Monday, 13 September 2010

Tom Duckworth Interview

Tom Duckworth in conversation with Frank Burton.

Tom Duckworth's poetry collection, Happy Fat Children and Protein Enhancers is available to read online or download for free at

What's the appeal of anagrams for you?

I’m fascinated by the butterfly effect and how one event leads to the unfolding of several others (I think the film Sliding Doors perfectly explains what I would try and describe here). With that in mind I thought about it in the context of just letters and words. I’m quite into the idea of somehow capturing a single moment where a collection of words has come together for some reason. I thought to myself, 'why not try and create a poem to mark out the event of all these letters appearing together'. It then seemed fitting that the poem should only contain the letters that were present at the time and so my collection of anagram poems began.

I did expand by using groups of words that didn’t necessarily appear together in a captured photograph, but words that somehow share a common link with one another. I also figured that perhaps more people would be able to connect with the poems if they were familiar with the words or letters they were built from.

How do you put the poems together? Do you work them out on paper, or do you cut and paste on a computer?

I find when working on paper I can think a lot quicker and I'm not always in reach of a computer when I've had the time to write - however I am somewhat of an unorganised mess at times and frequently sheets of paper disappear from where I DEFINITELY left them (probably left them, maybe)... I really should buy a book of blank paper perhaps or something that I can't lose easily.

So more often than not I do cut and paste on a computer. It does have it's benefits, for instance it's easy for me to can keep track of the whole writing process in a chronological order and I can retrace my thinking if parts need changing, without getting all muddled up. And this, retracing my steps, turns out to be quite important for me when it comes to finishing a poem.

Do you use any computer programs or online tools to create anagrams?

Yes, occasionally I’ve cheated a little. I have a programme that lets you input some text and it counts the number of times each letter occurs. So I use this to split up the original text to get an idea of the distribution of letters available. I wouldn't say that’s the cheating part but the next bits are...

There is a particular online scrabble solver that I’ve occasionally used for inspiration lets say. So you can put in, I think up to 12 or so letters, and it will display all the possible words you can create from them. This is good because I often come across new interesting words here, I check out their meanings and if I like them and they seem fitting for the poem I will try to squeeze them in somehow.

When finishing off a poem I rarely get lucky where everything fits without much of a problem, most often I end up with a few useless letters that just can’t be added in anywhere. In these cases I’ll usually have to pick my least favourite phrase in the poem or sometimes change the grammatical tense of a word to free up more or different letters and see if I can combine them with those left out to make something new, exciting but importantly, uses all of them. So depending on how lazy, frustrated or desperate I’m feeling I sometimes use an anagram solver programme to help with this final tweaking as it spots things I’d most likely miss.

You've said that your work is more like a series of mathematical problems rather than poems. Are you influenced by other poets?

I quite like the work of Tim Key, I enjoy his style of writing and the performances he gives of his poems. But I wouldn't say I've read an awful lot of poetry by any particular poet or writer so I guess my influences are a whole bunch of people when if asked I'd struggle to remember any of their names.

You're also influenced by the (very funny) comedian Demetri Martin. Is there a direct link between his work and yours?

I'd say so yes. The first poem I wrote was based on something he created. Demetri wrote down all the words from a bottle of beer and then re-arranged them into something other than the slogan, drinking instructions and whatever else you usually find printed on a typical beer bottle. I was captivated by this view of the world as I had never seen anything like it before so I tried it myself but simply changed the product from beer to a packet of crisps. For me the inspiration for the format of my poems, being anagrams or rearrangements, came from Demetri Martin but the words themselves, ones that I see within a bunch of letters is very much personal and unique to me. I think then the way they become arranged giving the overall feel of the poems perhaps comes from subtle influences based upon other poetry I've read but I'm not sure if it reflects anyone specific.

Finally, how do you feel about internet publishing?

I love it. Online publishing is great. I spend probably 2/11th of my working day on the internet exploring for anything to distract me from actually doing any work, so having people to fuel my idleness with their interesting articles, poetry, anything really is fantastic for me (especially if the stuff is available for free, it's so much easier and more inviting that way). But with regards to publishing my own stuff, i don't think many people would read it if it wasn't published online.

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