Interview by Zoë Brigley
After the brain haemorrhage I was put on very heavy sleeping tablets, and when they kicked in I began to write poetry, then I’d wake and find streams of subconscious thoughts, odd typos, and nonsense words which I’d later edit into a poem while conscious.
Between all of us like a Wavy Halo Form
The long river of the unconscious where we all are home, tossing planets and asteroids aside. The yawning drag of orbit I haven’t breathed since I got back from Paris, the oomph is real. The soundless silent and the voice of the voice; there’s little time. In time we might have to be the first to go. The cycle of birth and death: pressure, seeped in blues, carries deep echoes of the dotcom boom and bust. Wile E Coyote is still beneath the soft space and press back down. The universe under our skin like carpet. I go in to feel a sound and a feel, crawl inside the blood brain/ear/brain and look around inside the shadowy corners with half-light and half-darkness: three in the morning. Contrast this with the feel of a hand coming out of a jacket, the sound of a hand on a shoulder. Come close to sleep with the heat rising off the pavement. I am tired to the bone but I will not sleep for night-time is our friend.
You’re writing prose poems at the moment. Who or what is your inspiration for that?
It’s not something that I’ve done intentionally, and probably 10-20% of the work I’ve written recently is prose-poetry, it’s more my being mindful of utilising a form that suits the poem. Everything I write I write
in prose form, and then find the line breaks later, but some poems, on reading back, don’t need the line
breaks, so I’ve been keeping those line-break-free. I think those poems are usually the ones I want to
visually hit harder, I think of it as a brick wall and hitting the reader with the subject or poem like a brick
I really admire the prose-poetry of Bobby Parker, Zachery Schomburg, and Claudia Rankine. They all do
that work of ensuring the poetry is hard-hitting, is presented without the music of space, and make no
attempt to console the reader. I’ve also been working on a short story collection my agent is taking to
publishers, so I imagine, even subconsciously, writing prose has seeped into the poetry.
Something that I enjoy about your work is the surprise and originality of the turns of thought. How you surprise us with lines like ‘Contrast this with the feel of a hand coming out of a jacket, the sound of a hand on a shoulder.’ How do you go about putting a poem together? Is it all written in a stream of consciousness or put together from pieces of text?
These were written in the wake of my brain haemorrhage, as an attempt to try to consider how my brain works in ways I don’t understand and am unaware of, such as why it bled out one day. I’ve been quite open about my history of chronic insomnia, there are only five occasions in my whole life where I’ve slept more than about six hours in a night – most nights I’m glad if I can get four hours. After the brain haemorrhage I was put on very heavy sleeping tablets, and when they kicked in I began to write poetry, then I’d wake and find streams of subconscious thoughts, odd typos, and nonsense words which I’d later edit into a poem while conscious. If Breton proposed automatic writing as a way of reaching the unconscious, then I’m very much trying to use sleep-induced automatic writing to reach the subconscious as a phantasmagorical dream state.
The sleeping tablets didn’t keep me asleep long enough to be worth staying on – that and my body gradually got used to them and they had no effect. I’ve since been prescribed medicinal cannabis to vape. I’ve never smoked weed before, and this doesn’t seem to have an effect on me either, but I’m keen to see how it affects my writing further because a body of work needs to change and shift and grow much like a human body. I admire writers who endeavour not to get stuck in a genre, who try different approaches and things. I have this idea I present as ‘creative sorbet’, and this is essentially using other creative styles as a palette cleanser. If I’m not writing poetry I’ll try the creative sorbet of writing prose, or writing song lyrics, or drawing etc. In these I find other ways to work, other ideas to consider, and it cleanses the creative palette for whatever work comes next.
Regarding my surprising turns of thought, I also think this comes from an upbringing where poetry wasn’t a thing. As a working-class guy I wasn’t read poetry at home, nobody had poetry in my house or my street, and when I was taught it at school I didn’t care, I was too busy trying to make a fool of myself or getting into fights in the school car park. School wasn’t a place to learn things, it was a place to survive into adulthood, and even then I never considered further education. I dropped out of college at seventeen, joined the military a few years later, and didn’t even go to University until I was in my mid-twenties. I was the first person in my family to go. But I had started teaching myself to write poetry at sixteen, so I wasn’t given the education of poetry or the experience of verse. This, I think, can make the lines in my poetry seem unusual or strange purely because they don’t align with a taught poetics, which I’m good with, I’m fine with. Establishment poetics doesn’t want working-class poets, and I don’t want them. Poetry is a joy to write and read, the more people who do it the better. I see so many poets on social media argue about what is and isn’t poetry that I wonder if they’ve ever considered a poetics that exists outside of their myopic self-actualised view of creativity.
There’s a feeling in this poem of tossing and turning as if in a sleepless night. You have talked a great deal about your night terrors and experiences of traumatic events. I sometimes feel like I am writing about trauma over and over again, but finding new ways to express it, and that’s not necessarily a negative thing. Maybe it’s a healthy thing. Do you think that night terrors or post-traumatic symptoms continue to inform your writing style and experimentation with syntax, punctuation, and form?
I mean, we’re all the sum total of our experiences, so everything I’ve ever written is informed by everything I’ve ever done and felt. I haven’t really spoken about this before, but at seventeen I was diagnosed with OCD, not regarding cleanliness rather an obsession with patterns and numbers. It’s actually why I dropped out of college because I failed all of my AS Levels because I had these specific rules I couldn’t break in exams, like I could only turn each page once, I could only spend an exact amount of seconds per question contingent with time allotted for the exam, and I’d have to look at the clock every 300 seconds, and if I didn’t within a ten second period of the minute changing I’d have to start counting again, but couldn’t carry on with the exam during that period. It’s a response to stress, I find myself counting and conforming to patterns when I’m stressed. But I think this leads to a sort of neatness within my poetry, especially during those spells, all of my line breaks are relatively neat, visually, with the rest of the stanza, because things have to follow a relative pattern, and line breaks that are exaggerated or come too soon make me uncomfortable.
Aaron Kent is a working-class writer and insomniac from Cornwall. His work has been praised by the likes of JH Prynne, Gillian Clarke, Andre Bagoo, Andrew McMillan, and Vahni Anthony Ezekiel Capildeo. Aaron was awarded the Awen medal from the Bards of Cornwall in 2020, then subsequently suffered a brain haemorrhage a few months later. Coincidence? Probably.
You can find him on Twitter and Instagram both as @GodzillaKent, and at www.brokensleepbooks.com/aaron-kent
Product on salePoetry Wales One Year Print Subscription | RecurringFrom: £20.00 / year
Poetry Wales Student/Low Income SubscriptionFrom: £2.00 / month and a £5.00 sign-up fee
Product on salePoetry Wales Print Subscription | Non-Recurring (One or Two Years)£21.60 – £102.00
Product on salePoetry Wales Supporter SubscriptionFrom: £7.00 / month and a £11.00 sign-up fee
Product on salePoetry Wales Two Year Print Subscription | RecurringFrom: £38.40 every 2 years
Poetry Wales Digital Subscription£5.99