Behind the Scenes of ‘Echoes’ with Alan Parry

Alan Parry

Echoes is your second collection, tell us a bit about the history of this collection.

This collection began life as a competition entry. I was studying at Edge Hill University for my PGCE Scondary English when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Immediately, I was removed from my second school placement. My cohort were asked to jump through some hoops to ensure we could evidence that we would still meet the Teacher Standards and be recommended for QTS. The truth is that jumping through these hoops did not take too long, and I had a lot of time on my hands. I saw an advert for the Rhiannon Evans Poetry Award on my university website and I figured I would submit something. I had a few ideas that had been floating around, nothing fully formed, but I knew that I wanted to try something different. Neon Ghosts, my debut chapbook, is very atmospheric. It seeks to conjure up the America that we think we know from the mid-twentieth century.

I wrote it because I couldn’t paint it, or write music about that period. I wrote it in response to the literature of the Beat Generation, although with a distinctly British slant. Echoes is me attempting to reject this. I did not want to be just another writer who is trying to emulate Bukowski, because there’s only one Bukowski, you know?

Echoes was really a reaction to a pair of performances that I was lucky enough to host in February 2020 when we launched The Broken Spine Artist Collective: First Edition on the cusp of the pandemic. We were fortunate to have Elisabeth Horan and David Hanlon appear and read that evening. Their work is so honest, so brave, and so introspective. I had dallied with this approach in poems like Wisdom, Sowdonia, and Old Friends, but I hadn’t really felt free enough to write about myself and my family before. That pair of performances gave me the impetus to explore this, and I wrote ten poems on the back of this. They were edited by Paul Robert Mullen, and I submitted them to the aforementioned competition. I did not win, but I placed well, and the feedback was incredibly positive. At that point I had approximately forty pecent of a second chapbook, and I also had the time, and the freedom to complete the collection, so I busied myself with doing just that. Echoes is the final result.

Will you share a little about why you were compelled to develop this body of work ?

I found myself mining my childhood memories. I found myself blurring the line between my children’s behaviour and actions, with distant memories of my family and the time we had spent together. Not everything in this collection is autobiographical, but I think it is as close as I will ever get to that. I recall a conversation with Matthew MC Smith, we were discussing self-promotion. I dislike this, it feels so awkward. Matthew advised me that I ought to reveal more about myself, give my readers more of me. That kind of stuck. Matthew has a way of planting seeds in my brain. I suppose that revealing of me is the most prominent theme in this body of work. I try to explore childhood, naivety, maturation, and loss. I try to do it with honesty. I try to do it with my own distinct inflections.

Could you tell us about the major themes and ideas you explored in Echoes ?

Echoes was had a working title of Fruit. I have an interest in cooking – I am relatively competent in the kitchen. I owe this to the people who were around me growing up. I knew I wanted to write twenty six poems, each about a fruit, one for each letter of the alphabet. I wrote that list of different fruits. I knew that I wanted to create something more personal and this seemed like an interesting connection. I never completely abandoned this idea, but that theme became less important as I wrote, it became more about maturation, and memory.

What has been the most enjoyable or satisfying part of the process ?

Well, I suppose finding that I am capable of this introspective writing was satisfying. I knew I could write and hone poems that had a degree of separation between me the poet and the poet speaker. However, I was less sure that I had the capacity to blur that distinction. I was even less convinced that people would want to read about little old me.  Finding that people are interested in this project is fulfilling.

Neon Ghosts was put out on The Broken Spine for a number of reasons. We wanted to know that we could successfully make and market a chapbook of an individual author. We wanted to have that experience. Paul had confidence in my work, and although I had reservations about putting it out on my own press, it has been very well received. It has meant that we could put out Stuart Buck’s Blue the Green Sky, and Elisabeth Horan’s The Mask. There are more planned too. But, I also wanted to feel the author treatment from another press. Neon Ghosts was shortlisted by Nightingale and Sparrow, but ultimately did not make the cut. The truth is that I wanted to be a better editor, and felt that I needed to go through the publication process with another press in order to improve my own practice. Putting it out on The Broken Spine would have been easy, there would have been no rejection emails for a start. I would have had complete control, I am not sure that is always a good thing. Having my work accepted by Rare Swan Press, engaging with the editorial team here, hearing different perspectives, adhering to editorial advice – this is what has been the most important and enjoyable part of the process. We haven’t always agreed. But we have found common ground, and I think that to and fro is key. I know now, from the perspective of the author, just how important it is to be heard by your publisher, and this will inform what I do as an editor going forward.

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