Interview _ Trevor Wright

Trevor Wright works part time in social care and is the co-director of a community interest company, InSight, which provides autism awareness training. His first poetry collection, Outsider Heart, was published by Nottingham's Big White Shed in November 2016.

In this interview, Trevor Wright talks about the work he is doing.

How would you describe the writing that you do?

I'm relatively new to poetry and so far I've written about family, masculinity and its impact on others, political events in the wider world, key events from my own past with the odd comedic poke at well known public figures. If there's a theme that links many of them it's inequality which has significantly worsened in recent years and is by no means inevitable.

As a writing process, chaotic. Trying to process the endless sensory incoming of everyday life, put some shape to it, find a place within or against it. Sometimes both within one poem. Sin, death and redemption just about covers it.

Who or what has had the most influence on you as a writer?

I didn't study literature after the age of 16 and only started writing a few decades later so I'm still working that out.

The Beano, Sillitoe, Robert Tressell and Michael Foot's biography of Nye Bevan then an overdue catch up on the other half of the population via Virago and the Women's Press when I worked in a collective bookshop. I like to hear poetry aloud so would credit people on the Derby / Nottingham open mic circuit who have been supportive. However, I'd say my main cultural influence has been music and the pictures and rhythms that it embeds. You won't spot the links but the likes of Patti Smith, Leadbelly, Joni Mitchell, and Niney crept into my first collection.

Phrases and rhythms from when I lived in Wales as well, 'everyone has their own bag of stones to carry' for example, and then there's the influence of observational comedy - I've always had a soft spot for Dave Allen.

How have your personal experiences influenced you're writing?

Everyone has highs and lows to reflect on so there are experiences and lessons there to be tapped. Some poems come easy, one about my daughter kicking up leaves in the park, for example ... others are buried, not always whole, in layers of clay, rubble and rock that have to be pick axed out.

Being autistic is a thread. Living with autism means you see things from the margins, rationally, not overly encumbered by emotion but can express that perception with passion. It gives an early insight, not always complete of course, into inequality and diversity.

I draw on a range of experiences, from working with snippets that pop up in a writing workshop, media reports from around the world, looking up from a table at an open mic night to see a lonely bloke staggering across Nottingham's Slab Square dressed as Batman. If it pops up, I'll have it!

What has been your most significant achievement as a writer so far?

Surviving my early open mic and crit group experiences relatively intact has got to be high on the list as has being a Reds fan yet getting a poem accepted for the Welcome to Leicester anthology.

My first collection, Outsider Heart, was published by Big White Shed last November and I never thought that being asked to do that would happen within three years of starting to write. But I'd say, the biggest achievement has been connecting and working with others. Simple things like chatting to someone at an open mic night because a poem spoke to them or the types of creative collaboration central to Journeys in Translation. That can be difficult for someone with autism and against the grain of your instincts and learned experience. Most of us mask and mimic behaviours to damp down the anxieties of 'doing social' or just avoid it altogether.

Writing and performing has enabled me to contribute on my terms, which I'd never really done before. Better late than never!

Trevor Wright's debut poetry collection, Outsider Heart was published by Nottingham's Big White Shed in November 2016 .

How did you get involved with Journeys in Translation?

I had followed the Poets in Solidarity Facebook group and worked up a couple of refugee related poems when the call out for submissions for Over Land, Over Sea was made. I sent in three and one, "Yalla", was accepted for publication in the book. It was later one of the 13 poems chosen for Journeys in Translation.

On the principle of once you're in it, you're in it, I set out to see what translations I could get done. So far, it's been translated into Welsh, Italian, Farsi and British Sign Language with an experimental music version due in May.

We are testing out dual readings of the BSL version and then Farsi version at the Nottingham Poetry Festival next week.

Which were the easiest aspects of the work you put into the project?

Going back to the original poem, having clear images to work from helped ... I was on holiday watching kids playing in small plastic boats from the beach and walked back into the holiday let to see, on TV, people in large and precarious plastic boats on the Mediterranean. Stories about people losing whole families began to filter through and I centred the poem on one person who was in transit and had lost all but one of their family.

Being a parent helped position it. That all came together unusually quickly, providing a core structure.

For Journeys in Translation, its others who do the hard work. Individuals volunteered to translate "Yalla" without too much arm-twisting. People got enthused by the project and the values behind it.

Trevor Wright's poems have been featured in the anthologies, Over Land, Over Sea: Poems for those seeking refuge (Five Leaves Publications, 2015) and Welcome to Leicester (Dahlia Publishing, 2016).

Which were the most challenging?

For the original poem, translating the images into a poem that had noted the suffering without pity. I also wanted to mark the resilience and hope that carried people on - a hope and resilience that I have to say, in hindsight, I don't think we've honoured.

I was still working on the poem after it was accepted so when the proofs came through for checking I agonised about a middle connecting line and only got the revised version in a few hours before the deadline.

For Journeys in Translation, the challenge was being asked questions about what I had mistakenly thought was a finished poem by the translators. Different languages didn't have the words or phrases that I used, for example, or some required gender-specific words when I'd deliberately left the gender of the subject of "Yalla" open.

With the BSL version, it was having to cast aside elements that had worked in the poem to enable the BSL signer to translate phrases into expressions. Each time I had to return to my original images and enter into a new dialogue to answer the question, "What exactly are you trying to say?"

Trevor Wright's poem “Yalla”, Over Land, Over Sea: Poems for those seeking refuge (Five Leaves Publications, 2015) p.94. Translated into Farsi by Mina Minnai.

What would you say is the value of initiatives like Journeys in Translation?

That's the hardest of these questions!

Over Land, Over Sea raised money for refugee charities and profiled a wider range of responses to the refugee 'crisis' than were available to us in the media. So Journeys in Translation has prolonged the shelf-life and spirit of the original anthology, brought people together, provided a sense of connection, contribution and collaboration. There's value in that alone.

Journeys in Translation also gives those Over Land, Over Sea poems extra reach, pushing them out to new communities, and is doing so in different forms, morphing in reaction to new circumstances so mirroring the struggles of people across generations. How much value that adds is probably best decided by others.

Editor's Note:

Journeys in Translation aims to facilitate cross- and inter-cultural conversations around the themes of home, belonging and refuge.

The project encourages people who are bilingual or multilingual to have a go at translating 13 of the 101 poems from Over Land: Over Sea: Poems for those seeking refuge (Five Leaves Publications, 2015) from English into other languages and to share the translations, and reflections on the exercise on blogs, in letters and emails to family and friends, and on social media.

So far, the 13 poems that are being used as part of the project have been translated into languages that include Italian, German, Shona, Spanish, Bengali, British Sign Language, Farsi, Finnish, French, Turkish and Welsh. Currently, over 20 people from all over the world are working on the translations. More translations and more languages are on the way.

In Leicester, Journeys in Translation will culminate in an event that is going to be held on September 30 as part of Everybody's Reading 2017. During the event the original poems and translations will be read, discussed and displayed.

Over Land, Over Sea: Poems for Those Seeking Refuge (Five Leaves Publications, 2015) was edited by Kathleen Bell, Emma Lee and Siobhan Logan and is being sold to raise funds for Doctors Without Borders/ Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)Leicester City of Sanctuary and the Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Refugee Forum.

Copies of the anthology are available from Five Leaves Bookshop (Nottingham).

More information on how Over Land, Over Sea came about is available here.


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