Damian Beeson Bullen’s definitive 2019 collection has been described as ‘The Sgt. Pepper’s of Poetry.’
Hello Damo, so when did you realise you were a poet?
My first poetical moment came when I was like 7 or 8 – there was a poetry competition at Lowerhouse Junior school in Burnley. I won I think, & the opening couplet I still remember; ‘The river flowing by is often wide & high.’ Roll on a few years & I won a Christmas story competition at Gawthorpe high school – it was the story of a leaping being who turned out to be a snowflake. There was no technical poetics, but it was a visionary metaphorical piece. A few years later I was studying music in Barnsley Music College, & it was there one night while reading through William Butler Years that I realised I was actually a poet. I quit college soon after & set off for the English South Coast with a guitar & a yellow suitcase full of poetry books.
What are your thoughts on the poetic art itself?
There’s a passage in Plato’s Euthyphro which always piqued my interest, I really feel it defines what the poetic art is all about. ‘He (Daedalus) only made his own products mobile, while I apparently make other people’s mobile as well as my own.’ This ‘mobility’ is what makes the magical energy of the best poetry fly on the wings of inspiration into the poems of others. To my mind, poetry works on two levels, basically the local ‘zeitgeist’ & then the eternal tradition. If you look back to the 18th century, English poetry was essentially rhyming couplets in iambic pentameter. In the same way, some modern poetry editors wont even look at rhyming poetry – according to them we dwell very much the age of free verse. But like the fashion for the Georgian couplet became a busted flush during the Romantic period, free verse is also only a fashion & will inevtibaly be superceded at some point by something else. To be honest, this proliferation of Free Verse masks the fact that there are a lot of poets out there claim to be poets, but don’t really know anything about the craft. I find technique extremely important. I’m always trying to be a complete poet & I’ve realised I have to be serious about studying & experimenting with form – including free verse, of course, which I think is just a small piece in a big jigsaw.
What do you think is the poet’s role & do you identify with it?
Good question. Well, the poet has always been a teacher, but also an entertainer. I like the blend myself, keeps things interesting. A poet should also be connecting with their readers/listeners on two levels; inviting them to think is the intellectual, & inviting them to feel intuitively is the spiritual. The latter is the seer element to poetry, what the Romans called the Vates. Some say poets are merely the human receptacles of divine inspiration, & there’s probably some truth in that. As Horace says in his Ars Poetica, ‘It is not enough for poetry to be beautiful; it must also be pleasing & lead the hear’s mind where it will.’ I also love Phillip Sydney’s, ‘this purifying of wit, this enritching of memory, enabling of judgementy, & enlarging of conceyt, which commonly we call learning, under what name soever it com forth, or to what immediat end soever it be directed, the final end is to lead & draw us to as high a perfection as our degenerate soules, made worse by theyr clayeye lodgings, can be capable of.’
What is it about composing poetry you love the most?
Its difficult to explain. Its part validation, part duty, part pleasure – there’s nothing like exercising the mind. I also do most of my formal composition, lets say, out in the fields, up in the hills, walking with notebook, paper & my thoughts. There is also nothing like the feeling of knowing you’ve just written a poem which contains the pure juice of Parnassus – you can just tell when it happens. As an artist, I am fascinated with the prosodic elements of poetry – the Welsh call it cynghanned, & its not called composition for nothing. You’ve got to create a symphony in the mind. I do love my music & poetry is, to me, an instrument as important as my bass guitar.
Can you tell us about Completely Novel?
Completely Novel is a brilliant way to circumvent the cliquey world of publishing. They are a fabulous self-publishing service who facilitate print-on demand copies being sent anywhere in the world at a few clicks of a button. I pay a wee hosting fee every much – its not much at all – & get to publish ten books, all with shiny ISBN numbers. Its brilliant. They’re really nice folk to work with too. There’s nothing to stop me ordering as many books as I want, as well, to sell independently or through bookstores.
You have just released a collection of poetry through Completely Novel called MUSICALS. How did you choose the poems to be included?
I selected the poems from 20 years of composition. Some, especially the sonnets, are just as they were composed originally. Others can be quite edited-down versions of longer epyllia. The poem about Pendle Hill, for example, is about 5 percent of the full piece – it contains the quintessence of my inspirations ,if you will. Over the years I’ve always had moments of editorial, when I’d look at my all work in the bank, & see where my new compositions fitted in to the overall scheme. Its a bit like a crawling snake – the ancient symbol for wisdom by the way – after every pulse forward it pauses & half recedes, & from the retrogressive movement collects the force which again carries it forward. With Musicals I think I’ve finally reached my destination, or at least a place to hang out for a while, promote the book, do some readings & stuff, maybe even some slams. It’s been over a decade since I performed my poetry in public.
Are there any unifying themes?
There sure are. Poetry is about bringing all of its constituent parts into harmony. With Musicals the same principles apply, & the book is flush with harmonizing forms & themes. At its core the text is an autobiographical journey across the world. I’ve also got a nice sub-plot with a romantic interest called ‘Rosie’ – its a Stone Roses thing, big fan. She’s actually an amalgamation of a number of ‘love poems’ I have created over the years. The lady I’m with now, however, provided most of these – she’s my proper soul-mate, like, my muse. As for the title, of course we have the ‘muse’ embedded in the name, but I also feel like each of the chapters is a bit like a musical – a combination of narrative, drama & lyricisim.
You have put Musicals online for anyone to read – what’s all that about?
Well, Lord Byron said a true gentleman shouldn’t make any money from writing. He did make a fortune the sale of Newstead Abbey, though, enough to fund an army in the Greek War of Independence, so he would say that. The idea is essentially they same, tho, anyone can read my work online – but, if I sell copies that’s a bonus. I am not alone in appreciating the true beauty of proper books is their tactility – so I’m catering for both worlds here, the modern internet-haunter & the traditional lover of the page. You’ve also gotta go with the times, & my online versions will eventually all have youtube videos of me reading the poetry. Another bonus to doing it online is that I can make corrections & improvements at any point. My plan is to release fresh editions of the book by uploading a new file & replacing the old one – its quite a simple process really. So in 2020 there will most probably by a second edition of Musicals.
Musicals has been described as ‘the Sgt. Pepper’s of poetry,’ why is that?
Well, I think it’s the mixture of form & content. With Pepper’s you have English country garden vibes, Indian mysticism, proper rock & Roll, all complemented by a wide variety of instruments & musicianship. In a similar war Musicals expresses political terza rima, transcreations of Tamil love paeans, reworkings of English folk songs, free verse sonnets, French sonnets composed in Italian – I could go on. There’s loads of influences in there, its packed.
What other titles have you released?
Musicals is the ninth book in what I call the Pendragon Collection. A few years ago I kinda realised I had actually embark’d on something like the classical bardic training as described by Julius Ceasar. This passage I basically took to heart & soul & it became my mantra; ‘In their schools they are said to learn by heart an extraordinary number of lines, and in sometimes to remain under instruction for as many as twenty years.’ I started to take the poetic vocation seriously in in 1997/98 – I was 21 years old at the time – so as my own twenty years of training began to climax, I thought it prudent to draw a line in the sand of my studies. The final collection has 9 titles, of course; alongside Musicals there are another five collections of poetry, including my main epic, Axis & Allies, which I pretty much worked on during the full twenty years.
The vast majority of poems in the Musicals collection are taken from these five volumes, excepting Axis & Allies – essentially, this epic is for posterity, but Musicals for the now. The Pendragon Collection also includes essays on poetry, personal epistles telling the stories of my adventures, & the final volume of the nine, which I’ll be re-releasing later this year, an assemblage of historical studies called The Chisper Effect.
So what have people to expect from Musicals?
Well for a start its the very best of my very best work, & that means colour. I try & put a lot of colour in my poetry – so much modern stuff is like a twilight sky of opalescent grey! There’s also the travelling element – people get to go to Italy, Greece, India, America & even beautiful Burnley. I enjoy poems of place, Byron’s Childe Harold & Wordsworth’s Tours of Europe for example, so it was natural that I’d create something similar. Along the way its a composite blend of all the ‘Ms’ – there’s a mixture of music, moods, moulds (ie forms) & measures Just as a poem’s form can be divided into MEASURE & MOULD, so a poet’s voice is divided into two composite halves; the MOOD & the MUSIC. The Mood can be defined as a trance which envelops the poet as they compose their piece. The Music is the pure artifice of linguistic creation as the poets translate their Mood into words. Understanding such a pretext, the order of poetical creation is as this; Mood (then) Music (then) Measure (then) Mould.
Can you tell us about Stars & Stripes?
Sure – I’m very proud of it – I think it’s my best work. You can read it in full here. The catalyst was meeting my good lady, who is from Seattle. Her ancestor was Colonel Daniel Gillespie, who was at Valley Forge. Thus, Stars & Stripes is what you get when the bloodline of an American patriot meets an English epic poet. My partner & her spirit gave me the connection to the American fibre, while being from Burnley shouldn’t really matter as America is the ultimate immigrant nation.
“The United States,” wrote American scholar, Ed Simon, “seems rare among nations in not having an identifiable and obvious candidate for national epic.” What made you think you were qualified?
Well, for an epic poem you need an epic poet, & they don’t really pop up all that often. There’s also something about the organic matter that is a language, that it should spring naturally from the soil & bedrock of a land. Thus, the English language in America is an immigrant language & by proxy America cannot really produce a true epic poet unless they were writing in the languages of the native Indian races. With Stars & Stripes, however, I have just made an attempt, to show that something close to epic poetry can be written. America offers wonderful subject matter. “The United States themselves are essentially the greatest poem,” opined Walt Whitman, & there’s some truth in that. The creation of that particular nation at that particular time in the universe is an absolute fascinating jumble of conflicting forces.
What is the poetical future of Damian Beeson Bullen?
Well, I’ve just set up a youtube channel into which I’m going to pour as much poetry knowledge as possible (subscribe here). At some point I’ll be filming me reading every poem from Musicals, which I’ll put on the channel… multi-media presentation of the material & all that. Compositionwise I’m gonna write something about The Troubles in Northern Ireland, maybe have Seamus Heaney guiding me like Virgil led Dante through Hell. There’s also another project, its gonna be my David I think – i.e. the David of Michaleangelo – so keep an eye out for that one, eh?
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