best to remember that new tastes can be acquired, and maybe some of the old rejected. What I like is not necessarily to the taste of another, or mean that I may like it at some time in the future.
Murphy: What do you think of ‘confessional verse,’ does it have a place in your heart?
Place: Can’t say I’m a fan, though like all poetry it can depend on the execution and approach. In many cases it looks like a therapeutic mission, but that may only be of effect to the writer or fellow sufferers.
Murphy: When I was a boy, my father would pay me pennies for remembering verses. Do you like or think it is important to commit verse to memory?
Place: I certainly value many poems I was encouraged to remember in my youth. Though there are few of my own poems I could recite at will, I’m a firm believer in the importance of the oral tradition in poetry, and very conscious of this in writing and revising my own stuff.
Murphy: What kind of relationship do you have with the past, are you nostalgic?
Place: Nostalgic, no. But I use the past as a dramatist uses scenery, and create characters based on people encountered, albeit often distorted beyond recognition.
Murphy: Do you write every day?
Place: Not so much now as of old, but I try.
Murphy: We’ve both attended many workshops over the years, do you think it’s the job of the workshop to teach poets to be better poets?
Place: I regard workshops as a form of self teaching, perhaps communal learning. For the years I ran workshops I tried my best to make them democratic and avoid any teacher pupil relationship. This can really only be achieved in a series, where members get to know and trust each other. For this reason I’ve little time for one-off workshops, though they may have some value to others.
Murphy: You once said to me, ‘do what you want with poetry, just make it interesting.’ What advice would you give to aspiring poets nowadays?
Place: My simple advice would be to ask: ‘Is this boring’?
Murphy: I read in a Wikipedia article about your brother, Ullin Place (the philosopher) that you were ‘one of the leading English poets’. Does that give you any sense of satisfaction?
Place: I’d be inhuman if it didn’t give me some satisfaction. Like it has given me a glow that a German publisher, Ralf Friel, asked if he could publish my work, and has produced a great selection from all my books.
Murphy: Is everything writable about as Sylvia Plath had said?
Place: I’d agree.
Murphy: What’s the greatest pleasure in being a poet?
Place: Dunno. Maybe the feeling that you’ve got something near right.
Murphy: You are a Spanish speaker. I believe you even wrote a volume of poetry in Spanish some years ago. What do you think of poetry in translation, can it ever remain faithful to the original?
Place: A lot can depend on the poet and the poem. There’s ever the problem that certain words and phrases have connotations within a culture, often very subtle, that it’s nigh impossible to get over in another language (culture). When writing in another language, you also need to be writing, as far as possible, within that other culture. Few of the poems I wrote in Spanish can I satisfactorily translate into English.
Murphy: What has been your most ambitious poem to date?
Place: Two come to mind. The City of Flowers, which was published as an A4 booklet, 26 pages, by Spout Publications, edited by Keith Jafrate, illustrated by David Pitt. To try to get a whole city into a form of a poem, its ambience and its people, presented quite a challenge. The other is the title poem of a current selection from all my work by Ralf Friel, Moloko Print, in Germany. This another long poem. I believe both these poems to be at least well constructed, so that they are reader friendly, ever a problem with long poems.
Murphy: Lawrence Ferlinghetti is 94, Ernesto Cardenal is 87 (two of my favourite living poets). Do you think your work gets ‘better’ as you get older?
Place: Never being a good judge of my own work, I can’t really say. I certainly write with greater fluency, and/or ease, that comes with practice
Murphy: Are you a ‘spiritual’ poet?
Place: I wouldn’t say so, though ‘spiritual can be very stretched in meaning. I’m not religious.
Murphy: I’ve often read that poetry is in the life-blood of many countries. I once read that Pablo Neruda was giving a reading for ten thousand people when he was asked to recite a certain poem and he said he ‘didn’t remember it well enough’ and four hundred people in the audience started reciting the poem. Do you think that could ever happen in the UK?
Place: Not in any way likely. I believe, apart from the power of his poetry and political bent, that Neruda could communicate with the ‘people’ because of his background. His father a railway man, and being brought up in comparative poverty in a small village. He spoke from the heart to them. There is also a greater respect for poets in Spain and Latin-America. Neruda was also a man of action, when it came to aiding others.
Murphy: What are you working on now and how can people follow your writing?
Place: Not working on a particular project, just writing poems. The selection of poems from all my books, and then some, by Ralf Friel, entitled The man who had forgotten the names of trees,150 pages, gives a comprehensive look at my work and changing styles. It includes an essay on my poetry by the late Todd Moore. Though the intro etc is in German, all are also in English placed at the end. All the poems, except 3 short ones in Spanish, are in English only. It also comes with artwork by Harald Hauser, who has an international reputation as an artist. More info can be seen here:http://www.milnerplace.electricmuseum.de/ or it can be bought from me by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org
The Road to Alta Mira by Milner Place
He said go by the house
where live four widows,
each with a suckling child.
I did, and they sat knitting
on a bench, glancing their eyes
along the dusted road that led
between dark cypresses towards
a bridge that leaned across
a stream that sang of hills
it fled, and where the trout
were patient, fat with flies
and caterpillars, worms
that had known the secrets
of the soil, but blind to night
or light, and compass of the way.
I left the sun to settle on my back,
feeling the widows’ needle eyes
lancing my shoulder blades,
over the stream, and on to where
he’d said grey horses raced
amongst the gorse and ferns,
and eagles hunted from a sky
forever dusted with the seeds
from hopeful flowering weeds
that fattened bumbling bees.
And, as I passed, the horses
squealed the air with neighs.
Night came calling as it does,
but just in time I found the barn
he’d said I would that had a roof
that let the stars slide in to light
upon the straw, and shed a glow
onto the backs of seven cows
that fed on spiders’ webs, blue hay
brought in from fields where nested
birds with gold tipped combs,
and where white rats made nests
among pink feathered flowers.
I dreamed of ships and awesome seas
until the crowing of some fighting cocks.
Just like he’d said he’d thought I would.
The cataract cascading from a gargoyle’s mouth
was purple black that whitened as it furious foamed
onto the waiting rocks with green grey teeth and flanked
by rowan trees so twisted that they clawed in skeins
of wool from crazy sheep, and thunderous the roar
and rage of water as it fell and beat its drum on stone.
Just there he said the rabbits are so small and light
they blow about the fields, but mice have come to think
they’re moles and never leave the earth, except
when moonlight cuts a swathe between the cliffs
that smell of hidden fire, the world is frozen
by a lack of time that’s lost among blood-red roots
of sugared cane that giant grows and breathes
out air so sickly sweet the bees are frenzied
so they never notice how they come to die of hunger
and their wings make bedding in a vulture’s nest.
He said it was hardly the place to hang about.
Meeting the steeper rising of the ground
that scarcened breath and skylarks
broke cover when the dew had risen
and briskly cloudward climbed to sing
and mock the shadows of the caves
where bats were dreaming moths
and lived albino lizards with protruding eyes.
Stopping beside a pair of graves to eat
a half loaf, unnamed fish, some cheese,
just as his thinking prophecied,
I saw the old man with a spade
digging a ditch around a lake to keep
the carp from getting out to mate
with sturgeon come to lay their eggs
among the pebbles bundled in a burn.
That old man had a desperate look,
precisely as it was foretold he would.
Coming among the scrawny pines he said
you’ll find the spring where watercress
with emerald shields protects the newts
and hardy frogs from evening ice.
Drink deep its mineral draught
to freshly fortify your blood,
its salts are those the ocean left
when all these hills lay deep
and kraken-crawled, and coelacanths
swam through the silent pinnacles
o’er constellated starfish and their ilk.
The heather here full belled will make
your bed until the dog star scampers off.
Then cut yourself a staff of crooked pine,
and leave the wan sun on your left.
The pumas lurking in the wilds
are fierce he said, but if you meet
them eyes to eyes, then wink,
they’ll turn and slide away,
but bears, that humble up
this high, are best left well alone,
treated with all courtesy whilst
backing like a courtier away.
Follow the crow that crooked flies
until you reach a stony house
where lives a smart young girl among
uprooted and omnivorous yaks.
Don’t stop if she invites you in
for tea and muffins, it’s a ruse
to drug you up, slow turn a spit,
serve with carrots, onions, spuds.
I left her standing at the door
The last steps are a breeze he said,
the summit reached by an easy slope.
The only problem that you’ll find
is that there never opens up
a view. The clouds are all around,
can’t see a thumb in front of face.
I’ll take him at his word on that.
Milner Place. Born N Yorks, UK, 1930. Only took to writing poems late in life after a varied and much travelled career, including 11 years as skipper of sailing vessels. First wrote some poetry in Spanish, with a small collection published in Spain in 1977. A break until coming to live in Huddersfield in 1987 when started writing in his native tongue. 12 books of poetry to date, the latest published in Germany by Moloko Print is a selection from all the books + some other poems, chosen by the editor Ralf Friel. This 150 page book, The man who had forgotten the names of trees, covers all periods of his writing and is embellished by the art of Harald Hauser to great effect. All poems, except 3 short ones in Spanish, are in English, and all the intro etc, including an essay on his work by the late Todd Moore, are in both English and German.More can be seen on this at
Copies available from the publisher at 18 euros http://www.molokoplusrecords.de/shop.html and also from the author email@example.com £15 or equivalent in other currencies.
COMING SOON! Audio recordings of Milner Place reading his poems from the early 1990’s, including his prophetic poem, Top Hold from his Chatto & Windus collection,
In A Rare Time of Rain.
Milner Place’s voice is urgent and compelling, and we can’t wait to share it with you. Keep an ear and an eye out here!