Interview With Michael Egan

I have invited fellow poet, Michael Egan to my site, to answer a few questions about his inspirations, his approach to writing & his poetry which is highly vivid, with a flare for the grotesque and finds its own place somewhere between the everyday and the absurd.

I wanted to know about his impressive debut Steak & Stations, and about his newer projects, one rather romantically involving handwritten poems….

 

Michael, your first full poetry collection, Steak & Stations was released in January this year, how would you describe the book?

The best way I can think of describing Steak & Stations, is that it’s a mix of The Movement’s idea of every day anecdotes coupled with a loose modernist structure. The book varies from personal narratives, distorted and written to be read at a fast pace, and more loose poems that work with interconnecting ideas, but are based in an Imagist idea of relaying the seen, of almost sifting the seen and experienced into words.

I don’t write about the big ideas or have any need to express my personal views in poetry. I like the idea of playing with language and syntax to relay images and moments.


Typically, what are your poems about? Are there any themes that you come back to?

I think, looking back at Steak & Stations there is a sense of place that I was almost unaware of when I was writing the poems. The first section and the Motivist section, deal with Liverpool and the North West, but it’s strange because I’ve always gone away from that and yet here is my first book, full of poems about place.

You’re a prolific writer, what other projects have you been working on…

I was prolific. I’ve slowed down recently in poetry terms because I’ve been working on a novel. I’ve written a grand total of two poems in the last month and I need to start writing again. I’m working on an anthology of Motivism though. I’ve invited poets I really like to write in the form and I’ve just started putting together the manuscript. There are poets as varied as Ross Sutherland, Robert Sheppard and Jon Stone involved.

I’ve also been, slowly, putting together my first issue of Envelope. Envelope is a reaction to being skint but wanting to do a magazine. It’s six poems by six poets, handwritten on the inside of an Envelope.

I’ve also recently finished a libretto for the arts agency Mercy. It’s based on the legend of Spring Heeled Jack and it’s kind of a loose, prose-poetry style play for voices. It feels good but, I’m not sure how people will take it as I’ve not done anything similar before.

As well as all that, I’ve just decided to set up my own publishing house, Holdfire Press, and I’m hoping to publish pamphlets by the best young/new UK poets.
And of course my novel is being continuously rejected by agents and publishers.

How often do you write?

My writing varies, but it’s a constant thing. If I’m writing poetry I’ll usually write more when I’m out, on a bus or train, then spend a couple of hours in the evening working on those poems.

I take a more ordered approach to fiction whereby I plot and plot and plot and write notes and write more notes then spend months writing the drafts. Something like the libretto was more organic. I sat down and just wrote for hours. I think my approach to writing is hectic but constant.

I probably write something every day.

Who are your favourite poets?

There are certain poets I come back to; Tom Raworth, Christopher Middleton, Roy Fisher, Ezra Pound, WH Auden, Ted Hughes. The poet I read the most is probably Pound.

What inspires you most?

I think reading inspires me most. I’ll read for a few hours and then I’ll want to write. People-watching and listening inspires too. I’ve far too many poems written on the back of beer mats.

Any tips for upcoming poets?

I think the best tip is to just write and read. I remember early on in my poetry, thinking I knew my style, but that style has changed because of what I’ve been reading and my exposure to the whole world of poetry; readings, new poets, blogs, magazines, etc. Also, send work out. I’ve met too many poets who never send their poems out. It can really encourage your writing to have just one poem in a magazine.

Finally, if you could arrange an evening with four guests, poets and writers past and present, who would you choose?

Hmmm. I wouldn’t pick Ezra Pound because he might try and convert me to Fascism. I think I’d choose writers that I’ve always read and thinking
now, none of them would be poets (unless I suffer Pound).

They’d be; Kingsley Amis (because of Lucky Jim), Ernest Hemingway (my favourite book is Fiesta), Michael Moorcock (I ‘ve probably read his Hawkmoon books more than any other book) and Raymond Carver (I have tried too many times to write a Carver-esque short story).

Is there anything you would like to add…

I’d like to invite any of your blog readers to submit to Holdfire. Pamphlets, 32 pages max, to holdfirepress@yahoo.co.uk. I have my first 10 poets
but I’m aiming for 30 pamphlets in the first year.



Michael Egan is from Liverpool. He has had 4 pamphlets published, most recently After Stikklestad by the Knives Forks and Spoons Press.

His first full length collection, Steak & Stations is published by Penned in the Margins.
He is the editor of Envelope and founder of Holdfire Press, an exciting new platform for upcoming experimental poets.

On Suicide

For the majority of my life, every day I have lived with thoughts of suicide.

 This isn’t something you can bring up in conversation. This isn’t something everyone can understand. It’s not something people know how to or want to talk about. There are many millions of people out there stuck with this burden and some of them won’t make it. All of them can be reached if they’re just allowed, encouraged, to talk.

 I wanted to write about this because it has been a huge part of my existence, it has been something I have fought lifelong to not give into.

For me, the thoughts really kicked in when I was about eleven, though I remember thinking about ‘not being there’ younger than that.

I have been plagued and tormented by suicidal ideation ever since, which has in my twenty-eighth year almost completely petered out with the help of some particularly strong medication.

 I always wanted to live, don’t let’s misunderstand that. I wanted to enjoy my life. I felt I had a lot to give, but these tendencies were so strong in me that they took hold. Also, it’s not a case of ‘wallowing’ in misery or being a miserable person or wanting attention or being selfish or self pitying or any of the nasty, nasty things people can say. This happened to me as a result of mental illness, and could not be helped by medication alone for years. I have had to work hard to recover from that dark place, but I now have the strength to do so.

 I think it’s also important to add that although my experience has been due to mental illness, people can become actively suicidal for many other reasons including chronic pain, terminal and non terminal chronic illness (I knew a woman who tried to commit suicide because she had chronic tinnitus and couldn’t sleep), bereavement, trauma and abuse, relationship breakdowns, drug and alcohol addiction etc. Feelings of hopelessness and having ‘no future,’ financial crisis, unemployment are all factors that can contribute to a suicidal person’s state of mind.

 Talking saved my life, and it can save someone else’s. It’s loneliness and ignorance that makes the unbearable fatal.

 There are different shades to suicidal ideation:

–          The casually thinking of death; fleeting thoughts,etc.

–          Then there’s the beginning to think about how and where.

–           and then there’s The Plan.

Once a person gets to this point people around them need to know.

If a person is so depressed they can barely get dressed or get out of bed then it is far less likely they will act upon the plan.

 If a person is capable and still has the energy to go ahead, then at this point there needs to be someone who can gauge the situation and contact services.

If a person is ‘making threats’ then that person needs to be listened to, not reasoned with. They will need non-judgemental care. If a person is being impulsive and has made any attempt at self harm or has expressed a wish to commit suicide, that person needs to be with someone while they get through the worst of it. If there are things you need to do and they can wait, then let them wait. Being there for someone in their darkest days might save their life.

When I was a teenager I was encouraged to write a Survival List. It is useful to put down on paper all the things that might prevent you from self-harm and suicide attempts. Start with small things that you might be able to do for the next few hours as distraction, and add phone numbers of friends, family, GP, Samaritans and your social worker or carer or nurse, if you have one. Keep hold of this list, write down on it things you can remind yourself when you are in despair, add photographs, and look at it every time you feel as though the situation is hopeless.

 If a person is very suicidal they will not just think that their life is not worth living, they will believe it. They won’t just think or imagine that they are worthless, it will be the very definition of them. You can’t change a person’s mind just like that, but you can coach them through by keeping communication wide open. You want the person to be able to divulge even The Plan to you in confidence. Once that is out in the open, it is a good deal harder for the person to follow it through. Someone expressing thoughts of suicide in this way is actually doing a bloody good job of taking care of themselves, by engaging. Someone who is very suicidal will do well just to get through a morning, an afternoon, a day. A good day will be having survived.

 When I was in a state of mixed mania, that was when it was at its worst for me. Mixed mania is like being ‘high’ with racing thoughts, excessive energy, physical agitation, wanting to talk and talk, but having with it negative thoughts. Pessimism, rage, anger and psychosis:  voices, hallucinations and paranoia can also manifest. Someone in this state needs to have someone on hand night and day. I survived because of the hospitals and then my husband. In this state I have made very serious suicide attempts in the past and I am haunted by them.

 Sometimes people find it hard to believe someone could go through with it or think the person is after ‘attention,’ and not really serious. Making a bad call on this might cost a life, so take it seriously  and contact a GP for Crisis Team services or a referral. Sometimes people threaten suicide to emotionally blackmail other people. That in itself is an entirely different thing and I would suggest that if someone is doing that to you, then contact the police.

 If you are a carer for a person with actively suicidal thoughts then being in touch with mental health services also gives you a chance to access support and counselling. It’s important that you talk to somebody too, you need support to help this person as it is extremely harrowing for you too.

 If you are someone who is currently experiencing recurrent thoughts of suicide I would like to say, first and foremost, if there is anyone in the world who loves you, you must not go through with it. If there is but one person, bereavement by suicide is a burden too great to bear. There is no getting over it. Nobody will be better off without you. You will have told yourself that they will. They will have nightmares, they will blame themselves, they will not be able to come to terms with why you did it. They will suffer for life. If you are going to commit suicide in public or outside people will see you and that will traumatise someone for the rest of their life. If you are going to do it at home someone will find you, and in what condition. If you make an attempt and it goes wrong, you could end up with brain damage, disfigurement, a disability, on life support. That happens. You may die painfully. You will die alone.

 Those are the facts, there’s no getting around them. If you are going through this you need to remember and keep in your mind that situations and moods change constantly.

We are charging through our lives at such velocity, and for most people, what is unbearable now will be bearable again at some point.

We all have a future, there is always endless scope for change.

You won’ t be in this same position in a year or two years from now.

You will find yourself in good situations and bad, but you will be alive.

 You are a long time dead. The people that love you will have to piece everything together in your wake. They will mourn, they will be tempted to follow you. If you feel you have no-one in the world, then understand you are not on your own. So many people today, tonight will be in a similar position.

If you are in desperation right now, you need to take yourself to your nearest A & E department, where there will be someone you can talk to. I have had to do this in the past. The staff at A & E were kind and were more than happy to talk, to get the doctor up and to sort out the mess I was in, even though it took all night.

 If you don’t feel safe, then do see someone, ring someone, talk, ask for help. Talk about the thoughts as much as you can, the burden will get lighter.

 Someone who is suicidally depressed won’t just be ‘cheered up’ by things, nothing will shift their perspective. The depression and the thoughts will still remain.

Recovering from depression, whether clinical or brought on by external events such as a bereavement, takes a good deal of time and patience on the part of those whose loved one is struggling.

If the person has previously self-harmed or attempted suicide the situation is even more fragile. Blame will only worsen the situation. Sometimes when you’re dealing with someone who is suicidal, it is tempting to get angry with them, to try and make them ‘see sense.’ The very depths to which someone goes to, in thinking about ending their life are unimaginable. It is the darkest place. It is suffocating, and  it is frightening.

Even people with ‘happy’ lives can become depressed.

Even people who appear to have ‘good’ lives can become depressed.

Even mums and dads, and people from every walk of life can have suicidal thoughts.

 Internally a person goes through so much, and suicidal ideation is an internal struggle. People will often demand to know why a person is unhappy.

But the fact is, they may not have a ‘reason’ but are inexplicably depressed.

They are ill, and need nursing.

Be consistent. Be level-headed. Don’t panic. Don’t be afraid. Be patient.

The most important thing is that the person sees a psychiatrist via a GP who might make a referral, and possibly prescribe some medication.  

Antidepressants have been proven to be successful and will help. If you have a mood disorder or psychosis you will need other kinds of medication which will stabilise you.

Many people don’t like the thought of taking medication and I hear so often that people want to stop taking it, but I believe we’re seriously lucky in this country to have anti-depressants and mood stabilisers and anti-psychotics, because although they are all imperfect and don’t ‘cure’ anything, they can give relief from the pain and can manage symptoms including suicidal ideation very, very effectively.

It is something you can’t just give up on, there will be medication right for you, even if you have to go through a dozen to find the right one.

Medication saved my life.

I would do anything to be without it but I don’t have a choice, it’s either this way or dead.

I hung on and on and on, and before I began the right medication I was unrecognisable from the person I am now.

I never believed there would be any respite, sometimes the thoughts themselves, the fact that they wouldn’t go away made me wish I wasn’t here anymore, just to stop the nagging. I was constantly preoccupied at times, over the years. When I made plans and didn’t tell anyone, I was a serious danger to myself. 

I never thought I would be sitting here writing this, I only ever imagined a life cut short by my own suicide. My brain traced this idea over and over until I only ever thought of how I could. But even at my most acutely ill state I knew that I would devastate other people’s lives. I didn’t want to leave my children without a mother, though every fibre in my body told me I needed to be dead. That nothing could ever make the pain go away. I even told myself people would understand, because my suffering was obvious. I thought my husband would be relieved. I was very wrong.

When you’re working against every survival instinct in your body, you need help.

You need people around you to see that you can’t help it, that you need the support of your loved ones, that you don’t want to hurt anyone, you just want an end to the situation. If you need to talk to someone and you feel there is no-one listening do try the Samaritans, who will be there for you night and day. They can’t change anything, but you can confide in them and they will listen. Go through every available avenue before you make those steps toward suicide, there are so many people who you can reach out to. You are not helpless.

There are reasons to live and reasons to die and all of these are subjective and personal. If you want a person to live, you tell them at every opportunity that someone loves them.  I lost somebody I love, and the last thing I told them was ‘I love you babe’. That I will always be comforted by. But there are plenty of things I didn’t say and things I didn’t do which I will always regret.

 Ten Reasons To Live

 

1. You are unique in this world.

2. The very nature of life is endless possibility.

3. You are strong in ways you never imagined.

4. You are loved.

5. Some part of you still wants to live.

6. It is possible to recover from this.

7. You have good memories. They can be matched with further good experiences.

8. You care that other people don’t suffer.

9. You have overcome so much pain already, you can go on.

10. Somebody, somewhere needs your love.

Move On Up

The warm weather is breaking with the thunderstorms and rain and I love it. I love the capriciousness of it. Yesterday I got caught in the rain and the raindrops were massive, heavy and the sky was this gorgeous shade of grey, grey that saturates you. Rain that soaks you, though it’s still to warm to wear a proper coat.

 I saw my current psychiatrist (Dr. Moosa: legend) for what will be (hopefully) the last time. I gain a new one, but I won’t see him often. My psychiatrist likes to refer to me as his ‘success story’ and in a way I am. He said I was recognisable from the girl he treated for years. He said he had to see me more frequently than any other outpatient. He said I looked good and that I’d lost weight. I admitted I have bouts of depression, maybe a week long, but I manage it. That’s about the best we can hope for and that’s a pretty good prognosis. After all this time, all the medication and the reviews and the sections and hospitalisations and the self harm and the suicide attempts and the doctors and nurses and therapists and social workers and anguish and relationship breakdowns, I am finally somewhere where I can be in control of my life. That is better than winning the lottery. Seriously. You could’ve given me anything when I was really ill, money, love, anything, it didn’t matter, it wouldn’t ever have mattered or changed anything. Almost nothing made living bearable. I enjoy my life now.

 One moment of clarity I had was on Saturday. We drove to Stoke-on-Trent for the British Dance Organisation North West dance championships. Elizabeth danced freestyle, where they basically start the music and you have to make something up, and a duo and two group dances. She got a third prize for one of them, which was a huge success for them. It was so loud, and there was allsorts going on…manic, I would have been in pieces.  The noise, the activity would have crippled me. Depressed, I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy it, but I adored watching her, she’s so beautiful, she has grace and poise, something you might not attribute to street dance but when I see her dance I get choked up. I love it when she gets into costume and I put on a bit of lippy for her. I’m so proud of her. I really enjoyed watching all the other dancers too, we were there from 9.30-7.30 and it was non-stop, the music was still in my head for hours. Not my thing, but hey…wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

 I watched Shutter Island the other night, thought it would be a fairly innocuous thriller, something to dull the senses and mildly entertain the mind for a couple of hours. I thought it was average but quite enjoyable. At first. And then I sort of thought it’s basically Hollywood propagating the media fuelled myth that all ‘mentally ill’ people are violent, deluded, child killing hysterics. Yes, it was only a film, but I found the bit where they explain that the MC’s wife killed her children because she was a manic depressive hard to take, because there are some people out there whose only  knowledge of mental illness comes from film, tv and news coverage, which all adds up to one big area of stigma. Am I being too sensitive?http://www.shutterisland.com/#/home 

 This week I am very much looking forward to The Changeling by Clare Pollard, http://www.inpressbooks.co.uk/changeling_i022296.aspx her latest and long awaited new poetry collection. I shall be getting myself a copy pronto. I’ve been listening to Lower Dens http://www.myspace.com/lowerdens after seeing them on Abbey Road Debuts. I’ll be watching Stewart Lee on the tellyhttp://www.stewartlee.co.uk/ and listening to Lowhttp://www.myspace.com/low in time for their gig at Manchester Academy which I am going to next week. I seem to be writing some decent stuff and the recent ebb in mood is now breaking down, disintegrating. At least now I always know that I can be happy and I can be well. Before I couldn’t be told that there was any hope of anything better. I drag myself through the day when I’m low, I challenge myself, I make myself. It’s not easy, and I have the upmost sympathy for anyone suffering from depression. When it slips too far, you can’t function at all. I try and nip it in the bud as best I can in the early days, it seems to work. I force myself out of the house, the kids help, I force myself to eat, sleep properly (I am still on sleeping pills, they’re my routine and my only way of getting to sleep), and I go easy on myself if I can, mentally. I try not to beat myself up or be too hard on myself, which is something I used to do. So much. The suicidal thoughts come back really quickly when I get low, I wouldn’t act on them but they are there, I’ve lived with them my whole life it seems, until maybe this time last year, maybe six months ago, I’m not sure. They were a part of me. But I’ve smoked them out, I’ve prized them off me.

My poetry is upcoming in Poetry Salzburg Review.http://www.poetrysalzburg.com/  The poems are from the original draft of A Body Made of You, most of which didn’t make the book. It’s very strange to have them published, but I’m really glad. It’s a brilliant journal.

 The sky is getting ready again, it’s going to collapse. I’m willing it to go.